Tuesday, October 10, 2006
comics! Doctor Strange and beyond!
The latest little batch of comics to come across our editorial desk here at stevereads comes courtesy of Elmo, not my nemesis Pepito. And what a batch it was! Unlike Pepito, Elmo very seldom buys crap (we'll pass over Agents of Atlas in diplomatic silence).
The latest issue of '52' features more great pencils by Eddy Barrows (hey! let's find a real good writer - I nominate Elmo himself, but I'd be happy to do it if he isn't interested - and match him with Barrows on a re-re-re-launch of the Legion of Super-Heroes! Wouldn't that be FUN?) and more plot-twists than an Irish Catholic Thanksgiving dinner.
The centerpiece of the issue - and the thing I liked the most about it - was the re-introduction of the character Super-Chief (except, of course, for the unbelievably dorky codename). One of the things I'm liking most about '52' is this trend, this introduction or re-introduction not just of makeweight cyphers and minor characters. '52' is introducing a huge number of new characters to the DC universe, and a very large number of them are characters actually worth keeping (unlike the upshot of 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' ... Harbinger, anyone? a guy whose superpower is strategic panicking? Yeesh). The new, superpowered Steel, the huge crowd of new Teen Titans characters, MOST especially Isis (DC, like Marvel, DESPERATELY needs female super-heroes who are genuine heavyweights, power-wise), and now, um, Super-Chief. These are hugely superior to Marvel's bland and utterly forgettable Sentry character, or any of the innumerable new 'more powerful than anybody EVER' energy-casters cropping up regularly in X-Men (the third Summers brother is SO distinctive, and wasn't there a guy whose head was a star?)
Comic companies always seem to be gun-shy of inventing (or resurrecting) characters who are genuine heavyweights - that's why DC's recent re-invigoration of Black Adam has been so completely refreshing, and for me it's the interest that keeps '52' going.
I should stress in the strongest possible terms that NONE of this praise applies to '52's bone-headed, ill-conceived, ill-executed and utterly disasterous re-creation of Batwoman. The Bat-franchise is over-crowded as it is, with Robin, Nightwing, Huntress, Batgirl, Oracle, and fewkin Jason Todd. Adding a Batwoman - with no tragic past, no Bruce Wayne connection, and, above all, no combat training - just to grab a few headlines is a waste of time somebody down the road is going to have to correct. We can only hope the character - lesbian or otherwise - dies a quick death, but I think the opposite is likely ... a monthly title, more disastrous dilution.
We move from '52' to the latest issue of 'Beyond!' - a little series that's turning out to be just fantastic. Its basic premise, although none of the creative folk involved would admit it, is to MAKE GOOD on all the many, many missed opportunities of the original Beyonder storyline.
One of the ways to make this happen - at least, unless you factor in a good writer, as opposed to Jim Shooter, who's only a good writer when he damn well wants to be, which is virtually never - is to limit the cast, and that's what this mini-series does. Our cast is small and wonderfully mixed.
There's Spider-Man, of course, and the new Kraven the Hunter, a gun-happy new character called the Hood, and an altruistic (and certainly doomed) new hero named Gravity, plus Medusa, Henry Pym, Firebird (amazing how even in a small cast, this character is utterly forgettable ... as in, you literally forget that she was there at all; giving her her own book would be hilarious! Nobody would remember buying it or reading it), Venom, and the Wasp.
There's SO much to recommend this series - the new Deathlock, for instance, or the continued badass emphasis on Medusa (talk about heavyweight female characters), or the way this current issue puts Janet Van Dyne's Wasp in unquestioned charge of how the 'team' tactically advances in a crunch situation. This is entirely right and clear in the existing continuity, wherein the Wasp has led the Avengers two or three dozen times and would naturally be the person who'd take military charge of such a heterogeneous group when it's required.
But as good as that issue was, it wasn't the best of the batch Elmo gave - no, top honors go to the first issue of the new Doctor Strange mini-series 'The Oath.' Written by Brian Vaughan and wonderfully drawn by Marcos Martin.
Reading this issue - Doctor Strange's faithful manservant has a rare disease, and the good doctor will stop at nothing to find a cure - brought to my mind how many great memories I have of this character, throughout his various incarnations. Most especially the great run Gene Colan did on the book back in, what? the early 80s? There are few art treats more reliable than Gene Colan inked by Tom Palmer, and their style worked wonderfully for the character (and let's not forget the doctor's er, well-endowed assistant Clea! How many sidekicks have sex with Ben Franklin? I'm guessing just the one).
This mini-series, even on the strength of this first issue alone, deserves a place in those upper ranks. It's full of clever bits and the aforementioned great artwork, but I think the thing I like most about it is Vaughan's choice to make Stephen Strange's MEDICAL background the fulcrum of the story.
The cover of this issue says it's 1 of 5. I don't think I've read SADDER numbers all week. If Marvel had any creative sense (the ultimate 'What If' storyline!), they get this writer and this artist to do a regular monthly series.
Either way, this is certainly one graphic novel I'll happily re-read.