Sunday, 29 March 2009

TPB Review: Marvel Visionaries - Busiek

Marvel Visionaries: Kurt Busiek, includes Untold Tales of Spider-Man #1-8, by Busiek / Olliffe.

Nowadays, Spider-Man's vast history is the subject of countless series', some more succesful than others. However, to the best of my knowledge Kurt Busiek's Untold Tales was the first series to attempt to plug the gaps in between early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko issues. Although the book was a commercial failure and was cancelled after Busiek left with #25, it has been critically acclaimed since, which led to Busiek getting his own 'Marvel Visionaries' volume.

The most immediatley obvious thing about the series is its retro style. The stories are all done in one, with concurrent subplots running throughout. Many of the stories are far from serious by modern standards, and come across as a little silly, particularly the team-up with the Human Torch in #6. However, it could be argued that this is Busiek's attempt to capture the feel of 60's comics, and he certainly achieves that. While his attemps to create new villains fall a little flat Busiek handles the classics excellently. His portrayal of Sandman is particularly impressive. Another plus is the characterisation of Spidey. Busiek takes into consideration that he had only been wearing the webs for a very short amount of time when these stories took place, and so portrays him as somewhat inexperienced and naive, a nice detail. He is also very careful with continuity, the stories fit neatly into place with the Lee/Ditko issues, and it would be very interesting reading them side by side.

Finally, Pat Olliffe's stellar art must be mentioned. His style is very close to Ditko's while still retaining it's own unique style. His renditions of Spidey's villains are about as classic as it goes, it's a shame that he has pencilled very little mainstream Spider-Man.

Overall, while Busiek and Olliffe's Untold Tales is perhaps slightly outdated, and a bit of a dramatic shift from the modern storytelling methods of today, it is still an excellent read for fans of the wall crawler.


Sunday, 22 March 2009

Retro Review: Was the clone saga really that bad?

Spider-Man #53: By Mackie / Lyle

Aah the Clone saga, without doubt the period of Spider-history that divides fanboys opinions more than any other. Whether you love it or hate, chances are you have an opinion on it. When I started picking up comic books as a fresh faced six year old, they were knee deep in the clone saga, and hence I look back on it with fond memories. However, there are obviously a great many people who would not share this view, indeed there are many who see the clone saga as the proverbial dark age of Spider-Man's publication history. For the most part I totally disagree with this, while Spider-Man has seen better times the clone saga includes some very solid stories from top creators such as Jurgens, Defalco, Bagley and Romita Jr. However, that is not to say that it did not contain a fair few godawful stories. This clunker is one of them.

This storyline, 'The Exile Returns' is one of the gaps in my clone saga collection, and I have longed to pick it up since I learned that it featured Ben Reilly taking down Venom. On this note, when I saw part four of the aforemention storyline for a knockdown price of 50p in Mega City Comics it was a no brainer! Undeterred by the fact that I was coming in at the conclusion of a four parter, I filled myself in on the plot and settled down to read what I hoped would be one of the high points of the clone saga. However, this issue was the exact opposite, one of the definite low points of the saga. Howard Mackie is a writer who often gets a lot of unfair stick, but this really is turgid stuff. His dialogue is atrocious, cliched rubbish that really has no place in modern comic books. The narrative captions he uses are even worse, hilariously overdramatic. However, for his faults the way that Reilly eventually beats Venom is fairly imaginative, and visually interesting. Tom Lyle's artwork is also slightly above average, and is something of a saving grace for the issue, although that isn't really saying much. Reading the issue in hindsight also rams home just how inconsequential some of Mackie's subplots were. The Grim Hunter? Ken Ellis? Jacob Raven? Where are these characters now? The answer gives a clue about Mackie's talent for introducing new characters and plots. A very dissapointing issue from a writer who I know can do much better.


Friday, 6 March 2009

Saturday Morning Watchmen!

I recently stumbled across this amusing video, and figured that with Watchmen being released in cinemas today now would be the perfect time to post it. Enjoy!

My thanks to George Berryman who originally posted the video on the Spider-Man Crawl Space.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Mighty Avengers: A return to form

Since Brian Michael Bendis 'Disassembled' the Avengers starting with #500 the title has come in for a lot of criticism, particularly from longtime Avengers fans, arguing that Bendis' New Avengers were not 'the real' Avengers, and were not true to the team's history. While I think there are flaws in this argument, I can definitely see where the naysayers are coming from. Bendis' New Avengers often suffered from extreme decompression, and a lack of direction and purpose. The title was also often horrificly derailed by events, indeed its abysmal tie in to Secret Invasion led to me dropping it.
Mighty Avengers, launched a couple of years after New Avengers, and was also written by Bendis. Aimed at fans of the classic Avengers, featuring a more traditional set up, in my eyes it was streets ahead of New Avengers, returning the Avengers to a more classic style, while still retaining some modern sensibilites. However, eventually the title came to be plagued by familiar demons, lateness, inconsistent art and poor tie ins, all of which have cursed New Avengers at one time or another. The utterly tepid, unnecessary Secret Invasion tie ins were the last straw and led to me again dropping the title.
However, the announcement that Dan Slott would be taking over with #21 reignited my interest. Slott I feel is one of Marvel's premier writers at the moment, and it is about time he was given a chance on one of its bigger titles. (ASM aside) Khoi Pham was more of an unknown quantity to me, but nonetheless I was very excited about it.
Happily, and somewhat surprisingly I have not yet been dissapointed. While there isn't really anything groundbreaking about the two issues I have read, there is a lot to admire. Slott has proved once again that he is a master of using obscure continuity, and referencing other writers work. While many are happy to steamroller over things to suit there own purposes, Slott is careful not to do this, an example being his use of the Hulk, where he references the recent 'Planet Hulk' storyline, and Pietro's inner turmoil and some of his villainous deeds from the past few years.. Slott's dialogue is also impressive, each character clearly has it's own voice, and adds something different to the team. Hercules in particular is a fine addition, I keep meaning to pick up his solo book, and his showing here is a fine advertisment for it.
The plot is impressive as well. It is generally well paced, keeping up the mystery while slowly drip feeding readers information to keep them interested. It is also good to see the Avengers dealing with threats on a global scale again, Bendis' generally tended to stick to more street level, personal stories, which were a nice change, but more suited to other characters.
With the widespread changes to the Marvel Universe during the 'Dark Reign' crossover, it is fantastic to see a Marvel book largely ignoring them, and blazing its own trail, while not being afraid to reference continuity. Slott is doing sterling work so far, and long may it continue. In short: It is good to see the Avengers back where they belong.