Sunday, May 30, 2010

Comics! Two new teams!

Comics this week included the start of two new teams from Marvel Comics – a company which has learned that nothing sells like excess and can now be counted upon to give us multiple X-Men teams, multiple Spider-Man teams, about 100 different upcoming graphic novels of the various splinters of “Dark Reign,” and, somewhat belatedly, about half a dozen new post-“Dark Reign” super-teams.

The first of these new teams isn’t a first issue – it’s just business as usual for “Thunderbolts” (issue #144! When did that happen? Can there really be that many virgins out there with disposable income?), a book built on the idea of super-villains forming a super-hero team for one reason or another (to dupe the public, to redeem their souls, etc). In the wake of “Dark Reign” and the downfall of Norman Osborn, a new team of Thunderbolts is formed in this issue under the leadership of good guy Luke Cage, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. Of course, I just-in-general like the way Marvel has been increasing its usage of Cage, but the idea of putting him in charge of a new team – at least as written by Jeff Parker (with surprisingly retro art by Ken Walker)– really works.

Of course, the main draw of any new team book is the team itself, the picks, the potential chemistry. That draw is all the more dramatic when the team in question is composed mostly of villains or quasi-villains, most of whom certainly aren’t trustworthy. This time around there are some characters I barely recognize – Mach V, Ghost, Songbird (I know the last only from the epic “Avengers Forever” – no idea what’s her deal in normal continuity), Moonstone, Crossbones – although the way Parker writes them makes me at least curious to know more. The team has its resident in-house genius (in this case Hank Pym) and at least two surprising additions that I, for one, didn’t see coming: the Juggernaut, here portrayed as physically immense and pretty openly threatening (in the ‘real world,’ there’s simply no way Luke Cage would allow onto his team a grinning schemer with Hulk-level strength, but hey …), and … the Man-Thing, a non-sentient muck-monster who can’t speak, can’t understand speech, and has virtually no powers to speak of. Not exactly a team player (although he’s been on a team before! I may be the only person here old enough to remember that, however).

Add such wrinkles to the mix and throw in a genuinely didn’t-see-it-coming cliffhanger ending, and I’m certainly hooked enough to read the next issue.

The second new team really is new: a freshly not-dead Steve Rogers, given a free hand by the President, forms a “Secret Avengers” team meant for covert operations and strategic pre-emptive strikes at the bad guys, sort of a Black Ops version of the higher-profile Avengers. It’s a great idea (although ironically enough, the premise for it given in this issue – which kicks off Marvel’s new “Heroic Age” – is that the world in the 21st century has grown so rotten and un-heroic that such a team is necessary), and it’s a premise obviously being enjoyed by writer Ed Brubaker and “Dark Avengers” artist Mike Deodato (when “Dark Avengers” came to its end, I really hoped Marvel would find another team-book to put Deodato on … the fact that it goes right on being the Avengers is all the sweeter).

And again, the main point is the roll-call. In this case it’s Steve Rogers – dressed in a kind of generic-superhero suit and not carrying his famous Captain America shield (or even a really, really tough duplicate, which is the least you’d think he’d do, considering that his entire fighting style is built around having the thing on one arm) – and a team of Marvel second-and third-stringers: Moon Knight, a kid in Hank Pym’s old Ant-Man get-up, Jim Rhodes and the Black Widow (from this summer’s “Iron Man 2”), the Beast from the X-Men (doing duty here as the requisite in-house genius), Nova, and … in another surprise move I find fascinating, the Valkyrie, an Asgardian warrior-woman and long-time criminally underused member of the Defenders (the Marvel group the Secret Avengers most closely resembles, naturally) – it’ll be interesting to see how Brubaker develops her character.

It was a little weird, seeing a Marvel team-book with no marquee names at all – I assume these characters were chosen by Brubaker specifically on the condition that he could mess around with them to a greater degree than he could with the usual roster of Avengers, and I’ll be looking forward to that in the next issue. This issue also ends with a heck of a cliffhanger, so I’ll definitely be around next time.

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