“What Kind of Laughter?” “Hysterical, Tinged with Sadness”

All righty, folks. It’s Wednesday. And this time, we’re going to see if I can hook all this up to Wednesday itself. Part of the Overarching Master Plan™, which involves devoting specific days to specific types of media. We’ll see how much I regret or fail that plan later.

Anyway, heavy week–and almost all Marvel–this week, which might be made worse as I ponder a few more titles, like Iron Fist: The Living Weapon. Ugh. Here we go.

This Week’s List:

  • All-New Doop #5 (of 5)
  • All-New X-Factor #13
  • The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1 (of 5)
  • Grendel vs. The Shadow #1
  • Miracleman #10
  • Moon Knight #7
  • She-Hulk #8
  • Spider-Man 2099 #3
  • Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15 (of 17…)

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1

This is a weirdly Valiant-light week (I’d say for me, but that’d be pointlessly egocentric: I collect all the current Valiant titles anyway, so, short of back issues and reprint variants, this is a Valiant-light week period).

Doctor Mirage is one of the remaining “old guard” Valiant characters as yet untouched (skipping the licensed Gold Key stuff they don’t have now) in the modern Valiant universe. I know the Armorines are planned (thanks, Previews!) and I imagine many of the others will follow in some form or other, but this is one that–unlike, H.A.R.D. Corps and, if I’m not mistaken, that upcoming Armorines appearance–gets its own book.

While I’ve got an overflowing longbox of classic Valiant waiting to be read (swiss cheesed enough that I haven’t started anything yet and don’t soon plan to overall), I’m still pretty in the dark on most of it, so this was walking in blind as could be. The book’s been heavily advertised in Valiant books for a while now, but it does tend to stick out as the one I had no access to until now–so it probably just seemed heavier than the others.

Doctor Shan Fong “Mirage” has lost her husband (Li Hwen Fong) recently, and, despite her ability to commune with the other side, she cannot find or speak to him. Her associate Leo keeps pulling her into paying jobs despite her mourning and reluctance so that she can continue her life in some fashion–at least the one that avoids debt and default. After a functionally-simple-but-emotionally-difficult reunion of the widowed with their loved ones, Leo drags Mirage into a much better-paying and more involved job for one Linton March, who cautiously rolls out an explanation of why he sought her assistance with minimal detail. But the hook is in when something seems to suggest a means to find her husband, regardless of the risks, dangers, or her questions about March.

Jen Van Meter has set us up with an interesting protagonist–something on that spectrum of caustic and detached, but without the aggressive condscension of many of the more popular ones in the modern day. She’s not a jerk, but she doesn’t suffer foolish questions, or tread lightly when it comes to anything that relates to herself. She does not want to involve herself in much of anything, certainly not anything as involved as the money with March would indicate–though she radiates the confidence (and abilities to shore it up) that imply that, involved or not, she’s capable.

Robert De La Torre provides moody, scratchy art that seems to keep a lot of space around Mirage when her grief is most surfaced–a visual approach that isn’t the most common in its impressionism for modern Valiant. His work was also used on Shadowman, one of the last new Valiant books for me to sink my teeth into, but one that I know is thematically similar, or at least more related than the core, flagship-type titles that keep intersecting.

A promising start, though it looks, for the moment, like how this will be dealt with in five issues is quite the mystery.¹

 

Grendel vs. The Shadow, Book One

The only title here that was not pulled in advance, I’d hemmed and hawed on it, being intrigued by both characters, and the author involved, but only pulled the trigger on seeing it in person. This sucker’s in prestige format (meaning no staples, and square, glued binding with writing on the spine and everything), so it’s nice and dense at 48 pages.

Matt Wagner’s Grendel has floated around the periphery of my awareness for most of the time I can recall, I’ve even got some of those (weirdly sized) Dark Horse omnibuses of his stuff, but I’ve yet to read it. I did, however, read the first four (of eight, I think) of his The Shadow: Year One, and saw in it a love for the character and a deep appreciation of the setting and style of a pulp crime-fighter. What little I know of Grendel (a rather debonair criminal mastermind) meant this was an ideal pairing for both author and reader–and giving Wagner complete control over the two major elements (writing and art) meant it would be almost guaranteed quality, and pretty debilitating disappointment if it didn’t work.

Well, let’s cut to the quick: it works. While there’s a doohickey required to get Hunter Rose (that is, Grendel) back to the Shadow’s time, it’s done very in-universe–an rare collectible artifact fits Grendel’s quickly established sensibilities, and that artifact is strongly tied back to the Shadow. It takes little time for rose to get his wits about him and realize what is occurring (in terms of time travel), and to capitalize on his future knowledge. This same knowledge is foreign to Lamont Cranston (that is, The Shadow), but the facts point in the right direction all the same–the repeal of Prohibition. Both realize what could be gained in this light, but have different feelings on the subject, as Grendel sees opportunity, and the Shadow sees only the risk to his city and the innocent.

Wagner gives the book a nice “peanut butter and jelly” feeling to this meeting, just as hoped–clean and clear-cut pencils that revel in the time period and the characters, with neither given short shrift in favour of the other. A character loved as creation and one loved as a kind of idol makes for a nice face-off, one that feels less like a marketing decision and more like a labour of love. Those 48 pages allow the two to establish themselves for readers, while letting Grendel establish himself for The Shadow, whose pursuit of the identity of a new and violent face in his at-risk city is swift and decisive.

This book ought to do well with folks who look at the characters involved and nod sagely. It does exactly what it should, without feeling rote.

 

All-New Doop #5 (of 5)

And so, Peter Milligan signs off of his character’s very first and currently only solo book. While his writing made Doop more endearing (by allowing us to explicitly understand him), David Lafuente made his appearance far more adorable than the bafflingly weird (see: Allred cover pictured) look he had through X-Force and X-Statix.

This was a good move all around, as it made his character a much more palatable protagonist–even as Milligan’s mind-bending (also time, space, and other-things-bending) writing made mincemeat of a big X-event (that I never read). Doop has re-birthed himself to speak English, proposed to Kitty Pryde, pissed off Iceman in the process, and begun to discover something of his origin and shattered home life. He now knows he was not born from an Ingmar Bergman script, and that Mama Doop resents his presence driving off Papa Doop–but the loads of X-Men present around the Battle of the Atom (that x-event I mentioned) are required to deal with the sudden torrent of Doops appearing everywhere, as the psychological torment of Mama Doop’s declarations tears at Doop himself. Logan cannot stand this, and confronts Mama Doop to…interesting results, as Doop must deal with the strange interactions he has had with Kitty.

Let’s not beat around the bush: Milligan’s story has been weird as hell since he started the book. Doop suspects he came from an Ingmar Bergman script, he lives in “Marginalia”, which is a pretty decent stretch of the fourth wall that is left with big question marks on whether it actually breaks it or just frames Doop’s perception of the world in a manner curiously familiar to readers of comics. He was able to turn himself intelligible, and showed affection for another character, though it has been marked by a seeming deeper motivation than that surface. Lafuente has managed to keep Milligan’s strangeness constrained in a way that is both bafflingly normal and appropriately odd, which is a godsend considering.

Things are closed off here, cogently and clearly, but not without some lingering (intentional, I feel, as it does not mar the story) confusion. Well done, Milligan. I suspect more than a few people remain utterly befuddled.

All-New X-Factor #13

Understandably, Harrison Snow (owner of Serval Industries) and Linda Kwan (Director of PR for Serval Industries) are frazzled after X-Factor (superhero team for Serval Industries) member Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff’s admission of his crimes at their press conference–an event that X-Factor should probably reconsider participating in, at least so long as Peter David is writing them, in any incarnation (may that be as long as possible).

As Pietro has revealed his ruse and found himself reconnected with daughter Luna, this has attracted the attention of the Inhumans–unsurprising, as Luna is also the daughter of Pietro’s ex, Crystal. Gorgon sees fit to attack and punish Pietro for his crimes, as well as reclaim the errant Luna.

David has decided to continue the thread begun last issue surrounding Pietro’s character and history, leaving many of the other elements of the story as it has been developed to the side for the moment, and it serves the book well. While the focus is certainly on Quicksilver, Lorna Dane gets in her digs as she responds to Harrison’s decision to fire him in light of these revelations. Amusingly enough, Gambit willingly provides information much as she does in the service of maintaining the team, despite the rather mutual distaste he has with Pietro.

Pop Mhan takes pencils up in the absence of Carmine Di Giandomenico, and actually leans toward mimicking his style rather than throwing in his own. David worked with Mhan on his Spyboy series for Dark Horse, but there Mhan embraced his own manga-influenced stylings. I mostly know Mhan’s name from an article somewhere by someone who absolutely loathed his work on (Wally West-era) Flash, and who had nothing but (un)kind words to say about it. I seem to recall I arrived there after finding the once-Mark Texeira-pencilled Dan Ketch Ghost Rider somehow became this, which was hideously neon and dayglo as a design, and wildly inappropriate for the book’s tone–or, at least, its original tone. Anyway, the lines keep things pretty straightforward, if lean (again, like Di Giandomenico), which works for such character-oriented work very well.

 

Moon Knight #7

Let’s get this out of the way: yep, Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey are off the book. This isn’t their book anymore, it’s now in the hands of Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood. They decide to avoid jarring change from Ellis and Shalvey’s intentionally self-contained first six stories, with a tone that continues to be largely minimalist and artistically experimental. Not edging quite into the occasional psychedelia and full-fledged experimentalism of their run, Wood and Smallwood (really?) seem to be more finding the ground of the book and this incarnation of Marc Spector.

The story is largely straightforward–an assassin is after a target, and partly making use of a drone to achieve this. When his methods affect New York City in the entire via an EMP, Moon Knight makes it his personal goal to put a stop to whatever the assassin’s plans are. 

It’s partly familiar (think #2) but our new team makes clear that the almost absolute independence of the preceding stories is not quite where they’re now aiming the line-only glowing white spectre (heh–oh, and, by the way, guys: Moench wrote him as silver, though I imagine the white-thing has been around through latter serieses and was not explicitly introduced here). Smallwood keeps that line-only approach Shalvey started this volume with, and keeps him largely in his “Mr. Knight” Garb of +1 to Fancy. It feels something like what I hear about Brubaker’s follow-up to Bendis and Maleev on Daredevil: continuation with personalized deviation. Following up a monster book like that first run is stepping into some big shoes, and I’m getting the feeling they’re up to it.

 

She-Hulk #8

Charles Soule has had an acclaimed run on this new volume for Shulkie, being the first practicing attorney to take on the character (full-time, at least. I’d love to dazzle you with pulling out an obscure one-shot story by another, but I’m actually just specifying for CMA reasons). The first four issues had him paired with Javier Pulido, who dipped out for issues 5 and 6, only to return on this and the prior issue.

Five and six faltered on the absence of Pulido, but held fast with Soule’s great writing behind, especially, a guest appearance from Herman “Shocker” Schultz. Last issue saw Pulido return for a bit of a one-off story that involved Henry Pym in a nice story that didn’t find itself stuck on Avengers #213. It was a fun, if slight, story.

Now, though, the book is fully back on course. This is a stellar issue. Jen is set to defend the now physically-aged Steve Rogers from a wrongful death charge brought about by events forty years earlier. Jen has to work with the ever-principled Rogers through the restrictions he places on her as his counsel. This hamstrings Jen’s initial plans (“I’ll say it again. No. I don’t want to win this on a technicality. Period,” he says, in truly Steve fashion) and leaves her with the prospect of defending the former Captain America in the inevitable media circus that such a thing will unquestionably inspire.

It’s neat to have Soule running through Jen’s legal thinking and suggestions (even as they’re rebutted by Steve) knowing that he actually has a background in law to form some kind of basis for it. Pulido renders a great run of panels illustrating her prep work (including a pretty great one of her rather “informally” prepping the night before, oblivious to anything but the case, as established by the progression that shows her focus unwavering as her friends drop off and ask her to sleep).

I cannot wait for the next issue–we’ve seen this coming, Soule having readily and unambigiously foreshadowed it early on, but with Pulido at the reins of the pencil and Soule sketching the words out behind them, this is gonna be a good time. And that he worked in not only some exciting (!) legal work alongside a gag that Pulido sells the hell out of–ah, such a good read.

 

Spider-Man 2099 #3

More Peter David?! Why, of course!

Miguel’s now revealed part of his identity to Liz Allan, and now finds himself wary of acting again in any fashion that may jeopardize his approach to protecting his youthful future-I-guess-is-accurate grandfather Tiberius. He’s sent out with Tiberius on a plan to sell Spider-Slayers to a country in turmoil (I think suggesting it’s an allegorical Syria would not be taking too much in the way of liberty) with the vague hopes that seeing such technology as the slayers would cease the fighting occurring there. Miguel, er, “Michael” (still sticking with his slight name shift) thinks this idea is pretty stupid, for some odd reason (*cough*), but goes along to protect his grandfather at Liz’s request (well, order).

I know some folks thought the first issue of this was thin, but we’re working with an interesting twist on the secret identity, the interesting, driven version of Liz Allan that has appeared, and the conflicting nature of Miguel’s position (being from the future, his technology is superior, as is his knowledge of the future, but he’s a bit disconnected from everything despite all that, having not existed in this time for the expected period of time for someone of his age). Miguel remains very likeable and stays away from being a carbon copy of especially Peter Parker, though it’s a bit of a loss not to see him trading barbs with his super. But that’s where the story is–and justifiably so. We’re getting more clarity on the origins of Alchemax, on Liz’s attitude about her company, and forcing Miguel into a position that is significantly less than his ideal, while also letting Peter delve into the attitutdes driving this, ahem, fictional conflict.

It seems crappy, but I don’t have much to say about Sliney’s work because it tends to be so completely what I want and expect from David’s story as art that it doesn’t draw attention to itself. This not an insult, or a bad thing, or anything like that–it’s actually really great art, in the way that the core Valiant titles make me really happy art-wise. Character-filled renderings that mostly just do that–render.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15

With only two issues to go after this one (let’s not talk about New Warriors either, okay? *sniff*), Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber don’t seem to be “aware” of that in this issue, though I like to think the “carefully hidden” gestures of everyone on the cover are aimed at whoever is responsible.

The issue reads exactly like I’d expect the follow-up to 14 to read, regardless of cancellation, which is a good thing: Shocker is upset that everyone thinks he’s a complete doofus for being loyal, which has finally upset him thoroughly. For moments, everyone seems reasonable, then reveals exactly why they suck as a team, and suck as people, to hilarious effect.

Silvermane has apparently not thought much past his encouragement of Shocker, and finds himself a football in more than just general appearance (he’s a disembodied head, you know). The set-up for the next two issues is absolutely glorious, as is Fred Myers’s continued dickery as clumsy manipulator of his entire five Sinister Six members (don’t ask).

Lieber’s light touch on the pencils continues to be a wonderful match for Spencer’s writing and the books comedic tone. When things are awful, we feel the right sympathy for the characters, without getting so involved that we don’t laugh when they turn out to be exactly the assholes they’ve always been, who mostly wouldn’t know teamwork if it bit them in the ass (unless it bears a stunning resemblance to “double-cross” and has a label on it).

 

Miracleman #10

Lastly but most definitely not leastly, Alan Moore’s now uncredited (at his behest–his proceeds are going to Marvel/Miracleman creator Mick Anglo’s estate)  run on Miracleman continues in its reprints. We’ve only got one issue of Warrior included this time, with practically the entire issue shown in the “behind the scenes section” with both original Veitch pencils and Ridgeway/Veitch inked pencils.

Johnny continues his internal fight with Kid Miracleman, while our mysterious investigators pursue the “Cuckoos” (a term which makes sense, given what we now know of where the Miracleman Family powers come from and go), and Liz Moran begins to struggle with the voracious appetites of her young daughter, requesting an appearance of Mike from Miracleman, who agrees and brings him forth.

This series is forever a jaw-dropping reminder that Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing was his second turn at re-envisioning a character from the ground up, with modern sensibilities and a completely different eye toward original adventures. Veitch, Ridgeway, Davis, and everyone who contributed art never falters in delivering the dark, yet somehow still un-bleak view that Moore applies to a previously light and fun character.

It’s worth noting that there are some weird parallels here with Tom DeFalco and Mike Manley’s Darkhawk: Moore’s new source of Miracleman power is very similar to that which young Chris Powell experiences in Danny Fingeroth’s original 90s series, though it was later retconned into an imagining via the War of Kings: Darkhawk miniseries (and everything that followed it). Moore’s seems to respect the characters as they originally existed and work everything from the prior storylines–even storylines that are very patently mired in Golden Age simplicity–into his new version. In contrast, the re-writing of Darkhawk utterly invalidated an in-continuity origin “because”. It was certainly not respectful of those initial stories, and neglected to work with them in any way when it tore them out.

This is what makes Moore’s so fascinating: Micky Moran, Dicky Dauntless, and Johnny Bates are still themselves, even as their memories are something entirely other than what they thought. He takes and molds those older stories and turns them into something else without losing them, viewing them through a new lens and building on them. It makes me wish–just a bit–that we could’ve seen the “original” Watchmen, to have those old Blue Beetle and Question characters shifted into their new roles. Ah, well. What we’ve gained in that editorial mandate was worth it–so it’s a curious thought, but the reality is all good.

Today’s quote, in keeping with my new media-relevant patterning, is actually derived from the issue of All-New Doop above. Former X-Statix member Tike Alicar (Anarchist) is asked by U-Go Girl to describe the laughter he claims to have heard, and that was his answer.

¹As an incurable habit, upon reading some of the middling reviews of this book, I saw some really, really stupid ones. The pacing isn’t slow, Mirage isn’t boring and uninteresting [I realize this is subjective, but there’s a character there, at the least, with facets and edges not seen entirely ad nauseum], and most definitely the pages are not unnecessarily crammed with exposition, unless, of course, one prefers to have only dialogue that avoids any exposition whatsoever. Such reviews read like folk who have only touched the modern era, and largely things that hinge on the rapid-reads that are decried by plenty of the old-timers–which apparently includes me. Alas.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s