Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Comic book reviews for the week of March 9th in six sentences (or less)

Best of the Week

Ultimate Spider-man #155
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Chris Samnee

Peter Parker needs a job and J. Jonah Jameson wants to give him one. The only problem is Jameson knows that Peter is actually Spider-man. So begins one of the best Ultimate comics I have ever read.

This, this issue is what the ultimate universe is/was supposed to be all about. Rebooting familiar characters, freeing them from the shackles of continuity and adding depth to characters who are too often dismissed as two dimensional stereotypes.

Long dismissed as a running gag in the Marvel 616 Jameson was reduced to being an over animated punchline, who’s only real value was to provide comic relief whenever Spider-man acted out. But in this issue Bendis has completed the rehabilitation of the character in a poignant way without ever betraying his core beliefs. Although Jameson feels compelled to help because of the heroism he witnessed during Ultimatum and being saved by Peter from the Chameleon twins, he still has lingering doubts from his time as the leader of the anti Spider-man lobby.

What follows is a traditional Bendisesque heavy dialogue piece that instantly managed to portray an unsympathetic character in a completely different light. Suddenly Jameson wasn’t a joke, he was a fully realized character whose motivations and behaviour made a lot of sense. He wasn’t a foil to be laughed at, he was a fully realized person.

I know the great Ultimate experiment seems to slowly coming to an end. Long past its heyday Ultimate Spider-man is the only title to exhibit any real staying power. And its issues like this that demonstrate just why that is. After 155 issues Ultimate Spider-man is far from stale, its a comic book clinic that shows off how the tights and fights genre can transcend its more self destructive aspects and still be entertaining and engaging.

Batman and Robin #21
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Penciller: Patrick Gleason

Someone is killing the relatives of Arkham Asylum inmates. Dubbed the White Knight this misguided soul is drugging his victims and dressing them up as angels in the misguided hope that in death he can absolve them of their dark familial connections.

Tomasi has absolutely nailed the affectionate, biting humour of this Batman and Robin. Although very much a second tier Bat-book, freed, for now, from the overarching meta-continuity imposed by DC uber-writer Grant Morrison this is Batman (and Robin) done right. The book strips the B&R mythology down to its roots, solving crimes, kicking ass, hanging out with Alfred and friendly verbal sparring. It’s everything you want in a Batman, minus the constant whinging emo-angst of losing ones parents.

Walking Dead #82
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciller: Charlie Adlard

Rick’s band of merry men is in danger of being overrun by a herd of zombies who are pouring through a gap in the compound wall. Fighting a running battle, the group retreats into the deserted houses, powerless to stop the horde.

As much as I love this series, the formulaic nature of its ups and downs is starting to become increasingly unsatisfying. It’s like having the same great meal every day, eventually endless repetition will turn the juiciest steak into sawdust.

The problem is that the central narrative of THE WALKING DEAD has never achieved a stable status quo. Which is good, because a comic book that’s only fighting to maintain the status quo is one that’s apeing the worst qualities of the mainstream superhero set. On the other hand, this series has fallen into a predictable story arc whose tropes are becoming increasingly well worn.

Find shelter. Introduce new characters. Conflict. Zombies. Group splits up. And repeat.

In a world where the writer is trying to create a realistic vision of the zombie apocalypse, WD is increasingly bumping up against the restrictions of its medium. Every time the protagonists achieve some measure of safety Kirkman knocks over the table and starts the whole cycle over again. It’s a problem with any series that’s been around for as long as this one has. It becomes harder to keep things fresh as continuity starts to pile up on you.

Wonder Woman #608
Writer: Phil Hester
Penciller: Geraldo Borges

The Amazonian remnants continue to fight off the bloodthirsty minions of The Morrigan. Diana’s cohorts are slowly being picked off and the Amazon Princess is forced to fight for her life against dark incarnations of her former sisters.

The more I read this the more I like where this is going. This reboot-Diana embodies the best of the Wonder Woman mythology with the added bonus of getting to redefine the essentials of what the character is about. My only complaint is how this storyline comes complete with a magical get out of jail card. Hester is telegraphing a return to ‘normal’ so much that I’m hoping this whole thing is giant red herring and DC will show the cojones to see this reboot go a little longer. After all, if they can play around Batman, the company’s number one money maker, then surely they can take a flyer on Wondie. Are there really a horde of fans clamouring for the old Wonder Woman? Do they just fear change that much or can they only enjoy their superheroines when they’re scantily clad?

(As a completely selfish aside, I wish Hester was drawing this title instead of just writing it. After all, if Finch can write and draw his own Batman title then surely there’s room to let a fantastic artist like Hester have complete control of the book.)

1 comment:

  1. I read The Walking Dead as it comes out in trade paperback, and I've found that I'm tired of the storyline. At first I was quite interested in what would happen to them, but it feels like it's not going anywhere--same things keep happening, like you said. Plus, I hate all of the characters. There's nobody left that I like.



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