The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 47: Marvel Comics – Iron Man, Luke Cage, Longshot, Marvel Boy

Iron Man – The Five Nightmares, World’s Most Wanted Books 1 & 2, Stark Disassembled, Stark Resilient Book 1 and 2

Iron Man is the next contestant in what’s become my regular “Marvel Characters I Actually Don’t Give A Crap About” column. For those of who haven’t seen the movie, here’s Iron Man: He’s smart. He’s rich. He got shot/stabbed/punched in the heart, and invented armour to help him survive. So since the wealth and the supermodels weren’t enough, he now used that armour to turn himself into more of a pretentious douche than he already was.

My problem with Iron Man is simple. He has no motivation. He’s rich beyond belief, is one of the smartest people on earth, and could invent his way out of pretty much any problem that comes his way? So why dress up like a drunken Tinman and fight crime? It’s not something Marvel has ever answered properly, but the beauty of Matt Fractio’sn recent run on the character is that he doesn’t even try. Fraction’s Iron Man isn’t recently motivated by altruism so much as self-interest. He wants to save the world, but he doesn’t really care about the citizens of those world. He’d never admit it though. For him, it’s being able to solve problems that is his motivation. This is a refreshing take on the character, but it’s one that I doubt has much left in the bank. Fraction’s run is a decent, well-crafted thrill-ride, and Salvador Larocca has convinced me that he’s one of the preeminent pencillers in the superhero genre today. Good, modern-day take on the character.

KEEP

Iron Man – Extremis

Before Fraction’s recent run on Iron Man, Marvel hired noted comic book legend and all-around mad god Warren Ellis to attempt to spruce the character up a bit. He succeeded from a superficial standpoint with the Extremis storyline. In order to combat a new type of villain, Tony Stark injects himself with an enhancement organism called Extremis. It gives him new powers, a new lease on life, blah blah blah. Blah. This IS an entertaining story. It really is. And every panel by Adi Granov is pin-up worthy. But like most of Ellis’ mainstream superhero work, it comes across as written by someone who really hates superhero comics, as well as by someone who hasn’t read a Marvel comic in decades. Although I enjoyed the story for what it is, there isn’t a single action taken by Tony Stark here that fits into what we know of his history and character. This is a man who has literally fought gods with his bare hands, and we’re to believe that he would inject himself with a virus that could possibly kill him just because he had a tough time in a fight? And not call the rest of the Avengers?  As a stand-alone, this works. As a regular part of Marvel continuity, not so much.

KEEP

Luke Cage – Noir

I usually HATE this kind of story.  HATE it. This was Marvel’s recent attempt to capitalize on the recent interest in noir and crime comics. And so instead of creating new and interesting characters to play with, they took their old standbys, and dropped them into a James M. Cain novel. It shouldn’t have worked. Actually, it didn’t. For the most part, these were silly, forced contrivances that weren’t any better than the usual Marvel fare. Except for one. Except for Luke Cage.

I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Luke Cage was created as a response to 1970’s blaxploitation movies, which share more than a passing similarity to some of the lighter noir fare. And so Cage not only works as a 1940’s muscle-for-hire, the character thrives on it. This won’t be competing with Brubaker’s Criminal or Azzarello’s 100 Bullets any time soon, but it’s much subtler approach to this type of story than I would have given Marvel credit for in this day and age.

KEEP

Longshot – Longshot

This was a bizarre little mini-series by Anne Nocenti and Arthur Adams that snuck under Marvel’s radar in the mid 1980s. It had enough goof and charm that the character has been used intermittently ever since, most often in some X-Capacity or another. I’ve been a big fan of Nocenti’s writing in the past, so I was a little surprised to find that I found this almost unreadable. Longshot is your typical “stranger in a strange land” scenario, with the lead character being an escapee from a hell-dimension that is trying to make a go of it on Earth, and runs into a few of Marvel’s more colourful characters while doing so. While the premise seems sound, the execution is so poorly paced, with such goofy characterization, that it’s almost impossible to take seriously. Everything moves at a breakneck pace, with Longshot getting into scrape after scrape with almost no effort to portray him as anything more than a fun-loving, kind-hearted chaos agent. That’s fine, but it also doesn’t stand up to repeated reading. And although Arthur Adams is one of the finest superhero artists of his generation, his art alone isn’t compelling enough to get me to keep this book.

CULL

Marvel Boy – Marvel Boy

About 10 years ago, Grant Morrison had a brief tenure at Marvel which he spent trying to whole heartedly destroy the X-Men. In the middle of that, he took the time to write Marvel Boy, an interesting little mini-series about an alien soldier who has been stranded on earth. I’ve been very tough on Morrison on this blog (and will continue to be so), but I remember this series fondly. So I was a little surprised to see that it’s as guilty of the usual shoddy storytelling his comics usually offer. If you read a lot of reviews about Morrison’s work, the following observation often comes up: Great concept guy, poor storyteller. And while it’s redundant to go back to that well, it’s really the best way to describe him. I would take it a step further. He’s a brilliant concept guy. Just freakin’ brilliant. The sheer depth of characters, concepts, and realities the man comes up with on a daily basis is astounding. And Marvel Boy is no exception. Morrison throws out so many expansions on the Kree (Aforementioned alien race) Mythology, that it would take Marvel a year to fully capitalize on them. Not to mention Dr. Midas, a truly great Marvel villain in search of a truly great story. But then you get to the other side of Morrison. The side who can’t seem to tell a simple story without adding more exposition than a U. N. Resolution about the evils of exposition.  That side is in full force here. And so what starts as a taut thriller, ends up as an incomprehensible mess. I know I’m spending a lot of time talking about a series that I’m culling, but I’ve taken a lot of shots at Morrison without really explaining why.

The man seems to be incapable of telling a coherent multi-issue story. The man loses track of characters and plot lines like I lose my glasses. It’s not that bad in something like Marvel Boy, but extremely noticeable in something like Final Crisis, a story so bad it makes Marvel Boy look like Middlemarch. There are comics he’s written I enjoy (All-Star Superman, and…well…I guess just All-Star Superman then), but they are too few and too far between considering his status as the most popular comic writer alive today. And he is. People love him. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why.

CULL

Next up: Moon Knight!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 42: Marvel Comics – Deadpool, Daughters Of The Dragon, Dr. Strange, and The Exiles

Deadpool – Deadpool Classic Vol. 1

Deadpool might be the last original Marvel character to really gain mainstream popularity. When you consider that he was created almost 20 years ago, it shows how much people care about the current slate Marvel characters.

His popularity is mystifying to me. I will give a no-prize to anyone that can give me even one reason why the character still endures. Rereading this collection of his first few solo mini series did nothing to change my mind. The fun, cartoony art by Ed McGuinness and Joe Madureira are overshadowed  by the infantile humour and poor pacing, and I’m more than a little embarrassed that I bought this in the first place.

CULL

 

Daughters Of The Dragon – Samurai Bullets

Sometimes the math doesn’t add up. I’ve long been a fan of these former supporting cast members, not to mention that I love the writing team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. I also think that Khari Evans has a lot of potential, and has a big future in store for her in the comic biz. Then why don’t I like this more? I think it’s because they are trying to tell so many types of story at once (superhero, kung-fu, blaxploitation), that they lose their focus, and forget to tell a cohesive one. Although there’s some joy here, it’s ultimately not compelling enough to keep.

CULL

Doctor Strange – Master Of The Mystic Arts

This is a digest collection of some the good Doctor’s earliest adventures by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Brief primer: Former great surgeon goes to Tibet to regain the use of his hands after a terrible accident. He meets the Ancient One, a Tibetan yoda that teaches him how to become Earth’s greatest sorcerer. These are breathtaking stories, and Ditko was never stronger than his work on this 1960’s mind-fuck.  Unfortunately the digest format doesn’t do this amazing work justice, but I’ll keep it until I can replace it with the Marvel Masterworks version. Essential for fans of 1960’s Marvel comics.

KEEP

Doctor Strange – The Oath

Doctor Strange is probably the most successful Marvel character never to have his own successful series. There have been numerous shortlived attempts at doing more with Doctor Strange, but it’s never seemed to work, and for the most part Marvel seems content at using Strange as it’s resident deus magical ex machina. The Oath was a mini from a few years ago, written by Brian K. Vaughan, with some incredible art by Marcos Martin. This a little-known gem of a story, one that focuses a little more on the Doctor part of the character than the Strange part. Although Brian Vaughan is more known for his creator-owned comics, this is one of my favourites of the superhero work that he’s done.

KEEP

Exiles – Exiles, A World Apart, Out Of Time, Legacy, Unnatural, Fantastic Voyage, Time Breakers, Age Of Apocalypse, Bump In The Night, A Blink In Time, Earn Your Wings, World Tour Book 1 and 2, The New Exiles Enemy Of The Stars, Starting Over

This is the kind of series that gets launched regularly by both major publishers, but rarely seem to work for any period of tine. The concept was designed to take advantage of the endless amounts of alternate universes that Marvel seems to create on a weekly basis. The Exiles were a team of characters tangentially related to the X-Men. They were comprised of characters from different alternate realities, all teaming up to solve “cracks” in the multi-verse. No, I don’t know what that means either. I do know that what should have been another generic team book became one of the more interesting straight superhero books that Marvel published in the first half of the last decade. At least that’s how it started. But the reason why the book worked wasn’t the characters, it was writer Judd Winick, and the minute he left the book, it didn’t take long for it to become yet another bland superhero comic.

Why? Character vs. Plot. Winick is a character guy, and he spent a lot of time crafting a team of well-rounded, two dimensional character, with some real emphasis on their relationships, both romantic and otherwise. When Tony Bedard too over the book, character got pushed down in favour of crazy, intricate plots, involving as many alternate realities as possible. While some of those stories were readable, any hint of “specialness” that the book previously had was soon gone. By the time Chris Claremont started to write it, the book was just downright awful.

Exiles, A World Apart, Out Of Time, Legacy, Unnatural, Fantastic Voyage: KEEP

Time Breakers, Age Of Apocalypse, Bump In The Night, A Blink In Time, Earn Your Wings, World Tour Book 1 and 2, The New Exiles Enemy Of The Stars, Starting Over: CULL

Next up: the Fantastic Four!

 

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 31: Marvel Comics – Agents of ATLAS, Alias, Alpha Flight, and Ares

Many Marvel characters that are all getting their own movies next year.

And we’re back. Since I started this, I’ve had numerous people tell me that although they like the blog, what they’re really waiting for is for me to start talking about Marvel comics, since that’s what they grew up with. Well, that moment has arrived. Kind of. For those of you unfamiliar with the superhero comic scene, here’s a brief primer. For the past 4 decades or so, most (but not all) superhero comics have been published by one of two companies: DC, and Marvel. And while superhero books isn’t what they do exclusively, it remains their bread and butter. For most of the past few decades, Marvel has been the number one comic company in terns of market share, and I would say that currently their characters are more recognizable to mainstream North American audiences than DC characters. The recent slate of Marvel movies are a big part of that success, though Marvel’s dominance was solidified before that. Some of Marvel’s top characters that you may recognize, and that I will be writing about here include: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil, Wolverine, the Hulk, the Punisher, and many more characters that Stan Lee seems to have turned out in one drunken weekend back in 1961. One of the generalities that is usually used to describe the difference between DC and Marvel is that Marvel stories tend to be slightly more “realistic”, though that’s a silly term to describe a character that can walk on walls.

A few things to note:

1) I’m actually way ahead in my reading. So although I’m just starting writing about my Marvel collection (and for those of you who care about such things, I started this with as many Marvel trades and I did DC trades), I’m almost finished reading them. And while I actually ended up culling more Marvel than I did DC, most of the culls don’t happen until I get to the second half of the alphabet. So a lot of the next dozen or so posts will be kept, rather than culled.

 

Two characters that I won't be writing about anytime soon.

 

2) For those of who can’t wait to see what I think of your favourite characters like Wolverine, Punisher, Deadpool, and the X-Men, I have some bad news for you. I have some trades for all of those characters, but not really that many in the grand scheme of things. That side of Marvel hasn’t interested me in a long time. Also, because I’m doing this alphabetically, I have a LOT of Avengers, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four to get through before I get to your favourites. As with DC, I tend to like the more obscure characters, so you’ll just have to put up with 4 blogs of how much I like people like The Incredible Hercules, and The Hood, and Squirrel Girl, before you see what I think of Wolverine.
3) Most of the Marvel trades I have consist of stories from the last couple of decades. One thing I realized when I did this, is that my trade collection is really lacking in terms of representing 1960’s Marvel comics, and that’s going to be a top priority of mine this year.  So don’t get mad at me when you see how little 1960’s Spider-Man stuff I have.

4) The quality of late ’90’s, early 2000’s Marvel trades is awful. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve had to handle gingerly in fear of them falling apart, and more than a few of them HAVE fallen apart. For shame.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Agents Of AtlasAgents Of Atlas, Dark Reign, Turf Wars, Return Of The 3D Man

This isn’t an ideal way to start this blog, as most of my rookie readers won’t know who these folks are. Long story short, they’re a collection of little known Marvel characters that writer Jeff Parker decided to throw together as a super-spy type team a few years ago. There’s way more to it than that, but it’s a start. When the first maxi-series came out, I LOVED this series, and the hardcover that collects this series still stands up quite well.  It’s fresh, has lots of action, and the dialogue is sharp. The reality is that although this is one of the most critically acclaimed concepts that Marvel has had in some time, the sales have been poor. And while Marvel should be commended for repeatedly giving Parker a chance at making this concept a hit, the quality of the book has diminished over the past few years, and it’s really only the first hardcover that still works as a self-contained story. The second series (Dark Reign, Turf Wars) starts quite well, and adds some interesting twists to the ATLAS mythos. But I think that they got the cancellation call with very little notice, and so the second half of the series feels very rushed, with some pretty major events being introduced with not enough buildup. By the time the third series (Return of the 3D Man) came out, the concept had run out of steam. Kudos to Marvel (and Parker of course) for trying something new, and at the very least we got some great new characters (Gorilla-Man in particular) that I think will be around for a very long time.

Agents Of Atlas, Dark Reign, Turf Wars: KEEP; Return Of The 3D Man: CULL

AliasAlias, Come Home, The Underneath, The Secret Origins Of Jessica Jones

Full disclosure – Alias is one of my very favourite superhero comics of all time. Of all time. And rereading it did nothing but solidify that opinion for me. As I said above, I’m almost done my Marvel reading, and so I’ve recently read a LOT of Brian Michael Bendis’ Marvel work. And I think that although he’s done some amazing work for the company, this might be my very favourite of the work he’s done (Daredevil is a very close second). It’s the story of Jessica Jones, a down on her luck private detective that used to be a superhero. She still has some power, but doesn’t like to use it very much. And so we follow her as she explores the seedy underbelly of the Marvel Universe. On the surface she’s not that likeable: She swears, she smokes, and she’s the only mainstream superhero that takes it up the a&&. Except for possibly Superman.

This is a story about redemption. Jones is a character so fully developed, that we’re happy to wait for the resolution and redemption that Bendis promises throughout. Even when she’s making horrible life choices, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and are happy to follow Bendis as he gets us there. One of the things about this book that isn’t mentioned much, is that it’s the perfect length. It’s not too short, it’s not too long. When the big reveals about what caused Jessica’s retirement from superheroics finally come, one feels as if every page, and every word was crafted meticulously ahead of time, and that Bendis knew exactly how many issues this book should be before he even started writing. He’s essentially teaching a class in how to pace a comic book. This is a must read for anybody that wants something a little different, but can’t quite break the superhero habit. Special mention must be given to how Bendis takes a 3rd string villain called the Purple Man (because he’s purple), and turns him into a truly terrifying depiction of pure evil.

KEEP

Alpha FlightClassic Vol. 1

If you needed proof of how big John Byrne was in his day, look no further than this vanity project that he created to showcase his group of little known Canadian superheroes. The fact that Marvel let him get away with this for as long as they did is a testament to how big a name he was at the time, and how creative and commercial his work was as well.  The book stands up pretty well, though obviously a little dated. It’s a character driven story, which I always like, and Byrne does a credible job in giving you quick, succinct motivations and backgrounds for all his characters. From an art standpoint, it goes down as among the highlights of his career.

KEEP

Ares - God Of War

Until recently, the Marvel version of the mythological figure of Ares has never played the major role in that companies stories that his DC counterpart did in theirs. He’s been used as a B level villain a few times, and that was the status quo until 5 years ago, when Michael Avon Oeming and Travis Foreman did a underated mini-series featuring the character that would launch him into the upper echelon of Marvel heroes.  Although not a well-read mini at the time, Marvel has used several of the concepts it posits as cornerstones of their universe ever since, including the villain in the recent Chaos War cross-over. It’s a great, action-packed story, with some fantastic, dynamic art. If ass-kicking mythological action stories are your thing, look no further.

KEEP

Next up: Avengers. Lots and lots of Avengers.