Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Weekly Dose: The Multiple Men Win The Week

With the exception of two pleasant surprises from Marvel, I was mostly disappointed with this week's haul. It may be because I'm temporarily off my meds and feeling lousy, or maybe it's because I've been focused more on redesigning my apartment this weekend than reading my comics. Whatever it is, my overall feeling on the books I picked up is "meh."

And it's a shame, because two of those meh titles should have been winners. But instead, Green Lantern #45, a Blackest Night tie-in (obviously) felt like an unnecessary time filler--we did Sinestro to death in the Sinestro War, and the Star Saphires...whatever; they're turning out to be the least interesting of the new Lantern colors. Another DC title I was counting on this week was Detective Comics #856, continuing the beautifully drawn and skillfully written adventures of Batwoman--I was bored; the book looked good, but the art wasn't nearly as tight as the last two issues, and storywise, things are getting into a weird limbo between obscure and stupid DC mythology that I haven't quite decided how I feel about. I can forgive Detective the small flux in quality, since I had it on such a high pedestal from the previous issues. GL, however, has no excuse falling off like this during a GL-centric mega event. I will, at least, give credit to artist Doug Mahnke, who did his usual reliable best to make a weak story look better than it was. Mahnke is currently one of my favorite DC artists.

I was also indifferent to the goings on in Dark Avengers #8, continuing the weak Utopia crossover with the Uncanny X-Men, and Flash: Rebirth #4, continuing Geoff John's (also behind this week's GL) convolution of the Flash mythos. Rebirth at least looked pretty, thanks to Ethan Van Sciver's art, but the big, romanticized story of the return of Barry Allen and the unnecessarily complicated nature of the Speed Force--a bit of deus ex machina nonsenses that gives Barry and the other DC speedsters their power--only serves to remind me how little I care for the Flash's supporting cast and backstory. I love the idea of the Flash, his look and his various cartoon incarnations, but as soon as the comics dig deeper, I start scanning another shelf in the shop.

I didn't even like Batman and Robin #3 all that much. It wasn't necessarily bad, but it didn't have the same energy as the first two issues from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Plus, as the creator of Lou Spork in Division 18, I'm just a little bit irked that this title features it's own headcase in a pig mask, Professor Pyg.

It wasn't all about searching for silver linings for me, though. For one, I picked up the latest issue of Wolverine: First Class (#18, for those keeping track), because it looked like an enjoyable, self-contained story featuring one of my favorite mutants, who happens to make even more appearances in a single comic than overexposed Wolverine can make in an entire month--Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man.

Madrox is another one of those characters I like in theory--the kind I used "be" during make-believe as a kid and who I'd play relentlessly if I'd had an action figure, but never really follow in print. I enjoy an appearance here and there, but the bigger picture of the comics he appears in are what decide whether I'm going to stick with it. I happen to follow Hawkeye because I generally enjoy the comics he's a supporting player in. I don't follow the Flash for the reasons I noted earlier. And I don't keep up with Madrox because I didn't like the majority of the supporting cast and storylines Peter David pulled together for the ongoing (and rumored to be ending soon) X-Factor. David's Madrox is brilliant though--the refined backstory, the character's personality, and even the language philosophy now used to talk about Jamie's power (any physical impact causes Madrox to multiply into a "dupe" of himself, sometimes identical in every way, but more often now comprising some specific aspect of Jaimie's collective personality). In X-Factor. David has established that Madrox has sent dupes all around the world to seek knowledge and experience, so when they return to him and he absorbs them, he absorbs everything they've seen, felt, and learned. It's a great premise for a strong character. The only weakness is that that premise is surrounded by a cast that includes some of my all-time least favorite bit players--Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, Rictor. But lucky me, Peter David wrote this issue of First Class, which is an "early years" series about Wolverine and Kitty Pryde during her first year or so with the X-Men, and this issue covers all that neat stuff about Madrox that I just mentioned, in a tight 22 new-reader-friendly pages. And while I don't know that the entire series is marketed specifically to younger readers, it does have an accessible, old-school, all-ages vibe.

But Madrox was not my favorite Multiple Man of the week. That honor goes to Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, and the focus of a new series creative team's debut arc, following Mark Millar and Brian Hitch's Doom-tastic year on the book. And with Fantastic Four #570, new writer Jonathan Hickman tries to out-crazy Grant Morrison, while artist Dale Eaglesham reminds me why I prefer his style of realistic comic book illustration to the heavily photo referenced movie-on-paper style Brian Hitch uses. Ben Grimm, for one thing, looks a billion times better by Eaglesham's hand, and all of the action in Dale's panels is dense without being murky with unnecessary detail or disorienting because of strange dramatic angles--both improvements from Hitch.

My only gripe with the art is that, while he looks quite fit and heroic in his new manly personage, Reed Richards by Dale Eaglesham doesn't look all that much like any Reed Richards I've seen. I mean, it's obviously read...but how'd he get so jacked putting all that time in the lab?

But I'll get used to diesel-Reed. Figure it's within his powerset to change the shape of his rubberized body, so why wouldn't he add a little muscle to that nerdy frame? It's probably an anniversary present for his wife, Sue Storm.

Plotwise, I loved this comic. I loved how it focused on the Richards family dynamic without getting bogged down with crazy, quirky, cool technology floating around their home. You get a very clear picture of Reed as husband and father, something that wasn't quite there since those damn dirty skrulls and the Marvel U's Civil War consumed his life. And, calling back to a concept introduced by Brian Bendis in Civil War and the tie-in series The Illuminati, we revisit Reed's 100 ideas to fix the world--sound in theory and also pretty cool as a visual via Reed's "Room of 100 Ideas." It makes sense that this story is called "Solve Everything," but based on this spoiler of a page, I'm surprised Hickman's first arc isn't called "Crisis on Multiple Reeds."

Millar and Hitch opened their run with an old colleague of Reed's creating a fully inhabitable replica of Earth in a pocket dimension. Hickman has managed to do the unthinkable in going bigger. And that's without counting the return of the Infinity Gauntlet (x3)! (What, what, what?!?!)

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