Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Comics Roundup

I've been reading a lot of graphic novels/trade paperbacks lately and I'd like to highlight a couple of titles that illustrate how comics are sometimes better and worse than the ones I read as a teen.

First, the better.

Marvel's Spiderwoman is not what I would call a first tier character. Despite her prominent place in the recent Secret Invasion plotline, she doesn't really draw attention the way Wolverine or Captain America do.

Given that, it is an enormous testament to the writing talents of Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed that they have turned this character into such an interesting one. In fact, if you had told me when I was a 13-year-old that books featuring Spiderwoman and Ms. Marvel (Reed's excellent run on that title) would be so much fun -- and so good! -- I would have laughed.

Spiderwoman: Origin collects the Bendis/Reed story arc revealing the origin of Jessica Drew/Spiderwoman. The art by The Luna Brothers manages to make what is basically a simple backstory into something approaching a spy thriller -- I felt like I was reading some kind of printed storyboard of a Hollywood action pic. Now, that might not appeal to everyone, but I found this collection an unexpectedly thrilling read. Not quite as deep or engrossing as that Ms. Marvel run by Bendis, but still the type of thing I read cover-to-cover in one quick sitting.

This kind of collection would not have been possible when I was a teen. Back then, Frank Miller's cinematic run on the Daredevil monthly was revolutionary -- I can recall just being stunned at how different the storytelling technique was -- how it felt like watching a great noir-ish film when reading those books.

And Matt Murdock was a character I previously didn't care about.

Nowadays, that sort of filmic technique is common. Gone are the wordy, lengthy exposition panels and they've been replaced by page-turning action scenes that flow -- sometimes wordlessly -- and thus manage to convey the same sort of information to the reader.

Sometimes this style works but sometimes it doesn't -- it can allow a writer and artist to spin their wheels for an issue or two at a time and the reader just sits there thinking: "What happened? Where's the plot?"

And, so, over to DC Comics.

I picked up Justice League of America: The Second Coming mainly due to having just read Volume 1 of this tale (though that was a letdown) and I felt somehow obligated to at least see where this story went.

What started as a thought-provoking story in Volume 1 about where to house super villains (echoing real world debates about Gitmo, and similar to parts of Marvel's Civil War series), soon turned into a stale tale about Vixen's loss of powers and her appropriation of her teammates' powers. The story plods along without much surprise or drama until she and her fellow superheroes are trapped in some mystical realm by Anansi, the spider-like tempting spirit of African folklore.

You know, Marvel can do this sort of "mystical realm" jazz with ease and somehow DC just seems clubfooted when they try to do it; this thing read like a weak Dr. Strange story from the 1980's!

Despite a gorgeous Ed Benes cover, his art in the interior wasn't quite as thrilling (maybe I've been spoiled as I've been finally reading his run on Birds of Prey with writer Gail Simone). Benes still has the goods but it's just not enough to keep me entertained.

I like Dwayne McDuffie's writing -- especially on the TV versions of this title -- but this is yet another title penned by him that just didn't click for me.