Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – April 9, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 9th, 2012

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna

A number of some of the best comics works the medium has ever seen — be it in the super-hero genre or otherwise — come from singular creative visions or focused collaborations. With its committee of writers (who outnumber the interior artists), Avengers Vs. X-Men obviously doesn’t fall into such a category, but then, no one was expecting this to be a milestone in comics craft. The crossover event is meant as a guilty pleasure; too bad the creators left out the pleasure part. There’s nothing particularly off-putting about the storytelling here, but there’s nothing particularly compelling either. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the story is the fact Cyclops, representing the X-Men’s perspective in this leadup to a battle royale between two factions, is so clearly in the wrong. As one of the other characters points out, he behaves like a villain here, seeing a potentially world-ending threat as an opportunity to advance his own agenda. Marvel has marketed this in part by urging readers to pick sides, but there’s only one side to choose.

Furthermore, there’s little real tension here. The audience knows the world isn’t going to end, and it’s just as unlikely the eternally tragic and cursed mutants will emerge from the conflict healed and vindicated. On top of that, I found the disastrous events in New York City that served as a harbinger to the larger, cosmic story were treated far too casually. Only one character reacts in anything resembling a believable manner; even Spidey keeps his cool. I get what the writers are trying to accomplish: it’s to signal the threat to come will be even more horrific and potentially deadly than a plane, a building and hundreds of people falling from the sky.

It’s always a pleasure to see John Romita Jr.’s artwork, but this is hardly one of more noteworthy efforts. Lately, I’ve noticed he seems to reserve his more meticulous, focused and deliberate work for creator-owned projects such as Kick-Ass, whereas his linework on splashier corporate comics is a lot looser. The latter no doubt brings tighter deadlines and more editorial influence, but some of the sketchier, rougher bits in this comic seem to reflect where the artist’s creative priorities lie. I tired quickly of the several swooping Phoenix visuals, designed to convey the immense scope of its power, but that’s really more of a failing of the script than Romita’s storytelling. I thought the artist’s exaggerated approach to facial features in the Cyclops/Hope training scene successfully conveyed the dysfunction between the two and signalled just how far gone Cyclops is as a result of a life of hardship and heartache. 5/10

I, Vampire #7 (DC Comics)
by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Andrea Sorrentino

Having this C-list title in DC’s New 52 lineup cross over with another more popular title was a perfectly logical move from a marketing standpoint, and pairing it with Justice League Dark for “Rise of the Vampires” was a nice fit thematically, as both are supernatural in tone with super-hero elements (to varying degrees). To bolster the crossover appeal, DC has even thrown Batman into the mix as well. The goal here is to get Justice League Dark readers invested in the lower-selling book. Unfortunately, the effort has had the opposite effect, at least as far as this JL Dark reader is concerned. Instead of turning me back onto I, Vampire, “Rise of the Vampires” has me considering dropping JLD from my monthly pull list. the plot here is accessible enough, but it also feels rather familiar, even tired. The chaos in Gotham fails to come off as suspenseful; involving the Batman’s world in this story was a misstep, as the readers knows things will return to normal before long. There are far too many characters running around here, and I don’t just mean the Justice League Dark heroes. I did enjoy Fialkov’s take on Mary in this story. I like her colloquial tone; she stands out as the only voice of reason, the only person with any power or any clue. The role reversal of the series villain as savior was a lot of fun.

I continue to be impressed with the Jae Lee-esque visuals offered by regular series artist Andrea Sorrentino. It suits the supernatural, monstrous tone of the plot and characters. Unfortunately, it’s not well suited for the more traditional super-hero elements incorporated into this crossover story arc. Batman doesn’t look cool or intimidating in any way, and it’s difficult to tell the teen vampire hunter apart from Zatanna. Andrew Bennett’s limbo experience made for a striking visual. Those scenes served as a welcome break from the confusion and inky darkness of the main action, and I loved the contrast of the jet-black word balloons against the blank canvas of white that represented the never-place in which the protagonist finds himself. 5/10

Rich Johnston’s Iron Muslim #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Rich Johnston & Bryan Turner

As I began to read this satirical look at Marvel’s movies, it felt a little dated, as the first act is firmly entrenched in the first Iron Man movie. And then a quick IMDB search revealed that flick came out only four years ago. As I continued to make my way through the comic, though, it became more apparent the catalyst for the sendup is the impending Avengers movie. Writer Rich Johnston is unrelenting in his biting commentary about pop culture, celebrity, Western international relations and the apparent hypocrisy in radicals that denounce Western culture while relishing it at the same time. Johnston pulls no punches, not when it comes to an actor’s seemingly forgotten/forgiven checkered past nor the inherent contradictions that’s been apparent in the behaviour of members of radical Islamic sects. I have to admit, though, my favorite bit in the comic had to be Johnston’s commentary on Frank Miller’s 2011 graphic novel Holy Terror, which demonstrated the creator’s apparent fear and ignorance of Islam and terrorism. Where Iron Muslim goes awry is something that often bugs me about satirical comics: the lack of a logical plot and clear flow. This is more or less a collection of comedic bits that are related thematically, but the amalgam is quite disjointed.

Bryan Turner’s exaggerated, angular art is a nice fit for a satire project such as this one. His artwork here looks a bit like a cross between the styles of Humberto (Amazing Spider-Man) Ramos and Rob (Chew) Guillory. I’m also reminded of the art of Peter Lumby, the artist on a similarly satirical (but not so enjoyable) graphic novel entitled Tozzer and the Invisible Lap Dancers from a decade ago. Turner’s work is clear but goofy, and it’s so over the top, it signals the exaggerated, lampooning nature of the writing quite clearly. The artist captures Miller’s style from Holy Terror quite well, just as he conveys the helmet-cam shots from the Iron Man movies effectively as well. 6/10

Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.

7 Responses to “Quick Critiques – April 9, 2012”

  1. Vanja Says:

    Don wrote:
    It’s always a pleasure to see John Romita Jr.’s artwork, but this is hardly one of more noteworthy efforts. Lately, I’ve noticed he seems to reserve his more meticulous, focused and deliberate work for creator-owned projects such as Kick-Ass, whereas his linework on splashier corporate comics is a lot looser.

    Romita Jr.’s art on Kick-Ass 2 has been embellished and finished by Tom Palmer.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Vanja wrote:
    Romita Jr.’s art on Kick-Ass 2 has been embellished and finished by Tom Palmer.

    Yes, and he’s paired with an inker (Scott Hanna) on this project as well. That could account in part for the differences, but nevertheless, I stand by my comment that I’ve seen stronger work from Romita in the past.

  3. Vanja Says:

    Following The Gray Area, I was surprised when Romita Jr. took another risk in the creator-owned area. Without discussing the merits of Kick-Ass, I am glad that the veteran creator has found such success outside of mainstream and doesn’t rely on projects such as AvX as his sole contribution to the medium.

  4. A Says:

    I’d definitely be more interested in the series if the editors were trumpeting this as the big, final step in Cyclops’s slow heel turn, rather than a legitimate difference in perspective.

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    A wrote:
    I’d definitely be more interested in the series if the editors were trumpeting this as the big, final step in Cyclops’s slow heel turn, rather than a legitimate difference in perspective.

    And now you’ve highlighted another problem: accessibility. As someone who hasn’t been following X-Men comics, I had no idea Cyclops has been undergoing any kind of ideological downslide.

  6. A Says:

    Oh, wow. Really? Yeah, Dude – he’s been moving in that direction for years now. He’s definitely just about due for either getting taken down outrigh or coming to a “My God, what I become?” revelation, or both.

    From the bunker situation (and mentality) he’s created on Utopia, to the secret kill-squad he formed, to Magneto offering him his loyalty, to his “You’re either with us or against us” Schism, there’s been a pretty clear trajectory, I think… and now him stating outright that he’s no longer giving Hope a choice whether she’s going to be the saviour of Mutantkind?

    If Marvel has any idea what it’s doing, the Rise and Fall of Cyclops is definitely the story being told here.

  7. Don MacPherson Says:

    A wrote:
    If Marvel has any idea what it’s doing, the Rise and Fall of Cyclops is definitely the story being told here.

    Well, if that’s the case, it’s left quite a few of us out of the loop.