The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 50: Marvel Comics – Nova, Power Man & Iron Fist, and The Pulse

It’s hard to believe that I’ve done 50 posts about my culling project. It’s been about 9 months so far, and I’m not even half way though. In fact, I really doubt that I’ll be finishing this this year. Although I’m enjoying the reading, I’m having a hard time keeping motivated regarding the writing, especially as I still have several months to go before I can even start writing about my true passions: Independent comics. I’m still muddling through however, and so I present to you yet more writing about gaudily dressed super-clowns:

Nova: Annihilation – Conquest, Knowhere, Secret Invasion, Nova Corps, War Of Kings, Realm Of Kings

Nova was Marvel’s mid-1970s attempt at recreating the ‘average kid gets superpowers’ magic that essentially catapulted the company into superhero success 14 years earlier with Spider-Man. To it’s credit, Marvel didn’t take the easy way out and copy Spider-Man’s origin verbatim. Instead, they took the even easier way out and copied Green Lantern’s origin verbatim: Dying member of an intergalactic police force transfers his power to a hapless earthling. But instead of being a cocky, brash pilot like Hal Jordan, the new Nova is an insecure poindexter like Peter Parker. Original, yes? Umm…no.

Although the character’s first series fizzled after 25 issues, attempts have been made over the years to utilize the character in various comics and plotlines, most notably in the early 90’s teen book The New Warriors. However, no matter how hard the character was pushed, he never really amounted to much. In fact, the character is very similar to Moon Knight, in that his costume is really the only thing he has going for him. When you take that away, all you have is a very poor man’s version of not just one, but two other characters.

Until now. About 4 years ago, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning decided to use the Nova character as a major player in their Annhilation Wave epic, and the character hasn’t been the same since. Abnett & Lanning essentially put this character into the forge, stripped away everything that we knew about him, and rebuilt the character from the ground up. And now what’s left is a confident, extremely powerful hero that can hold his own with pretty much any of Marvel’s A-list villains: Nova. Which brings us to one of the better Marvel titles in recent years, but one that unfortunately requires you to read pretty much everything else Abnett & Lanning have been writing so as to fully understand what’s going on. Not that that’s a bad thing, as they’ve been turning out some great Marvel sci-fi epic storytelling. But  those who are just looking for a simple, straight-forward superhero book that can stand on it’s own two feet might want to look elsewhere.


Power Man & Iron Fist: Essential Vol. 1

When I was a kid, Power Man & Iron Fist might have been my favourite comic book. I waited for every issue like a dog waiting for a porkchop. And since the World Wide Web wasn’t available at the time, the cancellation of this book was a real surprise to me. So why am I getting rid of this? It’s not because of the quality of the book. The title focused on two characters that had been in their own low-selling books: Power Man (better known today as Luke Cage), and Iron Fist, and  as such was essentially a mash-up between Shaw Brothers-style Kung-Fu & Pam Grier-style Blaxploitation. And it was glorious. It had a little bit of everything I love about superhero comic, and because it was one of Marvel’s lowest selling books, seemed to deal with subject matter that other comics weren’t touching at the time. Unfortunately, the only way you can get this series in collected form is in the oversize black & white Essential trade paperbacks, and as I’ve previously noted, they just don’t give colour comics their fair shake. Although I still love this series, I’ll have to do without it until Marvel reissues it in a format that does it’s original source material justice.


The Pulse: Thin Air, Secret War, Fear

The Pulse was Marvel’s attempt at a follow-up to their high-on-acclaim, low-on-sales title Alias, and their hopes were that this would get the high numbers the previous series lacked, as well as continuing to get great reviews. It received neither, though it definitely deserves more credit that it gets.

It’s essentially the story of Jessica Jones, a former superhero-turned-private eye, who has been hired by J. Jonah Jameson to help Ben Urich uncover super-related stories for the Daily Bugle. It’s a sound premise, and one that should have been a good companion piece to Bendis other series about normal people who get pulled into the bizarre realm of super-heroics, Powers. However, Powers only has to stay relevant to itself, and the Pulse quickly got pulled into the bazillion-and-one subplots are running through the Marvel Universe at any one point. And so what should have been a small, character piece about journalism in a super-powered world became exactly what we didn’t need: Just another superhero book. While it’s still very readable, especially for fans of Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, the comic quickly becomes so watered down from it’s original intent that one wonders why they even bothered doing this series in the first place.


Next up: The Punisher!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 46: Marvel Comics – The Inhumans, Iron Fist, and the Immortal Weapons!

The Immortal Weapons – The Immortal Weapons

These are supporting characters that spun out of Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker’s epic run on Iron Fist (more on that below), and so this book is disposable if you’re not a fan of that run. But it’s an essential companion piece for those who loved the original series, and several of the mysterious characters from that run get fleshed out here. This is essentially a martial arts anthology book, and so some tales stand up better than others, but all in all, this is a good kung-fu book.


 The Inhumans – The Inhumans, Silent War

The Inhumans have been minor Marvel supporting characters since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee first created them for the Fantastic Four title in the mid 1960’s. They are a race of genetic superhumans that were created on Earth millenia by the Kree (Marvel alien race) to serve them. It never happened.

The Inhumans have always been an interesting concept, but have always played second fiddle to the X-Men in the superhuman genetic monstrosities department, and they have often been pushed to the back of the bus as a result. Until recently. Over the past decade or so, Marvel has been slowly rebuilding the concept of the group, to the point where they’re an integral part of numerous Marvel storylines. And it all started with The Inhumans, a 12 issue maxi series from 1998 by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee.

Paul Jenkins is one of the best writers in superhero comics. No question. However, as a plotter he leaves a little to be desired. Jenkins is a character specialist. He knows how to dig into the heads of characters like nobody else, and really gets to the essence of the people he’s writing about. Emotion is his trade, and he plies it well. The trade-off is that he takes 12 issues to tell 4 issues of story. But in this case I’m willing to accept it. Jenkins (with the help of the gorgeous art of Jae Lee), crafts an intense collection of character studies here, and really sets up what Marvel would do with these characters later on. The “outsider” angle is really pushed hard here, and Jenkins sets up Black Bolt (the leader of the Inhumans), as one of the great tortured heroes of the Marvel Universe.

David Hine & Frazer Irving told a similar story a decade later with Silent War, but it’s one that’s just as effective. This is a transition story, one designed to set the Inhumans even further apart from the mainstream that most Marvel heroes operate in. While it didn’t get a lot of attention when it came out, it’s one that is integral story-line wise to the events that the Inhumans would be involved with later.


The Immortal Iron Fist – The Last Iron Fist Story, The Seven Capital Cities Of Heaven, The Book Of Iron Fist, The Mortal Iron Fist, Escape From The Eighth City

Here is the truth about Iron Fist: He’s awesome. He’s a kung-fu master, he once ripped the heart out of an immortal dragon, and can summon his internal energies to make his fist indestructible. Cool, right? Wrong. Despite his bad-assery, Iron Fist has never been what you would call a popular character, and is usually relegated to team-ups, bad mini-series, and failed team books. How Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction convinced Marvel to let them create this under-read gem of a series I’ll never know, but I’m glad.

This is pure kung-fu epic storytelling. Although the character is firmly set in the superheroics of the Marvel Universe, it’s the martial art side of the character that Fraction and Brubaker focus on here. Lost cities, epic kung-fu battles, and secret conspiracies: They’re all here. The origin of the Iron Fist isn’t redone here, it’s expanded upon, with the character’s history, mythos, and motivations made much clearer.  Fraction and Brubaker turn the story of the city of K’un L’un into one of political intrigue, human rights, and magic, and really make us care about the character they’re writing about for the first time. Definitely one of the better martial arts stories that Marvel or DC has ever told, and the quality remained solid even after Fraction and Brubaker left the book, though it was cancelled not long after.


Next up: Iron Man!