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.
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 Atlas – Agents 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
Alias – Alias, 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.
Alpha Flight – Classic 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.
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.
Next up: Avengers. Lots and lots of Avengers.