Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reviews: Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Orc Stain, Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age, Spider-Man: Fever

I haven't been writing much recently, but I have been reading a lot of comics, so I thought I'd throw myself back into things by talking about a few recent comics.

Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #1, by Christos Gage and Mario Alberti

I wrote about X-Men and Spider-Man, the previous series by these two creators, here.  This is pretty much the same thing as last time: each issue takes place at a different point in Marvel's history, the heroes in the title fight a bad guy, and slightly intriguing overarching plot ties it all together.  Unlike last time, the X-Men are swapped out for the Fantastic Four, and this means that I am less interested in the characters and have less knowledge of their history, so the plot feels pretty insignificant.  Doctor Doom pops up, of course, although maybe because I haven't been reading Fantastic Four comics for my entire life, I enjoyed seeing him.  But the only real reason to read this is for Alberti's art, which really is quite beautiful stuff.  Unlike most of the factory-line art produced by Marvel and DC, Alberti pencils, inks, and colors it all by himself.  Everything is swooping and dynamic (which is perfect for Mr. Fantastic) -- it looks like the guy really enjoys drawing.

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Orc Stain #4, by James Stokoe

Speaking of somebody who seems to be having fun, James Stokoe is ripping off one great issue after another with this series.  Stokoe's colors in particular make this book feel different than everything else on the shelves; the bright reds and greens just make you want to stare at the pages.  I want this series to continue forever.

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Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age, by Matt Fraction, Whilce Portacio, Steve Sanders, and Jamie McKelvie

This, however . . .  This was a piece of crap.  I had stopped buying Fraction's Uncanny X-Men a while ago, planning to get it in collected format but never doing so, and I thought I'd just grab this one-shot because it wouldn't require much knowledge of recent happenings, but man, this really sucked.  It's three stories, drawn by three different artists, and the book jumps back and forth between them.  My main problem was with Whilce Portacio's art on the Cyclops story.  Now, I'm not one of those people who instantly criticizes anything done by an artist who was popular in the 90s (see: title of my blog) and I still have some residual good feelings for Portacio because Wetworks was one of my favorite Image series when I was first getting into comics.  And I heard that he was coming back to Uncanny X-Men as the regular artist, and that kind of sounded like a good thing, but this comic was not good, so now I'm put off of buying the regular series.  Cyclops gets told off by Beast for wanting to turn the X-Men into an army, so he heads off to the Savage Land for some R&R.  Sure, fine.  But just look at this drawing:

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Who the hell dresses like that in a jungle?  Shirtless, with jeans and boots?  And gloves?  (Would it surprise you if I told you those gloves disappear on the very next page and are never seen again?  Sloppy.)  What's up with his hair?  Is Cyclops going for the "Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible movie that opens with him free-climbing" look?  And then the next page contains an action sequence that doesn't make sense -- things happen when Cyclops and dinosaurs are facing the wrong way, it's unclear how he kills one of the dinosaurs -- it's just a mess.  Everything about this story just rubbed me the wrong way.  But then we get to the Beast story, drawn by Steve Sanders.  While visiting the La Brea tar pits, Beast randomly bumps into Molly Hayes, one of the kids from The Runaways.  She is twelve years old, and she says -- I'm serious here -- completely out of the blue,  "What's 'extinction'?  I mean, I know what it means, but ... like, what does it really mean?  To be extinct?"  Beast answers:

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What?  Really?  What twelve year old doesn't understand what extinction means?  Kids learn this when they are interested in dinosaurs, when they are four or five.  Molly comes off as a complete idiot.  And why does Beast stammer when trying to explain the concept?  Beast is supposed to be a genius -- how does he not have a quick answer?  This just ends up being Fraction's way of ramming the theme of the book down the reader's throat, because it leads into a discussion of mutants, and whether they are becoming extinct, yadda yadda.  So on top of being stupid, it's heavy-handed.  And I'm sorry if I'm coming off like some X-Men nut who wants everything to look just perfect, but Beast is wildly off-model here.  And I'd be okay with that -- I'm all for people putting their own look on characters, but this Beast just looks like an absolute ninny.  Who wants to spend any time reading about that guy's adventures?  (On this episode: Beast loses his pocketwatch!)  The third story is drawn by Jamie McKelvie, who gets a lot of love on the internet for being involved in the Phonogram series that he did with Kieron Gillen.  His art is fine, although it feels a little out of place in a super-hero comic.  Just a little too quiet and restrained, maybe.  I don't really have any complaints about that story.  Anyway, yeah, didn't like this comic.  I wish I hadn't spent money on this.

Spider-Man: Fever #3, by Brendan McCarthy

Here's another comic that didn't really do it for me, unfortunately.  McCarthy's been talked up a lot on the comics websites that I visit, but I'm not really loving his work.  The story in this was kind of dull -- Spider-Man is abducted by spider-creatures into an astral plane kind of place, and Dr. Strange goes to rescue him.  It sounds really cool, but so little happens -- there isn't much to the plot.  Mostly it's an excuse for McCarthy to draw wigged-out psychedelic landscapes, with computery colors that seem at times to be the result of somebody just messing around with different features in Photoshop.  Didn't hate it, but didn't love it either.  This mini-series was usually the last thing I would choose to read when going through a stack of new comics.

And apparently, that was the last thing I wanted to write about tonight, too.  Although I will say that The Return of Bruce Wayne has been fun so far, King City is still amazing, X-Women (the thing by Chris Claremont and Milo Manara) was pretty bad, and Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain was -- of course, this is Mignola we're talking about -- a good, solid story.  And I just finished the third collection of Invincible Iron Man, another book written by Matt Fraction, and I really liked it.