Amazing Spider-Man #546 (Marvel Comics)
by Dan Slott, Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines (backups by other creators)
Like thousands of others, I didn’t think “One More Day” was a good or even logical story; it was an unnecessary reboot, but there’s no denying that Marvel saw some solid sales from the event. But despite the weakness of that setup, this new beginning for Peter Parker and his supporting cast isn’t hindered by the shortcomings of what came before it. Given Dan Slott’s and Steve McNiven’s involvement in the title, I was more than willing to give Amazing Spidey a fair shake. And after approaching it with an open mind, I have to admit Slott’s script captured the energy and pace of Spidey stories from the 1970s — and I found I’m completely uninterested. There is a more youthful tone to Peter Parker’s life, as he’s unencumbered by the same responsibilities he once was; maybe that will appeal to a younger demographic, as Marvel and publisher Joe Quesada likely hope. I’m in my 30s, about to be married and house-shopping, so maybe that’s why I was more interested in the more mature mode of Peter’s life. Or maybe this is just too familiar. Stan Lee and other writers have tread this path before, and they got it right the first time.
May’s character has been somewhat regressed as well, and Peter’s encounter with her in this issue represents just too huge a coincidence; May’s decision to volunteer in Manhattan when she lives in Queens seems odd as well. Now, I do find the Daily Bugle subplot to be quite interesting, and Peter’s showdown with his employer is a satisfying moment. Mind you, his guilt over a development far beyond his control or ability to predict is annoying and puzzling. Steve McNiven’s detailed art works surprisingly well, as I would have expected a simpler style to be better suited to this classic approach to the character.
While my reaction to the main story could be described as middling at best, I didn’t care at all for the backup features that provide the other Amazing Spider-Man creative teams the opportunities to show what they have in store. Jackpot doesn’t interest me. The mysterious Harry Osborn doesn’t interest me. And the new take on May Parker doesn’t interest me either. I was also unimpressed with Marvel’s decision to continue the $3.99 US cover price over from the “One More Day” event. Marvel seems to be charging its readers for promotional material rather than real stories. Mind you, with the next issue, the price drops a buck, back to a more reasonable cost. 5/10
Cemetery Blues #1 (Image Comics/Shadowline imprint)
by Ryan Rubio & Thomas Boatwright
Gothic horror meets Stooge-like comedy in this unusual but solidly entertaining black-and-white comic book. The story revolves around a couple of inept drunkards named Ridley and Falstaff who are guided by the ghost of skilled monster hunter to complete his life’s work. The creators bring a nice balance of comic and horror elements to craft something that feels fresh. The story’s not just about the two would-be monster killers, though; there’s a lot more going on, as Rubio’s script delves into some dynamics among the townspeople Ridley and Falstaff think they’re going to “save.” While many of the characters in this story are simple-minded, the plot isn’t, boasting some complexity. Perhaps the best way to describe Cemetery Blues is as what might have arisen if Joss Whedon, when creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, had collaborated with Edgar Allan Poe.
Speaking of Poe, the art for this new title is provided by Thomas Boatwright, the artist responsible for the recent The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo graphic novel, also released by Image. This is a good followup effort, and well timed, as it will keep his name and his style fresh in the minds of comics readers looking for something more than the typical super-hero fare that dominates the American comics market. Boatwright’s characters in this comic are quite cartoony in appearance, reinforcing the comedic foundation. However, the backgrounds are remarkably detailed, firmly establishing the gothic atmosphere, while his designs and depictions of the creatures inhabiting the woods around the town bring an eerie, tense quality to the storytelling as well. 7/10
Green Arrow/Black Canary #4 (DC Comics)
by Judd Winick & Cliff Chiang
I was a big fan of Judd Winick’s writing, not only when he was doing creator-owned work such as The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius and Pedro and Me, but his early work set in DC Universe, such as Green Lantern. He brought a strong foundation of characterization to his super-hero storytelling that kept me reading regularly. My interest faded, and much of his more recent writing for DC seems to have resorted to sex and death as cheap stunts to lure readers in, turning me off even more. With Green Arrow/Black Canary, and especially this fourth issue, I’m rather torn, as it seems to be made up equal parts Old Winick and New Winick. Killing off an established DC hero (with no apparent motive and no hint of who’s responsible) comes off as manipulative and unnecessary, but I can’t deny that the development opens the door to a lot of character-driven moments. We really get to know Oliver Queen in this issue and what makes him tick. I also enjoyed the closeness among the DC super-hero icons that’s depicted in this issue. Furthermore, I can see the rationale, from a publishing and marketing perspective, of trimming down the number of Green Arrows in the DC Universe from two to one.
Chiang’s artwork is as strong as ever. Though it’s colored a little brightly in this issue, given the tone of the script and the nature of the plot, his soft linework conveys the humanity and vulnerability of these characters, emphasizing the human over the superhuman. Chiang’s cover is the strongest visual associated with this issue, summing up the story perfectly. It even evokes memories of another classic super-hero tragedy story and cover image: that of grieving Superman holding the dead body of Supergirl from Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 from 1985. 6/10
Hulk #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines
Jeph Loeb redeems himself somewhat after blunders on Wolverine and Ultimates 3 with a rather fun, action-packed and oddly intriguing story. I rather enjoyed the criminal investigation riff at play in the story early on, and when it gives way to a stereotypical super-hero slugfest, I have to admit I was diverted and entertained. Mind you, the plotting doesn’t hold up to scrutiny all that well. The fight among the American and Russian heroes makes no sense, and while the notion of a Hulk-like figure using a weapon other than his fists in an attack certainly makes an impression, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Generally, this action-oriented story — like many super-hero stories of the 1970s and ’80s — doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and is meant to be enjoyed on a purely superficial level. The revelation at the end of the issue packed a nice punch, but the visual and idea are too reminiscent of something we saw in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates series. I enjoyed the colorful and varied array of super-hero characters that turn up in the story, but it is a bit frustrating that Loeb introduces new incarnations of dead characters when he could have just as easily availed himself of other Russian heroes/villains or crafted new heroes.
Given the tone of the story and action, McGuinness’s exaggerated, larger-than-life approach is an ideal choice for this title. I am not a fan of the new Red Hulk design, but it doesn’t actually appear in this issue beyond the cover and promotional art so that distraction is minimal with this first episode. I was leery of this new path for the Hulk mythos, but I have to admit my interest is piqued. I’m also impressed with how well Marvel has guided the Hulk property in the past couple of years, slowly but surely developing it into a major part of its line, not only with good marketing, but solid storytelling. 6/10
Teen Titans Lost Annual #1 (DC Comics)
by Bob Haney, Jay Stephens & Mike Allred
When one looks back at DC Comics of the 1960s and samples the pseudo-hip scripts of Bob Haney, one can’t help but smile at the campy, silly qualities of the plot and dialogue. Those old stories serve as a nostalgic trip, and it’s also fun to see the seeds of modern comics storytelling in there, not only in the writing but the art as well. But when one is faced with a new comic book with the same kind of campiness, the experience just doesn’t hold the same appeal. The work really ought to be assessed in the context of the era that inspired it, but when one sees Stephens’s and Allred’s styles in play, one can’t ignore the recency of this dalliance with an old approach. Haney’s script is incredibly goofy, and while it’s somewhat charming in that respect, the ludicrousness ultimately elicits a rolling of the eyes rather than smile. It certainly isn’t enough of a diversion to merit the higher than normal cover price (though it’s in line with a book of this page count). Furthermore, I found the resolution of the storyline to be somewhat disconcerting, detracting from a real-world legend rather than paying tribute to it. Wonder Girl’s character seems rather strong at first in comparison to her male teammates, but by the end of the issue, she’s reduced to a mass of tears and lovelorn emotion.
The artwork is fun enough, though it perhaps strives too much to look like the Silver Age visuals that inspired it. There’s not a strong flow to the action or sense of perspective, and the designs (such as the amorphous alien warships) are rather ugly. I do like the look of the two warring alien races, with the nods to pop music culture. The real visual treat, though, stems from classic Teen Titans artist Nick Cardy’s contributions to the book. He not only provides the cover art, but there are a variety of sketches in the back of this one-shot as well. His characters are so expressive and convey their innocence and energy so clearly. It’s really a shame the 87-year-old legend wasn’t able to illustrate the entire story. 4/10