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Seven Days of Dull: Graeme’s reviews of 1/11 books.

Graeme McMillan

Well, that may have been one of the more underwhelming weeks in recent memory when it comes to what shipped in the world of comic bookery (Unless you’re a 2000AD fan – in which case you’d be in Thrill Power heaven, what with Prog 2006, the new Dredd collection… Borag Thungg, Earthlet Cash), especially with the non-appearance of Hellblazer despite what DC’s website claimed. As a result, Lester and Hibbs decided that it was time to give me a random selection of things to read that normally I’d ignore on my way to the Grant Morrison Worship Aisle. So blame them for the selection of this week’s review subjects.

ARES #1: It’s all very competently done, and the art is nice and all, but still. There’s something that makes the whole thing a rather Crap affair, and that’s probably down to the dull generic quality of the plot. How many times has this “dangerous soldier has settled down only to be brought back into action when his child is kidnapped” plot been done? Mike Oeming, Marvel’s current go-to guy when it comes to God tales, sticks to what’s expected without invention or humor here (Intentional humor, at least; I was amused at the “I had sworn off being the god of war, which is why I kept this fully-stocked armory hidden in my house” scene). Certain parts of the story don’t seem fully thought out – If neither Ares nor his son’s social security numbers are real, shouldn’t someone have noticed by this point? His son’s school, maybe? – nor subtle (The numerous scenes of warfare on TVs and elsewhere), and the dialogue is to the point and unmemorable. Ares is apparently going to be the next big player in the Marvel Universe, so this mini-series isn’t really about the story as much as it is reintroducing the character to the audience before sticking him in New Avengers or whatever, and in that case, it does its job. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to want to do anything else.

CABLE AND DEADPOOL #24: Jeff Lester’s guilty pleasure, apparently, and part of me can see why. I’ve never even been vaguely tempted to pick up this book before, mostly because Cable as a character makes me have terrible flashbacks to when I was buying Peter David’s X-Factor and it had that X-Cutioner’s Song crossover. Oh, the pain. Especially when it comes to remembering those X-Force issues. That said, I’ve always had a sneaking liking for Fabian Niceza for some reason, and there’re some lines in here that back that up, mostly coming from Deadpool (although Nick Fury appears at the end with the line “I want talk, I’ll call Oprah. I want some @ss kicked, I call… Captain America!” Old school superspies should talk like that all the time). Plotwise and artwise, the book feels like nothing as much as the kind of mid-90s Marvel book that spawned both title characters: The plot seems to revolve around mysteriously named organizations and artifacts that don’t get explained, and Patrick Zircher draws a Spider-Man that not only does whatever a spider can but also can dislocate his legs to get a dramatic pose. But that’s probably just down to knowing what the audience wants, and there’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to everything that makes it easier to swallow, and forget afterwards. It’s not going to change the world, but it’s Okay at what it does.

EXILES #75: Remember when 75th issues were big deals? They’d be double-sized or something, and it’d be the end of some long-running storyline that provided some level of dramatic payoff to the long-term fanbase while also giving new readers some bang for their buck and fooling them into thinking that it’d be worth picking up the next issue as well. Sadly, Exiles doesn’t seem to remember that at all, as their 75th issue just seems to be the latest episode in a long-running storyline that’s aimed entirely at longtime fans of defunct imprints from ten years ago. Fresh from their visit to the New Universe – which I was very tempted to try, purely because I have fond memories of the carcrash of Green Lantern and Jim Shooter’s midlife crisis that was Star Brand – the Exiles end up in Marvel’s 2099 universe, where they’re apparently chasing an X-Men villain who died 20 years ago, and it’s about as good or bad as it sounds, depending on your level of investment in these characters. If ever there was a comic that was aimed entirely at the core fanboy audience, it was this one, right down to the Chris Claremont-esque dialogue (“How can you remember what love feels like… and still be such a monster?!”). If this were a DC book, I’d probably be all over it, but I’ve never really been a Marvel geek, so it’s just Eh to me.

SON OF M #2: I admit it, I missed Son of M #1, if “missed” happens to have a new definition along the lines of “saw it in the store and decided that I didn’t really need to read the adventures of Quicksilver being depressed because he doesn’t have any powers anymore.” Luckily for me, I managed to get #2 and have all my preconceptions blown away and replaced by the concrete knowledge that I had been entirely right the first time, after all. In either an ironic twist or clever metatextual conceit, the story is slow as hell, and the art an awkward but not entirely unattractive Arthur Ranson-esque European thing… I’m not sure if this is the kind of thing that the House of M fans would really want from their spin-offs, but perhaps I’m underestimating them. Crap, anyway. When the most interesting thing in the book is Tom Brevoort’s own personal revamp of Bullpen Bulletins – “[W]e in the Brevoort editorial office want to make it your one-stop location for information and insight into what’s coming up in our little line of books,” Brevoort explains, adding in the next line, “The rest of the Marvel editors? Fuck them! This is all about my books.”* – with a Who’s Who of Marvel at the bottom of the page that includes Mark Gruenwald as “Patron Saint of Marveldom,” which manages to be both touching and grave-robbing at the same time, then you know you’re in trouble.

(* – Okay, he doesn’t come out and say those exact words, but still.)

ULTIMATE EXTINCTION #1: Yet another continuing storyline that I haven’t been following. But here’s the shock: It didn’t matter. By halfway through the first issue, I felt like I’d caught up on everything I needed to know, and wanted to know what happens next. Yes, Warren Ellis is on autopilot a bit here, but just like Jarvis Cocker, he’s a professional, bringing in Ultimate versions of unexpected characters – Misty Knight, and is that bald woman Moondragon? – and giving the whole thing an underplayed foreboding atmosphere miles away from things like House of M or Infinite Crisis. Brandon Peterson’s art is a glorious thing, too, offering up a realism that’s not entirely hooked on photo-reference like other Ultimate artists called Greg Land. Here was me thinking that I didn’t dig those Ultimate books so much, but now I’m wondering whether the other trades in this series would be worth looking out for… A surprise Very Good.

VERONICA #167: Guest-starring “the Singing Sensations from Down Under,” the Veronicas, and with a “new single free inside,” according to the cover. This copy, sadly, didn’t have any kind of single anywhere to be found. I suspect that Brian Hibbs is keeping them all for himself. The cover for this comic in general kind of freaks me out: It’s got Veronica – the cartoon one – and the Veronicas, the band, and behind them, Archie grinning like a creep, “Wow! Three Veronicas? It must be my birthday!” Oh, Archie. I didn’t need to hear that. For those who don’t pay attention to news about Archie comics or Singing Sensations from Down Under, the Veronicas, who are a real life band named after the title character of this comic, were sued at some point by Archie Comics for infringing copyright, before the case was settled out of court. Apparently, part of that settlement involved ruining the band’s chances for success by getting them involved in really shitty comics like this, as well as getting to call them Singing Sensations from Down Under, as if Archie’s front cover blubs were written by someone from the ‘60s.

(The indica for the book says that “the individual characters’ names and likenessess are the exclusive trademark of Archie Comic Publications, Inc.” I wonder if that’s an oversight, or if the Veronicas now belong to Archie after the settlement?)

In my younger days, I was a secret fan of Archie books, which seemed harmless and old-fashioned, but kind of sweet nonetheless. Maybe it’s just nostalgia talking, but I remember those stories having plots, unlike the three stories in this issue (First story: Veronica helps the Veronicas get to a concert… And they get there! Second story: Veronica and Midge say that they like to go skating and snowmobiling… And do neither! Third story: Veronica says she’s going shopping… But she’s actually helping disadvantaged kids to learn!). I’d really like to think that this comic seemed so dull because I’m just not the audience that it’s meant for, but… nah. This really is just lazy work. Surely everyone deserves stories that have some story to them, after all. Being used to Dan DeCarlo’s Archie work, the current art team of Dan Parent and Jim Amash seems to be lacking as well, with every character seeming to be more flat and generic than I left them. Archie comics have never really been at the cutting edge of comics – I’m not sure that they were even at the cutting edge of comics aimed at kids, for that matter – but they were definitely much better than this, once upon a time. Overall, pretty Awful, really.

X-MEN: THE 198 #1: The fourth sequel to House of M to explore the aftermath of “M-Day” (behind the Decimation one-shot, Son of M, and Generation M), and by this point, I give up. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have all of these stories be told in one title, preferrably one of the core X-Men books? This series, which shares a writer with Son of M and a concept – what happened to the other mutants in the wake of losing their powers? – with Generation M (Yes, I know that this book focuses on the mutants that still have their powers, and Generation M on the mutants that don’t. But still, it’s the same basic idea, and one that probably would’ve been stronger if each group’s story could be contrasted with the other), has no real reason to exist, and that vapidity is at the heart of this introductory issue. Minor characters get into trouble, sentinels attack, and I lose interest and wonder how many new series an event that was meant to reduce the number of mutants can spin off, instead. Crap, with special mentions for the eyecatching cover by Juan Doe and the ugly interior art by Jim Muinz.

See what I mean about it being a weak week? And that’s without my again complaining about what’s become of JLA, which I’m skipping because I did that last week and there’re only so many times that you can say “Really, it’s barely professional editorially-directed filler” before it gets boring. PICK OF THE WEEK is Ultimate Extinction, the book that makes me reconsider how dumb an idea Ultimate Galactus is, and PICK OF THE WEAK is Veronica, because it makes me sad in my comics lovin’ heart. Give the book to Bryan Lee O’Malley and Cameron Stewart, tell them to make comics for teenage girls and see what happens, says I.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, because the TRADE OF THE WEEK is Essential Avengers Volume 5, and it is a thing of wonder. Roy Thomas in his prime starts off the collection, before giving way to Steve Englehart, who brings the X-Men, the Defenders, and Don Heck along for the ride. These are comics so good that they’ll make you want to talk like Stan Lee for days afterwards. 500+ pages of 1970s Marvel Madness for less than $20, effendi! Nuff Said!

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