Marvel, Journey Into Mystery #622-629, 626.1, written by Kieron Gillen and Rob Rodi, drawn by Doug Braithwaite, Pasqual Ferry, Rich Elson, Whilce Portacio, 2011
Nine issues seems like quite a long time for a series to tie into an event. In this case, Journey Into Mystery fits into Fear Itself so well that its forgivable—perhaps even appropriate! I never did read Fear Itself (and from what I hear I’m not missing out) but I heard nothing but good things about JiM. I didn’t expect to find these issues in the $1 bins, so as soon as they reared their beauteous heads I grabbed a hold of each and every one. I’ve been waiting three years to read these books for cheap—I’m happy to report that they have not let me down.
I like Thor and his family of books, but I’m very sparsely invested in the mythos. I got hooked on the wonderful surprise that was Thor: The Mighty Avenger and I enjoy every little piece of Walt Simonson’s run I can pick up, but I still feel like a relative stranger to Asgard. I’ve always considered Loki one of the more interesting villains (his role in Earth X—game changing) but again I’m no expert. This book didn’t interest me when it first hit shelves and I can honestly say I’ve only purchased it based on hype. That’s a dangerous thing.
First way to sell someone on an unfamiliar book: great art. With Doug Braithwaite (and colourist extraordinaire Ulises Arreola), Marvel knew what they were doing. This is exactly how a Viking fantasy book should look. The lack of defining inks, the wispy pencil strokes and the palatable colour scheme all come together to make this a particularly dark, dangerous, breathtaking read. With issue 626.1 Pasqual Ferry tries his hand and gives us a very nice, almost Don Bluth looking issue. It’s a nice change of pace and I always appreciate a good Ferry book. Rich Elson takes over after that and we’re given a more traditional, almost Olivier Coipel look, but it’s still very tight and professional—and dare I say it again, appropriate! Whilce Portacio draws the last two chapters of this story arc and while his work is still impressive, it almost pales in comparison to Braithwaite’s issues. The colouring ties Portacio’s work nicely into the defined style of the earlier issues and the layouts are still terrific, but it’s still a little rough around the edges.
The art lived up to the hype, no question. But the story? Thankfully it too lived up to my expectations. I like Kieron Gillen now and then; he rocked Beta Ray Bill and S.W.O.R.D. but Phonogram wasn’t for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect (critical praise aside) so I was delighted when, after only one issue, I was chomping at the bit to tear through the rest of these issues. Gillen writes this as pure fantasy, not a cape book. There’s a heavy storybook charm to everything—it’s as it should be, magical. His dialogue is as good as it’s ever been and the plot is everything I hoped it would be. Like everyone else who read these issues, my appreciation for the character of Loki has increased tenfold. There’s even a “mystery”, which is both enticing and for a book called Journey Into Mystery—you guessed it, appropriate.
Forget that this book is a tie-in to Fear Itself. It’s deeply entrenched in that event, but can be read on its own without missing a step. This is the cleverly plotted, perfectly scripted, exquisitely drawn (and coloured!) title that Marvel didn’t know they needed. I didn’t know I needed it either, but now I feel I must collect the entire run. Here’s hoping the rest is as good as this first bit!
DC, Legion of Superheroes #1, 2, 7, 10, 14, 20, written by Keith Giffen and Tom & Mary Bierbaum, drawn by Keith Giffen, 1989-1991
I may feel like a stranger in the world of Thor, but amongst the Legion of Superheroes I’m completely in the dark. Not only am I unfamiliar with the team and their history, I feel their convoluted reboots, threeboots and “retroboots” make for a scary reading experience. I mean, for a guy who picks up series on the cheap, starting wherever and finishing wherever, continuity is rather important. Jumping into a series (especially one with history like LoSH) uneducated may seem daunting, but I’m usually up to the challenge. Here I only have a handful of issues—almost none are sequential, and I’m attempting to go in blind? It was as crazy as it sounds.
Here’s my thought process:
Look, it’s issue 1 of Legion of Superheroes, that famous “Five Years Later” story. Give it a look!
Yeah, but look at the issue numbers… 1, 2, 7, 10… I’ll never be able to follow.
Not with that attitude!
But I know nothing about the Legion, and they have a pretty tricky history don’t they?
This is…uh… pre Zero Hour? It’s Post-Crisis, I know that much. It’s… uh… it’s plotted and drawn by Keith Giffen! You love that guy!
That’s true, I do trust Giffen. The Bierbaums are good scripters too. And it is issue 1. I suppose…
That’s the spirit! Dive in! You’ll catch on!
So I did. Things were just as confusing as I thought they’d be, but eventually, things got surprisingly enjoyable. Issue 1 didn’t do anything for me. The first problem: the characters are all referred to by their real names, not their Legion names. I don’t know my Rokks from my Jans, sorry. The next problem: everyone looked very similar. Sure, Chameleon Boy (or Cham, or Reep, or Daggle, I dunno) and Brainiac 5 were easy to spot, but the rest of the cast was hard to pinpoint. Also, I suspect this is an awful place for those uninitiated to start at. There are also huge text pieces bookending many issues. They provide little information and aren’t always worth the effort.
That being said, I did eventually get used to things. With a little research I was able to make out who was who most of the time, no thanks to Giffen’s art. Characters became clearer, plots came together and by the time I finished issue 20 I was enjoying myself quite a bit. Reading 6 out of 20 issues of a very perplexing comic book series is not a lost cause after all.
So let’s talk story. Something must have happened and the Legion disbanded. I didn’t read issues prior to this series launch, so I don’t know (and it wasn’t mostly glossed over in these issues). Either way, they are all grown up and have their own things going on. Slowly but surely, circumstances bring pieces of the team back together. Oh, and the Dominators have secretly taken over Earth via a puppet government and hired space-pirate Roxxas to eliminate Legion members before they can find out. This is the main plot, but it’s the little things that make it count.
My favourite story, by far, was issue 14. Here we follow Matter Eater Lad (now a cosmic senator) and his two chums (I can only assume they are past Legionnaires as well) as they are captured by an angry, devil-like king named Evillo. Apparently, his wives are huge fans of MEL and they wanted to meet him. Unfortunately, MEL soon discovers Evillo’s Realm of Darkness and things go south fast. It’s a tale told in a single issue and it’s filled with Giffen’s signature humour, as wonderfully scripted by the Bierbaums. I knew nothing about the characters, villains or history, and yet I found this issue extremely amusing. I hope to find more issues like this when I set out to fill in the holes.
So the writing is good, if not a tad presumptuous. It balances levity with heartbreak nicely, but also assumes you know everything about the Legion. I can live with that. The art might be even less accessible.
Keith Giffen is a man of many styles, but this book feels like his most original territory (though some would argue it is far from unique). I love the choppy, angular, hyper-detailed, super colourful nature of everything here, but it is all very cramped. Giffen shows his obsession with the 9 panel page here in spades, very rarely deviating from the 3×3 formula. It’s frustrating—the art is awesome and yet so strictly contained. There are times (many times, in fact) when action is unclear, faces are inked over and even setting is somewhat assumed. There’s a lot to appreciate here but Giffen limits himself and the work is worse for it.
If you’re deciding to tackle the Legion for the first time, there must be better places to start than this. There’s a great story here and plenty of interesting storytelling tools on display, but as a package it can be equal parts brilliant adventure book and challenging mess. I suggest giving these books a chance, but hope that you find more sequential issues than I did.
Dynamite, Kirby Genesis #0, 2, 3, 4, written by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, art by Jack Herbert and Alex Ross, 2011
Jack Kirby is my favourite creator in comics. It sounds typical, clichéd, almost uninspired—but it’s true. He ain’t called The King for nothin’!
I have a soft spot for Kirby’s lesser known books too. OMAC, Machine Man, Justice Inc.—I’m happy to have them all. I also own quite a few Captain Victory issues and the entire revival line Topps came out with in the 90s. The man was simply oozing with original creations, so it’s always nice to see able hands revive them now that the King cannot.
Again, I’ve waited 3 years for this series to make its way into the bargain bins. Unlike JiM I was unsure about the quality here. Kurt Busiek is a great writer, Alex Ross is a great painter and Jack Herbert (though a relative newcomer to me) sure seems to know what he’s doing. My problem was: how could they possibly combine all of these Kirby creations into a single story? That remains this series main issue.
To describe this story would be a disservice. Essentially, all of Kirby’s creations slam into Earth at the same time. Silver Star makes his resurgence, Night Glider and her crew are discovered underground, Captain Victory sets down from the stars and many, many others pop up all over the place. At first it’s quite overwhelming, but eventually things start to come together. By issue 4 we have a huge cast of heroes, another huge cast of villains and multiple plotlines to keep track of. There is a lot of comic book here and I’m both surprised and impressed. These days, it seems we are getting less and less plot for our money. Here, we get tons. It’s a lot to keep track of, but it’s worth it.
The art does a lot to keep everything organized. Herbert takes most of the art duties and proves to be quite the impressive penciller. His figure work is much better than I was expecting. Perhaps it’s the shading or the colours, but I feel Herbert’s pencils alone look much better than the finished product. Such is par for the course with Dynamite, sadly. Ross also sneaks his paintings into certain spots in the book and they are, obviously, mesmerizing. The two artists work very well together and the book is an impressive packaged—I’d just like to see what another colourist would look like over Herbert’s work.
Overall, I’m very happy to be reading the adventures of these classic Kirby creations again—even the ones that never saw print before! They are handled with care and though things seem rather messy at times, this is an enjoyable read that you should, at the very least, try to pick up for cheap.
Marvel, Nova #5, 7, 8, 9, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, drawn by Sean Chen, Brian Denham and Wellington Alves, 2007-2008
After watching Guardians of the Galaxy I found myself in the mood for some cosmic Marvel. I loved Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s GotG series but never gave their Nova a shot. Now seemed like the time.
Starting with issue 5, we begin right in the middle of the Annihilation: Conquest storyline. The Phalanx have attacked, Nova is out cold and a Kree woman has taken his powers to defend his injured, near-death corpse. It’s cosmic, it’s cool, it’s everything I expected from a DnA collaboration. It also makes me want to go and grab Annihilation: Conquest. I mean, the original Annihilation was probably my favourite Marvel event book (if you can call it that) ever. I really need to read Conquest, that much is clear.
After the Phalanx are done with, Nova takes a detour and introduces us to the telepathic space dog Cosmo and the empty Celestial head known as Knowhere. I loved both concepts in GotG so it was great to finally see their origins. We’re treated to a nice, brisk yet well planned two issue arc revolving around an evil that had attacked Knowhere and things wrap up in due time. Nothing gets drawn out, nothing loses steam. DnA know how to pace a book!
The art starts with Sean Chen and Brian Denham swapping duties. Their work is just fine and sews together seamlessly. There isn’t a single out of place picture or funny looking panel. I don’t know why Sean Chen gets such a bad rap, I like him. Just fine! Wellington Alves takes over and things continue to look good. There’s no super special, must see art in these pages but the book is clean, clear and drawn with skill.
If you’re into Marvel’s cosmic neck of the woods, Nova is a great read. If you haven’t tried it yet, go find it cheap. It’s worth it!