Hellblazer # 269 (or Shade The Changing Man # 73)
I’m still enjoying this, although the news that John Constantine is going to get married (?) strikes me as a particularly cruel twist in Peter Milligan’s ongoing delivery in the John-Can’t-Win saga he’s constructed. Without going too far into guessing the future, Milligan has consistently depicted the character’s relationship with Epiphany as one that doesn’t feel quite “real”, which isn’t dissimilar to the way Mike Carey ended his run on the title, and it seems unlikely that he’d return to that oft-repeated Hellblazer twist where John does something nice for someone, only to discover that his friend has been replaced by some sort of trickster plotting against him. But the alternative--that Epiphany’s feelings towards John are truthful--is one that just seems mean, considering how much time has been spent showcasing how little John cares about the girl when he doesn’t have something to apologize for. Maybe he’s going to learn to love her? That sounds like a painful thing to read. Out of everything Vertigo currently serializes, Hellblazer has the most history with telling problematic romance stories, and if Milligan is really shooting to cover every aspect of John's abysmal failings as a human being, he has to respond to the Heartland/Kit relationship that Garth Ennis came up with. But if that's the plan here, he's only got a few issues to turn Epiphany from the stock punker girl with a crush into someone a lot more meaningful, and that isn't a whole lot of time.
Artwise, I continue to think that Giuseppe Camuncoli is a good fit for this book, and I mourn the day when he signs an exclusive to DC and they stop using him, as that seems to be part of their business model. Either way, he's not going to get a lot of opportunities to draw weird shit like this on that Daken ongoing, unless they do one of those Character-Takes-Hallucinogen stories. Nothing much to add, other than this still being GOOD.
Thunderbolts # 144-146
I was looking forward to reading this when I first read about the line-up that Jeff Parker had planned for the book, but after reading the first issue, which closed on a cliffhanger ending that seemed to call back to earlier Thunderbolts stories I know nothing about, I assumed that it wasn’t going to be the sort of experience I was after. I liked the fact that Kev Walker drew the Ghost character with a bunch of Pigpen-style flies circling him at all times, and I really liked the part where Marv showed up wearing Juggernaut’s costume, but that last page of Baron Zemo saying “I’m back, bitches” rang like an alarm bell: it's another Marvel comic written in that "getcher long box" fashion, where there’s an expectation of nostalgic familiarity with previous stories. Like Guardians of the Galaxy/Nova/most DC Comics, one can understand what’s going on in the stories just fine, but if you really want to get your buttons pushed, you need to be able to respond to the return of the Sphinx on an emotional level. (If I could go back and tell my younger self to read the “right” super-hero comics, the one’s that guys like Johns and Morrison and Slott remember...well, I wouldn’t, I’d actually just tell my younger self to invest in Apple and then I'd go ahead and cheat on Mandy because she was already way ahead of me on that front. Okay, maybe I'd find the time to swap Legend of the Shield out for Mutant Massacre.)
I came around to Thunderbolts though, in part because it turned out that I was wrong (Baron Zemo’s appearance was a fake-out), in part because I wanted to see Marv-ernaut again, but mostly because it just seems like Jeff Parker is one of those writers who still likes writing comic books, which is really the only way I enjoy reading super-hero stories. I like them to be beaten into a brief experience, one that vomits out abbreviated portions of story while striving for the tempo of a damn good song before cutting out like a disconnected radio. I get that most people prefer trade collections these days, the writers seem to like them as well: I don’t have a complaint with that. My preferred delivery system for the super-hero genre is the snapshot, that’s all. You want them on a shelf, with a spine, I say god bless. You’ve won, I’m already looking into dying sooner.
The most recent issue of Thunderbolts has all of the same nuts and bolts that made up the previous two issues, but it puts them into play in way that’s a lot more satisfying. Having dispensed with the mildly unnecessary team-building issue (don't explain! just do it!) as well as their first adventure (which provided them with what one assumes will be their first created-by-Parker teammate, whenever she wakes up and recovers from the dart that Crossbones fired into her ear canal), 146 gets to be mission-focused stuff. The team--Juggernaut, Crossbones, Mach V, Moonstone, Man-Thing and Luke Cage--are sent to go check out one of those dark caves that non-descript spec-ops teams always disappear into, there’s a big fight with Hellboy/Dune style worm-monsters, and there’s very little attempts at that quippy dialog that entertains no one but Marvel editors. The team is stuck in the cave, the two people with a moral compass have been taken off the drawing board, and there, on the last page, you get this little squadron of the characters that are now shoved into the position of saving the day:
Man-Thing's presence on the team has been described as "Transport", and his willingness to participate in a knuckles up role is a new twist that Parker may or may not explain. That's part of the entertainment with the character, actually: there's been no attempt to get into why Man-Thing is helping out at all, he's still a cipher. During their first big fight, he just stood around and watched everybody get the shit beaten out of them. He doesn't talk, his facial design doesn't allow for much emotional storytelling, and his behavior has yet to showcase any discernible patterns. While it isn't unique for a team-up comic to have a mystery man, his participation in the comic doesn't feel at all like Parker's gearing up for some impossible-to-satisfy "What's Up With Man-Thing" one-shot. It's the Man-Thing. He's just there. Eventually, he'll probably wander off and do something else for awhile, he might burn somebody who knows some fear, or the book will just get rebooted into another Warren Ellis redux and he'll get abandoned back at the Marvel MAX offices.
That last page also goes a long way towards a visual explanation of what’s interesting about this comic (to me, at least.) Walker’s art is a groovy callback to his 2000AD roots whenever he’s doing facial close-ups, but when it’s time for people to stand around and proclaim shit, it’s most reminiscent of Joe Quesada’s I Made These People Out Of Boxes style from the Sword of Azarel. There’s always somebody (usually Luke Cage) that serves like a giant anchor for the other members of the team to squat their fat little bodies around. When they move, they cluster like a walking set of bowling pins, seen from angles. Glorious. Walker’s lucked out too -- Frank Martin is the man responsible for coloring these issues, and yet Martin seems unaware that the general rule of thumb with super-hero coloring these days is to overdo everything, to fill every portion of the backgrounds with hideous gradations of glaring, contradictory colors. His simple choices work well for Walker heavy-on-the-negative-space layouts that surround his character drawings. There’s no pretense towards realism in the art, and Martin doesn’t attempt to force one in with his choices. This panel isn't a great example of the guy's subtlety or curiousness (it being a story set mostly in a cave, after all) but these three issues alone showcase a guy with a much larger range than any of what was on display in Frank D'Armata's three-options-only run on Captain America. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect -- about half of the Luke Cage close-ups appear to be that of a 70 year old man’s face -- but it’s the most visually engaging of any of Marvel's current shelf of team-books. I’m not about to join in on this whole “Read Awesome Comics” meme, as it’s already become the 900th iteration of the “why don’t you like the shit I like” nonsense, but from out here on Sensitive Princess Island, I’m naming this one GOOD.