Desiato Reviews Badass Secondary Marvel Titles

The Twelve #7 (****1/2)

So this is the pitch of the series in a nutshell for those of you sad, silly, misguided fools that aren’t reading this book: “Hey Golden Age folks! You guys were heroes 60 years ago (though ‘heroes’ is probably a stretch), so we feel obligated to treat you as such now even though most of you are pretty lame! Oh, and the world has gone to complete shit and you’re going to live long lives of misery, depression and anguish because most of you are barely 30! And all of your families are dead! Aren’t you so glad we found you?” Even taking into account the ending of the issue (Chris Weston remains a master of facial expressions), this one wasn’t quite as emotionally devastating as the kick in the balls that was issue six. JMS still likes torturing his own characters, because we’re now seven issues in and NOTHING good has happened to any of them since their return to the living world. I think I’m getting the idea why many folks consider his Fantastic Four and Spider-Man runs (One More Day notwithstanding) subpar. It seems like big action stories aren’t exactly JMS’s strength. I’ve never gotten the chance to watch Babylon Five, but I’m pretty sure remembering that the show wasn’t designed to be a big action sci fi epic. And you look and what he’s doing here and on Thor; these aren’t action books. But they’re FANTASTIC and practically flawless examples of character work. You get on a big property like FF or Spidey, and you can’t necessarily get away with making it the type of book that JMS seems to excel at. But a book about forgotten Timely characters or a Thor relaunch, both of which are playing out like slow burning Greek tragedy? They’re great (makes you wonder what’s going to happen with Brave and the Bold). There isn’t even a question that this is the best mini series that will be put out this year. It blows Secret Invasion and Final Crisis out of the water. There is no more satisfying read on Earth right now than this book.

Invincible Iron Man #4 (***1/2)

You know, this book would probably be close to perfect if Larocca were a bit tighter with the art.  I’m not going to breach the subject of the pros and cons of aggressive photo referencing, but an inescapable problem does arise when Tony and Reed aren’t consistent from panel to panel and page to page. It futzes up the internal continuity of the book and sequential nature of the comics. It’s certainly not as bad as some of the other photo referencing that you’ll see, but it does have a tendency to bleed things together. And there’s always that sort of pseudo blurry Photoshoppy feel to it. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the issue. I did. But I think the art foibles were more noticeable here than in previous issues. It’s a good thing that Fraction is generally writing the holy hell out of this book, because this could have been a turning point issue that could have tanked the series for me. Though I must say that the chess scene is a bit played out in the grand tradition of “two incredibly smart individuals play multiple games of chess at the same time while talking about everything but chess. Aren’t they smart?” scenes that I’ve seen in various movies/books/media. The punch line of the scene was cute, but it didn’t completely save the scene from slipping into cliché. I do think the book is still searching for a bit of an identity between the super heroey stuff and and the “Tony Stark is just this guy, you know?” moments, but we’ve only seen four issues so far, and I’m willing to give a book (especially one that’s got such a compelling foil like Zeke Stane) the time to find its legs.

Punisher War Journal #22 (****1/2)

Holy shit! It got good! Out of nowhere! Are we seeing the case that Remender and Fraction are finally starting to click? This book was so muddy for the first three issues, and once things started to sharpen from a plot perspective last issue, I started to see some signs of life. And this issue really got things going in a clear and concise way that is finally compelling and interesting and not at all clunky or awkward. Praise be to Fraction and Remender! Chaykin’s art isn’t exactly something I would go out of my way to search out, but I don’t actively hate it, and it has a hand in setting the mood of the story as a whole. I do quite enjoy GW Bridge and his band of merry female assassins, and the one Jigsaw appearance was pretty darned fun. It felt like a book with a focused purpose. This book has been given meaning again. They just might save this arc yet. We’ll have to see how this thing ends.

Review: The Twelve #6

We’re halfway through this bad boy, so this seems like as good a time as ever to really hash it out so far. You’ve got J Michael Straczynski writing and Chris Weston covering art chores. You’ve got a twelve issue mini (MAXI) series about twelve Golden Age Marvel (Timely) characters sent to the present day. And you’ve got one of the best books on the market right now. My guess is that this is what reading All Star Superman must be like.

So yes. The whole “man out of time” superhero story has been done before. Quite a lot. Hell, Marvel’s got multiple books running right now that feature such a trope. You’ve got your Avengers/Invaders. You’ve got your current Captain America mini storyline. You’ve arguably got your 1985, though from a slightly different perspective. This is well traveled ground both now and throughout the history of superhero comics. So what makes this book any different from JSA or Captain America? Well, I do believe that the characters chosen for this book were very specific. Let’s not mince words here. These are very lame characters. I have the #0 issue that reprinted a lot of issues featuring characters from The Twelve. And man, are they painful. And that’s why this works. This is not something as simple as many of the other man out of time stories have been. This is a Jew hiding his heritage to escape persecution. This is a born performer whose brand of comedy hasn’t evolved past the 1940’s. This is a non powered writer caught up way above his head. All tropes, but not ones that we have necessarily seen previously in comic stories like this.

JMS isn’t writing this in the shadow of Civil War. Sure, there’s a little aside where the recently thawed heroes are asked to register and don’t think twice about it (because who would ever question the government?), but outside of that, we’re just watching people trying to live their lives. We’re watching Black Widow apparently do very violent things that she may or may not have any choice or control over. We’re watching Mastermind Excello forced into hiding due to the oversaturation of television and radio waves. We’re watching the Phantom Reporter become more agonized and frustrated with his place in the world as he suffers from writer’s block (as one’s mind drifts back to that last splash page from the first issue…). This book is a tragedy, But it’s not Shakespearian in scope. You have to go back further. This is tragedy in such a way that was populated by the Greeks. This is Agamemnon coming home victorious from the Trojan War only to find his wife bedding another man and ready to kill him. And of course the moment that puts this into sharp relief is the true revelation of Rockman.

I mean, Rockman is a forlorn chracter practically from the moment you see him. He’s some kind of underground leader of Mole Men on some very potent steroids. But the act of being frozen for sixty years has cut him off from his people. So he spends every night in the basement pounding on the ground trying to call his people to him. And Chris Weston really shines with the facial expressions (which is the case with everyone, really), etching this sense of melancholy pride and loneliness. Well, in issue six we get some insight into the background of Rockman. And it’s horribly depressing. And pitch perfect. You’re going to read Rockman completely differently after this, and it just serves to reinforce the human drama upon which this entire series is built.

There is nothing to complain about in both this issue and this series. The writing is spot on. The pacing is deliberate and adds to the tension (you KNOW shit’s going to go down with Electro. But JMS isn’t going to rush it). The art is fantastic and some of the best facial expression work I’ve ever seen. The mood is muted and just, well, sad. There’s no villain. There doesn’t need to be one. Sure, it’s clichèd, but these characters’ worst enemies are themselves. They’re DEEPLY flawed, and those flaws will contribute to their downfall. Am I of the opinion that the Phantom Reporter is so desperate for a story that he’s going to end up being the cause for that splash page from issue one? Perhaps. No matter what happens, everything to this point has been perfectly realized and in character for every hero in this book. It all makes sense. It all flows wonderfully. This is the type of writing that got me hooked to the comics medium in the first place (first through Maus, and then in an entirely different way, Identity Crisis). And truly, if this year hadn’t seen the release of Casanova #14, this would be the best comic I’ve read all year. And it keeps getting better issue upon issue. Could this be the type of book people look back to years after the fact and revere? Sure is hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it, but the potential is certainly there. This is a different kind of superhero book, and I LOVE IT.

In case you couldn’t tell, this sucker gets five stars.

Oh, and that cover is badass.