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

30 August 2013

Green Goblin: A Lighter Shade of Green

Collects: Green Goblin #1-13, Web of Spider-Man #125, Spectacular Spider-Man #225, and Amazing Scarlet Spider #2 (1995-6)

Released: August 2011 (Marvel)

Format: pages / color / $39.99 / ISBN: 9780785157571

What is this?: Daily Bugle intern Phil Urich runs across some Green Goblin equipment and tries to decide whether to help himself or others.

The culprits: Writer Tom DeFalco and Terry Kavanagh and artists Scott McDaniel, Joshua Hood, and others

Marvel’s decision to reprint the 1995-6 Green Goblin series in Green Goblin: A Lighter Shade of Green was a curious one. Theoretically, with the Green Goblin being Spider-Man’s archnemesis, a Green Goblin series should have been important. It wasn’t, though; it was a mid-‘90s series about a newspaper intern, Phil Urich, who stumbles across the Osborn Goblin gear. Green Goblin wrapped up just before Onslaught gave Marvel the freedom to do some excellent work with new or lesser-known concepts (Thunderbolts, Deadpool). Neither the writer, Tom DeFalco, nor the main artist, Scott McDaniel, are “hot” or “new” or “critic’s darlings.” As a final nail in the commercial coffin, the character crossed over with the ‘90s Clone Saga.

I suppose Phil becoming the latest Hobgoblin, a recurring villain in Amazing Spider-Man, at the end of 2010 was the impetus for the reprint. Still, that’s a slender thread on which to hang a $40 reprint of a little-remembered, unlamented series like Green Goblin.

Green Goblin: A Lighter Shade of Green coverGreen Goblin is a series that relies heavily its protagonist narrating his thoughts, which is a problem: Phil is a teenager, and when middle-aged white guys write “hip” teenagers, the results always lack verisimilitude. DeFalco seems to have picked up all his teenager dialogue from bad TV shows that were also written by middle-aged white guys. Although Phil does have a distinctive voice, I don’t believe anyone has ever spoken like him in the history of mankind — unless, by chance, some grunting caveman or cavewoman accidentally strung together the same syllables Phil used. I was a teenager in the ‘90s, and I can guarantee none of my friends ever used phrases like “Scarlet really ups the gear” or “she’s mint, sexy, and all that!” I didn’t either — or at least I don’t remember sounding like that. Might explain my social life if I did say those sorts of things. Slammin’!

A second problem with Phil’s narration is that Phil is not an intrinsically likeable person. Phil is one of those slackers DeFalco had heard so much about, a college dropout working as an intern for his uncle, Ben Urich, at the Daily Bugle. Having dropped out of college, Phil doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life, and when he gets the Green Goblin equipment, he’s not sure how he wants to use it. He doesn’t instinctually aid others, but he usually ends up being helpful. He has vague ideas of gaining fame, acclaim, money, and women, but his plots are badly thought out, and they lack ambition. Also, Phil’s a bit skeevy about the women; he notes when Lynn, the girl he has a crush on, “jiggles into view” and thinks about “all the butter [he] wanted to spread on Lynn.” It’s no surprise that when he gets some money, he spends it on a suit and flowers and expects Lynn to fall into his arms, despite his lack of charm and her general lack of interest in him as anything but a co-worker and source of info.92

DeFalco does a good job choosing sparring partners for Phil to fight, mixing established villains with new ones. Hobgoblin is a no-brainer, considering he was, at the time, the only other living link to the Goblin legacy. Arcade is always a good choice for a beginning hero. Yes, it stretches credibility that Phil would be able to defeat the Rhino early in his career, but in issue #2, the hero needs a victory, and in a battle between two lunkheads, I can buy that the first person with a good idea would win. The new villains are a mixed bag; Angel Face is the most competent and has a real reason to keep after the Green Goblin, and the Steel Slammer has a nice design. Purge, a generic assassin, and Jonathan Gatesworth, a “virtual reality” creator, are forgettable.93

Even beyond DeFalco’s failed attempts to emulate the youth slang of the day, Green Goblin is marked pretty solidly as a ‘90s comic by DeFalco working current events of the comic-book industry into the background. At one point, recurring villain Angel Face robs a tycoon named “Berinutter,” which sounds like DeFalco’s way tweaking the nose of or taking his frustrations out on Isaac Perlmutter, who was chairman at the board at Marvel at the time. DeFalco also makes “Larson Toddsmith” and “Marc Portaccio” the unscrupulous heads of Compuboot, a game company; the names are obvious references to Image Comics founders Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portacio.

Marvel’s financial situation was worsening at the time, and DeFalco has some opinions on how business and creative pursuits should intersect; in #9, he puts these words into a villain’s mouth: “[We] would be in Chapter 11 if not for [our] financial wizardry and … marketing magic! Creativity is fine … in its place … but the business people transform vague ideas into profits!” Later in the issue, he puts the opposite view into Phil’s mousy potential love interest, Meredith Campbell: “Corporations don’t think like us regular folks! No matter how much profit they generate … it’s never enough!” The joke was on DeFalco, though, as Marvel filed for Chapter 11 in December 1996, a few months after Green Goblin was cancelled.

The book includes three Spider-issues. The best is a crossover between Amazing Scarlet Spider #2 and Green Goblin #3, which is part of the Great Game storyline. Phil gets a crush on the amoral Joystick, who fights in the Great Game, an international gladiatorial contest. Joystick is in town to fight the Scarlet Spider, but her plans are loused up by one of her previous victims, El Toro Negro. DeFalco had an excellent chance to contrast the attitudes of the thrill-seeking Joystick and responsible Scarlet Spider, especially since the Scarlet Spider doesn’t have Spider-Man’s cachet as a moral center of the superhuman community. Instead, DeFalco treads too lightly on the question, having Phil reject Spider-Man’s ethos without seeing his own similarities to Joystick.

Web of Spider-Man #125 and Spectacular Spider-Man #225, which immediately follow Green Goblin #1 in this volume, seem like the traditional attempts to boost a new character’s profile with an appearance in a Spider-book. Unfortunately, the two issues serve as poor attempts at promotion, since the Green Goblin in those books little resembled the one who starred in his own book. Web #125, written by Terry Kavanagh, is the worst offender, as Phil’s motivations for being in the Clone-Saga story are weak at best and nonsensical at worst. Spectacular #225 is written by DeFalco, but Phil’s reasons for being out in costume are not in line with his development in his own series; Phil sees himself on a “grim mission” when he hunts down a man setting fire to homeless people, which is quite heroic for someone who hasn’t decided what to do with his new powers. His inexperience does show in his battles with the villain and Spider-Man, though.

DeFalco keeps bringing up Phil’s struggles with his identity: is he a hero or someone who merely exploits his abilities for personal gain? An ambitious man or slacker? Ladies man or creep? Although Phil arrives at the place you expect him to by the series’ end, it is sometimes hard to follow his developmental path. He eventually overcomes his fear of the neighborhood thug, Ricko the Sicko, but he still fears the Hobgoblin’s wrath. He rejects Lynn not because he finds a woman whom he is more compatible with but because he realizes Lynn isn’t that interested in him. His heroism is motivated as much by a desire to impress Lynn as his nascent conscience, despite advice from Daredevil and Scarlet Spider. Only the Onslaught crisis forces him to answer the questions, and then the series ends.

The primary artist for Green Goblin, Scott McDaniel, has a blocky, exaggerated style that works best in the ‘90s. The Green Goblin costume and mask lends itself to exaggerated touches, and I like the Steel Slammer design, but he has a little trouble with Phil’s quieter moments. (McDaniel’s Pittsburgh youth shows up when he has Phil wear a Steelers jacket, even though Phil’s a fan of the New York Smashers.) McDaniel penciled #1-4, 6-7, and 9-10, leaving a lot of space for fill-in artists. Most of these are unremarkable, with the occasional glitch; for example, Keven Kobasic draws Judge Tomb as a tall, powerful young man with single tufts of blond hair on his head and chin in #5, while McDaniel goes the more clichéd route, depicting Tomb as a small, old man with a fringe of white hair on his head in #6.

Hood Green Goblin imageJoshua Hood drew the last three issues. Hood’s distorted, elongated faces are off-putting, making the characters look almost deformed. He draws Angel Face’s scars as far more disgusting than McDaniel did, robbing her of some of her humanity (which DeFalco’s writing doesn’t compensate for). In #12, though, his Sentinels aren’t bad, and the final image from that issue is impressive.

Green Goblin grades out as mediocre — not groundbreaking or very memorable, but it’s not offensive either. Poking around these forgotten corners of the Marvel Universe is always its own reward, but on the other hand, it’s not a reward worth paying $40 for (or $30 new at Amazon). If you are an archaeologist of Marvel or ‘90s pop culture, Green Goblin might be worth it if you can find it at a reasonable price. Otherwise, let it go.

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

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23 August 2013

Spider-Man: The Next Chapter, v. 3

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man v. 2 #13-9, Peter Parker: Spider-Man v. 2 #13-9, Spider-Woman v. 3 #9, and Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2000 (2000)

Released: August 2012 (Marvel)

Format: 400 pages / color / $39.99 / ISBN: 9780785159773

What is this?: Spider-Man loses everything — everything — so he can return to the status quo.

The culprits: Writer Howard Mackie, writer / artist John Byrne, and artists John Romita Jr., Graham Nolan, and others

This is how bad the Clone Saga and its aftermath were: about two years after the Clone Saga ended, Marvel decided the solution to the relative disinterest in Spider-Man was to chop the number of Spider-titles in half, relaunch the survivors (Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man, volumes two), and have Howard Mackie write both.

To the modern reader, safely more than a decade away from that decision, having Howard Mackie writing two Spider-Man books seems insane, as incomprehensible as AOL buying Time-Warner or the Internet bubble on Wall Street. Three years after the 1998 relaunch, Mackie was done with his Spider-Man run — and done at Marvel. His alternate-reality X-title, Mutant X, ended in June 2001, a month after Amazing #29, his final Spider-Man issue. (He was replaced on Peter Parker by Paul Jenkins with #20.) After that: nothing, unless you believe he was X, the anonymous writer of The Brotherhood, which ended in March 2002. The only work Mackie has done for Marvel in the last decade is Spider-Man: The Real Clone Saga, which retold the Clone Saga as Mackie and Tom DeFalco intended. Thank God; that was a story that was screaming to be told. Or maybe the screaming was coming from somewhere else. From me, maybe.

Spider-Man: The Next Chapter, v. 3 coverBut evidently we couldn’t see Mackie’s shortcomings back then: his shoddy characterizations, his inability to see a plot or subplot through, his frequently nonsensical plots. Mackie rose to prominence with the 1990s Ghost Rider relaunch, where the fresh take on Ghost Rider, Image-era art, and grim-and-gritty characters overrode those deficiencies. I can’t speak to the exact quality of his previous Spider-Man work, but his X-Factor run (#115-49) charged headlong into incomprehensibility before everyone agreed the best remaining idea for the title was to throw Havok, the X-Factor’s team leader, into an alternate reality and follow the alternate reality Mackie hadn’t yet messed up.

I chose to start with the third volume of The Next Chapter because I already had the single issues that made up v. 1 and 2. But the choice was serendipitous, as v. 3 begins Marvel’s second, slightly more successful attempt to roll back Spider-Man to his early ‘80s settings. The calamitous Clone Saga had taught Marvel, rightly or wrongly, that Peter could not be replaced, so Marvel tried writing Mary Jane out of the comics instead. In Amazing #13, the first issue of The Next Chapter, v. 3, the passenger jet Mary Jane is traveling on explodes in mid-air.

The decision to kill Spider-Man’s wife was both bold and crassly commercial, which is probably why it appealed to those who signed off on it. It is not so appealing in execution. However, Mackie and Amazing plotter / co-writer John Byrne choose to make Peter not believe Mary Jane is dead, and that’s more interesting than weeping and moaning. His friends see it as denial, but in Spider-Man’s world, the choice is backed by some logic. Aunt May returned from the dead, as did Norman Osborn; Gwen Stacy and the Jackal were cloned. Mary Jane’s survival was possible — and in fact, she was alive, reuniting with Peter in Amazing Spider-Man v. 2 #29, a few months after The Next Chapter, v. 3, ends.

The enjoyability of The Next Chapter, v. 3, is elevated above the material itself because it contains the entire storyline, from the violent act to Peter’s eventual acceptance. Rarely do readers get a complete story when Marvel reprints a consecutive, non-storyline based section of continuity. I doubt Marvel planned the reprints that way, but I’m glad it turned out that way — especially since everything else about the story is abysmal.

Peter claims to want Mary Jane back, but he is ineffectual in his attempts to find her. I know Spider-Man isn’t the world’s greatest detective, but he doesn’t investigate Mary Jane’s alleged death or find any clues. He doesn’t try to find any of her previous stalkers, such as Venom, who might have had a grudge. He doesn’t look into the explosion. His only real investigation into her death is following up on an anonymous tip that MJ was being held in Latveria, where her plane was bound. (Why would anyone have a modeling shoot in Latveria, of all places?) He doesn’t try to find who gave him the Latverian tip or MJ’s crooked manager, who embezzled money from his client and disappeared.

It’s almost as if the reader is supposed to think Peter knows how irrational he’s being but doesn’t want any evidence to prove it. Unfortunately, nothing in the text backs up that reading — except that when Spider-Man is haunted by the deceased Harry Osborn in Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2000, he finds Harry’s return patently ridiculous, despite Harry having been dosed with the same Goblin formula that returned Norman Osborn from the dead.

A big part of the storyline’s failure is that the plot requires us to accept whatever Mackie and Byrne dish out to keep things moving or to stop them from moving. Peter’s costume and spider-shooters are stolen after he is kicked out of a flophouse, but why doesn’t Peter take better care of his Spider-equipment? Is he an idiot? (Probably, since he could have stayed with May or one of his friends, and he has no problem accepting money from her or Robbie Robertson.) Why doesn’t he work harder to find the manager who ruined his life? Why did someone want Peter to investigate in Latveria? Why re-introduce the mystery of the fifth Green Goblin, then pointedly not resolve it? In Annual 2000, why do Scrier Jr.’s gauntlets explode when they touch? What is the point of the gratuitous Marvel: The Lost Generation crossover in Amazing #16, other than to boost one of Byrne’s more forgettable ideas? Why does Venom’s bite have such an effect on Sandman, when Sandman loses mass all the time without any consequences and Venom’s bite never was so toxic before? What could possibly be in the box the airline returns to Peter and May, which convinces them of Mary Jane’s death? The answer to all these questions is You shut up.

Even when Mackie and Byrne have good ideas, their inability to commit to the idea undermines their accomplishments. In Peter Parker #16, Spider-Man runs across a half-dozen new, off-brand villains. The interaction between the villains and Spider-Man promises some laughs, with a subplot thrown into the mix; unfortunately, in less than three pages, they are gone, and Spider-Man thinks, “I feel like I’ve stepped into a Reader’s Digest version of a bad day in the life of Spider-Man.” (In contrast, a new Rocket Racer is given a big build-up, making his ignominious and off-hand defeat worth the time spent on him.) Having someone hunt down the Sinister Six, member by member, is an interesting idea, but we never get a good reason why the culprit decides to do so, or why he interrupts his vendetta halfway through to try to court his ex-wife. The ex-wife’s despair is convincing, but not enough time is invested in her thoughts to make her final fate seem believable. Sandman’s disintegration fuels some interesting stories down the line, but Mackie and Byrne are more interested in teasing a Silver-Age villain’s death than in following up on the implications.

Strangely, part of Mackie’s problem is that he can’t let go of the past. Part of the relaunch’s remit was to quietly forget the stories leading up to it. Mackie couldn’t, of course. In v. 3, he’s still dredging up stories from v. 1 of both titles. The awful crossover with Spider-Woman is saturated by references to the Gathering of Five crossover, which immediately preceded the relaunch. (To be fair, the new Spider-Woman was empowered by the crossover, but the stupid solution to defeating the villain revolves around the Gathering of the Five.) More damning, though, is his inclusion of the fifth Green Goblin, who impersonated the villain after the Clone Saga to clear Norman Osborn’s name. That Green Goblin could have been easily forgotten, but Mackie brings him up without resolving his identity, then offs the poor sap. Peter shakes his head and goes on with his life, rather than caring. In the Annual, Mackie brings up Scrier, a Clone Saga hanger-on, and the deceased Harry Osborn.

The reason why these thoughts and stories are half-formed is to give Mackie and Byrne room to tear Peter Parker’s life down. Mary Jane and her earning power are blown up, putting Spider-Man in the poorhouse. He’s single again, earning basically nothing as a dishwasher, and he has to move in with Randy Robertson to make ends meet. Strangely, the writers and Peter refuse to wallow in the protagonist’s misery. Peter is … not cheerful, but he’s not downbeat either. Partially, that is because he refuses to believe in his wife’s death; part of it is because the stories don’t spend much time on the misery of minimum-wage labor and homelessness.

Not everything is bad. Mackie and Byrne use the supporting cast; even when the supporting characters are at their most cardboard, the writers acknowledge the amount of people who care about Peter and May, which is something other writers have trouble with. Cletus Kasady’s escape from the insane asylum without his symbiote underscores that even without Carnage, Kasady is dangerous. J. Jonah Jameson getting his hands on Peter’s Spider-equipment and stopping the Bugle’s Spider-Man vendetta is interesting, although the former isn’t original. Flash’s gloriously self-aggrandizing pep talk to Peter in Peter Parker #18 is wonderful.

Cadaverous Aunt MayMore importantly, the art is very good. John Byrne, who penciled Amazing #13-8, is not at his peak, but he is more than solid throughout. John Romita Jr.’s work on Peter Parker #14-7 and 19 is very good — and considering that I generally don’t like Romita Jr.’s work, that’s saying something. His Hulk in #14 is hulking and brutish without devolving into cartoonishness, which would have been all wrong for a serious issue about Peter dealing with Mary Jane’s absence. Klaus Janson (Annual) and Lee Weeks (PP #13) are excellent on their single issues as well, with Weeks’s realistic style being an excellent choice for an issue focusing on the depowered Carnage and Janson’s slightly dated look complementing a script that concentrates on characters from Spider-Man’s recent past. On the down side, Erik Larsen’s pencils in Amazing #19 look rushed, with May’s face looking less “old” and more “cadaverous.”

This is the end of Mackie’s stranglehold on Spider-Man. Byrne bowed out with Amazing #18, and Mackie was replaced on Peter Parker after these issues. A new era was coming, and few readers looked back on Next Chapter’s false starts with any fondness. To be fair, in v. 3, the stories (and writers) did exactly what Marvel wanted them to: reboot Peter Parker to his good old days. I don’t think anyone wanted to see it done this badly, though.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Half Spider-Man symbol (1.5 of 5)

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10 August 2013

Chronicles of Conan, v. 23: Well of Souls and Other Stories

Collects: Conan the Barbarian #174-81 and Conan the Barbarian Annual #10 (1985-6)

Released: March 2013 (Dark Horse)

Format: 232 pages / color / $18.99 / ISBN: 9781616550523

What is this?: Conan, along with a Zingaran captain and a teenage girl, continues looking for a fabulous treasure, but he finds more than he’s looking for.

The culprits: Writer Jim Owsley and artists John Buscema and Ernie Chan

In previous reviews of the Chronicles of Conan series, I have complained about a great many things. The most important, to me, was the series’ lack of supporting characters and ongoing narrative. Every issue was the same: Conan steps into a new situation, starts stabbing people, and walks out the end, often as the only survivor. That narrative doesn’t provide much tension: He has to survive, since he’s the main character.

With Chronicles of Conan, v. 23: Well of Souls and Other Stories, writer Jim Owsley (the future Christopher Priest) has changed that. Conan has a partner, Zingaran captain Delmurio, and a sidekick, Tetra, a lovestruck teenage girl who Conan has taught to be a fearsome warrior. They are on a quest to find treasure — simple enough, but one rarely used for long-form Conan stories.

Chronicles of Conan, v. 23: Well of Souls and Other Stories coverWell of Souls isn’t going to convince a reader with no interest in Conan to start reading the series. However, it might lure readers who are interested in the character or concept back to the series by giving them reasons to invest in the title rather than an individual story. The supporting cast is vivid enough to make readers care about them. Delmurio and Tetra have personalities, and readers will most likely have an opinion about them; when they leave Conan’s side, the barbarian picks up a new companion, who will presumably also make readers like or hate him. The extended plot pays off in a not completely unexpected fashion after seven issues (two in the previous volume, Reavers in the Borderland), and a new plotline begins.

It’s a solid foundation for a series. It’s only a baseline, but it saddens me how badly previous volumes miss that mark.

The individual issues are on the whole mildly interesting, elevated by the structure but showing only flashes of excellence. Issue #175, with its war-haunted river town and mysterious boatman, is the most atmospheric and probably the best issue in the collection. Even the less interesting issues have elements that momentarily pique interest; the opening story, which largely revolves around a mob of uninteresting war orphans, has some surprisingly vicious moments and ruminations about the ethics of keeping occupied populations in line that redeems the fleeting romances and undifferentiated crowds.

Despite my faint praise for the individual issues, Owsley has a better handle on Conan’s world than the writers who preceded him. The settings are filled with casual violence and superstitious people who cannot recognize false prophets or true prophecy when it is shouted at them. People die soon after they appear, and they die when it seems like they are going to join the ongoing cast. Owsley gives the protagonist more dimensions than he usually possesses in Marvel comics; the Conan in Well is as brooding, angry, and violent as usual, but the presence of Tetra restrains his lustful side. The narration says he is affected by her resemblance to lost lovers Red Sonja and Bêlit, but it’s clear Conan sees her adoration and reacts to it. Given her youth, he can’t return her affection, and he doesn’t want to reject her outright, so he doesn’t flaunt his sexual preference of other women to her. When her eyes are no longer on the barbarian, Conan goes back to his lecherous ways almost immediately.

Well of Souls has plenty of areas where it could be improved; better choices by editor Larry Hama might have prevented colorist George Roussos from assaulting readers’ eyes with a technicolor Hyborian Age or convinced artist John Buscema to cast aside the teenage Tetra’s furry bikini and loincloth ensemble, even if it is accessorized with green furry boots. (What animal could those boots have come from?) Making the spelling of man-monster Keiv (not “Kiev”) consistent would have helped. Having Owsley restate the overarching plot — on a quest to find treasure, based on a map Conan and Delmurio each have half of — would have been useful as well, since the reader often knows only that the trio are going to some destination. Hama also makes a mistake in issue #176, referring to Conan’s adventure with ex-mercenary Redondo as being in Annual #9 instead of #10. Since Annual #10 is included in Well, that’s not a big problem, but collection editor Chris Warner might have given the story in #176 greater impact by putting Annual #10 before #176. On the other hand, the continuing narrative doesn’t give much room for the annual, so it might not have been feasible.

The ever-reliable John Buscema drew all the issues of the regular series. Buscema was getting near 60 when these issues came out, but his art is as strong and vivid as ever. Owsley’s intense Conan would not work half so well with another artist, as Buscema’s work on the barbarian hero conveys a hardness that has nothing to do with his musculature. Buscema’s penchant for cheesecake — de rigueur for fantasy, I know — gets a little out of hand, as no woman in Well conceals her navel, and Tetra’s outfit is, as described, gratuitous. Frequent Conan inker Ernie Chan penciled the annual and does a good job of it.

The immediate future looks good for the title. The overarcing plot is controlled by a new adversary, not Conan, but the villain looks like he has a plan and is putting it into place. With Owsley remaining on Conan until #213 (another four volumes or so), the stories should retain their barbarousness, and Conan should remain well rounded.

Rating: Conan symbol Conan symbol Conan symbol Half Conan symbol (3.5 of 5)

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02 August 2013

Captain Marvel, v. 1: In Pursuit of Flight

Collects: Captain Marvel #1-6 (2012)

Released: January 2013 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785165491

What is this?: Carol Danvers takes a new codename, gets a new haircut and costume, and becomes unstuck in time.

The culprits: Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artists Dexter Soy and Emma Rios

I really wanted to like Kelly Sue DeConnick’s new Captain Marvel series, but unfortunately, Captain Marvel, v. 1: In Pursuit of Flight underwhelmed me.

Flight starts with Carol Danvers selecting a bland new direction for her career: she adopts a more flattering costume and a less flattering haircut, and she lets Captain America push her into choosing the Captain Marvel name over her previous nom de costume, “Ms. Marvel.” Her great pleasure / motivation now is flight, which makes sense for an ex-USAF officer. But trying to instill wonder in the most mundane of superhero powers is a difficult sell.

Captain Marvel, v. 1: In Pursuit of Flight coverWith that setup, of course the action in Flight revolves around a random time-travel plot. To be fair, DeConnick ties time travel into the flight theme by using Captain Marvel’s aviatrix hero’s airplane as a time machine, but the time displacement still comes out of nowhere.

Captain Marvel ends up in Peru in 1943, fighting alongside women pilots without planes vs. the Japanese, who are flying Kree ships. The women have been in South America longer than Captain Marvel, but they are as confused as she is about how they got there. And even thought they haven’t traveled in time, why shouldn’t they be confused? They are fighting the Japanese, who are flying Kree ships, in Peru. The reader doesn’t learn until issue #4 that the women of Banshee Squadron were flying a non-combat mission from California to Hawaii before they randomly appeared in Peru. Peru makes some sense, as Captain Marvel’s hero flew her plane there on a famous flight. But other than being female flyers, the Banshee Squadron has nothing to do with Captain Marvel or her plane. World War II has nothing to do with Captain Marvel either. But it all makes sense when the reason for the random time travel is revealed as …

Carol’s hero, Helen Cobb, using a piece of the Kree psyche-magnetron, the “wishing machine” that gave Carol her powers.

Hunh. Well, it explains the Kree ships. The rest still feels as if it were assembled using darts and a blindfold. However, the last two issues proceed more sensibly, as Captain Marvel finds herself alongside Helen at NASA, training for the space program along with other women.

The scattershot plot elements do the book no favors. The supporting characters aren’t helpful either. Helen’s all brass, without any attributes to recommend her to the reader. Carol checks in on Tracy Burke, a cancer patient who used to work for Carol at Woman Magazine, but their current relationship is unexplored, and Tracy is prickly at best. The women of Banshee Squadron are better, but they fall into archetypes: the tough leader, the gung-ho fighter, the innocent … their gender is novel, though. I suppose that’s the point: they are soldiers first, or humans. A few more pages devoted to the characters would have been nice; the seven-page fight sequence at the beginning feels like an indulgence.

The art does not help Flight at all. It’s not often I say, “Thank God for the Emma Rios art” — in fact, before Flight I had said it never times — but I was overjoyed when she took over for #5 and 6. Not that I enjoy her wispy-thin line, spindly figures, and generally manga-influenced art — I don’t — but compared to Dexter Soy, she’s wonderful. Soy, who drew #1-4, gives the reader a muddled world filled with blocky, stiff characters. His line is so thick I wouldn't be surprised if he used a paint brush to ink himself. The muddy palette used by the colorist — not explicitly named but by implication Soy — does not make anything more attractive or recognizable. (Jordie Bellaw, the colorist for #5-6, lightens the colors slightly but still favors browns and dark colors.) Soy doesn’t do himself any favors with the Banshee Squadron; one is drawn firing an enormous machine gun that would knock Sgt. Fury on his keister, and another has blonde pigtails and wears her uniform to expose her midriff and cleavage.

So: plot, characters, protagonist, and art are all lacking. None are awful — well, Soy’s art is. But the entire package is, as I said, underwhelming. Skip this Flight.

Rating: Avengers symbol  symbol (1.5 of 5)

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