Saturday, June 04, 2011

Mythos HC -- A Review

So, last week my local shop had their Weekly Whiz Bang (special of the week) and they were offering several Marvel HCs at only $10 a piece. When I glanced at the selections, I immediately put in a request for Paul Jenkins and Paolo Rivera’s Mythos, which collects the six-issue one-shots from 2006 to 2008 retelling the origins of Spider-Man, the X-Men, Hulk, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four, and Captain America. Rivera is one of the artists of the new Mark Waid Daredevil series and his stuff is fantastic, especially here where everything is painted.

Each tale is updated for modern times and it’s interesting to see what’s the same and what’s been changed. These really are myths for our times and they can be retold in different ways without deviating too far from the source material, creating something fresh and new while maintaining the essence of the original. It really illustrates how timeless these stories are. Jenkins and Rivera have also added some well-thought out modifications that really enhance the characters (with one exception noted below). I have to assume Jenkins really laid out some incredible detail in his script, because some of the scenes communicate well beyond the words. That’s not a slight on Rivera’s design or anything, it’s just that these guys were totally in-sync on this project and behind every beautiful panel, is Jenkins hand as well.

First up is the Amazing Spider-Man origin. Beyond the update in wardrobe, it probably adheres the closest to the 60’s story. Really, it’s such a perfect tale; there isn’t much that needs changing. However, there are slight twists. For example, Peter and Ben really don’t like May’s wheatcakes! Peter also has a friend to talk with at the exhibit, meaning he’s not quite the loner he’s always been. I liked the emphasis on the glowing spider-bite from Peter’s viewpoint and the panel where he first sticks to the wall is phenomenal. The initial costume he makes resembles the one from the old 1977 TV show with the web-shooters on the outside, which he wears while performing on Conan O’Brian late night show. The scene where he fails to apprehend the burglar is switched from a hallway to a parking garage, but all the beats are the same. What is significantly different is Peter’s confrontation with the killer in the warehouse. We view his discovery of the killer’s identity at a distance, not up close and then the whole sequence between that revelation and the killer hanging from the lamppost is expanded. Peter doesn’t sulk away in tears, he gets angry and pulls a Batman and dangles the felon from the rooftop. It’s not just that Peter has learned to use his powers responsibly for mankind, but he also has to uphold those same values for the scum of the earth too. It’s certainly implied in the original, but it’s more powerful played out here.

Compared to the Spidey tale, the X-Men one is much darker, not just in tone, but in the images as well. I’m sure this is not accidental, since at this stage of the game the X-Men were still a covert group operating in the shadows. One of the neat details is the bands on Magneto’s armbands. They’re not attached; they hover over his body. The story opens with him using barbwire to retaliate against some Mutant haters who killed a little girl with three arms by throwing her from a truck. The scenes at Xaiver’s school also contain some nice details. I love the way the air is constantly misting around Bobby and how we get to see the students stretch before they participate in a Danger Room exercise. Each one is doing a different routine too. There’s also the image of a fence twisted in the shape of a DNA molecule – the aftermath of Magneto’s attack on a military facility. Jenkins fleshes out the story by adding a confrontation between Prof. X and Magneto, not found in the original, utilizing all the themes and history Claremont brought to their relationship. It’s also similar to how they talk to one another in the films (and No, I haven’t seen First Class yet – hopefully soon). Erik is clearly an extremist, but you can certainly understand how he got to this point. The best part is the chilling ending and how Jean ties it into the Professor’s desire for punctuality. Unfortunately, he and the X-Men are behind in the war of ideas between homo-sapian and homo-superior.

Of all the stories, I only had problems with the one featuring the Hulk. Instead of a Banner who is repressing his emotions, until he becomes the Hulk, we’re shown a Banner that is insolent and can fly-off the handle already. He’s not very likable, even when he makes the heroic save of Rick Jones (who doesn’t reappear again for the entire story). The art is still stellar though; especially the bomb scene where his brutal father and future foes are depicted in the background. Before Ross even encounters Ol’ Greenskin (not Gray Skin), he already has an intense hatred of Banner. He’s looked through his medical records and knows about his psychiatric problems and gets him removed from the project. The most disturbing scene is when Banner calls Betty and loses it, accusing her of conspiring against him. This of course turns him into the Hulk for the first time. It’s a great looking and powerful Hulk too – pure Kirby, including the chest hair. This take on Banner certainly is logical, I just prefer him to be more sympathetic.

I really liked the Ghost Rider tale, even though I’m least familiar with his origin. I’m not sure I’ve ever read the original story or not. The painted flames just crackle on the page. It’s interesting that the cycle transforms from a motor-cross bike to a Harley, rather than into some demonic new-fangled engine. The sequence where Johnny sells his soul is perfect. You can easily see how the Devil is feeding him misleading information, but he’s just too blind to see it (but not too drunk – he gets sobered up for the final swig). It’s a subtle sale, rather than an outright petition with goat’s blood. This is fitting since sin begins in the heart (and mind) first, he only has to turn in that direction and he’s committed. What’s funny is that Rivera has cast John Tesh as Satan! He’s really creepy too. I’ve always been skeptical of a literal “selling your soul”, because of a person’s free will. However, while the Devil cannot take possession of a Christian (although he can influence one), he certainly could of someone who isn’t saved like Johnny Blaze. There are a lot of cool reflected images of GR while Johnny is still human. The pacing of the story is superb, with just the right amount of sporadic flashback interspersed throughout, leading up to the big jump and the big reveal. I love the face grabbing exuberance of the onlookers when he transforms during the jump.

In the very first panel of the Fantastic Four story (see below), you can see an example of the wealth of additional information included in the images. I don’t know if these things are more visible, because it’s painted, but your eye just is drawn to them. Johnny’s boredom is clearly felt as he looks at his glass. The detail I love is that he’s moved his name placard to face him. I mean you can envision the guy fidgeting around in his chair in just one image. It’s priceless.

Boy, I wish they’d do an FF film set in the 60’s like First Class, because you constantly have to revise their circumstances to keep up with all the advances in the last 50 years. This story is no exception, because they’re in a space station observing solar flares, instead of just going up in a rocket. It reminds me of the film version. What I really liked (and maybe it’s been done before) is that whatever they were thinking during the bombardment directly led to what they’d eventually become. That single page is a thing of beauty (and only $1600 Lee). Really, this version would’ve made a much better movie (no Doom with them). Reed does a great job of not cowing to the Senate committee’s attempts to “manage” them, since they really are just “private citizens without criminal records”. There’s even a nice bonus pin-up page showing the inside the Baxter Building.

I finished the book, reading the last story, the Captain America one, this past Monday morning and it was perfect timing since it was Memorial Day. The day before my Sunday School teacher, Bob Rich, a World War II vet and retired pastor, filled the pulpit for our senior pastor while he was away. It was a message from the heart (which you can download from this site) that was particularly poignant given that he and only one other guy in the congregation were veterans from that war. Anyway, that was certainly fresh in my mind as I read this magnificent and emotional tale.

The story is framed with Steve’s visit to a VFW post, the same site that he tried to enlist at, when he was labeled “4F”. The first page has a four-panel layout that moves you backward through the decades. The changing cars, fashion, and movie marquee clearly reveal which decade you’re viewing. The majority of the story is just a long extended flashback, with Steve’s narration. We learn of his father’s early death and his mother’s untimely illness that leaves him alone. We see him bullied by Dougie Huggins in front of their tenement house. This same guy later goes along with Steve to enlist, “because he was bored”. After Rogers is rejected for service, a General (with triangular Cap shields on his lapel) offers him a special opportunity, which leads to the familiar origin sequence. Jenkins really fleshes out details about Rogers’ service, where he is actually given a Captain’s rank before even landing in D.C. to undergo the treatment. This isn’t some long extended build up like the excellent Kevin Maguire mini-series from years ago. No, you only get trained if you survive. The lab itself is not very hi-tech and instead of vita-rays, they just hook him up to an electrical current to help the serum take effect. Once Captain America, his increased mental capacity enables him to memorize tons of military strategy. He first searches for spies at home, before heading for the frontlines. To keep is identity secret, during his “regular” army duty (he hooked up with his father’s WWI regiment), he’s given the task of driving the chaplain around – well away from the fighting. In seven gorgeous pages, Cap’s entire WWII career is depicted, ending with him starting to ice over in the North Atlantic. Along the way he awarded PFC Dougie Huggins a Bronze Star. Then you see his first sights of the Avengers when he awakes (from Avengers #4 one of the best comics EVER, which I foolishly traded to Rusty for a SA Flash archive– SOB). The story ends with a large meal at the VFW where Steve is dressed in his army uniform. After everyone leaves Steve sits beside an elderly man with an oxygen tank, touches the Bronze Star on his uniform and looks out across the empty room at the mural of the greatest generation. “God, Dougie…I MISS those Boys.”

I don’t remember being so affected by a comic in a long, long time (I think it was my first reading of Owly: Just A Little Blue probably five years ago). It got me in a Memorial Day mood, so when my wife took the youngest two to the gym, I opened my clearance purchase of Axis and Allies: Europe 1942. We took all the time we had just setting it up and reading the directions – we didn’t even get through a whole round and my son was getting into being the Germans a little too much that it almost bordered on disrespect (I know he didn’t realize). To compensate, I ended up reading this story to all my children after dinner that evening at the table. It brought my mother (born near the end of the war) to tears. I think it’ll be a Memorial Day tradition from now on and I hope to have a few pieces from this story hanging on my wall by next year.

The Mythos HC, a bargain at $10, but worth the full $25. It’s not to be missed.

1 comment:

  1. Matthew - Great review. I had started to review this hard cover and got caught up in other stuff. I mailed the Mythos HC to Lee also. It really is worth the $25 and was a great retelling. At $10 this is a steal. Personally I thought the X-Men got too deep into the Magneto / Prof X history and did little to show the actual X-Men. the ending of the Cap story was very touching and I was reading it on Memorial Day week-end also. Bottom line great book and an excellent review.