New Comic Reviews! (6-6-16)

Batman Rebirth

Batman: Rebirth #1

Scott Snyder and Tom King (writers), Mikel Janín (artist). Covers by Janín and Howard Porter.

Returning to last week’s themes of nihilism, consider the meaninglessness that runs as an undercurrent to serialized comic books – the heroes never age, the villains always escape from jail, no one stays dead forever, and Archie will never choose between Betty and Veronica. If the New 52 was about trying to break that cycle in the worst possible ways, DC’s Rebirth event is an ambitious attempt to both embrace the recursive nature of superhero tropes, while also trying to explore some bold new ideas. With that in mind, it makes sense that this one-shot doesn’t feature an A-list villain like the Joker or the Penguin. Instead, Scott Snyder and Tom King dig deeper into DC Comics lore to pull out the Calendar Man – and what’s more, they provide a brilliantly creepy new take on the villain, who for once feels like more than a walking punch-line.

On its own, Batman: Rebirth is a bit unsatisfying. It feels like the last page comes far too soon, with the story acting almost entirely as a set-up for King and Snyder’s upcoming ongoing series (Batman and All-Star Batman, respectively). As a prequel to those books, this one-shot does its job, setting up Batman’s relationship with his newest protégé, and establishing Calendar Man as a legitimate threat. Mikel Janín’s artwork is excellent as always, and the simple script and somewhat sparse dialogue gives him lots of room to show off his skills with big panels and impressive set-pieces. I wouldn’t call this issue required reading – if you’re just looking to follow the main Rebirth miniseries, you can skip this without missing anything vital to that story. Still, it’s worth a look if you’re planning to jump onboard for the new Bat-titles… and of course, if you’re a fan of the awesome Snyder’s awesome Batman run, this is probably already on the top of your pull list.


Spider-Man 2099 11

Spider-Man 2099 #11

“Something Sinister This Way Comes” pt. 2

Peter David (writer), Will Sliney (artist). Cover by Francesco Mattina.

History has not been especially kind to science fiction produced in the mid-1990s, with its poor understanding of then-burgeoning technologies and topical social issues. Given that Marvel’s original 2099 line was one of the most aggressively Nineties things to ever exist, it’s fared about as well as you’d expect. Other than a few – very few – stand out stories, and the so-bad-it’s-good Punisher 2099 (which is wildly entertaining), the entire line has long-since been consigned to the bottom of bargain bins at comic conventions, and fodder for internet click-bait. Yet somehow, in 2016, there is somehow enough demand to sustain a monthly comic starring Miguel O’Hara – at best, only the 3rd most popular character *currently* calling himself Spider-Man.

Spider-Man 2099 was probably the best book of the original Marvel 2099 imprint, starring a technically savvy hero fighting the mega-corporations of a cyberpunk dystopia. At the time, it was arguably better than the regular Spider-books of the 1990s, of which the less said the better. Through the magic of huge crossover events and unchecked nostalgia, Miguel O’Hara was brought into the main Marvel Universe two years ago, and has pretty much starred in his own ongoing series since then (notwithstanding the hiatus and re-launch nearly all Marvel books got during and after last year’s Secret Wars event). O’Hara’s co-creator Peter David was tapped to write the series, and effortlessly picked up where he left off when he left the book twenty years ago.

Here’s the thing – a lot has changed in the Marvel Universe in the past two decades. Peter Parker is finally being treated like the brilliant scientist he was always supposed to be, and in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man he’s fighting crime in high-tech armour using bleeding edge technology. Miles Morales – the Spider-Man of the defunct Ultimate Marvel Universe – fills in the role of spirited newcomer to Parker’s seasoned veteran. We’ve got a heroine named Silk, a Spider-Gwen, a Spider-Girl, a couple of different Spider-Women, a Spider-UK, a Spider-Ham, and an entire other team of Web Warriors across an infinite Spider-Verse. With all that considered, what’s so special about Miguel O’Hara, or the Spider-Man 2099 series?

What stands out and makes this book worth reading is its humour. David is clearly having fun with his pet creation, and right at the point that the story threaten to get too serious, he immediately defuses things with a joke. On some titles, that would be detrimental – David’s penchant for silliness is nothing new, and I’d argue it’s led to a rather uneven body of work – but in this case it works. This issue sees O’Hara back in a version of his home timeline, fighting futuristic counterparts to the Sinister Six… and honestly, how could one ever take villains like Future Venom, Aqua-Doctor Octopus and Cyborg Vulture seriously? They looks like cast-offs from a bad toy-line, the kinds that sat on the discount pegs in Wal-Mart until some harried relative grabbed them at random on the way to the birthday of a child they didn’t particularly like, causing the kid to throw a tantrum, because he wanted an action figure of ACTUAL Batman, not some bullshit Pirate Batman or Samurai Batman or – actually, I’m not sure where I’m going with any of this. Let’s move on.


X-Men '92 4

X-Men ’92 #4

“Pages from the Book of Sins”

Chad Bowers and Chris Sims (writers), Alti Firmansyah (artist). Cover by David Nakayama.

While we’re on the subject of Nineties nostalgia, we have Chad Bowers’ and Chris Sims’ love-letter to the 1992 X-Men animated series. I’ve been a big fan of Sims since the earliest days of his Invincible Super Blog, and clearly this is his dream job, teaming with long-time writing partner Bowers on a show he actually analyzed in depth, episode by episode, for the website Comics Alliance. So why do I find this comic so underwhelming?

First and foremost, there’s the artwork. Alti Firmansyah’s art is fine on its own, but its cartoony, manga-influenced style doesn’t match the visual aesthetics of the animated series at all, which was patterned after Jim Lee’s work. Come on guys, you couldn’t one ex-Image Comics penciler who had some spare time in his calendar? Hell, DC Comics keeps at least ten Jim Lee clones on staff at all times.

The real problem with this book though is that it feels like a complete re-tread – generously, a remix – of old Marvel stories, with very little new content added. The first arc of this ongoing series pairs the X-Men with Dracula, something that’s been done several times. In particular, this story lifts entire elements of 2010’s Curse of the Mutants storyline, including Jubilee being turned into a vampire, and Dracula teaming up with the X-Men to fight his renegade son. The conclusion recycles the Doctor Strange “Montesi Formula” storyline from 1983 (reprinted in 2006), filtered through 2005’s House of M. None of this is exactly kept secret – there are direct panel recreations and background details that show Sims and Bowers are going for homage, not outright theft. Even giving them the benefit of the doubt though, if you’ve read the original stories they’re sampling from, there’s an insurmountable feeling of “been there, done that.” For younger reader or Marvel neophytes, this is a decent book to flip through, but I can’t get excited about it until I see something new.

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