Thursday, August 25, 2016

Trade Weight: Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol 1

2016, Marvel

Within seconds of turning* to the first page of the Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! trade, I thought I had made a huge** mistake.  Brittany L. Williams' art is just... so ... erm ... for girls.  I don't mean that disparagingly.  I don't mean in any way it's bad.  I just mean it looks more like art coming out of a Monster High early readers book or one of the Rainbow Magic fairy books (with a 7-year-old daughter, I've seen my fair share of both of those) than standard superhero fare.  It looks very much like something meant to appeal to a younger, female audience, not to a 40-year-old dad still obsessed with recapturing his youth in paper and plastic***.  And you know what, I think that's the point of Williams' art, and Kate Leth's stories.  They're decidedly not constructed to appeal to the standard 40-something, hasn't-grown-up, male demographic.  I mean the chibi Hellcat that pops up as a stylistic device for emotional emphasis makes my head throb in its non-sequitur-ness, yet another telltale sign this just wasn't meant for me.

And yet, I flipping loved this book, far more than I think I should.  My only exposure to the character was on Season 1 of Jessica Jones, and that character's not even named the same (she goes by Trish in the show), and the don't share the same career (or lack thereof, Trish in the show is a radio host, Patsy here is largely unemployed/self-employed), and in the show Trish is not a costumed least not yet.    Ah...crap, I completely forgot about Patsy's role as She-Hulk's best friend in the short-lived, but awesome, She-Hulk series by Charles Soule... erm, nevermind?

The comic opens with Jennifer Walters having to lay Patsy off as her P.I., since things are slow.  Patsy has dreams of starting an employment agency for people with special abilities who can't find other work, partly as a preventative measure to keep them from crime.  Leth also deals with the fact that Patsy was dead for a while and had once married Damon Hellstrom, son of Satan.  It creates this curiously deep backstory that isn't even the most interesting part of her past.  No, that falls to the fact that Patsy was once the star of an Archie-style teen romance comic named after her, created by her mother.  Her mother died and left the intellectual property in the hands of Patsy's best frienemy, Hedy, who has resurrected the comic much to Patsy's chagrin.

Patsy Walker's origins in comics date as far back as 1944, and until the 1970's she was only ever a romance comic character, so it's a delicious bit of meta-fiction, somewhat borrowing from the "It's Patsy" teen sitcom backstory for Trish on Jessica Jones.  There's a whole gaggle of weirdness to Patsy Walker, Hellcat, but it comes together in a satisfying manner.  It affects much of the tone of a teen romance/comedy comic, but with superhero flourishes, and even some not all that mature legal drama. 

What wins it over, 100%, is Patsy herself.  She's a fish out of water in her own life.  Having been dead for some time, she's missed out on a lot, and certain technologies are just beyond her grasp.  There's a dash of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in that, which only makes her more endearing, especially given Kimmy Schmidt's rage issues in Season 2 of that show.

I'm not sure Patsy Walker, Hellcat will win over the dadbod crowd in droves, but there's no reason she can't.  The book features guest shots from Dr. Strange, Howard the Duck, She-Hulk, Valkyrie, and Jessica Jones (among others), so it uses the larger Marvel U in its own ways (just like it's big sister comic Unbeatable Squirrel Girl).   I certainly need to get my daughter onto this though.  I think she'd love it, perhaps even more than I do.  I love that this exists, and that Marvel's line up of titles has become so varied in style and tone and character.  

*when it's a digital comic, is it really "turning" at that point?
** by huge, I mean incredibly minor, or nominal.  This is what we in the blogging biz call "hyperbole", sometimes melodrama.
*** eg. comics and toys

Friday, August 5, 2016

Trade Weight: The New Avengers Vol 1: Everything Is New

Trade Weight is a quick look at the heavy stacks of trade paperbacks (graphic novels, etc) that were purchased with excitement but left on the shelf, unconsumed for too long.

2015 - Marvel

The New Av... ugh. UGH!
Ugh ugh ugh.

I can hardly even talk about this trade without...ugh!

It's not good.  It's so not good.
It pains me that Squirrel Girl is in this, because I want to read anything with Squirrel Girl because Squirrel Girl makes everything awesome.  Except that she doesn't here, nothing makes this awesome.  There is nothing awesome here.

I've read some of Al Ewing's work before and he's a solid writer.  He gets superhero comics and the craft of writing them.  But New Avengers is...just...ugh.

There's no character development here over six issues, and no team building.  I can barely even recall off the top of my head who is on the team.  Is Deadpool in this one?  I don't think so.  Squirrel Girl, and uh... White Tiger, and ...uh... the new(ish) young Power Man (whose powers I'm still baffled by), and Wiccan (who gets called out on appropriating a religion he doesn't believe in for his name) and Hulkling, and erm...Songbird?  Is that her name?  All led by Sunspot from the New Mutants except he's not Sunspot anymore, just a guy in a suit who now owns A.I.M. and has them working for the good guys but in international waters. 

Why is Squirrel Girl on this team?  It doesn't make any sense.  Why is anyone on this team?  None of it makes sense.  There's no reason for any of these people to be here.  Except Hawkeye, they give him a reason to be there.

Ewing has brought back The Maker, aka the Ultimate Universe's evil Reed Richards as the main nemesis of the book.  Why?  After Secret Wars hasn't the Ultimate Universe blinked out of existence?  This makes no sense then.  Even if it didn't, Ultimate Reed Richards wasn't a teeth-gnashing supervillain, at least not like he's portrayed here, which is as a teeth-gnashing supervillain. 

Storylines are set-up, but there's no teasing them out.  In the first couple of issues there's this thing turning people into crystal-headed things... which is acceptably comic-book ridiculous.  It's up to the A.I.M. team to rescue the New Avengers with super-science, thus establishing a few members of A.I.M. as supporting players.

Then, Hulking is stolen, whisked out into space and made King of the Skrulls or something, and then immediately fights some Cthulhu-esque demon from multiple timelines prior.  The demon is easily defeated (for some reason the New Avengers show up when they're not all that necessary) but it escapes into Wiccan and takes over the world like 30 years from now.  You would think the reveal that Wiccan is a traitor in their midst would be a long-game for Ewing, something to play out in, say, year 2 of the book, but no...issue 3 finds a team of Future Avengers traveling back in time to kill Wiccan and save the day.  Things don't go down exactly like that but it completely sidesteps any real drama and launches into an unwarranted (and unspecific) XX-years-later Avengers that gets better team and character development than the regular one.  In the end Wiccan excises the demon and changes his name, because that's what constitutes character growth in this series.  A name change.

There was a second story in this bit but I've forgotten it already.  This book is eminently forgettable, and utterly frustrating.  The art from Paco Medina isn't terrible, but it doesn't appeal to me at all.  In particular his Squirrel Girl (and Tippy-toe) are kind of exaggerated abominations (in fact, his figure work is often nothing but exaggerated abominations).

New Avengers, as a thing that exists, doesn't really make a lot of sense.  It's got a few refugees from Ewing's Mighty Avengers, members of the Young Avengers, an exile from Thunderbolts, a New Mutant and Hawkeye.  But this isn't a Young Avengers team, because not everyone is young...just like on the All-New, All Different Avengers, which sees all the premiere legacy characters coming together: New Thor, New Cap, Miles Morales, new Ms. Marvel, kid Nova... that team makes sense.  This one seems like castaway city with no real driving purpose except to have as many Avengers books out as possible to capitalize upon movie success.

Trade Weight: Thor: God of Thunder Vol. 2: Godbomb

Trade Weight is a quick look at the heavy stacks of trade paperbacks (graphic novels, etc) that were purchased with excitement but left on the shelf, unconsumed for too long. 
2013 - Marvel

"The God Butcher", volume 1 of Thor: God of Thunder, was so very, very epic that, in waiting to retrieve the next volume from my father-in-law, I began to have doubts that it could follow through.  Well, gods-damn does it ever follow through.  I don't know that I've ever been so satisfied by a story arc as I was with this one.  By the end I was quite handily satiated.  I didn't want more Thor, despite having a mammoth collection of issues 12-25 beside me.  I didn't feel I needed it.  There wasn't anything that more Thor could deliver that would improve upon what the one-two knockout punch of "The God Butcher" and "Godbomb" delivered.  I would be quite happy to never read another Thor story again, thank you very much.  This really does seem like the be-all/end-all for what can and should be done with the character.  It creates such a large myth, such a grand legend that anything further would just dilute its grandeur, its greatness.  This 11-issue arc is, hands down, a masterpiece of comics.  Jason Aaron achieves a meaningful story for Thor but gives Gorr, the villain of the piece, both the motivation and the means for accomplishing his vile mission.  The scale is epic, it's at once fantasy, science-fiction, mythology, horror, time-travel, and, in no small way, faith-based storytelling (it's just not sticking to one faith here).  Esad Ribic's lavish art with exquisite detailing, gorgeous landscapes, and powerful figure work is cinematic and yet something that can only be done in comics.  It wouldn't be nearly what it is without the stunning color work from Ive Svorcina.  Between Ribic's shading and Svorcina's digital washes, there's an etherial quality to this that stikes exactly the right tone... not doing too much, particularly with backgrounds, letting the power of the figures tell the story, and in some cases, via only hints, letting the reader's imagination flesh out the setting.  It's all so potently unforgettable...and also, given how utterly brutal a story it is, one that will not be replicated into another medium.

If I have disappointment, it's in the fact that "Godbomb" as a concept didn't live up to what I was picturing in my mind.  Aaron and Ribic kept the story tighter and more personal, where as I was expecting something far larger and messier (which while terribly cool, would have ultimately been far less satisfying).  But even in this extremely minor disappointment can't minutely tarnish this awesome work.

Trade Weight: Hawkeye Vol 4 & 5

Trade Weight is a quick look at the heavy stacks of trade paperbacks (graphic novels, etc) that were purchased with excitement but left on the shelf, unconsumed for too long. 

Hawkeye vol 4: Rio Bravo, 2015, Marvel
Hawkeye vol 5: All-New Hawkeye, 2015, Marvel

If I remember correctly, the All-New Hawkeye series had started before Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye run had ended.  Marvel was at least committed to letting Fraction and Aja finish up their character-redefining run, but at the same time weren't willing to wait any longer in getting a new Hawkeye series out as part of their "All-New" initiative.

AJA's cover game is on point
It is true, Fraction and Aja's take of the character has become rather beloved by a new set of fans.  In their hands Clint Barton has become a bit of a joke, the unlikeliest Avenger, a not-altogether competent hero (or person, for that matter), to the point that he is almost completely made up of flaws.  He's a relatable characters for these reasons.  He doesn't have all the answers, and most of the time doesn't even know what questions to ask, never mind ask the wrong ones.  Pre-existing fans of Hawkeye kind of hate this run for these very reasons.  Barton doesn't come out of this series looking particularly rosy.  In fact, his not-a-sidekick, Kate Bishop, for all her family money and spoiled-rich attitude, often acts like the senior member of the duo.  Bishop, despite being so young, seems to have her shit together, and Barton is practically her charity case at this point.

This fourth, and final, trade of the Fraction/Aja run collects a hodgepodge of issues (12-13, 15, 17, 19, and 21-22).  The reason it would seem is because volume 3 filled those gaps with the alternating Kate Bishop-goes-to-L.A.-with-Pizza Dog story.  Thankfully it works and there's no real bleed between the two arcs, until Kate's return late in the story.  This trade closes out Hawkeye's feud with the Russian gangster-bros, reintroduces Clint's shifty brother Barney, and leaves a juicy plot thread dangling that doesn't look like it gets resolved.

Fact of the matter is, it looks like Jeff Lemire and Ramon Pérez weren't given a lot of insight into the story Fraction was implying could continue, and so the All-New team just went in a different direction.  The new series opens away from the cozy confines of Hawkeye's run-down tenement building for bigger adventures, Hawkeyes Barton and Bishop align with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Maria Hill to take on Hydra, but when Kate finds the secret Hydra weapons experiment is a trio of mutated kids she goes rogue and attempts to save them from both of the opposing agencies. 
...but so is Pérez's

What Lemire and Pérez manage is to continue with much of the dynamic Fraction and Aja managed to set up, and yet veer onto a different course with it.  Barton and Bishop maintain much of the same dynamic, and in the latter stages they wind up back at Barton's tenement building so it does share some consistency.  Lemire's own particular style comes out with a healthy investment in Barton's backstory, flashing back to Clint's childhood with Barney, escaping from foster care to the circus and both learning a whole new set of skills. 

Pérez likewise both upholds some of Aja's fun quirks, and tosses in more than a few of his own.  For instance Perez illustrates the flashbacks in a loose, unframed watercolor wash, while the present day story is Aja-style hard, clean lines with Ian Herring working with mostly solid color base.  It creates for a very stark, yet quite attractive contrasting compliment of sequential storytelling.  Pérez's style changes yet again at the very end when the book jumps a couple decades into the future.  The lines are less rigid and scratchier, while Herring's colours take on a hybrid tone of flatness and a Perez's flashback wash.  It's clever to distinguish the eras this way, and effective.

I wasn't expecting Lemire and Pérez to compete with their predecessor's run.  I liked that run quite a bit.  Yet, there's a lot of heart in All-New Hawkeye, more than a few gut punches before the end, which is left on a hell of a tantalizing cliffhanger.  Lemire and Perez seem invested, ready to give it their all and make something complimentary and unique.  Mission accomplished.  Bring on Volume 2.  (volume 2 is out and available)

Trade Weight: Morning Glories Vol. 8 & 9

Trade Weight is a quick look at the heavy stacks of trade paperbacks (graphic novels, etc) that were purchased with excitement but left on the shelf, unconsumed for too long. 

2015, Image Comics

Morning Glories is a frustrating read in trade paperback.  Its dense cast, intricate plotting, and time-hopping story structure make it a challenge to pick up on its many, many story threads with six months' wait between releases (at least).  Not to mention that each issue centers on a single character, ala Lost, but with such an immense cast we may not pick up on a particular thread until 2 trades following.  It's an engrossing world but it's very hard to track without being regularly invested.  I'm fairly certain at this point I just need to wait until Nick Spencer wraps this sucker up and approach it fresh, from the beginning.  But then I said the same thing about The Invisibles and I've still yet to reread it (15 years later).  The "to read" backlog is deep.