Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Sept. 17, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 17th, 2014

VariantAvengers #34.1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Al Ewing, Dale Keown & Norman Lee

This Hyperion-focused standalone story, as my online reading indicates, wasn’t intended as an Avengers comic, but it was ultimately decided more units would move as a part of that series, which is a fair bet. Fortunately, writer Al Ewing builds on the seeds already planted by regular series writer Jonathan Hickman, so there’s a certain logic to its inclusion under this banner. Ewing’s take on Marvel’s Superman stand-in is an interesting spin on the near-omnipotent Man of Steel, and I rather enjoyed the reflective tone of the script. I also appreciated the fact that the seemingly infallible Hyperion is shown to be somewhat human, given the moments of rage that lurk at the periphery of his stoic yet imposing demeanor. I also enjoyed Ewing’s use of a rather obscure and quickly forgotten villain from the Matt Fraction-penned Invincible Iron Man run from a few years ago. Ultimately, while the ending promises a new direction for solo adventures of the central protagonist, it seems unlikely that’s going to come to pass. Furthermore, it seems almost certain Hickman’s plotlines on the various Avengers titles will come to an end at some point, so I’m doubtful this new status quo and mission for Hyperion will last.

I was shocked to discover that this issue was illustrated by Dale Keown, who a darling of the comics industry in the early 1990s with his work on Incredible Hulk from Marvel and Pitt from Image Comics. Now, while I was never a real devotee to his work, it was clear his exaggerated and bombastic style was unique and memorable. But those distinct and over-the-top qualities aren’t to be found in this new work, separated from his heyday by two decades. Instead, there’s a much more conventional and slightly realistic bent to his linework here. Really, he offers up rather standard super-hero fare, and there’s little diversity in his characters. If it weren’t for the beard, the reader wouldn’t be able to tell the faces of the hero and the villain apart. 6/10

VariantEdge of Spider-Verse #2 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jason Latour & Robbi Rodriguez

I have no interest in Marvel’s upcoming “Spider-Verse” event that’s about to unfold in a corner of the Marvel Universe. The overly simple concept strikes me as a bit too gimmicky, and I haven’t been following Dan Slott’s Spidey comics in recent years anyway. But when I saw the design for this alternate-universe Spider-Woman, and then the online preview of the comic, I knew I had to have it. This is a fantastic done-in-one issue that’s brought a hip, energetic, new, young character into the Marvel fold, and I can’t imagine there’s any way Marvel won’t be launching a new Spider-Gwen comic in the near future. There’s also a nice balance between a sense of melancholy and the irreverent here that manages fun and drama all at once. Spider-Gwen, to me, is Marvel’s answer to DC’s soon-to-debut “Batgirl of Burnside.” Orders for the upcoming new direction of Batgirl are through the roof, and she and Spider-Gwen are the kinds of characters and super-hero comics that’s appealing to a wider audience — one that includes a lot of girls and women. Not only is Spider-Gwen good for comics, but this issue is just good comics storytelling as well. Latour has taken elements that served the Silver Age Spidey stories so well and instilled them in a new character that nevertheless appeals to traditional super-hero comics fans and new readers as well. This comic, as well as Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity line at DC, are proving the potential and appeal of Elseworlds-style comics that can free creators from continuity and allow creativity to run wild. This is a great new vision that Marvel would be crazy to cast aside after the Spider-Verse event.

Robbi Rodriguez’s elongated, lithe characters are attractive but never sexualized. The Spider-Gwen design is striking and unlike just about anything in super-hero comics. I also appreciated how familiar characters don’t necessarily look like their counterparts from mainstream continuity, notably Peter Parker and Capt. Stacy. It’s those added differences, the willingness to deviate from what the reader expects to see, that allows “Gwen Stacy, Spider-Woman” to stand out. 8/10

George Pérez’s Sirens #1 (Boom! Studios)
by George Pérez

From the first time I saw George Pérez’s artwork on an issue of Justice League of America in the early 1980s, I was completely taken by his work. During the course of his tenure at DC in the 1980s, he just kept getting better and better. New Teen Titans, Crisis on Infinite Earths and then Wonder Woman — the power of his storytelling grew more and more compelling. His last foray into the world of creator-owned genre comics, Crimson Plague, fizzled a bit, perhaps due to the spotty release schedule. Sirens is a somewhat clever concept. Pérez is known for his appreciation of the female form and strong women characters, but the premise — a membership of warrior women scattered throughout time — allows the writer/artist to bring multiple genres into the mix in this comic. There’s an Old West gunslinger, a Roman gladiatrix, a sorceress in a time of swordsmen and dragons… the list keeps going on. Ultimately, Sirens is a sci-fi comic, pitting a group of heroines (practically super-heroines, really) against a driven enemy, the opposite number of their leader, Highness.

The problem with Sirens is this: it’s almost unintelligible. I have no idea what’s going on in this book. I get the heroines are scattered through time, and that they’re allied with an alien reptilian race that’s mistaken for dragons in the past. But what they’re trying to accomplish, why time travel is involved, some one of their number has lost her memory… it’s all so confusing. Adding to that confusion, unfortunately, is the artwork. Pérez has always boasted a meticulously detailed style, but this overly complex story structure and verbose script come together with the highly busy artwork to make for a cluttered look. Ultimately, noise seems to overwhelm the signal Pérez is trying to get through to his audience. Hey, I still love your stuff, George. I just don’t love this particular comic. 4/10

VariantMPH #3 (Image Comics)
by Mark Millar & Duncan Fegredo

The notion of a street drug that grants its users super-speed for a limited time is hardly a new concept in the world of genre fiction, but writer Mark Millar has taken the concept and used it as a launching pad for a socio-economic discussion. His four main characters are like an “Occupy Speed Force” movement, and the impossible notion of super-speed has allowed Millar to explore more than simple super-power wish fulfillment fantasies. I think one of the things that allows this series to stand out so much is the intelligence of Roscoe, the leader of the merry band of speedsters. He’s intelligent, he’s ambitious and he’s savvy. He’s found his ticket to everything he’s ever dreamed, but he’s always smart about it. The only flaw with his plan is how it includes taking care of guys he cares about; clearly, his best bud and his girl’s younger brother are going to mess things up. But every page offers something clever or even important for the reader to absorb. The twist at the end of this issue is a logical one, given the speed aspect, but I certainly didn’t see it coming.

As I read this issue, I got the feeling Roscoe and his gang are meant to represent a youthful, left-leaning, activity mentality, whereas Mr. Springfield — the original MPH user who similarly went wild with the speed drug three decades earlier — stands in for an older, more conservative demographic. He’s working with the government now, regretful of his rebellious actions of the past. Ultimately, no one’s in the right.

Fegredo’s expressive art really pops on the faces of the exuberant quartet tearing a swath through greed and the status quo across America. The detail in the backgrounds, in the speed effects and action are stunning, but really, it’s the glint in Roscoe’s eye, the mischievousness on Baseball’s face, the adoration and admiration Rosa has on hers for her man — these elements humanize an impossible story. 9/10

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