The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 54: Marvel Comics – She-Hulk!

She's like the Hulk, but with a vagina and a law degree. So basically she's Nancy Grace.

There’s been a lot of talk about how comic culture has bled into the mainstream, and that it’s more culturally accepted than ever before to hoist your nerd flag high. I say BS. If you ever really want to know what your non-comic reading friends think of your passions, bring up the latest issue of She-Hulk at your next dinner party. And wait for the laughter. And that’s usually just from my wife.

Yes, I said She-Hulk. She’s like the Hulk, but with a vagina and a law degree. So kind of like Nancy Grace.

So how did a cheap knock-off a male character become arguably the greatest feminist comic book character of all time?

Two words: John Byrne.

Byrne is currently best known for his decades-long audition for the role of the internet’s Crankiest Old Curmudgeon. But before that, he was known as not only one of superhero comics premier creators, but also one of the best writers of female characters mainstream comics  has ever seen. And while he might be best known for his revamp of the Fantastic Four’s Susan Storm, it’s She-Hulk that is his finest achievement. She was originally conceived in the late 70s as the Hulk’s cousin, and was never treated as much more than a way for Marvel to guard their copyright, until Byrne started writing her in the pages of FF. He recast her as a fun, thrillseeking adventurer that was a great counterpoint to most of the dour, angst-ridden women that starred in Marvel comics those days. But it wasn’t until Byrne got to write and draw her in the pages of her own book that she really started to shine.

She-Hulk – The Sensational She-Hulk Vol. 1

It’s easy to forget just how groundbreaking this book was in it’s day. It was the first mainstream comic to really break through the fourth wall, and interact with it’s readers in a way that no superhero book had ever done before. And even though others (Grant Morrison…cough…) have arguably done it more effectively since then, there’s no denying that Byrne got there first. But that’s not to say that the book is all parlour tricks and comedy. Byrne revamps She-Hulk in the truest Marvel tradition, and turns her into a working joe, albeit one with green skin. She’s in full lawyer mode here, juggling her career with her duties with the FF and the Avengers. Although the book is slightly dated, it still remains a fairly revolutionary comic for it’s manipulation of the medium, and one that stands up well today.

KEEP

She-Hulk – Ceremony, Part 1 & 2

This was part of Marvel’s 80’s and 90’s graphic novel experiment, and it’s one that rarely gets discussed today,  for good reason. I’m not sure if Dwayne McDuffie had ever heard of the character before he wrote this, as he somehow managed to remove all of the joy and fun Byrne had injected into the character. I’m sorry to say that this is barely readable.

CULL

She-Hulk – Vol. 1-8

There was a time in the middle of the last decade, where this might have been Marvel’s very best title. It was funny, emotionally engaging, and had plenty of superhero action. So I was a little surprised to find myself not enjoying it on the same level that I did when these trades first hit the stands. The book still starts out well. Writer Dan Slott straddles  a nice line between madcap humour and character development, and his “Spidey sues Jonah Jameson” story has to go down among the funniest superhero comics ever written. Slott focuses on the legal side of Jennifer Walter’s persona here, and fleshes out the character in ways that hadn’t really been done before. Add a great supporting cast, and some interesting approaches to Marvel continuity, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good series. But eventually, Slott (and the title) lost it’s way. The humour side of the title eventually beat out the character and story side, and the end result was a bit of mess that was neither funny, nor interesting. Although the first four trades of Slott’s run are well worth your time, by the time he hit the fifth volume he had overstayed his welcome. Peter David took over for him, and while his approach was definitely more grown-up than Slott’s, it was definitely a welcome look at the character, and one that actually stands up better than I thought it would. He turned the book into a comic book version of Thelma and Louise, with She-Hulk on the road trying to find herself. She does, and as a result we get some well-written comic book stories that manage to be better than I thought possible.

Vol. 1-4: KEEP. Vol. 5, 6: CULL. Vol. 7, 8: KEEP

Next up: Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man!

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The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 53: Marvel Comics – Sentinel, Sentry, and Shanna The She-Devil

Sentinel – Salvage

Sentinel was a short-lived series that Marvel put on the market about 8 years ago as part of one of their many failed attempts to capture the “youth” market, that doesn’t really exist anymore in modern comics. While I’m a fan of writer Sean McKeever, and generally like his work, there isn’t much to recommend here. It’s a cute enough story, but if you really want  a great story about a loner kid and his giant robot, watch The Iron Giant.

CULL

The Sentry – The Sentry

This is one of Marvel’s weirder experiments, and one that eventually succeeded, though perhaps not in the way Marvel intended. The Sentry was one of the greatest marketing ploys in the history of comics, but also a great example of organic, fan-based storytelling. Here’s how it played out: In 1998, Marvel “leaked” to Wizard Magazine, that they had “discovered” a lost silver age character that had been created by Stan Lee, and by a fictional creator named Arnie Rosen. This got some attention, until Marvel finally fessed up and acknowledged that it was a hoax. They continued the premise of this being a “lost” hero in the pages of the first Sentry comic, and Paul Jenkins fabricated a complicated story about someone who was actually the greatest hero of his generation, but no one (including Marvel’s other heroes) could remember him.

As a marketing ploy, this was brilliant. But as a character, the Sentry never clicked with audiences. The original series itself wasn’t that good, and was less of a cohesive story than it was a series of vignettes told by various characters in the Marvel universe. It suited Jenkins writing style, and there are few nice character moments, but it just didn’t work as a story.  After the mixed reaction to the original series, Marvel put the character on the bench for a few years until he was finally brought into Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers. Bendis’ shrewdly recognized that the character wasn’t really that likable, and used some of the mental instability that Jenkins had written into the character earlier as a major plot point. So now you have the most powerful being on earth, slowly going nuts. And it worked. It created a lot of tension, and the Sentry served as an effective deus ex machina in Marvel’s books for the next several years. As plot point in a team book, The Sentry worked exceptionally well. But as the lead character in his own heroic comic book? Not so much.

Cull

Shanna The She-Devil – Shanna The She-Devil

I don’t think that the female breast has ever had a more passionate champion than Frank Cho. He’s such a big fan, that if they didn’t exist already, I think he would have had to create them. And so we have Shanna The She-Devil, which isn’t really a story about Shanna so much as it a story about how Marvel is smart enough to let the preeminent penciler of curvy women, do a comic about curvy women. And as a generic jungle adventure Shanna The She-Devil works. Barely. But there really isn’t anything to this story other than: Pretty Girl In Bikini, which is fine if you’re reading a book of pin-ups, but not fine if you want a cohesive serial adventure. This was a cull for me, but it’s a fine example of why Cho is one of the finest pencillers in the game today.

CULL

Next up: She-Hulk! She’s like the Hulk, but with breasts!

 

Movie Review: X-Men – First Class

There’s been quite a bit of consternation about this movie from the geek community over the last year, despite it being directed by current director du jour of comic book films, Matthew Vaughn. “It’s being rushed!” you say. “It won’t fit into continuity” you say. “I won’t watch an X-Men movie without Hugh Jackman naked”, you say.

I’m pleased to tell you that your fears have been alleviated. X-Men First Class is a worthy successor to the X-Men film franchise as done by 20th Century Fox, in that it’s an overly simplistic, mindlessly silly piece of mediocre entertainment.  And not in a good way.

This is getting some rave reviews, and I’ve spent much of the weekend trying to figure out why. Is it the “blink and you’ll miss it” breakneck pace of the script, that adds more exposition than the book of Exodus yet doesn’t give us a chance to actually learn anything about any of the characters except for their name and power? And in a few cases not even that much? Or is it the mediocre script that hides its failings by tying the whole mess to the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or is it the overly clever way it clumsily foreshadows events we’ve seen in previous X-men films? Or maybe it’s just the soulless, dead eyes of January Jones? Probably a combo of them all.

What I didn’t like: 

The script –  There seems to be some debate as to who actually wrote this script, but I’m not sure why, as I’m not sure why anybody would actually want to take credit for it. There are some good things about this script from a technical standpoint. It accomplishes pretty much everything it sets out to in regards to plot points: A group of superhumans brought together by a brilliant mutant named Charles Xavier, attempt to stop a rogue mutant named Sebastien Shaw in his attempt to bring about nuclear holocaust. Ok. Mission accomplished. The script gets the job done, in that it lays out the plot relatively well, and also introduces the characters in an effective, though quick and clumsy manner. What it doesn’t do is to give us any reason to care about ANY of these characters except for two: Mystique, and Magneto.

Kevin Bacon, wondering exactly how his once stellar career went so wrong.

They are the only 2 characters that have any depth at all, but even they have their limitations. Magneto’s is that while are given more than ample reason why he would want to kill the main villain of the piece himself, we are NOT given anything more than that, and the final choices he makes seem to come out of almost nowhere. Mystique is probably the most fully realized character in the piece, but she is held back by the Portman-As-Padme-esque vacant stare of Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence seems determined to prove that her fantastic performance in last year’s phenomenal Winter’s Bone was nothing more than a fluke, though to be fair she doesn’t have much to work with in the way of dialogue.

The rest of the characters are given such short shift, that their very inclusion is little more than a distraction. Although much time is given to fully explain each of our new mutant’s powers, none is given to actually giving any of these people a reason for being there in the first place. For example: Would a black taxi-driver in 1961 really decide that it would be a great idea to voluntarily move to a secret US government facility without anyone knowing about it? And why would a stripper decide to betray the only people who actually accept her for who she is after a 3 sentence pitch from a complete stranger? X-Men First Class is hoping that you’re too excited about getting to see another X-Men movie to want to know the answers to these, and numerous other questions that the movie provokes (Why exactly is Sebastien Shaw trying to cause a nuclear holocaust when he has absolutely no proof that that would create more mutants? Would Charles Xavier’s parents really be ok with him adopting a naked 12-year-old blue girl? And who the frak thought that the makeup job on Hank McCoy was a good idea?)

The biggest problem here is that the film attempts to cram 2 or 3 movies into one. There isn’t much wrong here that another hour or two of proper set up and character building couldn’t have fixed. The one positive comment about the script that I will make is that the many changes it makes in X-Men continuity are good ones that serve the film well, and tie into the existing franchise far better than I would have thought possible. Some fans might be up in arms over the minor cosmetic changes that Vaughn and company made to the history of the X-Men, but not me.

 The acting – Much attention is being given to the performances of Michael Fassbender as Magneto, James McAvoy as Xavier, and Kevin Bacon as Sebastien Shaw. And they do a serviceable job with the poor material that they’re given. But any success they have on the screen is completely negated by the film-destroying anti-charisma of January Jones. Like a beautiful black hole, she threatens to suck any and or all joy out of every scene she’s in. To be fair, she plays the role of Emma Frost exactly like she plays the role of Betty Draper, but without the benefit of a good supporting cast or great script. Sadly, the clumsiness of the script pretty much prohibits any real acting talent from breaking through here.

I know, I’m being harsh. This isn’t Phantom Menace bad, or Transformers 2 bad. In fact, it’s not even close. Probably the biggest disappointment here isn’t that it’s a bad movie, but that it really wouldn’t have been very much effort at all to transform this into a good movie. But then again, this was produced by Fox, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Though this was a mis-step for Matthew Vaughn, it was a relatively small one, and I’m confident that once he sinks his teeth into something with far less studio intervention, and a little more meat, he’ll be fine. I wish I could say the same for the X-Men franchise.

Rating: C-

 

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 52: Marvel Comics – Runaways!

Runaways – Pride & Joy, Teenage Wasteland, The Good Die Young, True Believers, Escape To New York, Parental Guidance, Live Fast, Dead End Kids

The Runaways is probably the best original concept Marvel has produced in the past 20 years. So why haven’t you heard of them?

Keep in mind I said concept, and not characters. As characters, the team is charismatic, but they’re hardly unique in that. There are lots of comic books full of precocious, annoying teenagers with superpowers. And most of them are terrible (I’m looking at you Teen Titans. And New Mutants. And Avengers Academy!) But as a concept, this series is gold: Once a year, a group of kids are forced to spend an evening together while their parents ostensibly get together to manage the various charities they run. One year, the kids get bored, and whilst spying on their parents, discover them ritually killing a young prostitute. Yep, it’s the old “Our parents actually sacrifice hookers to Satan” standby.

So now the kids know this terrible secret. And they run. And because it’s a Marvel comic, they happen to gain superpowers and magical weapons along the way to help them survive. Parents Bad is a well-worn cliché in young-adult fiction, but for a good reason. And writer Brian Vaughan knows it, and crafts a well-told story that takes advantage of the concept effectively. The first 18 issues are a how-to in how to write a great, kids-focused adventure comic. It’s got everything you could possibly want in a teen angst book: Drama, Romance, and Telepathic Dinosaurs. It’s got action, but not too much. It’s got superhero stuff, but not too much. And of course it’s got teen whineyness. But not too much.

And then the story ends. I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything when I tell you that the kids get away, and eventually vanquish their hated ‘rents. But by now the book is a minor critical hit, and Marvel knows that there’s still money in the concept. And so although series creator Vaughan has left the book, they bring in Joss Whedon to try to continue the magic. He fails. And then they bring in Terry Moore. And he fails. And so on.

The reason why Runaways hasn’t worked past its original mandate is because the magic here isn’t the actual characters, it’s the story the characters are in: It’s the story of kids running away from super villain parents. Once they get away, the story is done. And then you’re just left with another average teen hero book. Which is what Runaways eventually became. But until then, there is real magic to be found here.

There’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to see the first several arcs of Runaways in movie theatres within the next few years. Out of all of the concepts that Marvel is batting around the whole movie theatre wishing box these days, this is the one that has the most potential to go after a mainstream, non-comic book reading audience. Just don’t expect me to go to the sequel.

Pride & Joy, Teenage Wasteland, The Good Die Young, True Believers, Escape To New York, Parental Guidance, Live Fast: Keep;  Dead End Kids: Cull.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 51: Marvel Comics – The Punisher

The Punisher. He shoots bad guys until they are dead. The end.

The Punisher is the worst character in comic book history. That is, if your definition of “character” is a multi-layered personality with contradictory motivations and actions. The Punisher has no layers, as he has no substance. He’s vengeance. He’s retribution. He’s anger. And he’s one of the most effective plot devices in comic history. But he’s not a character.

The Punisher’s story is essentially a play on the Batman mythos: A retired U.S. Marine watches his family get gunned down as collateral damage by the mob, not long after he gets back from Vietnam. He then spends the rest of his life hunting down and executing criminals, with extreme vigour. There’s none of the nuance of the Batman character however, and while I find that it’s pretty easy to find entertaining Punisher stories, it’s not easy to find great ones.

The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank, Army Of One, Business As Usual, Streets Of Laredo, Full Auto, Confederacy Of Dunces

This was the first of two series that Garth Ennis wrote about Marvel’s premier vigilante, and while I prefer his second series, this is the one that got the ball rolling, and also got the most attention. This was written in the late 90s and was described as a return to the character’s roots, though I’m having a hard time remembering any Punisher comics from the 70’s or 80’s that featured a hapless detective with a predilection for incest and transsexuals. This series isn’t so much Ennis’ take on the Punisher as it is Ennis’ take on Ennis. This is pure, unadulterated Ennis, in all of its over the top, grossly violent glory. As such, it’s a polarizing series, and not one that’s for everyone. Though I enjoy the well-planned violence, and am definitely a sucker for Ennis’ knack for bittersweet character moments, I have one major problem with this book. And it’s the same problem I have with pretty much every Garth Ennis book I own: Humour. Or better yet, the absence of such. The man isn’t funny. Which is fine. He’s a fine action storyteller, and is one of the best character writers in comics today, so it’s not like the man doesn’t have talent. The problem is that he thinks he’s Sam Fucking Kinison, and liberally peppers his action stories with unfunny, gross out, shock jock jokes best suited for a grade 9 boys gym class.

It’s a small negative, but one that comes up so often in Ennis’ work that it needs to be mentioned. And while it’s prevalence in THIS series stops it from achieving greatness, Ennis was objective enough about his own work to tone down the humour in the series that followed this one.

KEEP

The Punisher MAX – In The Beginning, Kitchen Irish, Mother Russia, Up Is Down Black Is White, The Slavers, Barracuda, Man Of Stone, Born

Now we’re talking. This was Ennis’ “adult” take on the Punisher, and to my mind it’s the best Punisher series of all time. Ennis recognizes that the Punisher is a concept that works much better in our “real” world than he does in a world full of costumed do-gooders, and strips the character down to its basics. There are no superheroes or aliens in this Punisher’s world: Only revenge.

Like Will Eisner’s work on the Spirit, Ennis realizes that his lead character isn’t actually that interesting himself, and uses him not so much as a lead character so much as a plot device. This series isn’t really about the Punisher; it’s about people’s reaction to the Punisher. And so you get some of the best written small and large war or crime comics written in the last decade. It took me YEARS to give this a shot, simply because I wasn’t interested in reading more silly, over-the-top potty jokes about a character I don’t care about. I’m happy to report that this series is about as different from its predeccor as is possible, and it’s a series that really showcases Ennis’ skill as one of the best action writers in the game. Highly recommended.

KEEP

Punisher Max: Kingpin, Bullseye

Jason Aaron is in charge for this incarnation of the Punisher, and not only is his run a worthy heir to Ennis’, there’s a good chance that he might even surpass it. Because this is the “Max” Punisher, there are no superheroes, or costumes, or Norse gods, or nothing. Although realism is the main selling point of the Max line, Aaron recognized that there was some room for cross-over, and decided to introduce two of the regular Marvel U’s top villains into the mix. And so we get the Kingpin, and we get Bullseye. We’ve seen them before, so no biggie, right?

Wrong. Aaron doesn’t so much reinvent these two great characters as much as he deconstructs them for a 21st century crime-ridden world: His Bullseye isn’t dangerous because he can kill a man with a toothpick, he’s dangerous because of his absolute unpredictability. And Aaron’s Kingpin isn’t dangerous because he can bench press a Volkswagen, he’s dangerous because of his uncompromising strategic ruthlessness. And so we get an action-packed, uber-violent gangster story that I truly believe will go down as one of the best Punisher stories of all time. And in fact may end up being the LAST of the great Punisher stories. Aaron is taking the character past the point of no return, and it’s hard to see how he can wrap this up without the character having a bullet in his head. Again, highly recommended.

KEEP

Punisher War Journal: Civil War  

This was a recent attempt to bring the Punisher back into the regular Marvel universe, and like all such attempts, it failed miserably. The problem here is that there is NO chance that characters with the moral certainty of Spider-Man or Captain America would EVER let a serial killer like the Punisher walk around. None. There is no way you can justify it to me, and as such I have a hard time taking any regular Punisher stories that seriously. Although writer Matt Fraction does try to give the Marvel characters a good reason to let the Punisher pal around with them for a bit, the whole thing just feels quite gimmicky and forced.

CULL

Punisher – No Escape, The Prize

These are two stand-alone graphic novels from the mid 1990s. I was surprised at how well each of them stood the test of time, with The Prize being of particularly good quality. These aren’t going to win any Eisner Hall Of Fame awards anytime soon, but they’re solid, well-written action stories that serve the character and concept well.

KEEP

 

Punisher – Circle Of Blood

This was the first Punisher mini-series, and it’s one that hasn’t really aged well. This was still in the early days of the character, where there was some attempt at giving the concept some depth. With depth came dilution, and by the end of this toothless mini-series Frank Castle is so watered down from his original heartless assassin concept that you can’t believe the character ever survived past the 80’s.

CULL

NEXT UP: Runaways!

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.

KEEP

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.

CULL

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.

KEEP

Next up: The Punisher!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 49: Marvel Comics – Ms. Marvel, New Mutants, NewUniversal, Nextwave, and Nick Fury!

Ms. Marvel: Best Of The Best, Civil War, Operation Lighting Storm, Monster Smash, Secret Invasion, Ascension, Dark Reign, War Of The Marvels, Best You Can Be

This was a well-intentioned effort on Marvel’s part to bolster their ranks of prominent female heroes a few years back. Ms. Marvel’s history goes back all the way to the mid 1970s, but to even call her a B-list character would be giving far more credit than she deserves. She’s worse than a B-list character; she’s a female ripoff of a B-list character. After the events of House Of M (Middling Marvel cross-over event that we’ll get to later) Marvel felt that the character could use a push, and enlisted Brian Reed to make it happen. I remember this series starting well, but also remember it losing steam about half-way through. I was wrong. This series never had any steam to lose. The premise is sound: A B-list hero who has never fully realized her potential decides to become the A-list leader she always new she could be. That’s a good premise, but Reed seems to forget about it almost immediately after coming up with the idea. And so plot lines regarding publicists and career juggling are dropped almost immediately, and this becomes just another run-of-the-mill superhero title quite quickly. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there, and frequent artist changes, as well Reed’s misguided attempts to make the title always fit into current Marvel continuity scuttle the book completely. I should give some kudos to the stunningly sexy covers by Frank Cho, though unfortunately they’re not enough to save the series from the dreaded CULL.

CULL

Nextwave: Agents Of H.A.T.E.

Warren Ellis is considered one of the very best writers in the recent history of mainstream comic books. And there is much evidence to support that. All you need to read are Planetary, Fell, or Global Frequency (not to mention The Authority or Transmetropolitan) to realize that the man has a serious talent.

But you’d never know it by reading his work for Marvel and DC.

Why? Because the man has a very unique and specific voice. And writers that have very unique voices rarely succeed in mainstream superhero books (The two BIGGEST exceptions to this are Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Claremont, both of whom have very distinctive dialogue styles, and both of whom have been extremely successful). And while he’s one of my favourite writers, I don’t believe he continues to get Marvel and DC work because his work for them is that good, I believe he continues to get it because HE”S WARREN ELLIS. So when you hire him to do X-Men, you get WARREN ELLIS. And when you hire him to do Batman, you get WARREN ELLIS. And those stories are never quite as good as when he’s playing with characters and concepts that are wholly his.

I’m not complaining at all, I’m just saying that I’m not sure why a man with such a unique voice, and such interesting ideas, even bothers with franchise characters that don’t lend themselves well to what he can bring to the table. And so enter Nextwave. Nextwave was basically Ellis’ attempt to play in the Marvel sandbox while giving himself as much freedom as possible. And so we get an over-the-top comedy action book featuring a bunch of characters so bush league that they make Ms. Marvel look like Spider-Man.

This is a fun book, but it’s also one that’s fairly disposable. It’s huge, funny, violent, and not big on plot. It’s basically Ellis reworking his Authority concept, but played for laughs. Get it if you’re an Ellis completist, or for the fantastic art of Stuart Immonen.

KEEP

New Mutants – New Mutants Graphic Novel

Mutants are the Marvel version of corn. Marvel creates so many of them that they end up putting out mediocre book after mediocre book just to feature them all, even though all we really want is one GOOD book. This 80’s graphic novel was one of Marvels MANY attempts at skewing their X franchises at a younger demographic, as well as an attempt at duplicating the success they had a few years earlier with their “new” X-Men. The story is quite pedestrian: Charles Xavier doesn’t want to train any more mutants, but they keep showing up, and so he does. The end. The New Mutants would go on to actually have some very good and very interesting stories in the 1980’s, but this one, their first, wasn’t one of them.

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NewUniversal: Everything Went White

Yet another attempt at a Marvel book by Warren Ellis, and it’s one that takes some explaining. In the mid 80’s, then Marvel EIC Jim Shooter launched something called The New Universe, a half-assed attempt to create a whole bunch of new IPs that Marvel could exploit for decades to come. Good idea, except that Shooter forgot the first rule of superhero comic books: People who like superhero comics fear change. He also forgot the second rule of superhero comic books: People who like superhero comics always want something new. Now, if you can figure out how to make Rule 1 work with Rule 2, then you’re a better person than 98% of the people who have ever worked in the comic book industry.

Suffice it to say, the New Universe fizzled out, but for some reason Marvel decided a few years back to get Warren Ellis to revamp it. And I would say that he did a nice job. Not necessarily nice enough that I want to see a dozen comic books based on his concepts, but nice enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing another 10 or 15 issues just to wrap everything up in a bow. This is basically Ellis introducing superpowers into a non-superpowered world, and he’s introducing concepts that will be familiar to anyone that’s read his Planetary or Authority books. While I’m not sure that this is different enough from those landmarks to justify owning it, it’s still an entertaining enough origin story, and one that stands up quite well.

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Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

If you look at any list of the greatest comic books of the 1960’s, Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury is pretty much always going to be high on that list. And for good reason. Any comic that can blow me away with its action sequences at the same time that my wife is peaking over my shoulder to steal furniture ideas for our home HAS to be special. And this one is. This is a pop art masterpiece disguised as a James Bond pastiche, and probably more of a product of its times than pretty much any Marvel comic before or since. And so the number one characteristic that the book has going for it, is also its biggest drawback. This thing is so dated that it makes Watergate look timely. As negatives go it’s a minor one, but one to watch out for nonetheless.

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Next up: Nova, The Pulse, and The Punisher!