Marvel's Recent Number Ones

Earlier this week, we talked about DC Comics' first issue sins. Marvel commits its own. Far too many of their recent first issues (we're looking at the past three months or so) aren't really jumping-on points at all! Rather, a lot of these are part of some crossover event (or other plotline) already in progress, and if you're not following that story, it feels like you're missing something. Look, it's normal for new series to spin off from big events, but that's not what's happening here. Anyway, let's look at 9 new Marvel series to see which will be worth following monthly.
All-New Captain America by Rick Remender, Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger. I have no problem with the Falcon taking on Captain America's mantle, especially since he's not giving up the wings to do it. New ideas for action scenes, and so on. On a character basis, it's harder to say because the first issue is almost non-stop action. It looks nice (Immonen and von Grawnbadger are an excellent team), but aside from some voice-over captions and a flashback to Wilson's preacher father, there's not much to go on. The new Cap shares the page with the new Nomad, who happens to be Steve Rogers' super-fast grown son from the alternate dimension where I left Rogers when I quit the previous series very early on. The pair-up feels a little like Dick Grayson-Batman and Darian-Robin Lite. And they better not have just killed Batroc (though they definitely killed his accent, booo). The old Cap is in the background running the missions, in case you're actually a Steve Rogers fan. So a perfectly competent superhero action book, but it definitely means to continue plots from a previous iteration I wasn't reading.
Keep reading? Not enough there to keep me interested. People invested in the previous series will likely like what's going on moving forward though.
Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier by Ales Kot and Marco Rudy. WHAT THE HELL. Cap's OTHER sidekick/partner also gets a new series, already on its second issue, and it's completely bonkers. Now, I like Ales Kot well enough, and he's proven to be quite good at covert ops kind of stuff (Zero being the prime example), but this is complete lunacy. Normally, I'd be quite keen on the story of a covert agent going all around the Marvel universe - outer space, other dimensions, magical realms, etc. - on whatever mission took his fancy. But is this really the right character with whom to tell such a story?! Rudy's painted art has some incredible layouts, and is told in huge, if slightly muddy, splashes that somehow don't compress the story because the writing won't let it. It's not that the comic is dense, but rather than we keep jumping from one situation to the next. It's full of ideas, but they're disjointed. I'm interested in its energy, but keep pulling back because I don't understand how Bucky Barnes, a gritty realistic hero, can be involved in any of these adventures. I like the book, but not who it's about, if that makes any sense.
Keep reading? I liked both issues, and have half a mind to keep going, but everything is just a bit... off, you know?
Captain America and the Mighty Avengers by Al Ewing and Luke Ross. It's part of Axis, which is absolutely the worst way to start a new superhero series. Here's what I think I know of this event: The Red Skull decided to play Hate-Monger and whatever device he was using caused a moral inversion in various heroes and villains. The villains who gained a conscience are all getting mini-series, it looks like, which is fine. For the heroes who have temporarily turned anti-hero, it's not. This series should more appropriately be called Captain America VERSUS the Mighty Avengers, because Sam Wilson is Axised out of his mind, which will not only act as a turn-off for this series, but for his own where he's perfectly on-model (despite the fact that series AND Axis are both written by Rick Remender). And it's too bad Ewing is strapped with this false representation of the character because the series otherwise has several things going for it, including henchmen arguing with the now goodie Plunderer, a varied ethnic cast (in the Mighty Avengers itself), funny captions, and pundits using the Twitter arguments against FalCap right on the first page. I like what Ewing is doing in Loki Agent of Asgard, and this could have the same vibe. It'll just need for Axis to resolve itself before finding its real voice.
Keep reading? Doubtful. I shy away from all Avengers and X-Men books because they're always snagged in some event or other. That CA&TMA actually starts with such a snag is proof enough that I can't trust it to tell its own stories for very long.
Deathlok by Nathan Edmondson and Mike Perkins. Edmondson is always very good at doing covert ops stories. He has a handle on the lingo, does his research, etc. But seeing as I'm already reading his Black Widow, do I actually need another Edmondson covert ops book? I don't really know this Deathlok, and almost wish he was still a character who lived in the near future, which would distinguish it from similar books. Unlike a lot of other books reviewed in this article, however, Deathlok doesn't tie into other events (good) and shows a bit of his personal life (he's a single father to a teenage daughter; again, good). There's also the question of who he's ACTUALLY working for, which is a standard but intriguing mystery for this kind of book. Perkins' art is a bit soft and grimy for my tastes, but I like his layouts and how he incorporates Deathlok's HUD into the panels.
Keep reading? Maybe. But I'm not a fan of shoot-'em-up stories, which the first issue definitely was. So probably not.
Guardians 3000 by Dan Abnett and Gerardo Sandoval. With the Guardians of the Galaxy's star on the rise, and fans of the original iteration complaining that Star-Lord etc. weren't THEIR Guardians, it was only a matter of time before the 30th-century group got its own series. Dan Abnett is a great choice to write it because he's got lots of experience with SF superheroes, most notably The Legion and Hypernaturals (which I really liked). Right away, he makes the year 3014 distinctive with its own lexicon and crazy hyper-science, and taps into what I've always liked of the franchise back in the day, the way it uses Marvel Universe elements (Cap's shield, Tony Stark's A.I., Galactus' new herald, Annhililus' descendent, etc.) as fun continuity references. (I poached this approach for my 28th-century Justice Legion role-playing campaign.) Fans of the current Guardians may be a bit confused as to who these guys are, the only recognizable name Yondu's, but it's easy to catch up thanks to our point-of-view character Geena, who may just hold the key to what's really going on in the story, with twists that may yet redefine who some of the Guardians are.
Keep reading? To my surprise, yeah! Both issues were a lot of fun, which I think it what readers are now expecting from the Guardians name. (Is the GotG series any good, by the way? And Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon? I haven't sampled them.)
Hawkeye vs. Deadpool by Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli. Hawkeye is on such an intermittent schedule (6 months between issues 19 and 20), a second book in the same style isn't one too many. Obviously, it's not quite as sharp as the Fraction/Aja award-winner, but it has its moments. Deadpool isn't as meta as I want him to be, but there's one particularly hilarious moment near the end of #0 that takes the piss out of Hawkeye's avant-garde story-telling style that made me laugh out loud. And before I knew it, I'd read two more issues. Kate Bishop also features strongly, so that's nice. The comedy stems more from buddy movie banter, but I do wish Lolli's amusing and expressive art would be a little more consistent with its portrayal of Hawkeye's current struggle with deafness. Sometimes he needs Deadpool to pull his mask up so he can read his lips (and yuck, by the way); other times he must be able to read them when it's down. And then there are time when the characters say it's up and it isn't, or vice-versa. Not as clever as the parent series, certainly, but mistakes aside, still pretty entertaining.
Keep reading? Well I got this far (third issue) from a single joke in the first one, so... Keep going? All signs point to yes, though it's no substitute for the main Hawkeye book.
Spider-Woman by Dennis Hopeless, Greg Land and Jay Leisten. Is it damning with faint praise if I say the book wasn't as bad as I thought it would be? I liked Jessica Drew's recent appearances in Hawkeye and Secret Avengers, and Hopeless writes her much the same, a somewhat jaded superhero, all sass and no patience. She's funny, no-nonsense and generally pissed-off. I really like her. Greg Land, I dislike immensely, but he seems to reign in the worst of his proclivities, with few postures you'd be able to point to as traced over pornography. The real problem is the one discussed above: The series starts in the middle of the Spider-Verse crossover event. So Jess - and Silk, and various other Spider-Girls - is running around the multiverse from page 1, and if you don't follow the event, it's just the weirdest thing. Now, I'm enjoying Spider-Verse, that's not a problem, but just what will Spider-Woman be ABOUT once that wraps? Who will be in it with Jess, what will the focus be? Unknown. And THAT, more than Land's inability to make lips match up (page 16, panel 1) is the problem.
Keep reading? I'm following Spider-Verse, so yes, but once that's over, the book will have another trial issue.
Superior Iron Man by Tom Taylor and Yildiray Cinar. No Axis logo on the cover, but make no mistake, Tony Stark has been morally inverted. Superior is essentially Tony Stark if he'd learned nothing and was still the character we saw at the start of the first Iron Man movie. Does that appeal to you? It's actually not bad. Taylor's been making his living turning goodies into not-so-goodies in Injustice and Earth-2, but he doesn't have to go too far off-model with Tony. Mostly, it's techno-savvy, with lots of interesting applications for Iron Man tech and appearances by more heroic characters to balance things out. Unlike Bad Falcon, who's just an ultra-conservative parody, this Iron Man is funny, charming and the most despicable of capitalists. A hero(?) for the times. It shocks without being violent (I'm actually surprised), has something to say about our culture (not something deep necessarily, but I can't say that about every comic on the stands), and asks questions I want to see answered.
Keep reading? The "Superior" brand better not become diluted through over-use, but this series isn't a threat to its seal of quality. I'm back on the Iron Man wagon.
Thor by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman. Nope, I don't have any problem with a female Thor. In fact, I quite liked her, whoever she is. I'm glad we're two issues in, because the first isssue basically ends with her appearance. Not a lot to go on as we say farewell to Thor Odinson (in a particularly DC kind of way... whatever). So the premise is that no one can lift the hammer anymore, certainly not Thor, and it's abandoned on the Moon following the events of Original Sin. The Asgardians leave, a woman's hand reaches for Mjolnir, and lo and behold, she is worthy. Who is she? The second issue doesn't tell us either. That's fine, it's a neat mystery, and I like how she SPEAKS as Thor, but thinks as a human being, surprised at the information her Thor self imparts. So she's not normally a goddess, but she can survive on the Moon. Place your bets! It gives a human touch to a series that often lacks it, behind its wall of thees and thous, but there's plenty of Norse action too, with Frost Giants bursting out of the ocean floor and causing mayhem. I really liked Dauterman's art on Superbia, and he brings the same slick pencils, detailed action and quirky expressions to this book.
Keep reading? Yes, I definitely want to see who Thor really is, but beyond that, how she handles the joys and lows of being the Goddess of Thunder.

So Marvel fares a little better than DC does, usually by bringing a sense of fun to the table. Next week, we'll look at some books from less mainstream labels and publishers.


Anonymous said...

In my mind, there's a big problem with swapping Sam Wilson for Steve Rogers, or Thor Odinsdottir for Thor Odinsson, actually a few problems:

1) The swaps are temporary. They always are. That makes it a gimmick of no lasting value.

2) The swaps are temporary because there's no replacing what, over decades, is regarded as the geniune article. It's like changing the flavor of Coke: even if you like the new flavor for whatever reason, it's not "really" Coke and it never can be.

3) Captain America, Thor, etc have long been held to be the best of the best of the best, completely without equal. But now they're telling us that, for example, Sam Wilson could just as good at Captain Americaing as Steve Rogers ever was? Not buying it.

I do like the goal of diversity, and at least as far as Captain America / Steve Rogers goes, I have a suggestion. The original plan of Project: Rebirth was to produce a platoon or army of super soldiers; have Steve Rogers put together a team of patriotic US heroes, and let's call it Team Rebirth. And leading off the list would be Patriot (Elijah Bradley) and Miss America (America Chavez), who, as experienced heroes already, would be team leaders like Cyclops or Storm. There would be good messages and meta-messages about how the next generation of American heroes is not just one suspiciously Aryan-looking guy, but a diverse team with all kinds of backgrounds and stories.

Anonymous said...

And, an irrelevant nitpick about the Hawkeye cover (and really a great many drawings of archers): the bow is partially or fully drawn, but the bow itself hasn't bent. That means either the string is too long for the bow, or the artist thinks the string is made of elastic rather than a material that stretches as little as possible.

snell said...

I found Rocket Raccoon surprisingly good. I dropped GotG early; it struck be as typical annoying Bendis, and looked to be perpetually mired in events. I never tried Star-Lord...

Madeley said...

Can I be one of those awful pedantic comic fans for a moment?

"Taylor's been making his living turning goodies into not-so-goodies in Injustice and Earth-2"

I think Taylor's work in E2 is being unfairly maligned here. I've seen a lot of criticism of his work in the title based on the idea that he's turning characters evil and that this is his calling card, but it really isn't true. Alan Scott, Lois Lane, Hawkgirl, Dr Fate and in particular Jay Garrick are all stand-up characters in the classic heroic mold. The new Batman is flawed, yes, but is very much seeking redemption. And the evil Superman people kept going on about (spoilers) turned out to be Earth 2 Bizarro, so really the complaint for that one should be directed at Otto Binder.

Siskoid said...

Sorry Anon, I can't agree with your point about the swaps because we have very many examples of

1) them having lasting value, with former replacements spinning off into their own books and adventures

2) them creating the opportunity for different stories in the niche usually filled by a classic character

3) new characters not being able to sustain their own titles unless their population has been cultivated in a headliner book

Without such swaps we wouldn't have had Kon-El, Steel, US Agent, Azrael, Scarlet Spider, War Machine, Green Lantern John Stewart, Stephanie Brown's Batgirl, etc. Some you'll like, some you won't, but we can't say they did add something to their respective universes in the long term. When the character was already established (like Dick Grayson or Bucky Barnes), it raised their profile. So it's a strategy that actually makes sense if you're trying to develop popular characters.

Besides, the lasting value is your enjoyment of the story. Or tell me this: Why is The Dark Knight Returns - an out of continuity story - so popular and influential?

Siskoid said...

Madeley: It's merely that he got Earth2 handed to him in the middle of all that evil Superman/Batman stuff, so he can presumably handle darker superhero stuff. In Superior Iron Man, there are a great many positive guest-stars to bounce off Tony's amorality.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, good new characters sometimes do emerge from gimmicky sales ploys (from your list, that would be Kon-El and Steel; the rest don't qualify). That doesn't justify every last sales ploy, though ... and especially not ones where the ostensible goal is to promote diversity. A character swap that just results in the white guy returning to the original role 30 issues later is paying lip service to diversity at best, and at worst sending the message that women and minorities simply aren't as good.

Siskoid said...

That's a far better argument against this kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

Eh, I think the original arguments hold up even when it's replacing Aryan white guys with Aryan white guys. When's the last time anyone thrilled to the adventures of Eric Masterson as Thor? How about John Walker as Captain America? They were poor replacements for the originals, and second-rate knockoffs in their followup roles. And I say this as the only person anywhere who bought the "USAgent" miniseries and liked it, and bought much of the "Thunderstrike" series too.

Legacy heroes and superhero "families" are terrific. Just don't make like you're getting rid of the paterfamilias and then bring him back a year or two later; that trick never works.

Ryan Lohner said...

"Superior is essentially Tony Stark if he'd learned nothing and was still the character we saw at the start of the first Iron Man movie."

So, still a better person than 616 Iron Man then? Ba-zing!

LiamKav said...

We had at least one example of a successful legacy hero at DC, a replacement who ended up as the definitive article in the minds of lots of fans. And then they got rid of Wally West and brought Barry Allen back. *sigh*

Regarding the first post, Siskoid has pretty much said what I was going to say, but I'll just add:

"he swaps are temporary. They always are. That makes it a gimmick of no lasting value."

We know they're temporary. This isn't like the old, pre-internet days. We knew that Captain America was going to return. We knew that Bruce Wayne was going to return. We knew that Peter Parker was going to return. That's fine. That's the status of a universe (or two universes) that are as much about IP protection as anything else. You can never replace most of them, because any replacement will just be a dialation of the original idea. Wally West worked BECAUSE he could be inspired by Barry Allen's sacrifice. But for Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent? No replacement will ever have an origin as perfect as theirs, and so will always be a step removed.

Despite all that, you can tell great stories once you acknowledge those limitations. Doc Ock becoming Spider-Man can be annoying if you're viewing it as a Big Shape Up That Will Change Spider-Man forever. If, however, you're just looking upon it as a medium-term storyline about what it would be like if Doc Ock was inspired by Peter Parker and tried to be good, then you can enjoy it.

You can argue that Marvel/DC should be making new heroes. And that's absolutely correct. But temporarily giving a big role to a small character can do wonders in terms of boosting their popularity. Thanks to the recent movie, Sam Wilson will be more famous than he's ever been, and if they can capitalise on that by grabbing casual fans with "hey, you know that flying guy from the movie? He's the new Captain America! Aren't you curious about that?", then go for it.

LiamKav said...

Also, regarding legacy... that's the problem with 60/90 year old universes. I'm sure Marvel would LOVE to replace the 616 Nick Fury with the Samual L Jackson Ultimate/movie version, but without a reboot it's pretty hard (yeah, I know about Nick Fury Jnr, although I've not read any comics with him in). And I've always been wary of reboots, because for every "let's try mixing up the races and genders a bit", we get a "let's make Amanda Waller thin" head-bang moment.

Anonymous said...

Wally West is a whole 'nother discussion, but my opinion is: bringing Barry back should have been the best thing that ever happened to Wally, because it would allow him to finally be his own man and his own hero. The Wally West who stepped up and became the Flash never stepped out of Barry's shadow, and if that sounds harsh, consider that he not only took on Barry's name, but his costume, his city, his rogue's gallery, his role in the JLA, and even his dating preferences. A dead Barry must be revered; a live Barry can be coexisted with, in much the way that Jay and Wally coexisted. I didn't ever feel that the one diminished the other, and I liked it best when I could see them working together.

Contrast with Kyle Rayner. While Hal was bonkers / dead, nobody anywhere would let up on whether he was better or worse than Hal, whether he felt more fear or less fear than Hal, whether Hal would be able to stop Nero more or less successfully, etc. That stopped when Hal returned; Kyle was free to be Kyle, no comparisons necessary. And Hal was free to be Hal too.


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