Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques: More All-New, All-Different Marvels

Posted by Don MacPherson on December 13th, 2015

Last week, I wrote a trio of quick reviews about some of Marvel’s new titles, launched as part of its “All-New, All-Different” line, the latest in its series of rebrandings, relaunches and renumberings. While I believe this never-ending effort to start over, do over and overflow store shelves with first issues focuses on short-term gains rather than the growth of a longterm audience, I do welcome the fact that the publisher seems more willing to try new approaches to its long-standing properties. Of course, by going with such a limiting term as “All-New, All-Different” sends a clear message that this direction will be as fleeting and short-lived as those that preceded as those that came before it.

In any case, just as there’s no shortage of new Marvel books to read, I’ve got no shortage of thoughts on them. On to the reviews…

All-New, All-Different Avengers #2 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mark Waid & Adam Kubert

I fully expected this new Marvel title to be my favorite of its newly relaunched line. It’s written by Mark Waid and features two of my favorite Marvel characters: Miles Morales and Kamala Khan. And while the interaction among the two different generations of heroes is definitely the book’s greatest strength, the plotting itself seems a little too… ordinary. Warbringer is about as interesting an antagonist as his name is creative. I just have no interest in him, as he seems to represent an unnecessary effort by Marvel to establish the alien invaders from the first Avengers movie as major baddies in the comic-book universe. I also find the notion of “Tony Stark is broke and can’t fund the team anymore” to be odd, as it doesn’t reconcile with what’s going on in Iron Man’s own newly relaunched book. Still, the interaction among the characters — especially between Ms. Marvel and Nova — is more than enough to hold my interest.

Adam Kubert’s loose, kinetic style certainly serves the action-oriented aspects of Waid’s story well. I’ve always seen his style as being representative of the more extreme, exaggerated tone of super-hero comics of the 1990s, so his work isn’t something I normally seek out, but it’s not off-putting either. I was pleased to see how he conveys the youth of half of the team with smaller statures, and he manages to portray Warbringer as a real threat by having him dwarf the usually powerful presences of some of the Marvel Universe’s more recognizable icons. Perhaps the most unusual visual aspect of this book is the juxtaposition of Alex Ross’s photorealistic cover artwork with Kubert’s far more stylized and angular style within. The two disparate styles just don’t seem like they belong together on the same comic, even separated by the cover. 7/10

Scarlet Witch #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by James Robinson & Vanesa Del Rey

As was the case with the Vision, giving the Scarlet Witch her own ongoing title in the wake of Avengers: Age of Ultron makes a lot of sense for Marvel, its unique look and involvement of writer James Robinson certainly piques my interest. Robinson’s narration is far from the most subtle he’s offered up, but he makes it clear: this is a new direction for Wanda Maximoff. It’s more than that, actually — it’s a new interpretation of the character, not as a mutant heroine, Avenger and daughter of a villain. Instead, she’s depicted as her codename suggests: as a witch. The premise for this series (or at least the opening story arc) is that something is wrong with witchcraft, that it’s fading or disappearing. If this were connected directly to the storyline that serving as the driving force in the new Doctor Strange series, it would make sense, uniting the two magic-based heroes. But that’s not what we’re presented with here. Instead, it seems as though it’s a separate though practical identical problem. Furthermore, while Robinson tries to give Wanda a new mission and identity here, one really does have to be aware of her history to appreciate the story. One needs not only be familiar with her backgrounds as an Avenger to appreciate the severance of that tie, but one has to know of her past sins and just who Agatha Harkness is. While trying to establish her as a new kind of super-hero, Robinson has nevertheless mired her in past continuity, at least in this opening chapter.

I rather enjoyed Vanesa Del Rey’s artwork in this book. It’s eerie and gritty, and it’s a great fit for the witchcraft riff running through the story. However, there were some momentary fumbles in the artwork that I found incredibly distracting. For example, there’s a long, thin panel running the width of one page that I thought was a part of a strong page design, but in that panel, our heroine’s eyes seem to operate independently of one another, making her look like something of a chameleon. It looked ridiculous, and it took me right out of the story. Still, I was surprised to see Harkness portrayed as a real person (or the ghost of a real person) rather than the bizarre caricature we’ve seen in the past. Del Rey’s work put me in mind of the styles of such strong industry mainstays as Michael Lark, Ted McKeever and Ben Templesmith, though she does have to work a little on consistency when it comes to characters’ portrayals. Sadly, one has to feel badly for Del Rey in that even before the reader has taken in a single panel of her art, she’s already been upstaged by the craft of cover David Aja. 6/10

Spidey #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Rob Williams & Nick Bradshaw

This isn’t the first time Marvel has offered up a retro Spider-Man book set during his early Silver Age days (anyone remember Untold Tales of Spider-Man?), but this title certainly a clearer purpose. With the main Spider-title featuring a globetrotting CEO hero/inventor, it’s in Marvel’s interest to keep the angst-ridden, struggling teen hero we all first met years ago front and centre. It’s an incredibly light and entertaining book, full of energy and a sense of youth. I expected that, but there’s a lot about Spidey that took me off-guard. I had expected a series like Untold, featuring stories weaving through established continuity. Instead, I found a story that offers a slightly different take on Peter Parker’s past than what came before. Now, Gwen Stacy is a part of his high-school cast, taking over the role Liz Allan once filled when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko crafted the webhead’s adventures. I understand that change, but others left me scratching my head. For example, why change Flash Thompson from a red-headed, white jock to a brown-haired white jock? It seems Marvel has set out to update Spider-Man canon, in major and minor ways, likely to make it fit better with what we’ve seen on the silver screen over the past decade and a half.

Obviously, the big draw here (no pun intended) is Nick Bradshaw’s artwork. He’s been one of Marvel’s most popular talents for a few years now, and he makes it evident here why that’s the case. He clearly enjoys rendering the villains the most, as they’re presented in the most meticulous detail. Bradshaw has always had a strong Arthur Adams influence in his style, but like the plot and characters, the art here surprised me a bit. Bradshaw seems to have adapted his style here a little. While his usual level of detail is brought to be bear here, there’s a slightly more exaggerated, cartoony quality to the characters (especially Peter) that reflects the lighter, more energetic tone. Bradshaw’s take on Peter Parker, for example, reminded me a bit of the work of Todd (Young Justice, Nightcrawler) Nauck. Visually, Bradshaw ensures fun is the order of the day. I also love that Marvel has resurrected a design element from the logo of its campy classic Spidey Super-Stories. 7/10

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