Sunday, August 22, 2010

Five Comics Worth Reading - August 2010

By the nature of the character and his history, it’s not uncommon for most writers to just do big smash-‘em-up action stories when it comes to The Hulk, and a lot of them are pretty fun, but I love when folks go outside the framework and cast him in sagas with uncharacteristic depths. I’ve made no secret that Peter David’s Hulk run is one of my favorite extended comic works by virtue of the psychological edge he brought and the use of humor. Over the last several years, Greg Pak has brought his own unique take to the Hulk mythos while also providing no shortage of epic fights from Planet Hulk to World War Hulk. Since the creation of Bruce Banner’s son, Skaar, Pak has introduced a new element not really explored in Hulk history: the notion of family. With Incredible Hulk #611, the wrap to Pak’s end of World War Hulks as well as a major climax for the Skaar saga, he really stepped it up a notch further with an issue packed with both an amazing battle between gamma goliaths as well as an emotional punch provided by the mining of Banner’s own childhood and how it has affected him even more than we knew. It’s smart, it’s raw and it balances intensity and fun with intellectualism; it’s great work from a great writer not to mention possibly career-best stuff from artist Paul Pelletier, who has had a heck of a career, so I don’t put that lightly. I’ve been fortunate enough to scan the first issue of this book’s new incarnation, Incredible Hulks (yes, plural) and the hits are going to keep coming in a “team” book that fills a niche I don’t think we’ve fully seen.

Justice League International was a seminal work and a wholly unique one for the time it came out in, casting super hero teams—indeed THE super hero team—in a more down-to-earth and humorous light. Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis did an incredible job sustaining what could have been a quick burnout concept for years and elevating characters like Booster Gold, Fire and Ice to places they never would have been. Unfortunately, once the title did run its course, the characters seemed to flounder and lose their place save for the occasional fun reunion mini; they were a group people had a lot of affection for, but that seemed to have had a definitive expiration date. Kudos then to Judd Winick—the the initial aid of Giffen—for finally bringing the old crew back together and making them work in a more serious context that doesn’t chuck the fun wholesale and incorporates all the characters’ continuity. Generation Lost has been a neat ride thus far that has some weight to it with the threat posed by Max Lord feeling large in scale and a cool underdog vibe to how the JLI crew is viewed both by others and themselves. I like the way Winick has cast Booster and company as underachievers determined to prove the world wrong but not entirely confident they can; it feels organic. I’m also amazed I didn’t see the Kingdom Come connection coming, so more props for that.

I’ll admit that, particularly as a Roy Harper fan, Justice League: Cry For Justice was a tough sell for me, but I’ve also got to say I’ve really been digging what James Robinson has been doing with Justice League of America since taking over in earnest and getting his first few issues out of the way. I like that he has made it the one-stop-shop for all DC characters and continuity; a nexus of the DC Universe with dozens of cameos and allusions to past stories every issue. In some ways it feels like if Starman was a love letter to a certain type of fiction and era of nostalgia, Robinson’s JLA is that on a grander scale to DC as a whole, and I can dig that. I’m still not 100% sold on Congorilla—I don’t subscribe to the “he’s cool because he’s a talking gorilla” deal that I know is enough for some people—or Supergirl in the big leagues, but I like Robinson’s take on Dick Grayson-as-Batman and he seems to have a decent shot at figuring out the formula for ciphers like Donna Troy and Jade. Seeing Mark Bagley get to draw so many characters is a nice perk and the current crossover with Justice Society of America is popcorn action done pretty entertainingly, so no complaints here.

Jonathan Maberry has very quickly and suddenly emerged as a promising new voice in the Marvel stable of writers. I found his DoomWar event to be a well-plotted, well-paced story with plenty of action and an old school super hero dynamic that didn’t feel dated; Maberry is a successful novelist who clearly has an excellent grasp of his tools as a writer and a comic book fan who has been able to translate his skills to this medium. Marvel Universe Vs. The Punisher allows Maberry to flex different muscles in a post-apocalyptic tale that resembles I Am Legend done Marvel-style but also stands on its own just fine. Frank Castle fits nicely into the role of archetypal of the grumpy, jaded loner looking to stay alive and refusing to acknowledge his own heroism. Maberry’s take on Marvel characters seized by a 28 Days Later-like rage virus is both scary and fun, with little jokes and flourishes only a guy who knows his stuff could make. Goran Parlov is really clever with his art as well, incorporating in gags like bird-themed characters being among the first scavengers to pick apart a homeless shelter (apparently I have a more twisted sense of humor than I thought). This is only a four-issue limited series that’s already half-way done, so I urge you to get your hands on it ASAP.

I let the first two issues of this series sit at the bottom of my pile of comps from Marvel for weeks and am now very much regretting it. It’s real cool the way Roger Langridge is completely re-imagining the Thor saga as a total “stranger in a strange land” story; the characters of Thor, Jane Foster, et al. feel familiar yet new and you’re really not sure what’s going to happen next. Thus far Langridge has done a great job of capturing what it would feel like if a world as fantastic as Thor’s subtly infringed on our relatively mundane one, a story I’ve seen before but rarely done so well. I also like the way the layers are being slowly peeled back to introduce teases of Asgard and the super heroic into Jane’s life and we get to see it through her eyes; I’m on the edge of my seat thinking how rad it’s going to be when we actually see Odin and the rest, so I hope it continues to be built to a little bit at a time. In addition to a great new take on Jane that casts her as more than just a Silver Age love interest, Langridge really explores some intriguing sides of Thor, not just focusing on the proud warrior but also the homesick traveler and perhaps most engaging the lost orphan missing his family and chasing their love. Chris Samnee is one of comics’ best kept secrets and he’s really breaking out here. Can’t wait to see where this goes and if the goal is to get people psyched for the movie, I daresay this book should be a nice success.


Anonymous said...

Re - the review for Gen Lost 7:
'Indeed THE super hero team'.
Since when was JLI ever depicted as this?

Ben Morse said...

Not the JLI but the Justice League in general. They are DC's--and perhaps all of comics'--most well-known team, so JLI was casting THE team in a different light.