Champions, Sharkey, No Road Home — Comics Review March ‘19
I’ve started buying floppies for the first time recently. Got about 50 of them now. Only a few each month: I try to have a DC, Marvel and Image comic on my pull list, though most often I end up with a few more Marvel comics than I need.
Coming from borrowing trade paperbacks from the library and torrenting comics collections, this breaks new ground for me in two ways: a) I’m paying for my comics, and b) I’m reading them in batches of 22 pages. This is how comics were consumed in their heyday… though not exactly: back then they used to be a lot cheaper, and 22 pages fit in a lot more story.
Floppies are a confusing, disjointed way to read a story. How on earth are we supposed to get new readers into comics when this is how they work? Yet it is a unique and strangely exciting experience. I’ll have a lot more to say on this subject in the coming weeks. In the meantime, though, a few reviews of some the more interesting comics I’ve read this month:
Thompson/Canero’s Captain Marvel, #1 — #2
I feel like I’ve become a Carol Danvers expert, and I really liked The Life of Captain Marvel, so I did buy this latest series. I had this feeling Kelly Thompson had done something I’d liked in the past, though I couldn’t remember what it was. I must have been thinking of somebody else, though, because her Wikipedia bibliography indicates that she hasn’t written shit.
Thompson’s dialogue isn’t terrible, but it does get pretty hamfisted, and not in an endearing way. For each repartee that lands, there is an example like Nuclear Man’s shouting “Unhand my royal personage!”. It doesn’t matter if it’s tongue-in-cheek if it reads stupidly.
Between the good and the bad, there is a lot of ponderous filler. That’s how the plot feels as a whole, too. Carol fights a monster with Jessica, meets a protege in Hazmat, talks a lot with Tony and Rhodey, but by the end you’re not really sure what any of it was for. Issue #2 is the same. It doesn’t seem like the series has presented its thesis, yet.
Carmen Canero is wasted here. Coming from the rather good X-Men: Red is a serious demotion. Her work isn’t even well promoted by the cover art, an embarrassing webcomic level attempt. This is nicely demonstrated when you get to the end of the first issue, where Canero illustrates the same scene you see in the “Next Issue” cover-page preview on the following page. The difference in quality is comical.
Bringing back the X-Men: Red team (with Tom Taylor writing, Rain Beredo on covers) could have been a winning formula to accompany Carol’s cinematic debut. Marvel either doesn’t know when they have a good thing, or they thought having an all-female creative team was more important than a good comic.
Miller/Bianchi’s Sharkey The Bounty Hunter, #1
If I had to commit to a comic series based on the author alone, Mark Miller would be my first choice. I’m not saying his stories are the best-ever, only that I can rely on a good time with them — they’re a bit like the MCU films of comics in that sense (both also tend to have disappointing climaxes).
Sharkey The Bounty Hunter, like Miller’s other works, is not complex, but it’s hitting all the right notes so far. Sharkey himself is a fun sort of arsehole, who tells a kid to “fuck off for a few hours so I can have sex” with a transhumanist cyborg “before she gets turned into a monster truck”. But he has a dilemma later on for which he makes a sympathetic choice (and one that might cause him much annoyance as the series goes on), so we know that he isn’t going to be a one-note character.
There are memorable moments aplenty. Take Sharkey’s rival bounty hunter, who disguises himself as a beautiful woman to get close to a hideous alien mob-boss for some months. Before finally making the kill, he tells the readers that he “wasn’t proud of what he did in this holo-suit,” but that he’ll “do what it takes if the price is right.” It’s funny, it’s indecent, it tells you something about the character.
Miller thrives in sci-fi, where his big, weird ideas have space to easily fit in. Sharkey looks to be as big as Empress, and even more weird. It has a tone that seems to fit Miller’s sense of humour. If it continues on this trajectory, I think this series could be one of his best.
Zub/Cumming’s Champions, #1 — #3
My history with Champions is as follows: the series started in 2016 as a group of teen heroes written by Mark Waid, and having enjoyed both Young Avengers and Waid’s work on Black Widow, and thinking he would write a decent teen-drama considering he was also working on Archie, I jumped on… then immediately jumped off again: Waid/Ramos’s Champions was preachy, ugly shite.
It only caught my attention again when I read about Champions #24 ie. the school shooting issue. I was only curious: how would a comic book attempt to present this serious, tragic, politically sensitive issue? Turns out, not too badly: Champions #24 (which at some point previously had picked up an excellent new artist and excellent new writer) was pretty poignant.
So I’m back on board, and Zub and Cumming’s round out their initial run with the characters in a Weirdworld story where Ironheart gets transformed into a paladin, Amadeus Cho’s Hulk into an orc, Miles Morales into a rogue, and so one — and I’m totally into it. So when they then decide to reboot Champions with the same team, I am on at the ground floor and up for more.
The Champions concept mirrors that of Gillian’s Young Avengers, but only accidentally. In Young Avengers, a group of young heroes came together to in tribute to the Avengers — there was Iron-lad, Hulkling etc. But as the story went on, we find out that they aren’t really what they seem. Hulking isn’t affected by gamma radiation like the real Hulk: he’s actually a skrull. The “Young Thor” character, Asgardian, could summon lightning, but his powers turned out to have nothing to do with Asgard (he’s now known as Wiccan). But this was all planned as part of Gillan’s story.
Most of the characters in Champions were also first published as alternate versions of Avengers characters — Ironheart took over Iron Man’s book, Amadeus Cho was the “Totally Awesome Hulk”, and so on. Some of them got a lot of backlash for that. But since then they have developed, under various authors, into their own distinct heroes. Zub pulls them together here as a coherent team, an impressive bit of alchemy.
It just works so well. I’m reminded of Chris Claremont’s X-Men: distinct characters, genuine interpersonal drama, proper stakes, sensible use of a variety of powers, and a good sense of place and people. There are multiple things going on in each scene, and it all feels relevant and consequential.
Steven Cummings’ art is exceptional. His work makes it a pleasure to come across any one of the numerous Champions on the page. The three-dimensional intensity of his close-ups is inspiring, though backgrounds and non-speaking characters get almost as much attention. Each panel feels meaningful, and though layouts are 95% standard the one or two splash pages per issue are often quite special.
Champions is one of the best books at Marvel at the moment. It’s just a fun, effective, unpretentious series, qualities that used to be common in comics but have become harder and harder to find. It took a few years, but Champions is finally meeting its potential as a superpowered teen drama, and I can’t wait for the next issue.
Brubaker/Phillips’ Criminal, #1 — #2
Ed Brubaker is not an innovator in the comics medium, isn’t experimental or postmodern. He just knows how to tell a good crime story — something a bit noir like Dashiell Hammett — writes out a script where the words fit nicely in each panel, where they’ll have a nice pace when read against the pictures, then has it illustrated. That’s all there is to it: a good yarn told picture by picture. He’s really good at what he does, and by god it works. I mean, how many other people are still writing crime comics at all, let alone making healthy careers off of it? Criminal is a gem that should inspire more quality genre fiction to make a space in comics (without having to come with a superhero attached). I haven’t read any of the other Criminal stories, so I can’t compare them, but I know I’m sticking around for more.
Cates/Shaw’s Guardians of the Galaxy #1 — #2
I’m coming to this from two directions: first, from Gerry Duggan’s Guardians of the Galaxy, full of character and funny (though as it morphed into the Infinity Wars event I admit I lost interest). Second, from Donny’ Cate’s previous cosmic work in Thanos and Cosmic Ghost Rider, which I also really liked. Compared to these, this book just feels like a pretty generic team outing. The mission is to find Gamora, and there are three groups with conflicting goals: one wants to kill her because she might be reborn as Thanos, one (Star-Lord’s team) wants to save her, and the Black Order wants to ensure Thanos is resurrected. They’ve clashed a bit but it’s been two issues now and nothing has really hooked me. I’m obviously hoping Cates has more up his sleeve, but a bit of me worries this might be the high-profile title where his creativity is stifled. Shaw’s art is fine, but it’s hard to get into it when you don’t care about the plot or characters yet.
Ewing/Waid/Zub/Medina’s Avengers: No Road Home #1 — #4
Zub, Waid and Ewing are all excellent writers, which leaves me with a dilemma: who do I blame when the writing in this series (for which they are all co-authors) sucks? Hawkeye’s narration in issue #2 is some of the worst writing I’ve had to endure in a comic book in some time. Hawkeye contrasting himself as “a guy with arrows” who hangs out with “supermen and gods” is not only a cliche, but it’s the most boring interpretation of the character. And Hawkeye bangs on about this over and over again over the course of the issue, awkwardly coming up with new synonyms in each instance (one panel it’s “myths and monsters”, the next it’s “super-soldiers and world-beaters” — it gets tedious really quickly). The entire issue is basically ruined by having his bleating played over the action.
I suspect this was Waid’s fault, but I can’t prove it.
So, this book is not perfect, but it is at least ambitious. Three writers, a weekly schedule, a known endpoint, a brand new group of villains — presumably a lot of planning goes into the making of these (No Road Home being the second, after last year’s Avengers: No Surrender). I really like that Marvel is willing to put some of their best writers and artists together (at greater expense to themselves of course, at a time where they seem to be cutting costs on talent wherever possible), and take some time to put together a flagship series, something that really demonstrates what the Marvel comics brand is capable of. I’m not saying that is a guarantee for a great book, but I’m happy that they’re giving it a go. These days even their event books are unimaginative and badly written. No Road Home has the level of commitment I would expect Marvel to give to at least some of their books at all times. It’s only a shame No Surrender/No Road Home are exceptions, really.
The book is good so far. The line-up seems to work. Voyager assembled the team because she saw Mt. Olympus get wrecked. Mt Olympus is Hercules’ home, so of course he should be there. Voyager brings Hulk along as more muscle, and Hulk has beef with Hawkeye (who previously killed Hulk), so there will be some debts to repay between those two. Scarlet Witch and Vision have history that hasn’t been bought up yet, but I suspect it will be, and Rocket Raccoon and Hulk’s mutual respect for each other’s ability to cause mayhem is at the very least very amusing.
As for the villains, Nyx and each of her children are original and genuinely terrifying, appropriate manifestations of the darkness they represent.
#4 was mostly a backstory issue, which makes me think we’re set to really get into the meat of the conflict from now on, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that looks like. I’m not sure if this is going to be a “great” Avengers story, but so far it’s not too bad.
Thats all for now. Feel free to recommend me some comics to review next time.