Avengers #12.1 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary
I really don’t get what Marvel is trying to accomplish with these point-one issues. The originally stated goal was to provide readers with accessible jumping-on points for existing series — not a bad idea. But that’s not what Marvel’s been doing with most of these point-one issues, and that holds true with this comic book. While the comic is written by the regular writer, the art is by a creative team that won’t be returning to this book, giving new readers a false impression of what to expect from the title. Furthermore, Bendis brings all of the various Avengers teams into play here, not just the lineup that’s usually featured in this series, and he doesn’t do that good a job of differentiating among the different Avengers teams. Still, despite those problems, this isn’t a bad super-hero comic. It’s bombastic and colorful and features a diverse and fun array of characters, not just the heroes but the villains as well. Mind you, Bendis’ script really should have provided more background on who these villains are. I recognize them, but if the point is to be accessible for new readers, they really deserve a little bit of an introduction.
One of the things I enjoyed about this story was how it ends up connecting to plot elements from the first story arc in the series, bringing the first year of the title full circle. But perhaps the most distracting element in the book was the fact that a captive Spider-Woman is depicted as being naked… again. The story really doesn’t demand the skin, and the villains’ apparent decision to deprive her of clothing makes them seem more like creepy pervs than significant threats to the world’s most powerful super-hero team. And while it was a pleasure to see Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary paired again in these pages, I question whether they were the right choice for this particular comic. I’m not taking issue with the work they offer up here; it’s detailed and really brings these characters to life. But given the nature of the cheesy, colorful, Silver Age villains, I wonder if a more stylized, exaggerated visual approach wouldn’t have served the fun qualities of those characters better. 6/10
Dark Horse Presents #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
by various creators
Dark Horse’s decision to bring back the anthology that spawned a number of strong franchises for the publisher years ago seems like a pretty good idea. I felt I got my money’s worth for the $8 price tag, so the book is a good value as well. Dark Horse wisely employs some of its more experienced talent here, using established properties such as Concrete, the Star Wars brand, Finder and others, as well as highly respected talent, to draw readers in. I was pleased, though, that the publisher also seems to use this resurrected title for the purpose for which the original was used: as a testing ground for new ideas and characters. Such lauded creators as Neal Adams and Howard Chaykin launch new stories and concepts here. I think my favorite piece in the book is “Snow Angel” by David Chelsea. It’s a charmingly innocent story about imagination, and his art — which reminds me of the styles of Renee French and Richard Corben — is unconventional but attractive. Carla Speed McNeil’s short story really doesn’t give me much of an idea of what her Finder series is all about, but it succeeded in piquing my interest even more. I’ve heard great things about Finder and had planned on picking up the new Dark Horse collections, and now I’m even more eager to do so.
Like most anthologies, though, this is a mixed bag. The Concrete story is a wise choice to open the book. While it’s a painfully predictable story, it’s also entertaining and demonstrates just how much creator Paul Chadwick has successfully diverged from and experimented with the super-hero genre. The Frank Miller interview and Xerxes teaser were a bit of a letdown; we really don’t get all that much here. The Adams piece is shocking with the level of brutality that’s depicted, but it’s effective. What’s offputting about this crime story is his decision to shove an alien-invasion plot into it; the amalgam, at least it stands in this issue, doesn’t work. Chaykin’s heist story feels a little too familiar, especially when one gets to the scenes of domestic discord — it’s nothing we haven’t seen from Chaykin before. I was surprised to find that the Star Wars: Crimson Empire III tee-up piece is completely impenetrable. Another misstep with this newly relaunched book is the publication schedule. Some of the features are ongoing strips, but the second issue isn’t scheduled for release until June 22. For such short stories, there needs to be some momentum to maintain the readership’s attention, and it doesn’t seem that there will be much in the way of momentum on a bimonthly schedule. DC Comics has demonstrated there’s a market for weekly and biweekly comics; the new DHP might’ve made a good candidate for Dark Horse’s foray into such a venture. 6/10
Kung Fu Panda #1 (Ape Entertainment)
by Matt Anderson & CV Design/Chad Lambert & Christine Larsen
I only just recently saw the first Kung Fu Panda movie. This comic-book incarnation is well-timed, not because I happened to see the movie, but because the sequel is due out in theatres this summer. Actually, I needn’t have seen the first movie to appreciate the two stories in this comic, and I applaud the creators for ensuring the book is accessible. The first story has its roots in a key scene from the first movie, but the reader doesn’t have to be familiar with the prison escape that’s mentioned here to appreciate the heroes’ plight in dealing with the newly improved jail gone awry. It’s a cute though predictable story that captures the energy of the film pretty well. The second story is completely independent from the movie in that it features the story of another set of anthropomorphic animals in the same part of the world. The title character narrates so as to provide a connection to the recognizable property, but this fable is wholly accessible as it’s completely original. It manages to include a lot of action, and I like that the hero of the story is an animal that’s usually portrayed as an antagonist in animation: a crocodile. I enjoyed the role reversal there.
The creators involved in this comic book wisely opted not to try to emulate or approximate the visual style of the computer animated movie. CV Design’s work on the first story is much looser but just as colorful as the source material. Still, the artists have definitely tweaked the designs of Po and the Furious Five. They fail to convey the immensity of the prison that we saw in the movie, but the action is nevertheless eye-catching and entertaining. The art on the second story reminds me of a cross between a Disney house style and the work of Scott (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) Morse. I love how Master Croc looks. His movements are incredibly fluid and dynamic, and the design for the faceless, bovine antagonists is cute and amusing. 7/10
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