In the week in which ACTION COMICS #1 written by Grant Morrison is dominating more review columns, this column will hop on that bandwagon to an extent. It will get a review. However, it is NOT the Book Of The Week. That book is…
Book Of The Week – SPIDER-ISLAND: THE AVENGERS #1
What’s this!? In a week in which Grant Morrison reunites with the Superman franchise, a random SPIDER-ISLAND tie-in one shot wins the top spot of the column? My geek heart doesn’t lie or knowtow to the big names. Not that the creative team behind this one shot are “obscure” either. The writer is Chris Yost, who is best known for TV work on “X-MEN EVOLUTION”, “WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN”, “TMNT”, “FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD’S GREATEST HEROES”, several animated direct to videos, and being the story editor for “AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES” as well as co-writing X-23 and X-FORCE material for years. And the artist is Mike McKone, who alongside colorist collaborator Jeromy Cox, has worked on lengthy runs on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and AVENGERS ACADEMY in the recent past. So, we have a successful TV writer with a very talented artist, so why is this perhaps a quirky book aside for being a one-shot spin off of a “minor” crossover? Because of the cast of the issue, which is boldly spotlighted on the cover by Lenil Francis Yu. Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Jessica Jones, and…Frog-Man. Roughly a third of the cast of NEW AVENGERS, and a long time nuisance character from the Spider-Man universe who has been featured in AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE and FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT. How is this a top book? Simple – it carries no pretentiousness, it has terrific art, and it happens to be very funny.
The plot carries over from that of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #667-668; due to the scheme by the Jackal, thousands of New Yorkers are gaining powers akin to Spider-Man via genetically mutated bug-bites. This has effected both nameless civilians to named supporting characters like Spidey’s current lover Carlie Cooper to actual Marvel heroes such as Shang-Chi and Spider-Girl. This issue adds Hawkeye to that number. Some critics have complained that too many people seemed to “get the hang” of these powers so quickly that they made Peter Parker seem incompetent (despite the fact that HE got the hang of them very quick as a teenager in the 60’s, albeit a very smart teenager). Clint Barton’s performance here should sate some of them, as his inability to get the handle of such things as climbing powers or spider-senses have even hindered his archery powers. He’s also angry that Ms. Marvel and Jones are “defending” Spider-Man’s honor to a degree when he blames this crisis on him. Unfortunately, the latest Flag-Smasher and his army of anarchist ULTIMATUM terrorists have also gained these powers, and decide to blow up the United Nations. Thrown into the mix is Frog-Man, who doesn’t have any powers but does have a pudgy gut, a goofy costume with springs on the boots, and more luck than brains. In a background subplot, Squirrel-Girl – the nanny for Jones’ daughter with Luke Cage – discovers her job becoming more difficult. The issue packs in a lot of crisp, entertaining dialogue with quite a lot of action with the wise-cracks coming as fast as the punches and smashed walls. Can this eclectic cabal of B-List Avengers, a kid in a mascot suit with delusions of grandeur, and one pivotal taco, save Ban Ki-Moon and the rest of the U.N. from super-powered terrorists and their cybornetic, mace-carrying leader? As with many great comics, it isn’t the conclusion that’s the marvel, it’s the path getting here.
I’m a fan of simple comics that don’t aim to remake the wheel or be the critical darling of WIZARD or COMIC BOOK RESOURCES but still put in a lot of effort into telling a fun, exciting, done-in-one story with interesting characters and a ton of action. SPIDER-ISLAND: AVENGERS #1 is one such comic. If your wallet hasn’t been New 52‘d dry, shell out an extra three greenbacks for this one; you’ll enjoy it more than you expected.
ACTION COMICS #1 – In truth, the first comic of DC’s New 52 that was partly intended to grace this column was JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #1. But because the tiny comic shop that supplies my comic habit (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/pinocchio-discounts-the-great-little-shop-with-a-unique-name) didn’t “go crazy” on ordering DC books in advance to this era, it as well as their entire stock of DC books were virtually sold out by late afternoon Wednesday. The fact that a copy of this – perhaps one of the most anticipated relaunches since JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 last week – was still available is perhaps a miracle. While Geoff Johns is probably DC’s top writer in terms of sales and line-wide influence, Grant Morrison is a very close and debatable second. His work on the BATMAN franchise has driven that line for years, and his last Superman work, ALL-STAR SUPERMAN alongside Frank Quietly, was not only an Eisner winner, but the inspiration for an animated DVD feature. Plus, ACTION COMICS was the series that birthed the DC Universe back in 1938 and reached over 900 issues by purely legitimate means this year. Rags Morales is also one of DC’s hottest artists of recent years (alongside inker Rick Bryant and colorist Brad Anderson). Thus, this is a relaunch that would have easily been a Top 5 seller even without a whole line-wide reboot behind it, but has become a bigger debut issue because of it. Thus, due to chance and economic conservatism by a local shop, the book with the biggest buzz this week gets a review after all. And while it isn’t the top pick on the pile, it is still quite good. It also offers a very fair value in terms of cover price and page value – $3.99 for 29 pages of story (at least five more than in JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 for the same price, and seven pages more than many Marvel comics of that price). Morrison has stated that his aim for this title, at least initially, is to showcase a younger Superman at the start of his career that closely mirrors the Golden Age era more than material from the 50’s through the 80’s and 90’s. Thus, Superman doesn’t have a Fortress of Solitude or a lot of alien gadgets (or even a complete costume), he can’t fly, tanks can stun him, and he’s spending his time fighting corruption in Metropolis rather than bizarre threats. Morrison perhaps wisely doesn’t rehash Superman’s origin here like he did in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN (albeit with only a page), as he realizes that it’s the most well known origin sequence since that of Jesus Christ. Instead, Superman makes his debut to readers here by taking on corrupt tycoon Mr. Glenmorgan, forcing him to confess his sins before a horde of police officers who he considered bought and paid for. His arrival onto the scene has made the military (led by General Lane) nervous, but he has quickly become a champion of the lower classes. DC has claimed that ACTION COMICS takes place five years before current continuity, which at least means Blackberries still exist, although no narration boxes claim this is a period piece. Clark Kent is a humble reporter working for a rival newspaper to THE DAILY PLANET while still being pals with the PLANET’s photographer Jimmy Olson (who tags along their eager reporter Lois Lane, daughter of the general and the women who coined the name “Superman”). Gen. Lane has contracted another corrupt tycoon, Lex Luthor, to aid in capturing Superman dead or alive, and in perfect mastermind fashion, Luthor organizes to do just that. Within 29 pages, there are three major set-pieces with Superman in action, and Morales’ artwork gets to shine here. Morrison, as always, writes a delightfully eccentric and cunning Luthor, as well as a script that manages to put Superman through the trials he is best known for from his old movie serials and radio shows. He leaps tall buildings, and he faces off against locomotives (or a subway train at least). If there is one caveat, it is that the script demands that some soldiers under Gen. Lane’s command seem to have no problem blasting at Superman with tanks in a city with civilians present, but such scenes are fairly standard in comics. Morales’ Superman looks as young and brash as he acts, while his Luthor seems obviously inspired by late actor Telly Savalas. While some criticized JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 for being too decompressed, ACTION COMICS #1 has a perfect marriage of action and story, presenting a complete story in one tale as well as offering an effective cliffhanger. While it perhaps won’t invoke some of the wonder that issues of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN did, it is still a very solid start to another potential seminal run on the franchise by Morrison.
THUNDERBOLTS #163 – After several issues with an inflated cast and functional action sequences, Jeff Parker was perhaps on the verge of losing some readers on this run; however, this issue alongside regular artist Kev Walker and colorist Frank Martin, Jr., does a good job to convince them to stick around. Jeff Parker had assembled a core team of Thunderbolts, until he lost one of them (Juggernaut) to FEAR ITSELF, and he thus decided to add an extra half dozen T-Bolts as a “beta” team. This meant that Parker’s trademark character banter was lost in an enlarged cast, which made his random battles stagnant. Now, however, he has played his trump card. After the previous issue, several of the “reformed” inmates of the “alpha” and “beta” squad have succeeded in escaping their handlers at the Raft. The cover by Pasqual Ferry earns some “cheeky” points for boldly having a “1ST ISSUE” on the cover with text under adding, “of a new era”, as a way of standing out among DC’s New 52 – as well as paying homage to the original cover of THUNDERBOLTS #1 from the mid 90’s. The new status quo is that after last issue’s battle which involved some wayward Baron Zemo genetic experiments running amok at the same time as some strange mystical junk was causing Man-Thing to become large and explode, Luke Cage, Songbird, and Mach-IV have found that their T-Bolts and a section of the Raft have vanished. While the escaped cons are relieved to have successfully escaped their wardens, they become dismayed when they quickly find that they’ve not only been beamed to Austria, but Austria during World War II. They quickly wind up in a battle between some Nazi and the Invaders, with some of the smarter cons like Fixer and Centurius worried about the time-stream while others like Troll or Mr. Hyde just care about hacking things. Moonstone, as always, seeks to capitalize on events, while Satana is obsessed with the mysticism behind Man-Thing’s evolution. The biggest caveat is that two T-Bolts, Shocker and Ghost, are not accounted for, and that is distressing given that the Ghost has not only been a long term member of the team through at least two creative runs, but is featured at the center of the cover. Given that the Shocker is due to appear in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in upcoming issues, perhaps that’s a fair reason to not include him, but Ghost not even being mentioned in dialogue is a gaffe. Walker’s artwork is absolutely superb here, a sign that the time off the book has benefited his pencils. While the inability of Parker to construct actual antagonists for his team books as opposed to having them fight random oddness has worn thin, this issue shaves off his cast members and allows his strengths to shine better. While it was a shame that so many issues seemed to be needed to build up to this plot point, now that the plot point is here, THUNDERBOLTS is on the verge of becoming a lot more enjoyable again.
Another Good Read: Heroes For Hire #11 (Marvel Comics)
Last Week’s Comic Book Reviews – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-8-31-11-the-only-review-column-not-about-jl-1-review