Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

28 September 2012

Spider-Man: Spider-Hunt

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #432-3, Sensational Spider-Man #25-6, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #88-90, Spectacular Spider-Man #254-6 (1998)

Released: June 2012 (Marvel)

Format: 272 pages / color / $29.99 / ISBN: 9780785160519

What is this?: Spider-Man is hunted for a bounty after being accused of killing a man.

The culprits: Writers Howard Mackie, J.M. DeMatteis, Todd DeZago, and Tom DeFalco and artists John Romita, Jr., Joe Bennett, Tom Lyle, Todd Nauck, and Luke Ross

Spider-Man: Spider-Hunt — as well as Spider-Man: Identity Crisis — came at a strange time for Spider-Man. Between the end of the disastrous Clone Saga but before the almost / soft reboot of the Next Chapter / Chapter One, Marvel had to figure out what to do with Spider-Man. This could not have been an easy task.

For about a year, the Spider office laid low. Aunt May was dead — almost three years dead by the beginning of Spider-Hunt — but that didn’t stop anyone from plugging Mary Jane’s Aunt Anna into a similarly shaped hole. Norman Osborn was back from the dead; obviously, he became Spider-Man’s main adversary, pulling Peter’s strings in costume and at the Daily Bugle, which Osborn has bought into. And Spider-Man kept plugging along.

Spider-Man: Spider-Hunt coverSpider-Hunt was Spider-Man’s first big crossover after the Clone Saga. The idea is a good one: Osborn, at some point before Spider-Hunt begins, has put a bounty of $1 million on Spider-Man’s head, causing Spider-Man to become the target of amateur and professional bounty hunters. The police join in after Spider-Man is framed for killing a low-level street punk. To make sure Peter can’t stay off the streets, Osborn’s grandson is kidnapped by a non-Osborn Green Goblin. None of those three plots needlessly ratchet up the stakes — the bounty is a normal sort of villainous plot, the frame-up seems like something Osborn would try to increase the pressure on Spider-Man, and the kidnapping is an interesting complication. Dirtying Spider-Man’s reputation works because Osborn is trying to become the hero in their fight; he simultaneously works to salvage his own reputation, threatening Ben Urich to make Ben recant the book that accused Osborn of being the Green Goblin.

The execution of these ideas doesn’t deliver, for several reasons, ranging from the mundane to the intrinsic. Most damning is that Spider-Hunt does not contain a complete story. The bounty is issued before Spider-Hunt begins. I don’t have to see that, but some context or footnotes would be nice; from the dialogue of page #1 of the first issue, it sounds like the bounty — and the “spider hunt” — has been going on for some time. How long? I don’t know. I would rather see Osborn issuing the bounty than the second issue in Spider-Hunt, Spectacular Spider-Man #254; the issue has an awful “Spider-Man confronts his personal demons while under the control of the villain” A plot, but unfortunately it has too many important subplots to excise it from the collection.

More damningly, however, Spider-Hunt does not have a resolution for two of the three parts of the setup. The Spider-Hunt continues after the four-part “Spider-Hunt” storyline and ten-part collection ends: Little Normie is rescued by the end, but Spider-Man still has a price on his head and is still suspected of murder. Spider-Man makes almost no attempt to clear himself in Spider-Hunt, except to briefly consult with Arthur Stacy. He makes no attempt to discover who the murdered man was or to use his press contacts to find anything about the killing. Peter complains he’s “not the world’s greatest detective,” but Spider-Man usually blunders in the right direction with some convenient breaking and entering. I understand Spider-Man is being hunted, but there’s nothing preventing Peter from poking around. I understand that a murder mystery might seem a little complex, something to be avoided after the Byzantine twists of the Clone Saga, but Peter acts like an idiot in Spider-Hunt.

Presumably the murder and bounty plots will be wrapped up in Identity Crisis. The last four issues of Spider-Hunt are a trailer for Identity Crisis, with Spider-Man concealing his identity in some way or another in each issue, consulting with Prowler on new costumes, and unveiling two of the four identities he will use in Identity Crisis.

In any event, there’s not much time to wrap up these plots or any of the subplots, such as the identity of the new Green Goblin or how Punisher gets even with Norman Osborn; the subplots were mainly jettisoned by the time of the Howard Mackie-written relaunch that came later in 1998. (It’s hard to believe that many Spider-fans were optimistic about Howard Mackie writing the two surviving Spider-titles, but I remember it clearly on Usenet and the Web at the time. It took about two months for everything to turn to Spider-shit and for Mackie to forget what “simplified” and “not using past continuity” meant. But I digress.) For those of you wondering who Osborn’s successor as Green Goblin is, keep wondering; we’re meant to think it’s former Hobgoblin suspect Flash Thompson, but it’s never confirmed.

The actual Spider-Hunt is disappointing as well. Most of the people chasing Spider-Man are nitwits with guns — some high-tech guns, sure, but mostly just people who are good with guns. There are exceptions; I have a soft spot for husband-and-wife team Aura and Override, not the least because Aura has the sense to wear a wig to conceal her identity. And the three-way shootout at the end of Spider-Hunt, part 1 (Sensational Spider-Man #25), is kind of neat. But even though Joe Bennett isn’t bad, I wish a more action-adept, established artist had drawn that first double issue. (Which is odd, because in general I enjoy looking at Bennett’s clear, clean art more than John Romita, Jr.‘s grittier, faces-as-series-of-planes work.) And there should have been more of these yahoos getting in each other’s way; it happens once more in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #89 and Spectacular Spider-Man #255, but given that two of the parties are organized crime goons and Punisher, the resulting conflicts seem old hat. There should be mutants and old enemies trying for the reward, Spider Slayers and obscure characters from the past and … well, it’s $1 million. Think big. (No, bigger.)

It’s a crossover, so we get divergent art styles — not as variable as usual, though. Romita, who draws all of the Peter Parker: Spider-Man issues and Amazing Spider-Man #432, is as good as usual; I like Bennett, but his work lacks heft. Tom Lyle (Amazing Spider-Man #433) shows promise but has occasional lapses, especially in faces and women’s chestal regions. Todd Nauck’s style in Sensational Spider-Man #26 is off-putting, with occasional disturbing conceptions of human skeletal structure. Luke Ross has a steady and solid hand on Spectacular Spider-Man, but if I ever see Spider-man with his mask but no shirt again, it will be too soon.

There are moments that I really liked Spider-Hunt. Unfortunately, those moments can’t conceal that this is a half a story in many ways — lacking a payoff and lacking full commitment to hits concept. Paired with Identity Crisis, this might be a fine story, worth rescuing from a time I thought Marvel was trying to forget. Without having read Identity Crisis, though … well, my guess is that it’s skippable.

Rating: <Spider-Man symbol
Spider-Man symbol (2 of 5)

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21 September 2012

Gotham City Sirens, v. 1: Union

Collects: Gotham City Sirens #1-7 (2009-10)

Released: April 2010 (DC)

Format: 176 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9781401225704

What is this?: Villainesses Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy move in with Catwoman; wackiness ensues.

The culprits: Writer Paul Dini (and Scott Lobdell) and artist Guillem March (and penciler David Lopez)

Writers and artists are not automatons. Their output varies in quality, quantity, and style, even when conditions seemed close to the ideal. For instance, sometimes when Paul Didn writes about Batman villains Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, you get Batman: Mad Love, which many readers and critics love. And sometimes you get Gotham City Sirens, v. 1: Union.

Gotham City Sirens is ostensibly a comedy with wacky roommates — Batman villainesses Harley, Ivy, and Catwoman — or perhaps it’s a reality show without cameras. In any event, the three criminals move in together for almost nonexistent reasons and try to live noncriminal lives. Dini’s stories are action-oriented, with very little character development … or motivation, really.

Gotham City Sirens, v. 1: Union coverThere are three interesting moments in Union:

1) The girlfriends of Batman, Catwoman and Talia al-Ghul, once met to figure out how to protect Batman’s secret ID.
2) Harley visits her dysfunctional family.
3) The Riddler, as a private investigator, takes a case.

The last is the best part of Union, taking up most of issue #3. That shouldn’t be a surprise; sometimes, when a creator revisits a character he or she had success with, you do get the same level of quality, and Riddler as a PI was my favorite part of Dini’s Batman: Detective. (Also my favorite thing done with the Riddler ever and my favorite little Batman idea.) Unfortunately for that theory, though, the writer for #3 is Scott Lobdell, but Lobdell does do a good job with Dini’s idea. In #3, Riddler teams up with the replacement Batman to solve some faked suicides; with Dick Grayson as Batman, it’s possible Riddler will outthink him. (Not likely, but possible.) Riddler narrates #3 with good but edged humor, and his rivalry with Batman adds a little spice to the team-up.

But it’s unsurprising that switching to a number of the book’s secondary cast is necessary to get a good story, as Dini seems unable to get much entertainment out of the relatively amiable main trio. Harley and Ivy try to drag Batman’s identity out of Catwoman early on, but after that, the three untrustworthy women are pretty chummy — somehow without even showing a spark of friendship that would make them interesting.

So unless you were hoping to see the return of Gagsworth A. Gagsworthy, the Joker’s Silver Age sidekick, or more of Hush forced to impersonate Bruce Wayne, there’s nothing here … and I wasn’t wanting to see either. I admit, there’s something to be said about contrasting Silver Age Joker with the more modern, psychotic version, but spreading “Gaggy’s” story over two issues is a waste of pages. As for Hush, I found it hard to discern his motivation, other than a near-pathological need to murder. If there was a hint he wanted to use Harley to escape his Bat captors, there might be something interesting.

Pander, young man, panderI wanted to start this review by saying something about breasts and (women’s) butts, but glancing through Union again, I decided artist Guillem March’s work wasn’t as full of cheesecake as I had originally thought. Oh, make no mistake: there’s a lot of art showing how shapely and well endowed Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman are. But almost all artists draw them like that, and despite some questionable choices (Harley Quinn in Daisy Dukes? Really?), March saves his over-the-top work for Gotham City Sirens covers and one character in #3, an issue in which the three main pin-ups — sorry, characters — are mainly absent; March draws a bookstore clerk in a see-through mesh top, pleated microskirt, visible panties, and torn fishnets. Yes, the bookstore is The Heart of Poe — possibly more Goth-friendly than most — but I know pandering when I see it.

Other than how he draws women’s bodies — not to brush the topic aside — I liked March’s style. I can see the manga influence, especially in certain characters’ faces, but March has a heavier line and less androgyny than most manga I’ve read. The little manga-esque touches — the giant sweat droplets on Hush when he things Harley has found him out or the flower petals drifting past Harley and Hush in an intimate moment — are nicely matched with the book’s light tone. I also liked David Lopez’s fill-in work on #7: it had strong, expressive character work (although sometimes the expressions are a bit broad) and much less exploitative female drawings.

The book’s main appeal is the female form, and Dini doesn’t give a reason for Gotham City Sirens to exist beyond that. I’d buy a Riddler solo book, but given that his PI work seems to have been scrubbed by the New 52, there’s little chance of that. Union is Supervillain Team-Up with T&A, and that’s not worth reading.

Rating: Batman symbol (1 of 5)

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20 September 2012

The neo-Mok excuse

I try not to let personal problems interfere with this site,65 but some of you may have noticed how long it has been since I posted a review. My excuses are:

• Last week I had a cold; that, and my other responsibilities, kept me from getting anything useful done. I do not suspect Filthy Flagellum had anything to do with the matter, but I cannot be sure.
• The week before, I was performing my annual service on anti-Claus duty a little early. One week a year is a small price to pay for defeating the forces of the Frozen North. Keep those engines running, and keep pumping out those kids — we’ll beat the ice yet!
• The rest of the time — from late July to Labor Day — I spent in quiet contemplation at my Mok farm. Well, I say “farm,” but I suppose a stickler, such as the Department of Agriculture, might call it a “secret private experimental facility.” Semantics, really.

I founded the farm in 1995, when I realized that — contrary to what the narrator in the Thundarr the Barbarian intro says — the Moks weren’t going to create themselves. So I dedicated the old family farm to the project, hired some of the sharpest scientific minds in the tri-county area, and began playing God. Or Steve Gerber, if you prefer.

We’ve come a long way in less than 20 years. Morphologically, our neo-Moks are quite similar to the TV models, with lustrous coats in autumnal colors and a yodeling growl that routinely inspires passersby and visitors to suggest, “Lords of Light, would put a muzzle on that abomination?” Their incisors are the correct size (about 6 inches long), and we were fortunate to find the genetic markers for the distinctive raccoon-like eye markings early in the process. We’ve never managed to breed the correct size — ours are a mere 5 feet tall and 125 pounds — but I prefer them this way. Larger Moks would be too hard to control.

Sentience is a tricky goal; Professor Jethro says, “The neo-Mok blindly responds to stimuli without reason, lashing out at its environment like a beast. It is nothing more than a machine that coverts organic materials into excrement.” Dr. Zebediah disagrees: “That’s no different from most of your family, Jethro, but I ain’t recommending putting them in cages … except your double cousin Obadiah, maybe.” That prompted Professor Jethro to challenge Dr. Zebediah to a duel; as the challenged party, Zebediah chose the peer-reviewed scientific paper as his weapon. One of them should have satisfaction in the matter in a generation or so.

I don’t know who to agree with — except with Zebediah about putting Obadiah in a circus, or perhaps a humane zoo. Have you seen that boy? I’d call him a freak, but that’s an insult to freaks.

Anyway. Got a little distracted there. Reviews should recommence Friday. Barring another squabble between Jethro and Zebediah.

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