Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques: All-New, All-Different Marvels

Posted by Don MacPherson on December 7th, 2015

While the blog has been silent in recent months, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading comics or had many thoughts on what I’ve been reading. Now that I’m trying to renew my efforts to write about comics (and related pop culture) more frequently, I’ve been jotting down some quick notes about various recent releases, and I realized a number of the things I wanted to say revolved around recently launched (or relaunched) Marvel titles as part of its new “All-New, All-Different” initiative/branding. With so many of Marvel’s titles being priced at $3.99 US or higher and including a digital download code, I’ve been more willing as of late to give some of the publisher’s new efforts a shot, since I can recoup some of my costs.

So, away we go…

Doctor Strange #3 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend

Given the strength of his writing on The Mighty Thor (and its predecessor title), not to mention Southern Bastards, I was eagerly anticipating this Doctor Strange series when it was first announced. That Marvel was launching a new title with its Sorcerer Supreme came as no surprise, given next year’s feature film featuring the same character. Sadly, it seems to be the latter project and not Aaron’s creativity that seems to be driving this book. Now, this is an entertaining comic book, but it doesn’t seem to worry much about who Stephen Strange is — or at least who he used to be. There’s a much more flippant, hip approach to the character at play here, and I can see the merit in making the normally stoic and mysterious hero more relatable and grounded. But it’s as though he’s undergone a complete personality transplant. Had Marvel opted to reimagine him completely, I would get it, but it seems though the audience is meant to reconcile this Strange with Strange as it knew him before. Of course, this won’t be as big an obstacle for readers who are new to the character. Nevertheless, the story seems to be moving at a snail’s pace (pun unintended, given the role of extradimensional, magic-eating snails in this story). The story is really no further along than it was with the first issue, and as a result, Aaron’s plots after only three issues are beginning to seem redundant.

Bachalo’s exaggerated and weird style seems like it would be a good fit for this property, and to an extent, it is. I do find it incredibly cluttered and busy, though, making it difficult to discern what the reader is seeing. Aaron’s exposition-heavy script is vital when it comes to translating the visuals into part of the story. The notion of distinguishing between the magical, invisible elements of the world by presenting them in color while the mundane world is in black-and-white is an interesting one, but it never look quite right to the eye. 6/10

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder & Natacha Bustos

Chances are this flew under your radar. Chances are if you were aware of it, you dismissed it as a likely-to-be-cancelled-quickly title. Chances are you have no attachment to Jack Kirby’s 1970s oddball creation Devil Dinosaur. But a surprising few of the comics-reading audience paid any attention to Spider-Gwen or the new Ms. Marvel when they debuted, but they’re now cornerstones of Marvel’s effort to satisfy a growing and diverse audience, sending demand for the characters’ first appearances through the roof. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur has the potential to be the same, to do the same. It boasts an all-ages tone that’s nevertheless incredibly relatable. The titular heroine is a young, brilliant girl of color whose talents and wondrous nature make her an outsider everywhere she goes. This story about finding and connecting with a kindred spirit is delightfully touching, and its light tone is an encouraging one. Moon Girl’s plot is thoroughly accessible as well, though some might find the appearance of some primitive characters connected to Devil Dinosaur a little confusing at first.

The visuals are presented in a somewhat simpler style that suits the brighter, more innocent tone of the story, but it never seems gaudy either. The colors aren’t garish and are instead a little muted, perhaps to reflect Moon Girl’s frustrations. Perhaps what I love most about the art isn’t, surprisingly, the depiction of a red, intelligent tyrannosaur, but rather the youth of the other main protagonist of the book. Lunella looks like a girl — not a young woman, not even a teenager. This isn’t about a new adolescent heroine hitting the scene, but rather about a kid. While this book should appeal to fans of Ms. Marvel, the tender age of the heroine here, among other aspects, definitely sets it apart from that sister book. 8/10

The Vision #2 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Tom King & Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Of all of Marvel’s recent new releases, this might very well be my favorite. Clearly, the notion of a new ongoing title featuring the Vision would have been sparked in no small part by the character’s prominent role in this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, but thankfully, writer Tom King isn’t limited to the big-screen incarnation of the Android Avenger. He doesn’t even seem limited by past comics interpretations of the character. Instead, we get a great new take on personal alienation and isolation, on societal expectations and on the challenges of relationships. Despite the robotic nature of the titular hero and his fabricated family, The Vision is a thoroughly relatable and engrossing personal drama. It exists on the periphery of the Marvel Universe, seemingly unencumbered by continuity. I also enjoy the disconnected tone of King’s narration, as it reflects the matter-of-fact, cold tone of the android family, but there’s still an undercurrent of tension and emotion, just as with the main characters.

Hernandez Walta’s artwork is a joy to discover. The artist’s influences shine through — from Sean Phillips to Frank Miller, from Chris Samnee to Chris Sprouse — but he definitely has his own unique, visual “voice” as well. I find the simpler aspect to the figures to make them seem more universal, more like templates, making it easier for the reader to enter their world, their lives. I appreciate the character designs, and the muted color palette that Jordie Bellaire employs really adds to the uneasy and odd mood throughout the story. I don’t know how long King plans to explore the Vision and family in this manner, but as long as he does so, I’ll be reading along. 9/10

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