Monday, May 3, 2010

Saturday Was Free Book Comic Day For All I Care #63

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom/Magnus, Robot Fighter
Iron Man/Thor #1
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #155 1/2: FCBD
War of the Supermen (FCBD) #0

I haven't had a subscription at a "brick and mortar" comic shop in a couple or three years, and when I tried to hit one on Free Comic Book Day 2009, they would only let me have one book. I bought a few other "Free" titles for review here, but was still a bit miffed that I couldn't try a broader selection without being overcharged for the privilege. Though my online supplier doesn't exactly advertise it, I realized this year I could buy FCBD books from them for 20-50 cents each, and they actually shipped them to me in time for Saturday. Rather than the slim stack of floppies I usually stretch out over a month of weekly posts here, I'm going to try to do a few rounds per week to cover about a dozen FCBD books, about another dozen DC/Marvel/Image $1 trial books from this and last month, and my usual crop besides.

Free Book Comic Day: Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom/Magnus, Robot Fighter (Dark Horse, 2010, Free)
I was quite fond of the Valiant Comics launch titles written by Jim Shooter, one of the most hated men but among the best writers in comics history. When I heard Shooter would be handling a second revival of the old Gold Key/Western characters (now owned by Random House,) I became excited by the prospect of an alternative super-hero line from the very tired DC and Marvel. Unfortunately, based on this pair of ten page introductory stories, I'll probably wait for the trade. "Fallout" is written in a clipped, almost shorthand fashion. It feels Shooter didn't want to rewrite his take on Solar's origin from the Valiant run, but he alludes to it strongly, like a analogue of his own prior work. I don't know who has the rights to that old material, which has been out of print for near on twenty years, but I feel bad for anyone expecting a proper introduction here. In truth though, Shooter pretty much was writing a Doctor Manhattan series back then, so I guess anyone who read/saw Watchmen will be able to pick up on things easily enough.

As I said, Shooters ode to himself (and Alan Moore, and the friggin' Matrix) is transparent enough, but I don't know that there's anything here to entice new readers. The short's plot is standard issue filler material to set up the series' premise and offer some obligatory action. With his pop culture references and neophyte heroics, Phillip Solar feels a bit more like Firestorm than Phil Seleski. Lacking Barry Windsor-Smith and the still fresh memory of Cold War nuclear winter fears, the latest Solar feels a bit lightweight and familiar. Dennis Calero's art is a damned sight more cinematic and easier on the eyes than Don Perlin or the bland Gold Key artists, but he doesn't dazzle enough to carry the lackluster story or characters. I have faith in this creative team over the long term, but again, I'll probably confirm that with a collected edition in 2011.

Magnus was always a tougher sell than Solar, and his story is at least as problematic as the Man of the Atom's. "Eyes to the Blind" hits a speedbump immediately with the art of Bill Reinhold, which lacks the smooth storytelling that launched David Lapham's career in the '90s. Reinhold is a thirty year industry veteran, and his work is serviceable enough, but feels a bit dated and rough. Unlike Solar, Magnus has a quality artistic legacy dating back to the influential Russ Manning in the '60s, and his last series was graced by Mike McKone, so it's a shame the story's splash page better recalled Don Simpson. Further, Shooter uses silly retro-future dialogue, and as much as I love hyphens, robots-using-them-after-every-word-grows-tiresome. There's a tweak to Magnus' old powers, but it's of the annoying "kryptonite weakness" variety, and he's missing the much needed tweak of a personality. Leeja Clane is far more pro-active here than in any prior Magnus launch, coming off more like a McClane, and totally showing up our supposed hero. Give her cybernetic implants and have her start karate chopping "squeee"-ing robots to pieces, and this would be a better book.

All in all, Shooter's return to these characters was a great disappointment. I enjoyed his truncated recent run on Legion of Super-Heroes, which gives me hope he can turn this around, but I'm not likely to place the bet on floppies I had been intending. Seeing as these books won't ship until late summer, I guess it wasn't such a canny move to make this lesser offering ahead of actual solicitations.

Free Book Comic Day 2010 Iron Man/Thor #1 (Marvel, 2010, Free)
So much of what Jim Shooter got wrong above Matt Fraction gets right here. There isn't even lip service paid to the origins of either starring character, with Fraction instead introducing new readers to their personalities. A caption tells you Thor is a thunder god, but the point in already made through the tone of the succeeding captions and the innate power of John Romita Jr.'s visuals. When a man with a cape and a hammer stares down a series of catastrophic disasters, he'd better be a god of something. The art on Tony Stark is less successful, in part because of the usual hash Klaus Janson makes of inks. Fraction comes to the rescue there, banking on movie fans to almost hear Robert Downey's Jr.'s voice through his witty dialogue. Fraction has been handling Iron Man for a couple of years now, and I do mean handling, but his first ongoing Thor work has yet to see release. Based on what I've read here, it should be a winner, as Fraction contrasts the leads very different voices extremely well, staying true to both to very satisfying effect. Combined with Romita Jr.'s always inviting art and a fun story with just enough socio-political satire on its bones, this book makes a very strong case for continuing from here to the individual character's titles.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #155 1/2: FCBD (IDW, 2010, Free)
I always figured longtime G.I. Joe and Wolverine writer Larry Hama for a conservative, but having Cobra behind a radicalized (well more so) Tea Party riff pretty clearly indicates he's a lefty pinko commie terrorist. I can roll with that, and it's actually kind of nice that I no longer feel I need to look on my childhood following of his Joes with suspicion. I haven't read those books in years, but along with Uncanny X-Men, it was the first comic book I followed with any regularity. There's love there. I didn't make it past the 70s though, and this revival of the 1982-1994 picks up at a point long past my own drop-off, so I was thankful to jumping back was facilitated by recognizable characters and modern politics. There's a bit of cognitive dissonance when a continuity frozen in time sixteen years back starts referencing the internet, but its probably best to just get with the times, and keep the major consideration on maintaining the integrity of Hamas's interpretation of his creations.

After so many years, I'd forgotten what a soap opera Hama's G.I. Joe was, but it reads fine today, and is a lot more involving than any of the Joe revivals I've read since the Marvel series' cancellation. Between painless expository dialogue and supplemental material (file cards!) I was brought up to speed. It's a cute story, and a solid set-up for a new ongoing series, but I feel I'm a bit too old for this stuff. Also, the art by Agustin Padilla leaves a lot to be desired, with shitty faces, funky anatomy, and an over reliance on shadow to mask these deficits. I enjoyed my trip down memory lane on the free tip, but this isn't quite up to snuff as a purchase, especially at IDW's four buck price point.

War of the Supermen (FCBD) #0 (DC, 2010, Free)
For over a year now, DC's given over Superman's titles to lame-os and stuck him in a maxi-series where he tries to play at being a soldier in General Zod's army. While some might have seen this move as daring, the glaring inevitability of Zod prooving evil, and Superman moving to stop him made all the rest insignificant details played out over entirely too many unwanted books at great expense.


mathematicscore said...

Larry Hama's Wolverine run is a major childhood touchstone. Glad to hear he's still got some of that stuff. I've largely enjoyed the Superman stuff of the last year, but you hit the nail on the head that Zod's switcheroo is painfully by the book. He was far more interesting when he was a military leader working (albeit at times unscrupulously) for the good of his people. Also, his Kung Fu grip is weak.

Diabolu Frank said...

I never quite warmed to Hama's Wolverine, but it was way better than Claremont by that point, and it was good enough for me to follow off-and-on for several years (Mark Texeira helping a lot.) G.I. Joe ruled my neighborhood, though, especially the sweet spot from about the end of the second year until the Siege on Cobra Island. I loved a good massacre back then.


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