Punchy Punchy: Graeme's brief take on the 8/9 books.

So, after my commenting last week that I didn’t know anything about these new-fangled video games that you kids were all “up in my grill” about, Kate went out and bought a Gamecube just to teach me a thing or two. Admittedly, that thing or two seems to center around (a) how much Kate adores Lego Star Wars, and (b) how much fun the two of use have beating each other up playing Marvel Nemesis: Rise Of The Imperfects. Or, as we’ve chosen to call it, “Punchy Punchy Super-Hero”. But, wait, you’d rather hear about the comics, right…?

ANNIHILATION #1: I’ve seen this book explained around these comic internets as “Rann-Thanagar War done right,” which may be the very definition of damning with faint praise. Still, this may be something where faint praise is the only kind of praise you can give it – It left me bemused, more than anything, which probably wasn’t the point considering the tenor of the book is pretty much “HOLY CRAP! THEY BEAT UP GALACTUS AND FIRELORD! THEY MUST BE UNSTOPPABLE!” This is the kind of book that relies heavily on fans’ existing relationships with characters, as opposed to giving you reasons to care about what’s going on, and I have to admit that I never really got any of the characters here. No, not even Starlord. I also never got the appeal of Andrea Di Vito’s artwork, although I know that he’s got his fans; to me, though, he seems like a cross between generic 1990s storytelling with generic 1970s draughtsmanship… which is to say, pretty much the worst of both worlds. Eh, but I don’t doubt that it worked for the people it was aimed at.

BEYOND! #2: I really don’t like Scott Kolins’ art – Again, it’s the basic draughtsmanship, not anything else, but it doesn’t have any flow for me – and that’s a shame, because I’m convinced that otherwise I’d really like this book. Dwayne McDuffie’s script moves quickly, and recasts the basic original Secret Wars set-up as something closer to Lost or a 1970s disaster movie starring a stellar line-up of Marvel B- and below-list characters with humor working to offset the lack of suspense. I really like the script, some of the characters (I have a weakness for Hank Pym and the Wasp, I admit it), and have appalling nostalgia for Secret Wars, so there’s got to be something reason why this was just Okay, right…?

THE ESCAPISTS #2: Ian Brill was ‘round the house today, and leafing through this, complaining that he really doesn’t dig Brian K. Vaughan’s dialogue. I can see that – it’s definitely very stylized, especially when it comes to the way that all of his characters randomly work pieces of trivia into conversations – but it’s something I personally enjoy nonetheless. That said, this felt a bit like BKV on autopilot, which is a shame; the plot felt forced and gimmicky, and the robbery towards the end of the issue stands out – even without the switch in artists – as too fantastic for the rest of the story, which may be intentional (The line in the dialogue about it having “taken on a bit of a mythical aura”) but still took me way out of what was going on. New artist Steve Rolston finds himself in an awkward position, as well, trying to be both himself and (previous artist) Philip Bond at the same time, somewhat unsuccessfully. Considering how much I adored the first issue, this second effort suffers in comparison, even though it’s Good taken on its own merits. Nice James Jean cover, too.

MS. MARVEL #6: And this is what a book that doesn’t know what to do with an enforced crossover read like, apparently. It’s a Civil War crossover, but one where the main part of the plot comes from characters not normally associated by the series; the drama comes from the betrayal of a character who’s reintroduced in this issue purely for the purpose of being the betrayer… None of it rings true, and I’m not sure we’re ever given a reason why we should care, either. More interestingly for a series where the title character is pro-registration, it’s still the anti-registration characters who are the most sympathetic – Arachne sacrifices her family for what she believes in, but Ms. Marvel can’t even offer up a reason why heroes should register beyond “It’s our duty as Americans to do what we’re told to.” Between that, and dialogue that’s much more natural in the chatty scenes between plot points, the whole book has an air of a writer doing his duty as a Marvel writer to tie into the big event book, while wishing that he could write a story he believes in. Eh.

SHE-HULK #10: Dan Slott, on the other side, at least attempts to put forward a rationale for super-hero registration while writing a book that’s too busy having fun to be a proper tie-in to Civil War. This book’s become a sit-com-cum-soap-opera, and it’s all the better for it, zipping between subplots and a central plot that refuses to take itself too seriously (which, considering it stars an Astronaut werewolf, is probably a good thing). Rick Burchett’s art is a nice surprise, as well; I liked his work with Greg Rucka on various Batman books around the turn of the century, so it’s nice to see him back again. Good enough to make me want to pick up the next issue to see what’s going on with the Rawhide Kid and the Mad Thinker’s android, if nothing else…

SUPERMAN #655: Cover of the week, and it’s all down to that dialogue: “It’s all right, miss! You’re safe now!” “NO! You don’t understand! No-one’s safe! IT’S LOOSE!” Luckily, the interiors all but live up to the old-school promise of that tease, as Superman tampers with forces that he, of course, doesn’t understand while trying to save the day. As with the previous issue, it’s the small things that make this work so well – Clark getting used to his new powers, or Lana Lang finally being treated as something other than an ex-girlfriend or potential “other woman”. There’s nothing here that breaks new ground as far as super-heroics go, but that seems kind of fitting; it is a Superman book, after all. Instead, you just get old-fashioned superheroes done well. Good, and you get the feeling that Busiek and Pacheco couldn’t really do it any other way.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #2: I wish that I read Ultimate Spider-Man on a regular basis. It’s a good book, and I enjoy the take that Bendis has on Peter Parker in it, but it’s not a book that I had ever really considered picking up on a regular basis; it’s not amazing enough for me to have to have it, and I’m not so much of a Spider-Man fan that I have such affinity for the characters that it becomes a must-buy, either. But if I was reading the series on a regular basis, I’m sure that this would’ve been a much better book for me. There’s a tight plot going on here, and the round-robin flashback structure showing how each character got to the main action in the story is a nice touch; Mark Brooks’ artwork manages to keep continuity with Mark Bagley’s, without being slavish to it, and he has a really nice, almost Mike Wieringo, take on the characters. It’s just that this is clearly the culimation of plots from the main series. None of the characters, or their relationships to each other, are really introduced as such, and so the climax – which I feel should be shocking – feels robbed of its true impact. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a Good book, but I felt as if I was missing out the entire time I was reading it.

PICK OF THE WEEK is probably She-Hulk, which was the most fun and complete in a week of books that weren’t that bad, but weren’t amazing, either. PICK OF THE WEAK is Annihilation, but that may just be my biases showing; perhaps I’m not cut out for the whole WAR IN SPACE thing. TRADE OF THE WEEK in this especially-Marvel-heavy week, is ESSENTIAL MARVEL TEAM-UP VOLUME 2 (as recommended by Dave Robson, who also needs to email me at fanboyrampage at yahoo dot com, because I forgot his email address but Paty Cockrum will not be denied...), which is worth picking up just to count the number of times that Bill Mantlo calls New York “Fun City”. Either that was a ‘70s thing, or Bill Mantlo had some personal deep dark secret about the what he was getting up to in the Big Apple back in the day…

What were the rest of you reading, anyway?