Agents Of Atlas, written by Jeff Parker, art by Leonard Kirk
Proof you can make a great comic out of anything. What Jeff Parker did here was take some of the worst comics ever published (helpfully included here, for those who don’t believe me) and make something amazing out of it. The Marvel Universe has some truly weird, dark corners for those who care to look for them, and the light gets shed on more than a few of them here. Kudos to Parker for making an actual story out of this stuff, rather than the point-and-laugh freakshow it could have been–and when there is humor, it’s of the “with, not at” variety. Nice artwork, too, way better than anything in the old stories reprinted here. My only gripe is the contrived, abrupt ending, which leaves me wondering if the series got cut short.
Invaders Classic vol. 1, written by Roy Thomas, various artists
Yet more dark, weird corners, though not near so well-executed. This book is pretty uniformly terrible, in both writing (albeit still with the nice edge of interpersonal tension that was Marvel’s stock in trade at the time) and art. The only interesting part, to me at least, is the formation of a whole-new team from some of the Golden Age’s most obscure characters, most of whom saw their books last two issues at the absolute maximum. And when I say “obscure”, I mean “even I haven’t heard of most of them” (who the heck is Blue Diamond?). The only one of these guys who’s in any way memorable or remembered is The Whizzer, notable in that he was a complete joke even at the time of his creation, due both to his name and his origin (apparently, getting a blood transfusion from a mongoose means being able to tap into the Speed Force). It’s pretty bad when Stan Lee won’t take credit for your creation. This book also establishes that those earliest Simon/Kirby Captain America stories were comic books even within the MU; I can’t figure out whether or not that’s meant as an insult. Probably not, in that it does sorta-kinda make those comics make sense. Still, Marvel put out way, way better stuff in the Silver Age than what’s in this compilation, for which we can all give thanks.
The Sixth Gun Book 3: Bound, written by Cullen Bunn, art by Brian Hurtt
This series doesn’t reinvent any wheels, but that’s hardly a point against it. There’s nothing wrong with simply being a good comic, and that’s precisely what Bunn and Hurtt have to offer here. The basic impression I get from The Sixth Gun is one of “hey, what if all those flashy big-budget action movies had, you know, actual characters?” Well, they’d be even more awesome, is what. Credit due, as well, that the personalities stand out so strongly in such a fast-paced book–few series seem to just breeze by like this. I always end up wanting more, which is a pretty good problem to have when you think about it.
Batman: Odyssey, by Neal Adams
Ho. Ly. Crap. Now, some of you might think I’m about to say this comic is a piece of crap not worthy of your attention. Those people are fools and should be ridiculed as such. This comic being a piece of crap is precisely why it deserves your attention. This is, no joke, the single most entertaining book I read all week. Each copy of this book should bear a warning sticker reading “Warning: No Part Of This Series Makes Any Sense Whatsoever. And It Is Glorious”. This is, after all, the series where each issue’s opening recap is delivered by a shirtless, very hirsute Bruce Wayne, who speaks directly to the reader. Eventually, he puts on a Green Lantern T-shirt, and he doesn’t even like that dude. Reading this, it is both absolutely understandable and an absolute travesty that Neal Adams hasn’t been given a chance to write a Batman comic before now. Adams takes what could be a relatively straightforward story and makes it absolutely cuckoo-bananas–not many League of Assassins storylines necessitate trips to subterranean jungles populated by cavemen and evolved dinosaurs, after all. Adams’s dialogue is absolutely nightmarish, prone to textwalls of nonsensical babble and full of jokes only he gets. It’s like they let a crazy homeless person write a Batman comic. Or the Ultimate Warrior. Even better, I get the impression Adams intended all this to be taken at face value, as he went on to write a series for Dark Horse Presents, Blood, that makes even less sense. You end up not even minding it’s absolutely grueling to read, nor that it’s way too long (thirteen issues, and the actual “Odyssey” doesn’t even begin until halfway through). My one gripe is that Adams seems to be slowly forgetting how to draw–the book’s nicely put together compositionally speaking, but the actual art is overwrought and blobby.
Daredevil: Ultimate Collection vol. 1, written by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Alex Maleev and others
I seem to have this huge blind-spot when it comes to Brian Michael Bendis. I realize he’s very popular, and I haven’t outright hated anything of his I’ve read, but none of it has made a fan of me either. Powers didn’t, Torso didn’t, House of M certainly didn’t, and so on and so forth. This book isn’t doing the trick, either, but it comes close–close enough that I plan on reading subsequent volumes, in fact. It’s clear Bendis excels at a certain sort of story, that being gritty, street-level crime dramas, and Daredevil, as a character, affords plenty of opportunities to tell precisely that kind of tale. The storylines presented here by and large keep Daredevil on the sidelines to focus on Matt Murdock, which is both a good and bad thing–Murdock is a complex, believably tormented character who Bendis brings to life quite well, but in pushing superheroics largely to the wayside he falls into the “too cool for the room” trap. Of the stories on tap, my personal favorite would be Murdock defending a wrongfully-accused C-list superhero in court, which ends in the single most depressing way imaginable. Waid’s run this isn’t, but this book highlight Bendis’ strengths even as it exposes his weaknesses, chiefly his insistence on dragging out a plot way too long, often in the dumbest way possible (“I’m going to spend millions of dollars on a lawsuit even I know I have no chance of winning! How did I get rich again?”).
Usagi Yojimbo vol. 19: Fathers And Sons, by Stan Sakai
I leave you today with one of my standbys, a series I can always count on to be nothing short of excellent. This book, which brings the “Usagi and Jotaro” arc to a close, is no exception. I wouldn’t necessarily want Jotaro to become a permanent co-star–which is good, because that’s precisely what doesn’t happen–but I will in future point to him as an example of a kid sidekick done right, his being both non-annoying and useful to have around in a fight. As a result, his parting from Usagi is genuinely sad, and proves that being fearless and cowardly aren’t mutually exclusive. Indeed, while there’s plenty of bandits to be carved through in this book, there’s also no shortage of heartstring-tugging, not least being the story that points out how being a samurai isn’t all swordfights; in fact, mostly it’s just a pain in the ass. Not to mention financially untenable; when the poorest merchant can potentially be richer than the richest samurai, you know something is wrong here. Awesome as it may seem from a fictional standpoint, placing the warrior class on the top rung of society seldom works out on a long-term basis. One last thing: hey, Stan? Many thanks are in order for not having Usagi lose his swords immediately after saying he hopes he never has to find out what it’s like to be without them. I mean it–what you did instead got the point across way better.