Good lord, I've only done two of these before now? But I have so many OPINIONS!
Doctor Strange: The Oath
Story: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Marcos Martin
Doctor Strange? Isn't he just that dude they drag in whenever they need another Avenger to fill out the ranks? Yes, it is. But once upon a time, when Steve Ditko and Stan Lee came up with him, he had a backstory and themes and motivations. Nowadays he's just there for somebody to say 'why can't you sort this Skrull business out, Steven' to him, so he can reply 'oh because the ancient ones and the scrolls and such and I'm just tired, okay?'
But since he's been drafted in to do that so often, Marvel's senior editorial staff realised 'oh crap, we haven't given the bastard his own solo series in like five years', and got one of comics' greatest current writers (or 'The BKV' as he's known) to throw together a quick five-issue miniseries to give the readers some idea of what Doctor Strange is about. The result: pure gold.
The good thing about Strange not having his own series for so long is that Vaughan can throw everything cool about the character into this one project in a big wonderful slurry of magical medical drama. The pacing's excellent, the characters are well-written, and the intro involves Strange being dragged, unconscious and gut-shot, into a secret superhero doctor's surgery. The charater of Strange is brilliantly conveyed, portraying him as a conflicted servant of humanity, rather than the more typical frowning mystic role he seems to take on. Instantly gripping, and beautifully rendered by Marcos 'Why The Hell Aren't I Drawing A Protracted Run On Batman By Now I Mean For God's Sake Batgirl Year One Was Bloody Transcendent' Martin. We can only hope Vaughan and Martin team up again, because in addition to all the rest, this series stands as a testament to the absolute synergy (hnnng) of their creative talents.
Story: Greg Pak
Art: Carlo Pagualayan, Aaron Lopresti and others
This is the story of the Hulk, and how he finally came home, as the blurb goes. While most Marvel fans were griping about the ineffectual writing, limp character development and extensive tie-ins that plagued the main event of two years ago, Civil War, the smart money was on Greg Pak's not-always-excellent, but consistently-entertaining single-title year-long epic - Planet Hulk.
The run-up to the series ran thus: after fleeing to peaceful mountainous fishing country to escape causing trouble with his big green alter-ego (who now sports a big green Hulk-beard, facial-hair-fans), Bruce Banner lives in peace until Nick Fury, Director Of SHIELD, tracks him down and enlists him to sort out a phony satellite problem, with the ultimate goal of shooting him into space. You see, Fury, along with Mister Fantastic, Iron Man and numerous others, decided that the Hulk was just too dangerous to have around, and planned to send him to a tranquil, wild planet, where he wouldn't be any hazard to sentient life. However, something goes screwy and the Hulk ends up on a very arch sci-fi planet with gladiatorial battles, elemental demigods and a downtrodden insect slave-race. The old clock on the wall tells us that it is rock o' clock.
And rock it does. The Hulk, as Strongest One There Is, flourishes Conan-like and wades through seas of imperialists, monsters and robots, making alliances and enemies with gusto as he goes. It's a real shot in the arm, and a refreshing take on an old character. Also, given the length and breadth of the story, reading it in one volume has the feel of a big proper nerdy fantasy epic, with the wonderfully anarchic twist of having a disaffected Hulk shrugging off talk of foretold destinies and prodigal saviours in favour of More Smashing.
But it's a sensitively-handled Hulk, one compellingly faced for the first time with the idea of his wild, brutal strength being something admirable. So: if you want big nasty monsters, some of the best Hulk writing ever, a wonderful stinger for the soon-to-be-collected World War Hulk and some of the most gorgeous Ladronn covers you'll ever see, pick this one up. You won't be disappointed.
Story: Brian K Vaughan
Art: Philip Bond, Steve Rolston, Jason Shawn Alexander, Eduardo Barreto
Once upon a time, I blogged about how impressive the Escapist continuity was, and how keen I was to check out the other elements to it, namely The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and this comic book sequel-of-sorts. Well, to shorthand it, the novel's wonderfully-written, lengthy and rewarding, and very much deserves your time, but the Pulitzer Prize probably clued you into that. However, The Escapists has not as yet won a Pulitzer Prize, so I'll tell you a little about it.
The story follows Max Roth, a weedy elevator repairman from Cleveland with ambitions of writerdom. His father dies when he's a child, and he inherits The Key To The Basement. When the young Roth first ventures down there, he's faced with something he never expected - boxes and boxes of comic book ephemera, all to do with Kavalier and Clay's Escapist character. His mother dies after he takes up his job as elevator repairman, and he inherits $150,000. He immediately spends it on the unwanted, long-outdated license for the Escapist and all spinoff characters created for the franchise. He finds an artist in a girl he rescues from a stuck elevator, and a letterer in the thoughtful jock he atypically befriended during high school. The Escapists chronicles their attempts to create in an industry that gives untested talent no footholds whatsoever, and it does it brilliantly.
Now, Steve Rolston is no slouch. He delivers great layouts and expression here and his action work for Queen and Country's early volumes is also sterling. But to have him take over after an introductory chapter by Philip Bond, whose art moves me on a profound level, is a bit of a tease. But there's a reason - this chapter appeared as a kind of pilot for the main series, in the pages of The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist comic, and the rest of the main series was all Rolston.
As I say, however, Rolston never drops the ball, and the talking-head stuff and visual gizmos are brilliantly realised. He's assisted by Jason Shawn Alexander, who ghost-draws for elevator-girl Case Weaver within the pages of the comic, and Eduardo Baretto, who mimicks the depression-era action comic style with line-perfect respect. It's a really convincing blend of styles, and works just as an experiment in having several totally-different artists work together on a single story.
The Escapists fills the reader with the heady ambition of youth, just as the early chapters of Kavalier and Clay managed to do, and it does so in its own idiomatic way. It's not just a retread, it's a whole new chapter to the saga, and a moving evocation of the new generation's attempts at stardom and creative respect. It does contain a few callbacks to the novel, however, including a character dressing as the Escapist himself to publicise his cause. There aren't the usual showdowns with stern corporate types, nor, in fact, many other characters at all bar the three protagonists. It's somewhat of a stripped-down story, but by design, and it pays off.
The Escapists doesn't, in synopsis, do anything that a prose novel couldn't, but it's the execution that shows comics' potential as a literary medium, with dream sequences, broken narratives and the aforementioned art style shifts that justify the characters' determination and the form of the story itself. In other words, it's in that rare category of 'good alternative comics' - it's a book that neither leans on nor shamefully rejects comics' legacy as a disposable art form. This is yet another triumph for Vaughan that singles him out as one of comics' greatest genre-hoppers and most capable talents, and acts as the new generation's equivalent of Will Eisner's classic The Dreamer for both inspiring and evoking the pure enthusiasm of artistic endeavour. Highly recommended.
'Beat' Nick wonders what the hell Vaughan's doing writing Lost.
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Good lord, I've only done two of these before now? But I have so many OPINIONS!