One thing I’ve learned about writing funnybook reviews over the long term is that I can never be satisfied with my approach to it. When I’m reviewing everything I read, I start to feel like I’m saying the same things about the same books over and over again. And when I focus down to discuss single books in-depth (as I’ve been doing lately), I feel like I’m neglecting a lot of really great comics. Sigh. What’s a reviewer to do?
Well… maybe I could… play a little catch-up? Yeah! Yeah, that sounds good. So let’s get on with that…
I suppose, for the sake of my site traffic, that I should start with the corporate spandex stuff. It never ceases to amaze me what a spike I see when I write about that stuff. I mean, it shouldn’t. Lion’s share of the market, generations of readers invested in the characters, major motion pictures, etc. It’s the funnybook equivalent of writing about Taylor Swift, as opposed to St. Vincent.
Not that I’m equating Jonathan Hickman with Taylor Swift, exactly. I mean, I suppose any given issue of Secret Wars is sort of like Hickman’s version of a pop single: catchy, crowd-pleasing, and interesting only as a secondary concern to the first two factors. Of course, I suppose Hickman’s corporate work is really more akin to a rock anthem than a pop single. The difference between “We Are the Champions” and “Under Pressure,” then. Mindless and fun to belt out in the car, as opposed to catchy but kind of thought-provoking.
I’ve stretched this metaphor too far, haven’t I?
SECRET WARS! By Hickman and Ribic!
The BIGGEST CROSSOVER EVENT OF THE YEAR ™ rumbles on, expanded and delayed. I can see why it needed more issues than originally planned: Hickman’s got a lot of pieces in play in this series (all the pieces, basically) and he needs to get them into place while not skimping on the themes and character movements he’s been developing with them for so many years. Because this really does continue to read like the culmination of everything he’s done for Marvel to date. Mostly Fantastic Four and Illuminati, granted. Of course, Illuminati sometimes read like a continuation of his FF work, too, so…
Well, holy crap.
SECRET WARS IS REALLY A STEALTH FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC!
No, seriously! It’s all about Dr. Doom and his relationship with Reed Richards. He envies his foe so deeply that, when he achieves ultimate power and becomes like unto a living god, he sets himself up with Richards’ wife and children. He’s using the Thing and the Human Torch as, essentially, objects to keep the world running (Johnny is the sun, and Ben is the giant wall separating the zombies from the living). The secret to Doom’s power is fellow FF villain the Molecule Man. There’s a Galactus standing around communing with Franklin. Any bad guy who’s not a Fantastic Four staple is essentially his bitch (the X-Men villains are especially prominent servants of Doom).
Reed Richards himself, meanwhile, is leading the secret resistance against Doom’s rule. He’s got Avengers and Spider-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy out doing stuff for him. And Fantastic Four villain Maximus the Mad has been revealed as the guy put out there to rouse the peasants into revolt.
It’s the FF’s Battleworld, bitches! The rest of the Marvel Universe is just along for the freaking ride.
Granted, I suppose it’s sort of a last hurrah for the team, before they trudge off into movie-mogul-dictated cancellation. It doesn’t make up for that tremendous slight, mind you, but screw it. I’ll take what I can get. And maybe it’ll give the old bastard an extra ulcer or two, if he ever figures it out…
Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Secret Wars. Expanded and delayed. Hickman’s doing his best to move the pieces around well and keep the story flowing. But even with the added issues, I’m afraid he’s failing. There are too many moving parts to this story, and not enough pages to do them all justice. If he’d had 12 issues, he might have been able to pull it off. As it is, though, things are becoming disjointed. The reveal of Maximus as the prophet of the revolution, for instance, is so abrupt and unsatisfying that Hickman tries to make it into a joke.
But it’s still abrupt and unsatisfying, even if I did chuckle a bit. It just feels like pieces of the story are missing, or at least that they’re not getting enough development to fully satisfy.
Esad Ribic’s art makes it easier to deal with that dissatisfaction, of course. It’s beautiful work, far better than what this kind of crossover bollocks generally gets saddled with. He’s not an artist you can rush through sudden additional issues, though, and I’m sure that’s the reason for the delays as much as anything.
It has pushed the Secret Wars ending well-past the starting point for the post-Secret-Wars Marvel relaunch, though, and even past the end point for many of its accompanying mini-series. That’s damaged the mystery of the thing somewhat, and in the case of the final issue of Weirdworld, even kind of spoiled the ending of Secret Wars itself. But, hey! Speaking of that…
WEIRDWORLD! By Aaron and del Mundo!
This romp through the halls of obscure copyrights has come to an end in appropriately thunderous style, as all the various bizarre characters we’ve met along the way finally come together in battle against Morgan LeFey. So it’s Man-Things and barbarians and crystal warriors (including the I-can’t-believe-they-picked-up-the-toy-rights Crystar the Crystal Warrior), rendered in manic kinetic glory!
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Really, Mike del Mundo is at least (at least!) half the reason this book is as good as it is. I mean, I enjoyed Aaron’s story, but to see this thing drawn in a less over the top style would have really diminished it. Seriously. I can’t stress that enough. I mean, look at what he did with what’s essentially a recap of previous issues:
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With stuff like that to look at, Weirdworld ranks among the best pure fun comics I’ve read this year. It reminds me of the crazed inventiveness of James Stokoe’s Orc Stain. In fact, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, it’s kind of cribbing that book’s style. But in the absence of new Orc Stain, I’ll take it. So I’m pleased to hear that Weirdworld is one of the concepts that’s going to survive Secret Wars, with the floating double-sided island that hosts the impossible shifting patchwork landscape evidently taking up residence in the Bermuda Triangle.
Unfortunately, the on-going series won’t be done by the Aaron/del Mundo team. So we’ll see if their special brand of madness can survive in other hands. I’m thinking not, though, so that’s a creative switch I’m kind of regretting in advance. I think I’d rather read Aaron on this book than I would Dr. Strange. Speaking of which…
Doctor Strange! By Aaron and Bachalo!
We’re a couple of issues in here, and I’m having the same mixed feelings on this book I did when I wrote about the first issue: I’m mildly annoyed by the “magic bro” take on Dr. Strange himself, but the highly imaginative take on magic itself is cool and fun to read. Sometimes I think I like it in spite of myself. I kind of feel the same way about Black Canary, now that I think about it. I dig the fresh take, but… I’m doing it again. Here:
Black Canary! By Fletcher and Wu! And Guera and Jarrell! ‘Cause There Was a Fill-In!
As I was saying, I really like the fresh take this book represents. Putting Black Canary at the head of a rock band is an awful lot of fun. I understand that there are fanboyish continuity concerns here, and considering my feelings on Dr. Strange: Magic Bro, I can sympathize with them. But that’s not my nerd-fight. Last time I read a story with Black Canary in it, she inherited her Canary Cry powers from her mother, the Golden Age Black Canary of Earth-Two. Anything past that is new to me. But her personality doesn’t seem all that far removed from the character I remember, so I’m cool with it.
Well, mostly. The new (to me, anyway) revelation that her powers come from some kind of all-singing, all-dancing version of Wolverine’s Weapon X program…
(I’m the best there is at what I do. And what I do… IS BLOW SIMON COWELL’S MIND!)
…strikes me as more than a little bit silly. And the idea that the band’s mute pre-pubescent guitar prodigy is somehow the genetic source of those powers is sillier still. Personally, I was a lot happier when it was just a story about Black Canary’s band constantly getting attacked by people who hate her because… well because history. That was fun. The more backstory, complication, and “THIS ALL TIES INTO BLACK CANARY’S SECRET PAST!!!” we get, the less interested I am.
I’d rather the series just focus on the new status quo, the way Warren Ellis has done on his last couple of corporate spandex gigs. His Moon Knight reinvention was a blast, acknowledging the character’s past while still breaking with it for a fresh take. And now he’s doing Karnak, which… Oh, yeah…
KARNAK! By Ellis and Zafano!
The thing I’m blown away by the most here is the fact that this book even exists. Because… Seriously? Karnak? I’m aware of the dictate from Marvel brass to try to make the Inhumans into the new X-Men because they don’t have the movie rights to the X-Men, but… I mean… Nobody outside of the guy who gave that order really believes that’s going to work, right? Don’t get me wrong. I dig the Inhumans. They’re great weird characters. But… I mean… Nobody thinks this is going to work. They can barely keep a single Inhumans series running. So splitting Karnak off into his own book like he’s going to be their version of Wolverine is…
Wait. Actually, that’s kind of brilliant. I’ve always thought Karnak had a fascinating super power: he can see the flaw in anything, enabling him to hit it at precisely the right point, and with exactly the right force, to break it. I’ve loved that ever since I was a kid. But too often, he just comes off like a giant-headed kung fu guy, a secondary member of a secondary super-team. Unimaginative writing has lead to him seeming pretty lame most of the time. That’s cursed the Inhumans as a group, of course, but Karnak in particular has come off poorly because of it.
Enter Warren Ellis. With the Inhumans’ new higher profile in the world, he’s got Karnak establishing a sort of monastery, teaching his mental and physical techniques to a group of willing pupils. It’s an ascetic philosophy, one that doesn’t make Karnak an especially sympathetic lead. While unfailingly moral, he can be pretty harsh, and not in a “cool bad-ass” kind of way, either. He’s kind of an asshole a lot of the time, and doesn’t really like people very much. Unfortunately, though, it costs money to maintain the school. So Karnak hires himself out as a trouble-shooter, aiding SHIELD (and, one assumes, other people) in cases where his unique skills can be of service.
It’s a nice set-up, one that allows Ellis to explore Karnak’s unsentimental, ultra-realist worldview while still offering up adventure stories. Harsh, tonally realistic adventure stories, mind you. But adventure stories nonetheless. Kind of like what Ellis is doing on his James Bond book, which…
Ah, hell. Normally, that would be a nice transition out of the spandex stuff, but I’m running out of time. So I guess we’ll have to continue catching up next week. Still a lot of good funnybooks to talk about, after all. Really, the stuff I like the most. But for now, I bid you all adieu.