TALES OF THE UNEXPLAINED

For some unfathomable reason, HOWARD THE DUCK is the best comic book Marvel is currently publishing. It’s funny, it’s inventive, it’s cleverly plotted, its lead character is a gas and it’s frank about how silly a lot of the Marvel Universe is, and how often. Howard himself is not a particularly compelling character, as far as I’m concerned; essentially the late Marvel writer Steve Gerber’s id, Howard’s original incarnation was of one post-hippie’s theatrical disappointment in the status quo, and frankly it made me tired. I don’t mind Gerber (I love like his Vertigo miniseries, Nevada, from the late 1990′s), but like a lot of his generation his self-righteousness had a surprising streak of totally unself-aware narcissism to it and Howard was too often kept down by The Man in ways that suggested Gerber had simply transcribed the events of the morning before the story was due onto the comics page. Perhaps if he was less of a deity to a certain kind of unreconstructed middle-aged white pseudoliberal dude I’d be more enamored of him.

Anyway, Chip Zdarsky’s take on Gerber’s alter ego is totally delightful. Zdarsky has rapidly become my favorite young writer (he’s also doing Jughead over at Archie and a gay-themed space opera for Image called Kaptara, and his and Matt Fraction’s bizarro humor/crime book Sex Criminals is consistently one of the best things going). Here, he’s given very free rein with Howard and a pretty solid supporting cast, notably Spider-Man, who plays the straight man for once. Joe Quinones gets better and better each time I see him; on this book his style is very slick and polished and it’s a nice extension of Zdarsky’s sharp dialogue. Like Frank Cho, Quinones is very good at faces and body language, so the book is overall really expressive and warm and always hysterically funny. The only things I’m not huge on are the regular reappearance of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a lame-ass team put together by toymakers that doesn’t have anything at all to do with its comics namesake, and the fact that I had to go on an involuntary HtD fast when Marvel’s big “event” series Secret Wars briefly destroyed the universe.

Now it’s back and all is right with the world.

I read the first three issues of Brian Bendis’s IRON MAN without really taking the time to think or write about it, which is a pretty good summation of my opinion of the book. It’s fine. It’s competent. There’s going to be a mutant gene cure subplot at some point, which is the boringest plot device in the Marvel Universe. Dr. Doom’s face is fixed and he’s super-powerful for some reason that we will doubtless learn about at some point. Madame Masque shows up and it turns out she’s slept with Tony Stark, Iron Man’s other name. Bendis is just completely asleep at the wheel on this book, which I don’t understand. Just do less, man. You could pull back and make a few things good rather than trying to do the entire Marvel Universe at the same time. It’s depressing – the stuff with Masque is actually kind of affecting, while the stuff between Tony and his completely vanilla, uninteresting fanservice female of a love interest genius is literally two splash pages of sad, out-of-costume Tony whining about how he’s a bad person.

David Marquez does an excellent job on the art that he finished, but that’s not enough for 22 pages and the rest is so rushed as to be insulting. At the top of the page is an example of what I’m talking about: look at this shit. That panel has been copy/pasted SIX TIMES. The first panel is from the previous page! That’s an entire page of comic art you don’t receive, if you buy Iron Man #3. Is it a funny joke? Sure. Would it be funnier if, say, Kevin Maguire was drawing it and had actually put expressions on the faces in all six panels? It sure would! The book has come out three times in three weeks, which I would call a real problem not with Marquez or even Bendis, but with expectations on the Marvel side. Who can draw that fast, guys? George Perez and Sergio Aragones, maybe, but that’s pretty much it.

There’s a really cute and sad issue of MIRACLEMAN out with a big sequence by Mark Buckingham outfitted like a Goodnight Moon-style children’s book. If you hate Neil Gaiman it will probably bug you but if you love Neil Gaiman, it is adorable. 

Dynamite is publishing JAMES BOND: VARGR, written by Warren Ellis, which seems to be the best possible choice in terms of writer, and badly drawn by some guy named Jason Masters, whom I strongly suspect of being a really talented young artist with a lot of hustle who has not quite reached the stage in his career where he allows himself to tell people to fuck off until he’s finished and satisfied with his own work. Kids: the quicker you get to that stage, no matter the field you’re in, the more people will respect you and think you’re good. It’s obviously a longer arc than some of Ellis’s recent stuff but I remain hopeful. Karnak and Injection have been great, so the only reason this might not end up great is the Broccoli family, who continue to rule the franchise with an iron fist.

One of the coolest, weirdest, least conventional books I have ever read is ODY-C, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward, blessed be he, whose artwork is the best artwork that anyone currently working is arting. It’s colorful and nightmarishly ambitious and the story, which reworks the Odyssey as a space opera in which everyone except Helen of Troy is a woman, is totally bonkers and fun. It reads a bit like a Heavy Metal comic from the early 1980′s. Did I mention the art? The art is just totally beautiful. It’s up to #7 and there’s a collection of the first five out (called Off to Far Ithaca, naturally) but see if you can find the first issue anyway; there’s this incredible gatefold in it I won’t spoil by describing.

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