Marvel has turned itself into a Phoenix metaphor. “AVX” was an example of almost everything that is wrong with the Big Two, including but not limited to poor writing, bloated stories, misuse of talent, and unnecessary cross-overs. I was only reading two books from Marvel on a weekly basis (“Amazing Spider-Man” and “Hawkeye”, “Daredevil” as trade paperbacks) when the event ended. Now we’re looking at a week where 80% of my pull list is from Marvel and their overall representation has tripled. So on that positive note, let’s see what they have to offer this week.
One of the best things about this book is its sense of economy. That may come off as odd, considering the great many assets this series has going for it, but bear with me. Eight issues in and only one story has ended with a “To Be Continued”. That means Matt Fraction has told seven stories in eight issues. When most books currently being published average six issues per storyline (extra friendly for paperback editions!), “Hawkeye” is an oddity.
There’s nothing wrong with long stories, as exemplified by “Saga’s” episodic storytelling, but it’s also very enjoyable to pick up a book, read it cover-to-cover, and appreciate an entire story. That’s what this book has done very well. It uses its script and art to their maximum potential in order to provide a well-crafted and economic read every month.
Beyond that, there’s the mix of everything else that’s right with the title: a likable, but flawed protagonist, a good sense of humor, heart-thumping action, fitting art, and a strong understanding of its medium (you could teach Scott McCloud’s six panel transitions using any issue). “Hawkeye” is a really well made book and it’s one of the few that you can enjoy any issue of without any frame of reference. That’s a good thing.
It looks like some of the plot threads and little mysteries left open in previous issues may be building to an upcoming story, but whatever happens next, Fraction has shown you don’t need any more than two dozen pages to tell a comics tale.
Uncanny X-Men #2
Brian Michael Bendis has set himself a high bar to meet with “All-New X-Men”, a superhero book deserving of both its critical and commercial success. “Uncanny X-Men” follows Cyclops’ revolutionary-style team of mutants, giving the Jean Grey School and its five newest students some room to breathe.
The first issue was good, not great, just good. It laid out an interesting premise, throwing a fun twist at the end. However, a good premise is no guarantee of a good story. The second issue is not bad, but it is not a strong second chapter.
The biggest problem lies with the misuse of Chris Bachalo. Bachalo has a very kinetic, expressive style. It works well when drawing dynamic moments and action sequences. The panel filled with Sentinels pouring down from the sky in issue one worked so well because of this style. Issue two has no compelling imagery for Bachalo to play with though. It’s a lot of discussion and setup. It’s like being told you’ll be seeing the Foo Fighters and getting to watch them play ping pong. It’s still exciting to see the talent, but disappointing because it could be doing something much better.
Bendis excels with lots of dialogue and character interaction, so the writing was sometimes able to make up for mispurposed art. The dialogue between Scott and Emma in the beginning is really enjoyable. Their relationship is as well realized as it was in Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” and allows Bendis to create audience sympathy where there may have been none. The second half of the issue plays as more setup for both the new mutants and the new base. Exposition is necessary, that doesn’t mean it has to read as pure exposition though, as much of the second half did. There are glimmers of the fun banter and character inter-play Bendis is known for toward the end (“No boy… I would break you” made me laugh out loud) and this will hopefully become more prominent now that the characters have all been established.
Next issue looks like it will be more oriented to Bachalo’s strengths. I hope issue three is where this book will hit its stride and meet the bar set by “All-New X-Men”.
Young Avengers #2
Bacon really is magic. – Loki
And so is this book.
Every page of “Young Avengers” is a joy to read. In its pages, Kieron Gillen has managed to capture what it’s like to be eighteen in a twenty-two page comic. It can be scary, confusing, funny, exciting and packed with new ideas. This issue focuses on the repurcussions of playing with magic and only features three of the six, central cast members. This helps provide a strong platform for new readers to join in the fun, providing Teddy, Billy and Loki with distinctive voices and preparing the stage for the rest of the cast. Loki is especially fun to watch in this issue, dancing through danger, acting in a world only he seems to understand.
Really, that’s what this book seems to be about, being in your own special world. Although the characters are set against the background of the Marvel universe, the antagonist and story stand apart. The Avengers are quickly introduced and dismissed, because this story isn’t about them. That’s cool. The villain isn’t a spinoff or redux of another Avengers nemesis, it’s more like something out of a Doctor Who episode, creepy and sinister. It’s really exciting stuff, making a superhero team book feel fresh.
The art and structure of the book hums with the same creative power as the story. Jamie McKelvie shows his chops guiding readers through a two-page spread where Loki helps Billy and Teddy escape the panels in which they’ve been imprisoned. This team seems to be obsessed with pushing every aspect of the monthly comic form they use. Even the recap page has been recast as a Tumblr feed featuring posters and hashtags like HAIGUYZD00M and “#slightly uncomfortable 4th wall breaking”.
“Young Avengers” shows what a creative team can do when unhindered by too much continuity or editorial oversight. It’s jampacked with ideas and just plain fun to read.
That’s all for this week. I hope Marvel continues its ascent from the ashes and keeps publishing high quality books from high quality creators like we saw this week. Excelsior!