Saturday, August 27, 2011

Evidence That Casanova Wasn't A Once Off.

Oh, the costume redesign wasn't too shabby either.
A lot of people (a lot of people) have gotten to the point with Matt Fraction where they now believe he's past his prime in terms of talent, and thus ought to be ousted from his role writing critical moments in the Marvel Universe. This for the man that only a couple years back won an Eisner Award for his work on Iron Man. And before that, produced one of the most creative comics (Casanova) I'd read for a while. In between those events, he teamed up (initially) with Ed Brubaker, and David Aja to produce an almighty home run with The Immortal Iron Fist (which ,PS, almost got an Eisner too). This week I'll look at the whole run, collected into a delicious Omnibus. This Omnibus is actually largely available in stores still, so while could hit up Amazon or similar, you might want to consider a wander to some of your Local Comics Stores.

Can you recall many instance of Hydra winning a fight? I can't
The book runs from the end of Danny Rand pretending to be Daredevil (just prior to Civil War), through the intriguing "recent" history of The Iron Fist, some vey much less "recent" history, and a bid by Hydra to destroy the city of K'un Lun during the tournament to determine the precedence of the Seven Cities of Heaven.
Interestingly the story uses Orson Randall as the catalyst to kick off the series of events told in this collection, and frequently returns to Orson Randall as a cypher used to explain Danny's heritage and powers developed by other Iron Fists. It would be fair to say that Orson Randall is as important to the book as Danny Rand. Of course you get appearances form Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, the usual K'un Lun crowd, as well as the other Immortal Weapons. What you don't get is a whole lot of crossovers into other books and events, which would really have ruined the story, or any fights with Constrictor or Sabertooth (which made up the bulk of my recollections of Iron Fist prior to this run).

And it's not just the writing that's wonderful. David Aja's contributions are perfectly suited to the story, and he got rid of that ridiculous collar. Which is a big enough achievement in itself.

If it's not clear yet, I loved the crap out of this book, from reading single issues, to trades, to this omnibus. I can't really fault anything in it, and that's a pretty big deal. The other thing to keep in mind is that Iron Fist isn't an A-list character. He's a fan favourite maybe, but not A-list. And yet, Marvel stuck by this series and let the story be finished. Despite that sales weren't anywhere near equal with the level of critical acclaim.

I recommend this book to anyone that likes martial arts moves. Anyone that likes Iron Fist. Anyone that likes to trash Matt Fraction. Anyone that likes a good comic. Anyone that likes to be entertained, in fact. And while this may be just my opinion, I'm more than happy with that.

Up next, strangeness.
Not quite what the blurb advertised.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jeph, Jeph, Jeph, Jeph, Jeph. That better be intentional.

Okay, fine. I did it!
First review of some of my Melbourne spoils, and dear oh dear it's complicated. For those that haven't read The Long Halloween (widely considered some of Jeph Loeb's best work), it picks up after Frank Miller's Year One, and from there it's a roller coaster of quality and (dubious) whodunnit excitement. At 368 pages, it's not exactly short, but then it doesn't really cost too much either (currently US $11 at Amazon). The art is Tim Sale covering Frank Miller (I haven't read enough of Sale's work to say if it's par for the course or not) and does a pretty good job of it.

The story is fairly simple: While Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and Harvey Dent try and take down the Falcone Crime Family, Someone (or is it someones) else is busily doing it from a much more murderous angle. Each chapter of the book deals with another "Holiday" on the calendar (some of these aren't even Holidays, but just dates of note), and another grisly killing. For those that haven't read the book, no Julian Day (The Calendar Man) is not the core villain, though he does get a couple cameos.

Unlike the June weather,
Selina isn't looking so hot here.
At the end of the story, there are three possible candidates for the Holiday Killer, and for all the internet debate, you can really take your pick of "who killed who" and mix and match however you like between Alberto, Harvey, and Glinda. But it wasn't Batman. Batman doesn't kill. There are various implausibilities that go with each candidate, and each killing, and the disappointing thing is that there's no definitive answer. You can take Glinda's admission at face value, but what of her mental state? She's clearly past the beginnings of a breakdown. Alberto also confessed, but Harvey says there were two killers. Finally Harvey could have done them all (And we're lead to believe that for much of the story), but had no motive for some (such as the coroner). The best theory is that all three had a go at some point, but hey, given that it's never been finally settled, it's really a choose your own adventure (which is as the book seemingly would have it be). There's also the idea that identity of the Holiday Killer was changed as the story was being produced solely because internet chatter had determined who it was. I personally think that's one of the bigger pats on the back the online comics community has incorrectly awarded itself.

The story itself is solid, and not tied to continuity (though it does portray Harvey becoming Two Face), though it's sometimes a bit stilted, and.. seems to have.. ellipsis all over... the place. Sale's art is serviceable, though it'd be nice to have women that looked, y'know, feminine. On the other hand, adding further detail would likely have given away key elements of the story that weren't meant to be revealed. Some times less gives the story more.

Overall it's a decent read, and one that is definitely enjoyable. If you manage to snag it cheap, I'd definitely grab it. It goes well with Year One after all, and fills in an afternoon fairly nicely.

Next week I'll delve into the Melbourne haul again, this time for something I enjoyed immensely when it was coming out, and couldn't help but grab in Omnibus format.

From before Fraction's writing seemed to fall in on itself.

As a late inclusion, for those that love a collected edition, are interested in the DC reboot, and want a decent price on the lot, how about killing all of the above birds with this ominously large tome.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Too Much X-Men - It's Possible

Okay, I'll admit. Reading the remainder of this in a week (or even two) when less than half way through was not achievable. The important thing is that I got there in the end. It's a mammoth read (nearly 770 pages when you throw in the letters pages, intros from Stan et. al., and cover galleries galore) and unlike today's books, each one is full of plot, dialog, and action. Too much so in my mind. We all like to complain about how "modern comics are decompressed" without thinking too hard about it. Go back to stories like The Death of Jean DeWolff and you can see that things were still padded out in the '80's (maybe not as much as today), and then go read Busiek's Avengers and see that even recently some books were quite a hefty read. But to truly appreciate how a "compressed" story is a lot to swallow, you really need to go back and read the 1960s era of comics. This omnibus is Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, and Werner Roth at some of their best from that era, and it's still overloaded. Takes-you-half-an-hour-per-issue-and-then-you-feel-tired overloaded.

The book itself is about the right size (a little too big by an issue or so, but not so big it's primary purpose is for fending off home intruders), and is the usual quality you expect from a Marvel Omnibus. Quite obviously it contains the original issues of The X-Men (the first 31, anyway) which goes through a range of villains, and any number of bizarre concepts. You want Magneto? You got it. Brotherhood of mutants? Check. Avengers, also included. Sentinels? Obviously. Juggernaut?No questions asked. What you might not expect incudes: Vanisher's first appearance, Professor X seemingly enamoured with Jean Grey (seems everyone was back then), high school level drama from Scott and Jean, Mimic, Count Nefaria, Jean Grey with telekinesis only, humanoid Beast, The Locust, El Tigre, Lucifer, weird poetry about Beast's feet, and some of the worst villains you've ever heard of. (Unicorn, Plantman, Scarecrow, Porcupine, and Eel anyone? How about Kukulcan then?)

Some of these plots and villains make me seriously question how this book ever kept going, leave alone the sanity of those writing it. The thing that does stand out though (particularly when compared with the Amazing Spider-man Omnibus) is that the dialog from Stan Lee is actually bearable. Stan is not trying to write like he thinks the kids talk, but how a group of five adults (by way of high school) would talk. More importantly, they aren't all about slacking off and having fun, nor are they all about the job of bashing villains to a pulp. It strikes a balance. A weird balance.

I'm not going to rattle off plot lines here for a number of reasons:
1. You've either read them before verbatim, or something derivative enough you don't need to read the book for the plots.
2. You would either think the whole thing is about Magneto, or that I'm making stuff up while drunk.
3. There's just too many of them, and I only have one life to live.

So far I'm not sold on this book. For good reason. Early Marvel work generally falls into one of two categories: brilliant, or terrible. I've yet to read "mediocre". As with all work of such an era, the art isn't close to what we modern readers are accustomed, and if it bothers you, don't even waste your time and money. If you like simpler art, or can at least handle it, you'll possibly find what I did: the quality of each issue comes down to the writing, and nothing else. Some issues/arcs (They did have multi-part stories even in the 60s) are brilliant, some are just downright silly. Same writer, same artist, variable quality. I'm sure if you lined up the issues with some indication of time to produce, and the number of other titles being produced by the same guys, you might see a direct correlation.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. Yes, if you've got the money to spend on it. Yes, if you've not read these stories before. Yes, if the nostalgia you have for The X-Men is strong enough to buy this and put it on your shelf (heck most of the Omnibuses look terrific on a shelf). If you can't slot yourself into any of those categories, don't buy it.

No while I've been delaying this review, I did read a bunch of other reading. As well as a trip to Melbourne during which other comics were purchased (and then read). So I'll juggle the order a little and say that his is what we get next.