Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Review: Spider-Men #2

Spider-Men #2 By Bendis / Pichelli 

That's Spider-MEN, not Spider-MAN. Over a decade since its high profile launch, Marvel have finally decided to published a crossover between the 'Ultimate' re imagining of the Marvel Universe, and the regular one that we all know and love. And as the character who launched the line, not to mention one who is currently celebrating his 50th anniversary, what better choice of star than Spider-Man. After last months issue one proved to be more prelude than full fledged instalment, this issue moves the story considerably forward, as we are treated to an extended meeting of Peter Parker and his alternate Universe replacement Miles Morales.

Characters who should be allies fighting over a simple misunderstanding is so common in superhero comics at this point that it is pretty much a trope, and with this in mind it is hardly surprising that the two 'Spider-Men's first meeting ultimately resulted in such a thing. Peter and Miles' duel in this issue does feel perfunctory and a little unnecessary, but it is good fun nonetheless and a logical way of bringing the two characters together. Miles' eventual victory over Peter could be classed as a little unrealistic, but given Peter's confusion it seems fair enough. The rest of the issue was just as believable, and I thought that Peter's gradual realisation as to his surroundings was handled very well.

The plot of this series remains a little murky however. Mysterio's involvement is a plus, and so far his Ultimate incarnation has been handled with aplomb, yet his place in the issue seems to guarantee the sort of enigmatic plotting that can lead to frustrating among readers. The excitement around Peter's entry into the Ultimate Universe is enough to sustain interest for the time being, but a more substantial narrative will be required in later issues. While Bendis' characterisation is very solid throughout, this issue also feels lacking in a little heart at times. Although once again, this will surely come to fruition later in the series, in these early issues it would have been pleasing to display a little more emotional response from the characters, even if it is only hinted at. 

These are both minor nitpicks though, and for the most part this is an encouraging issue after what felt like a half baked opening chapter. Bendis' script is smart, Pichelli's artwork is glossy and dynamic, and the plot is capably maintaining a constant air of intrigue. This is not a series anywhere near approaching classic status yet, but this second part feels like a solid foundation to build on.


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Retro Review: Starman Volume 1: Sins of the Father

Starman: Sins of the Father collects Starman (Volume 2) #0-5  By Robinson / Harris 

One of the hallmarks of the D.C Universe, and one of the major distinctions that sets it apart from its Marvel counterpart is the relatively commonplace nature of 'legacy' heroes. For the uninitiated, a legacy hero is a shorthand way of describing a new, generally younger, character taking on an already existing superhero mantle, often one which they already have some sort of pre-existing familial link to. The overarching theme of this collection may be one that is typical to the classic D.C Universe, but its narrative content and overall style could not be further from the norm. Jack Knight, the son of the Starman of the Golden age, is the star of  the series, but he is a staunchly atypical hero, and a broadly conflicted character. Knight is very much a reluctant occupant of the Starman mantle, and constantly feels the pressure of the two men in his family to previously go by the name - his father Ted Knight, and brother David. In many ways Jack is the archetypal everyman - he is a hero not by choice but by necessity and constantly rails at the effects that his 'secret' identity has upon his otherwise comfortable, if slightly jumbled existence.

That isn't to say that this is a storyline entirely without classic superheroics, and to be fair it does have its fair share of action, but framed against a backdrop that has much more in common with the real world than even the grittiest superhero epics of the modern day. Tony Harris' pencils and Wade Von Grawbadgers excellent, distinctive inks are both cartoony and understated, creating a style that effortlessly blends the fantastic with the flawed, often unattractiveness wrinkles of reality. There are ridiculous, over the top, overpowered characters and magical, unexplainable objects - the enigmatic Shade for example, or the mysterious Hawaiian shirt with a terrible secret - and they are made all the more fantastical by their presence in a world that never seems anything less than real.

Despite the whimsical, Golden Age character that this series borrows its name from, this collection is as close to a 'real world' take on a superhero as you are likely to see. This is a hero without a real costume, powers of his own, or the sort of heroic posturing that defined the likes of Captain America and Superman when they were first created. Jack Knight is a truly unique creation and it is his characterisation, not to mention the vibrant, realistic world that James Robinson and his art team create, that make this collection such a joy to read. Sins of the Father is a rough diamond, and by no means the perfectly crafted epic that something like Watchmen or Sandman can claim to be, but a fantastic read nonetheless and an inspiring opening to the series.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Review: Avengers Vs X-Men: Round 6

A VS X Round 6 By Aaron / Bendis / Brubaker / Fraction / Hickman / Coipel / Morales 

At its exact halfway point Avengers Vs X-Men finally appears to be springing into life. That's not to say that the opening handful of issues were particularly bad, more that they seemed affected by the same malaise that afflicts most of Marvel's recent attempts at 'epic' event storytelling. The story was a little too disjointed to be entirely satisfying, and despite the large scope I had my doubts about the lasting impact that it would have. Those doubts have not been entirely banished, but this issue combined with the previous issue's cliffhanger have done a lot to restore my faith in what had been a vaguely flagging series.

Jonathan Hickman scripts this issue and does a solid job. His dialogue is among the best that the series have seen and the pacing, while not perfect, is fine. From the off there is a real sense of scale and impact here, put across in a more natural way than the rather forced nature of some of the earlier aspects of the plot that hinted at such things. Cyclops' conversation with Xavier feels like a real tipping point for the character and, to borrow an overused phrase from Marvel's marketing department, it seems as though nothing will ever be the same. Cyclops was once a character most frequently described as dull - it seems unlikely that such criticisms will hold much weight after this series has reached completion. It is true of course that there have been past attempts at granting the character a more 'edgy' nature - most notably by the pen of Grant Morrison - but not have felt as final as this one. Cyclops' villainous turn feels both weighty and entirely natural, and really works for the character.

As his character takes centre stage, it feels inevitable that the rest of the cast will be shunted to one side. This does give this issue less variety than what is typically on show in an event title, but it is not necessarily a bad thing and gives the plot a more cohesive feel. It is not all the Cyclops show though, and although Hope's characterisation is still failing to grab me I was pleased to see Beast given something significant to do, even if it seemed slightly gratuitous to the issue's wider plot.

Oliver Coipel takes over on art duties from John Romita Jr, and puts in some impressive work, ably assisted by Mark Morales on inks. Coipel's style lacks the idiosyncrasies that characterise Romita's style, and while his work is a little plainer and more lacking in atmosphere, it is polished and consistent throughout. Some of his storytelling is a little patchy but on the whole this is a great looking comic book.

Despite the encouraging steps that seem to have been taken with this issue, I can almost feel the writer's hands looming over the reset button. Cyclops' sweeping promised changes to the world are exciting and genuinely interesting, but feel temporary at best. His threat at the issue's close also feels a little empty, although it should make for an action packed second half to the series. In many ways this is the issue that I have been hoping for since day one, but I am still not fully convinced that it will be enough to make for the classic story that this series should have produced.