Book Of The Week – HERC #9
While HERC is a dead book walking – this is the penultimate issue of this ongoing series – writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have begun to find their stride with the character again. The dynamic duo of writers ran INCREDIBLE HERCULES for years, and then continued the stories in various mini-series such as HERCULES: FALL OF AN AVENGER, PRINCE OF POWER, and CHAOS WAR. With the end of CHAOS WAR, the two were essentially finished with their grand scale epic with Hercules, but were tasked with relaunching the character in an ongoing series. Their choice was to either continue business as usual, or do something drastic. They chose the latter – choosing to make Hercules a mortal man without super-powers, and have him act as a vigilante in Brooklyn armed with mystical weaponry (and centuries of battle experience). To a degree, the series has spent most of these nine issues having obligatory crossovers with FEAR ITSELF or SPIDER-ISLAND; both Hobgoblin and Kingpin from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN also became key plot points. The series is now free from crossovers to pursue it’s own subplots – for just one more issue. At any rate, Van Lente and Pak for most of HERC’s run have focused more on straight forward adventure and action rather than slapstick comedy which often defined INCREDIBLE HERCULES. Despite a great debut, HERC’s sales dove-tailed since, which suggests the change to the status quo didn’t keep fans around.
This issue, much as the last one, brings things back to hilarious focus. Hera has decided to punish Zeus for once again cheating on their “open” marriage by doing to him what has been done to Herc – make him mortal. Without godly powers, Zeus is now out of shape, middle aged, and apparently in a perpetual drunken haze. This proves to be ill timed, as he lands in Hercules’ lap just as he is about to go out on another crusade in the streets of Brooklyn. Herc’s three loyal worshippers – actually two “fanboys” and one “fangirl” – act as his tech support to coordinate him towards robberies or crimes in progress. Tonight’s crusade is stopping a break-in at an art museum which quickly involves Hand ninja and Elektra. As readers of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, or last year’s SHADOWLAND may know, Kingpin is the current leader of the Hand, which means things are about to get quite interesting. The very idea of putting Elektra – a Greek assassin – in a Hercules story is such a no-brainer that it remains a mystery why it has seemed to never happen before. Flirtations and spin-kicks abound.
Regular artist Neil Edwards has been gone from the series since about issue six, which is actually quite fine; the subsequent artists have had a better grasp of physical comedy. David Hahn (ROBIN, SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE) takes over for these final two issues, and he picks up well from where June Brigman (POWER PACK, BRENDA STAR) left off. His style seems to fit with the sorts of artists who often drew INCREDIBLE HERCULES (Khoi Pham, Ryan Stegman, Clayton Henry, Reilly Brown, Rodney Buchemi) in that it is not “photorealistic” but a more classically illustrative style which is efficient for both action sequences and slapstick comedy – especially facial reactions. This was a nuance that Edwards – who is often drafted to draw things that Bryan Hitch is too busy or slow to draw – lacked on this series.
The true beauty of this issue was the continued return of great action, some clever use of mythological figures, and a lot of fast, furious, and funny one liners and exchanges. If this is truly the formula to great Pak/Van Lente Hercules greatness, then perhaps a closer attachment to a status quo is best. It is a shame this series will end as it is getting going, but in all probability, Marvel will hand the duo a mini series to wrap up any lingering plot threads – same as YOUNG ALLIES, SPIDER-GIRL, VENGEANCE OF THE MOON KNIGHT, and HEROES FOR HIRE got within this past year. In a week in which FEAR ITSELF seemed to smother a lot of books across Marvel, HERC #9 was a breath of fresh air – and quality.
BLUE BEETLE #2 – The lyrics from the scout song “LITTLE RED WAGON” seem to fit this title perfectly: “Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse”. Thus is the woe that writer Tony Bedard, artist Ig Guana and inker Ruy Jose (and colorist J.P. Mayer) have in relaunching a character whose first ongoing series only ended two years ago after 35 issues. The creative team is stuck having to re-introduce and re-tell material that Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cully Hamner did so well back in 2006 with the last BLUE BEETLE volume. The result isn’t a comic book that is poor by any means, but is one that fans of the last volume may easily become bored or disillusioned with. DC may have been wiser had they kept the continuity for BLUE BEETLE mostly intact, aside for a few “corrections”, and continued with it from where it left off, as the New 52 has done with GREEN LANTERN and BATMAN. Perhaps the biggest change in this “Jaime Reyes bonds with the alien Scarab for the first time” issue is that he gets to fight actual villains in new versions of the Brotherhood Of Evil, such as Plasmus, Warp, and Phobia. Reyes and his pal Paco have been caught up in a local war between rival metahumans minions of mobsters – one of which, “La Dama”, is the aunt of their mutual friend Brenda – on the streets of El Paso, Texas. This is a perfectly serviceable action issue, as Reyes has to “talk” to his alien scarab and convince it not to use lethal options for everything. Blue Beetle and “La Dama” meet for the first time, and the Reach – the class of aliens behind the Scarab – notice it’s activation and head for earth. The artwork is good and the dialogue is serviceable, but it pales in comparison to the prior volume. This is a criticism that remains the same from where the first issue ended (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-21-11-the-man-without-fear-or-ben-affleck-review), but I bought this issue despite myself due to pity for my local comic shop, which massively over-ordered many of the NEW 52 second issues. If one hasn’t read the 2006-2009 era BLUE BEETLE, this likely reads as perfectly entertaining young DC superhero stuff. It is always nice to see a series that stars non-white characters in a city that isn’t a sterile fictional town like Gotham City or Central City or so on. But that prior volume of BEETLE is still available in trades, and fans may be better off hunting those down instead. A bigger question is; if this Blue Beetle is now the ONLY Blue Beetle of the DC Universe, without the prior legacy, why would anyone even call it “Blue Beetle”? Why not “Blue Alien Guy”? This isn’t to say that this is a below average work; it merely has the task of imitating and retelling material from what was an exceptional and innovative book, and in 2011, it is falling short. As someone who DID read and greatly enjoyed the prior version of BLUE BEETLE, how long I remain on this series is questionable.
FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT #6 – As the overall FEAR ITSELF wraps up (sort of), this means all of the other spare tie-in mini-series are wrapping up as well. Writer Sean McKeever, artist Mike Norton, and colorist Veronica Gandini used this series to follow up on a slew of characters who used to appear in AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE and then were left to wander when that series ended last year. A chunk of the series has been devoted to a crisis in Las Vegas, which the various young heroes have both made worse (Gravity and Hardball) and sought to solve (everyone else, including the aforementioned two). This series is also the first major development that the alien Tarene/Thor Girl has gotten since her regular appearances in THOR ended at the top of the decade. Thankfully, McKeever was wise to summarize Tarene’s back story in earlier issues, so her transformation into the goddess Designate isn’t as much of a drastic surprise. As with most god-types, she basically lectures everyone present about what morons they are, before departing for space. The only difference here is that due to prior issues, Tarene does have a point. The end of the issue shows various characters moving on from the crisis with their lives, seeking to prove her wrong about the human race. Prodigy shows he had what it takes to be a leader and avoid temptation; Firestar and Gravity seem to admit their attraction, Cloud 9 returns to heroism full time, and Hardball makes up with Komodo. If there is one flaw of this series, it was that certain characters did tend to overreact in ways which to ensure that some brawls took place – an often tired trope of superhero comics. However, the artwork was great and it was truly terrific to see someone handle all of these discarded characters – many of them were new and still have loads of potential. Sales were rubbish – perhaps providing why Marvel should have simply slapped AVENGERS on the title someone to move another 2,000 copies. Overall, this wasn’t a perfect series, but it was an entertaining spare mini-series from an event with great artwork and tons of C and D List characters for hardcore fans (like yours truly).
OBLIGATORY REVIEW – FEAR ITSELF #7
Everyone fights, things explode, the bad guy goes down and one critical hero makes an obligatory sacrifice to showcase how Very Important this series was. It all comes down to an oversized $4.99 finale which has 37 story pages by writer Matt “He Was Better In ’09” Fraction, artist Stuart Immonen, inker Wade Von Grawbadger and colorist Laura Martin, as well as 16-18 pages of back up strips which promote the next mass of upcoming Marvel releases: THE FEARLESS, BATTLE SCARS, and the latest relaunches of INCREDIBLE HULK and DEFENDERS (which will also be written by Fraction). The best thing about this issue is that the focus seems to be entirely on action sequences, which gives Immonen the chance to steal the show. The artwork has long been the only appealing quality of this series, so more of that is fine. There are a lot of splash pages or pages with 4 or less panels. There are a lot of battles, many of which seem to be too brief to be satisfying despite having roughly an issue and a half’s worth of pages to wrap up. Much like the end of SIEGE, Thor has the climatic battle with a giant monster. Also like SIEGE, a big thing is made of some random schmuck helping one of the heroes at a critical juncture. A moment in which Thor tosses Mjnolir to Captain America, who has proven worthy of it in the past, it actually rather cool.
Downsides? In fairness, there are less of them than prior issues (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-14-11-everyone-has-spider-powers-but-me-review), thanks to the action and the fact that this is the end. Iron Man throws a bunch of Norse elf forged weapons to his superhero friends to fight all the evil people with magic hammers, and they have a big fight. In the end, the threat goes down with a very basic and simple solution – which makes all of the previous hand-wringing for half a year seem shallow and worthless. Many of “The Worthy”, such as Juggernaut, Absorbing Man, and Titania, had some fairly important or gripping appearances in other titles, such as UNCANNY X-MEN or AVENGERS ACADEMY. Rather than be allowed to be defeated there, and allow those crossover issues to actually be relevant to the overall series, they were yanked from those stories to appear here, in which everyone has a few action panels and then goes home. Rather than allow other titles to “handle” some of these Worthy in critical stories, Marvel allowed many titles to “borrow” some of theme for 3-6 months only to end up providing a story in which the antagonists had to be beamed out at the last minute for contractual obligations at the end. The Serpent remains a hollow husk of a villain who seemed barely capable of sufficiently filling a random issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP featuring Spider-Man and Aquarian, much less a seven month mess of an event. The fact that so many Marvel heroes gain temporary new costumes for obvious video game and action figure variations would be laughable if it weren’t done so crudely that it becomes insulting.
Thor dies at the end, having finally seemed to play out his fated death even at the end of Ragnarok. Again. Given how 2012 is the year “THE AVENGERS” hits theaters, anyone who genuinely believes Thor will still be dead at this time next year needs a brain transplant. Solicitations gave this away months ago, but the story itself made it such a predictable thing that when it happened, there was no shock. That is perhaps the biggest flaw of this event in a nutshell. More so than some others, this was a story that went through the motions and provided sound and fury, signifying nothing. Crossover events from the “big two” have long been accused of being soulless commercial monsters that exist to move comics, sell things, and check off editorial strategy checklists – FEAR ITSELF has lived up to this accusation shamelessly. While Marvel “events” of recent years have often been failures as stories, FEAR ITSELF makes those previous failures seem almost ambitious in comparison. It is without a doubt the worst written, overly hyped and needlessly expensive drivel that Marvel has published this year, and their entire strategy for next year is more of the same. If DC actually does manage to rule the direct market for longer than one month due to their NEW 52, it may not has as much to do with anything they do right, but due to Marvel editorial’s tired inertia.
The truly bad things? The epilogue to this series may last longer than the series proper. THE FEARLESS is set to be twelve issues. BATTLE SCARS and THE DEFENDERS are also direct sequels. And FEAR ITSELF #7.1, #7.2 and #7.3 are forthcoming. Marvel genuinely believes fans want more of FEAR ITSELF and it’s mythical cosplay fetish. While FEAR ITSELF #7.1 will be written by Ed Brubaker and thus may be decent, the rest will likely be avoided. For the sake of Odin, Marvel, at least PRETEND you have a new idea.
Last Week’s Comic Book Reviews – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-10-12-11-super-models-can-fight-crime-too-review
This Week’s NYCC Indie Reviews – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/new-york-comic-con-2011-reviews-the-epic-and-iconic-review