Since i’m currently only into a smattering of books, there haven’t been weekly releases for me to absorb so i’ve been saving up several releases worth of thoughts and speculations to compile here today. Plus, as i mentioned a couple of weeks ago, i like to give a book a fair shake of three issues before laying judgement. That being said, i’ll dive right into the first 3-issue chance i gave to Hulk (2014) under the Marvel NOW! imprint.
This book, to me, represents the perfect example of not judging a book by its cover…because frankly it just plain sucks.
Let me back up a bit and explain where i’m coming from and start with admitting i’ve never been a big fan of ol’ Jade Jaws. While it’s true that i did favor the gamma goliath in a theoretical throwdown with the Man of Steel that generated a healthy discussion, i’ve come to the realization that i only really enjoy the character conceptually. Regular weekly get-togethers with friend and fellow geek @DanEffinManess without fail turn to comics (and sometimes professional wrestling) and usually result in the breakdown of comic book logic to the point where we both wonder why we are still so fascinated by them – a sentiment echoed during a recent work conversation with @Gewpoe. It is worth noting here that both of those fellas are talented artists and very humorous in their own right, giving evidence that once comics are in your blood they’re there to stay even when you think you’ve grown beyond the capes-and-tights continuity.
Anyway, as regards Hulk, the problem for me basically amounts to the character just ain’t that interesting. After consideration, from my perspective it’s a question of motivation, and maybe there’s some great Hulk stories out there that would change my mind but i have yet to encounter any of them. Other heroes have all sorts of motivations, and as a reader the best stories are relatable because we understand the emotional arc of the character. Now, take the Hulk, distilled quite ably by Tony Stark in Marvel’s The Avengers.
Perhaps it’s due to my habitually laid-back personality, but maybe that’s why Hulk never clicked with me – the dude only has one emotion (embodies it as a matter of fact). Rage is not a standard part of my emotional repertoire. Now the interesting flip side to Hulk’s character, his alter ego Bruce Banner, was also portrayed astutely in that same film by actor Mark Ruffalo, who with a single line of dialogue suddenly made 50 years of backstory make a lot more sense to me.
So where does this leave us with the Hulk comic? Sadly disappointed, i’m afraid. Remember what i said about judging a book by its cover? When i came across Hulk #1 on the Marvel Comics app, i got suckered by the provocative cover and figured i’d give it a shot. The Hulk looked really cool there towards the bottom (except for that weird glowy belt thing – what’s up with that?) and i liked how Banner was shown more prominently, looking all gritty and surrounded by sketchy formulae in the background. Scrawled over the title is a challenging question “Who Shot Bruce Banner?”
Maybe this would be a great take on the character and focus on the thing that ultimately would make him more endearing to me – the man beneath the monster. Sure, it’s awesome when Hulk…hulks out, and pounds everything in sight into oblivion. But between all the action, what would keep me as a reader engaged is connecting with the human side and whatever problems and motivations keep him going. In that regard, it’s no wonder the classic Hulk television show was so beloved, because Bill Bixby made you give a crap about Banner.
Moving past the cover of Hulk #1, i’m still in good shape. There’s a nice Starlin-esque image of some scientific equipment, an gun-toting hand belonging to an unknown shooter and a silhouette of (presumably) Bruce Banner getting shot in the back of the head. Color me intrigued, if only for the fact that up until that moment it was my understanding that, should Banner take a bullet, he would immediately transform into the Hulk. The guy even shot himself to try and end the Hulk menace before and things didn’t work out. So i’m thinking that i’m heading into a mystery here, and naturally assume this headshot is just symbolic.
Underneath the image…wait a sec why does it say “Who Shot The Hulk”? Wasn’t the mystery supposed to be who shot Bruce Banner? Why the change, and why so soon? i haven’t even read page one yet. Okay, Hulk, i’ll play your game. Let’s flip the page and see what happens.
Abysmal disappointment within one nanosecond when i realize who’s handling the interior art: Mark Bagley. He’s been working in comics a long, long time, on high profile books like Ultimate Spider-Man for instance, but i gotta tell you – i’ve always thought this guy’s artwork is just straight up crapola. Now before any haters say “i bet you couldn’t draw half that good” i’ll be the first to admit you’re absolutely right. On the other hand, i’m not working as a professional artist so the issue is moot. Within the industry, i’m sure Bagley is known as a dependable artist and might be the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but man do i dislike his work. It’s so generic! It looks like stuff that you would see from art school assignments before the student has developed a unique style or really understood sequential storytelling. Lame, lame, lame. And you know what? Right now i’m scrutinizing each page closely and if i’m honest it really isn’t even that technically sound. Perspectives are off, faces look all funked up, and the backgrounds….i mean Rob Liefeld draws more engrossing eye candy.
Almost instantly, i regretted my decision to give a book 3 issues to prove itself to me. But a deal’s a deal. Mark Waid’s no slouch in the writing department, so maybe this tale of woe will be saved by smart writing.
The story opens with Bruce Banner in an operating room getting brain surgery because someone shot him in the head. Who could do such a thing, and with what sort of magical or scientifically devised projectile? Maybe The Leader’s gamma-irradiated brain concocted a plan to overcome Banner’s indestructible self-defense. Yeah, that must be it, or something along those lines.
Or it was some shadowy agent working for generic guys who raided the Reservoir Dogs costume storehouse who shot him with a regular ol’ rifle. But don’t worry – it makes sense because she “trained hard for the moment.”
Yadda yadda yadda Banner hulks out in the O.R. (but the head wound for some reason doesn’t heal upon transformation). He hulks his way out of where Mr. Blonde and crew were keeping him and leaps away. Except his head hurts, and he crashes in Genericville U.S.A where, two weeks later, S.H.I.E.L.D. finds him trying to re-learn his ABC’s because of irreversible brain damage. The shocked and dismayed Agent Coulson and Maria Hill are told by hospital staff (who seem blissfully unaware that their patient destroyed Main Street when he was a green rage monster) “he’ll never be smart again.” Or, until two issues later when he’s already getting better.
The three issues i read also featured a guest appearance by some Avengers who helped Hulk decimate Genericsville when a goopy mess that was corpsecrafted into a zombie version of Hulk nemesis Abomination and controlled by Reservoir Dog attacked for so apparent reason. For his part, Reservoir Dog was far away in his radioactive lab/lair where hazmat-suited bad guys tinkered with vats of nuclear glowy stuff and pontificated to himself how no one would suspect his real plans until it was too late for all of them…or me for that matter, because i’d blissfully reached the end of this stinkfest.
Oddly enough, there’s yet another new Hulk series – Savage Hulk – that released today 6.25.14. This series is written and pencilled by Alan Davis and, while i’m not a huge fan of his either, i will say he is a WAY better artist than Bagley. In order to wash the taste of Hulk (2014) out of my mouth, i have this one a d/l. Who knows, maybe it will be the series to finally get me to dig Hulk comics. After issue 3 i’ll let you know. But if my weekly talks with compadre hold any water, Hulk is best used as a supporting character rather than as a star (which makes me wary of yet another possible solo film).
Another book written by Mark Waid, this time featuring one of my all-time favorite superheroes – Daredevil! Once described as “Spider-Man with his eyes closed” by my favorite comics blogger Paul O’Connor (better known as Longbox Graveyard to the blogosphere), i’ve got to credit my older brother for the convergence of me being 10 years old and him having the sweet now-legendary Frank Miller run of DD comics from the 80’s for my deep commitment to the character.
If i’m honest, i’ve never read a Daredevil book i didn’t enjoy. But i will admit i skipped out on his 90’s stories when he was wearing armor like everyone else in the 90’s for some reason. More than once here at The Long Shot i’ve praised the Bendis/Maleev run as one of my favorite comic stories of all time, and i was over the moon when Mike Allred handled the art chores on Volume 3, issue #17, since pound-for-pound i consider him the best artist working in comics today.
This latest iteration of the character finds him relocated from his traditional digs in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood all the way to the west coast in San Francisco. One of the things i like most about this book is that, like the currently-running Moon Knight, the series doesn’t shy away from the character’s history and continuity. In the book, Daredevil’s secret identity as blind lawyer Matt Murdock isn’t a secret, and also like Moon Knight the story finds him working with law enforcement in a sort of consultant role.
The series opens with Murdock at the SFPD’s forensics lab, using his super-enhanced senses to help the police with a kidnapping case by examining evidence to get a lead. For their part, the detectives are naturally skeptical of a civilian doing their job for them, but at the end of the day when a little girl’s life is at stake they’re willing to let him lend a hand, even when he suits up as Daredevil. This is definitely a trend that i’m enjoying in some comics these days – that the “regular” people who live in their universe acknowledge that there are vigilantes out there, part of their everyday world.
The interior art on this series is also handled by Chris Samnee, and i’m really digging the unconventional style he brings. Take pages 5-6 for example: one is a quick jumping-on point that retells his origin for any newcomers, and the other a nifty overview that gives you insight into both his powers and a little fish-out-of-water synopsis of how his relocation is affecting him. Both pages are designed in a circular pattern in the manner that his famous “radar sense” is usually shown visually, and full of color and stylistic touches. While Samnee’s artwork isn’t what you’d call photorealistic, to me it’s more impressionistic. At this point in my comic book reading career, this is the kind of stuff i enjoy the most. There’s a sense of playfulness and cinematic scope to it that isn’t defined by square panels. It’s sequential when it needs to be, no doubt, but the images help move the story along more through the evocation of what they portray rather than through movement through time or space.
Samnee’s art also has a sort of indie quality to it that i like to see on high profile books, a break from the kind of high-octane action and super-ripped heroes that are kind of the norm. He’s got style and flavor, which goes a long way. For example, it’s a lot easier to forgive ill-defined backgrounds when you consider they’re maybe just not that important to the image, as opposed to the Hulk book i talked about earlier, in which you can see the artist spent time drawing them but they just plain sucked.
The most recent issue of – #4 – wrapped up an arc which found DD in a quasi-teamup with The Shroud taking on a villain who has steadily risen in prominence in Daredevil’s rogue’s gallery over the past few years, The Owl.
Who’s The Shroud, you ask? Again i’ve got to hand it to my brother’s childhood collection for my knowledge of this Batman/Shadow mashup thanks to his store of Marvel Team-Up issues. IIRC it was during Spidey’s team-up with The Shroud that he briefly related his origin about studying with the Cult of Kali and getting blinded by a red-hot brand that gave him other worldly sense and the ability to control darkforce. Then the pair of them defeated Danse Macabre – a worshiper of Shiva – before going their separate ways…but not before The Shroud let on that he knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man.
Shroud’s usual M.O. is in trying to take over crime (so he can squash it presumably) and in the pages of DD it was no different. In this case, he gets in over his head with The Owl, who uses the abduction of The Shroud’s girlfriend to blackmail and manipulate him. This leads to a back-and-forth with DD until the pair devise a plan to defeat The Owl that winds up going awry. In case you read the story, i don’t want to spoil anything but i will say that, in the end, Daredevil wins.
Because good guys.
Just a moment ago, i wondered to myself if the people in charge over at Marvel NOW! are, like, the same age and disposition as me. Browsing through the titles, it seems like every book i enjoyed from when i was around 10 is experiencing a resurgence under the imprint, and i’m loving it thoroughly. So many great characters that i enjoyed as a kid are cropping up in their own books or featured in others, like the aforementioned Shroud for instance. The final few books i want to mention fall under those auspices, but before i get to those i want to take a moment to point out something that is clearly illustrated by the titles mentioned here already: Hulk and Daredevil.
Both are written by the same person, and yet one i absolutely abhor and the other adore. Care to take a guess as to why? The answer is fairly obvious and i even gave you a pun as a clue.
Back in the day when Wizard Magazine was still a thing, they ran an article that asked the question of which was more important in a comic book: the writing or the art. It was a thoughtful piece that put the question to fans and industry folks alike. Good points were made from both sides, but to me the answer was there in the headline. The art is the defining aspect of comic books. Take away the art and what do you have? Prose – and poorly presented at that. Could you imagine reading only the dialogue boxes and narration? It would be awful. By that same token, you could flip through a book without any written words and probably still have at least an idea what was happening. These two books really drive that point home to me. Over the years i’ve read a lot of books written by Mark Waid. Some are good, some are bad. Some really spectacular/profound/wonderful and some terrible/drivel/blech. Putting Hulk and DD side-by-side, i can say that the DD story really isn’t that great. There’s nothing groundbreaking there, and the character doesn’t grow a whole lot in the four issues already published. Same thing with Hulk – the story is lame and really generic, like he could have plucked the script out of a pile of scripts for any character and just changed the names. But i have a blast reading DD and it was a chore to plod through Hulk. Why? Because in one, the art is horrendous and adds nothing to the experience, while in the other i had a fun time just looking at the pictures.
The last few books on my pull list have already gotten an examination of their own so really, this is just a free advertisement for continued reading. You’re welcome, Marvel Comics.
Magneto, written by Cullen Bunn, has a new artist starting with issue #4 and the latest #5. It’s a bit of a let down if i’m honest, because Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s work on #1-3 was so reminiscent of Dark Knight Returns era Frank Miller that i felt it really lent a similar quality to the book – that of a grizzled older guy using brutal methods to get the job done in the violent world he inhabited. Although, now that i’m looking through them, i’m not sure if #5 is credited properly because it looks like Walta’s work but it lists Javier Fernandez as the artist. Issue #4 is definitely not Walta though. In fact, while reading it i thought it was Jim Calafiore’s work. Don’t get me wrong, back when i was tracking down #1-75 of Aquaman circa 1994-2001 i thought Calafiore’s work on the character was great, but Magneto #4 kind felt like a throwaway issue to me with a fill-in story and artist. Issue #5 got right back on track through, and introduced an intriguing female character who managed to track down the Master of Magnetism and offer to help. The end of the issue leaves you with a cliffhanger though, that makes you wonder what her real intentions are…
Moon Knight, scribed by Warren Ellis and featuring some of the best comic book art around right now by Declan Shalvey, most recently took on a weird-o dream-related case that found Marc Spector back in his three-piece to help a researcher figure out why his test subjects were losing their minds. If i had to pick a single book right now that was my favorite, i’d have to go with Moon Knight not only because of the fantastic cinematic artwork, but because it features a classic character in such unconventional situations and adventures. Down the road, i’m not sure if Ellis will start pitting Moon Knight against costumed villains or placing him in the larger context of the superheroic world he inhabits, but if he does i hope it’s a long way off. As it stands now, if you only read one book – READ THIS BOOK. That goes for people like @Gewpoe too – even if you’re not into the spandex scene, i bet you’ll enjoy this current Moon Knight series.
And finally, last but far from least – Silver Surfer by Mike Allred and written by some guy. Seriously, no disrespect to Dan Slott but if the cymbal-banging monkey toy on the cover were writing this book i’d still pick it up just for Allred’s amazing artwork. Three issues in and i’m actually curious about the writing process. The credits list Dan Slott and Mike Allred as storytellers, but i gotta say this reads like 100% pure Allred (and by that i mean Mike and Laura). A villain named Incredulous Zed, supporting characters like Mr. Mygdalla and metaphysical and existential quandaries amidst the threat of reality collapse is classic Allred territory. It’s also probably the very best iteration of the Silver Surfer character that i’ve ever read, combining philosophical issues alongside cosmic danger that has the eponymous character – despite virtually limitless power – learning more about the universe from the simple creatures around him than through his own cosmic awareness. The most recent issue #3 wraps up the first arc that had the Surfer of the Spaceways championing unwitting girl-in-distress Dawn Greenwood while simultaneously saving all future possibility – literally. For her part, Dawn proved to be a terrific addition to Surfer lore by taking on the role of hero herself and proving just as instrumental in saving the day. The issue featured a few standout moments for me as well. The first was a single panel on page 9 where the Surfer explains to dawn what he’s doing. In true Allred fashion, he is able to convey a certain i don’t even know what through the look on Silver Surfer’s face in that characteristic simple-yet-complex Allred way. A few pages later, Surfer tries to explain to a panicked population what’s going on, but winds up putting his status as a feared Herald of Galactus to use instead to galvanize them into action. And finally, on the last page in what will surely become a staple of Surfer continuity, his famed surfboard gets a real name of its own in what for me was a true laugh-out-loud moment. You’ll never find me having a bad word for anything Mike Allred works on, and Silver Surfer is no exception, so if you’re looking for a comic that is just pure fun but at the same time thoughtful and bursting with phenomenal artwork, definitely check this one out.