The New Teen Titans: Games, written by Marv Wolfman, art by George Perez
Development hell seldom, if ever, turns out for the best. Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines are perhaps the best-known examples of this being the case, the end product in no way justifying the wait time. On the comics end of things, I doubt the remainder of All-Star Batman and Robin will prove any better than what’s come before, even should Frank Miller find time in between racist, fear-mongering diatribes to finish the thing. In fact, I’ve noticed those creators with the most trouble sticking to deadlines seldom put out anything worth the wait. Once in a while, however, something neat like this slips through. (It might help that, so far as I know, the book never had a firm release date to begin with.)
I’ve been a fan of the Wolfman/Perez Titans run (a.k.a. “The Good One”) for some time, Perez’s art in particular–he draws fantastic, emotive people who practically breathe on-page, lined out so expertly you even stop noticing the ridiculous hairstyles. Well, let me just say 2010 Perez makes 1980s Perez look like a chump. In no way is he one of those artists who stops trying after a decade and a half or so, their style ossifying into self-parody. Always skilled at composition, Games sees his talent grow to Simonson-level mastery, rightly viewing the prestige format as license to go absolutely nuts. The sheer dynamism of the layouts sells all the crazy havoc going on in this book (such as Titans Tower being literally squished).
Wolfman’s improved as well in the intervening decades; his prose is sparser, less purple than it was when New Titans debuted in 1980. That said, it’s something of a strange read–the rhythm seems a tad, I don’t know, off. At times, Wolfman seems almost to be off in a world of his own, though nowhere near so cuckoo-bananas as anything Neal Adams has ever written. The characterization and interplay of the cast is as essential to the book as ever–even Danny-freaking-Chase holds up pretty well–which is a good thing, as the plot itself is rather predictable (the ending in particular) and wishes to convey an Important Message most of us figured out on a certain crappy morning in 2001. In fact, it’s not entirely clear when this story is supposed to take place time-wise–the costumes and hilarious hair date it to sometime in the mid-1980s, but I seem to be led to believe it’s more or less modern-day. Regardless of these faults, Games succeeds in what it clearly sets out to do–provide a proper send-off to one of the greatest runs in superhero comics.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe
This is a fly-on-the-wall account of the best sort–personal without being lurid, informative without being dry. I always knew Marvel had its share of ups and downs over the decades, but had always been a bit fuzzy on just how many and the circumstances leading up to them. We’ll probably never know the exact, perfect truth–such a thing is basically never attainable anyway–but this is the closest we’ll ever get.
It’s quite a ride, too. I actually kinda have less respect for Stan Lee now. While it’s clear Lee had a far more active hand in Marvel’s Sixties renaissance than many would like to admit, and I’d never dismiss or denigrate that contribution, the book paints a picture of a fellow who became increasingly disinterested and neglectful as the decades wore on, one who stayed at a job he’d rather not do because he didn’t want to give up the paychecks or accolades. The phrase “fiddled while Rome burned” came to mind more than once. The funny thing about this book is how a lot of people held up as wronged parties, such as Jack Kirby and Steve Gerber, just wind up looking tiresome after a while, incapable of getting past their (legitimate, don’t get me wrong) beefs. (No, Kirby did not create Spider-man. Does anyone actually believe that?)
Surprisingly, I came away with rather a bit more respect for Jim Shooter, who turns out not to be the utterly loathsome prick many people who worked for Marvel at the time would have you believe, at least not until the last few months of his EIC stint. The book hammers home just how difficult a job it is being editor-in-chief of Marvel. Next to impossible, in fact. Shooter was better at it than most, fixing a lot of stuff desperately in need of fixing, and being sincere in his desire for reform, but it got to even him after a while–the disaster that was the New Universe spelled the beginning of the end. My impression is that he’s not really a people person, which I can tell you from personal experience is a real issue when you’re half-giant.
The book’s primary focus is on the Shooter era, possibly because it’s the one most in need of airing out and because it has the most living participants willing to talk about it. Sadly, once it’s over with the last third of the book is a relative letdown, content to rehash what we already knew about the period. The ground is, perhaps, still a little too well-trod. The closest we come to revelation is the litigious pissing match between the two (and later three) corporate vultures seeking to feast upon the bankrupt Marvel’s carcass. It’s a little surprising the company exists today at all.
This is required reading for any and all Marvel fans past, present and future. While the end may be a letdown, it still has a strong beginning and middle–which kinda mirrors Marvel itself, now that I think of it. Hmmm.
Punisher War Zone #5, written by Greg Rucka, art by Carmine Di Giandomenico
Two things Big Pun is good at–blasting fools and getting his books cancelled. When Rucka started writing Frank’s exploits, the series started at issue 1. When someone else starts writing them (as a solo series, at least), they will also (presumably) be starting at issue 1. The guy goes through volumes like Tony Stark goes through companies.
While it’s not quite so amazing as the conclusion of PunisherMAX, it’s still a pretty nice send-off for this, the best MU interpretation of the Punisher since Garth Ennis’. In fact, dearly as I love both Ennis runs, I’d argue Rucka does it better. Case in point–this miniseries is all about Frank fighting superheroes, and it’s handled a damn sight better than Ennis ever did. Where Ennis would have dropped all the Avengers’ IQs fifty points, Rucka instead has Frank come by his successes honestly. Even then, it’s a holding action at best–there’s only one way such a conflict is ever going to end, and in no way is that logical conclusion averted. However, it’s still clear Frank is fighting the good fight, as by taking on this awesome task he’s undertaking one of the few truly good deeds of his storied career. I have no idea what Rucka thinks of the various members of the Avengers (though judging by how he writes the character, I wouldn’t mind at all seeing him do a Spider-man run–er, once one or two things get cleared up, that is), but he deserves praise for treating them with some respect, as opposed to the idiotic caricatures Ennis would have gone for. Di Giandomenico acquits himself well, though I still really, REALLY wish Checchetto had drawn this. Its funny–this run was fantastic, and that STILL didn’t afford Greg Rucka an iota of respect or consideration from Marvel. And now he’s apparently done with work-for-hire for the time being. This is why we can’t have nice things.
The Short Life And Happy Times of the Shmoo, by Al Capp
I wish I could’ve met you, Al Capp–now it’s a little late. Li’l Abner is (or at least was, prior to Capp’s defection to the Dark Side) one of those strips I can feel genuinely annoyed wasn’t around for me to read it (I refuse to count that attempted Pogo revival). It was, in its early years at least, quite possibly the most satirical and sarcastic strip ever published–I have literally no idea how it got published in mainstream newspapers. It was like Bloom County, fifty years early and by a factor of ten. Just look at this book. A post-scarcity economy is absolutely what every right-thinking person should strive for, even while you can see while the powers that be would live in terror at the prospect. Of course, there are ethical questions to be raised as to the hypothesis of a society being built upon the collective back of a martyr species, though if said species literally lives for this specific purpose it’d arguably be mean to deny that to them. It puts me in mind of the “Dish of the Day” sequence from The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. Anyway, that’s not even the argument the Shmoos’ opponents are making, instead being fearful of losing the few cents they’d squeeze from this land’s most disadvantaged. In real life, Capp also disliked the idea of the blobby little bastards overtaking his strip, which I can sympathize with. Apparently, the Shmoos were nothing short of a coup in terms of merchandising and cultural exposure, which I was too busy not having been born yet to notice. Some fool even went so far as to go at the Shmoo strips with a chainsaw in a desperate, semi-successful bid to make them into a graphic novel, which doesn’t work especially well. Oh well–at least the whole thing has the benefit of a Harlan Ellison foreword.
Nightwing (New 52) vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes, written by Kyle Higgins, art by Eddy Barrows, Eduardo Pansica, and Geraldo Borges
Yet again I go out on another New 52 book, albeit not quite the low note I was expecting. Indeed, this book is okay. Pretty good, in fact. This book does pretty much everything that could reasonably be expected of a Nightwing book, namely in establishing the character as “Batman with people skills”. Dick Grayson is a nice, likeable guy, something you so rarely see in the DCnU–you can actually see him risking his neck on other peoples’ behalf. There’s some weirdness to be had, sure, namely in how it still takes Grant Morrison’s pre-relaunch run as a given, but considering how awesome that was it’s hardly a negative. There’s also a revelation about Dick’s background which is just…bizarre. I’m not sure how I feel about it–I don’t think it’s terrible, but I can see a lot of people thinking it is. It does tie the series into Scott Snyder’s Batman quite nicely, though. Another bonus, and I’ll admit it’s a petty thing, is that the redesigned Nightwing costume is quite nicely not-atrocious. I still prefer the old color scheme, but the red doesn’t bother me. This book isn’t spectacular–they really need to pick one artist and stick with him/her–but I look forward to a few pleasant hours with the trades.