To begin this review, I must admit that I wasn’t originally going to read this title. I felt like my perception of the title was unfairly skewed by internal biases. I didn’t want to invest in another Bat-title, regardless of whether Batman was a central character or not. I also didn’t really cotton to the premise. It felt like Morning Glories in Gotham on paper. But I changed my mind on the book simply by virtue of the fact that I trust Becky Cloonan. I also really like Karl Kerschl’s artwork, but I’ve ignored books by artists I love before. Essentially, I put my faith in a writer I trust to make magic with the premise. I’m glad I gave the book the chance, because it is truly something special.
I really haven’t found myself as enthralled in a Gotham title not featuring Batman since All Star Western launched back in 2011. With that title going away, this feels like a worthy replacement in my off-the-wall Gotham reading slot. Titles that play with the periphery of Batman’s world can be a hit or miss affair, but talented writers and artists can really make all the difference in the world.
Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher give us a truly wonderful book unlike anything else DC is publishing at the moment. Focusing on a handful of new characters, primarily on two young teenage girls, the book has the distinction of being one of the most diverse books on the market. In a world where the marketplace is expanding and the demand for characters who are anything but boring white males, a book featuring characters like Olive Silverlock and “Maps” Mizoguchi is a refreshing change of pace.
It is also appreciated that while Cloonan and Fletcher do establish that there is certainly mystery afoot, and the story arc they’ll be unspooling is certainly going to be interesting, the first issue is mainly focused on letting us get to know our protagonists as characters and really flesh them out. The reader is treated to a slow burn of a character study on these two young girls, letting us really get a feel for their personalities so that by the time we understand that things are truly not as they seem at Gotham Academy, we like these characters enough and are invested in them in such a way that the narrative carries a substantive amount of weight. Much like the family drama that drove the majority of Ms. Marvel earlier this year, Olive’s personal troubles and Maps’ enthusiasm for her life at a new school give us a lens through which we can view the stories that Cloonan and Fletcher want to tell.
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I feel like those willing to overlook their own hesitance to try the book, like myself, will find something to enjoy here. Truly a spectacular debut issue and quite possibly my favorite new DC launch in years.
Allow me to be blunt. This is a comic book where on the second page the words “Activating Attack Sharks” is uttered with not a single hint of irony. Yes, in this issue of Thor, a deep ocean sea-lab run by the Roxxon corporation features a defense system consisting of what appear to be technologically enhanced super-sharks, who eventually engage in underwater combat with an army of invading Frost Giants from Jotunheim.
So, in short, it’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to a Thor comic.
The big hullabaloo about this issue has been that the fellow we have come to know and love as Thor is no longer going to be the titular character of the series. In the wake of the crossover event Original Sin, He is unworthy to wield mighty Mjolnir, the hammer that serves as the symbol of his power. Fans fearing that Thor would simply be discarded to make way for a new character will be relieved however, as this first issue in a new series spends a good majority of its time with Thor Classic.
New Thor does not show her face until the final page of the issue. In many ways, the storytelling structure of this issue of Thor is the polar opposite of something like Ms. Marvel # 1. While that issue and series has been a huge success for Marvel, the baseline of the narrative utilized by writer G. Willow Wilson would not suit the type of story that Jason Aaron is attempting to tell here. By the time the first issue of Ms. Marvel came around, the namesake had been vacant for a while as Carol Danvers had transitioned into being Captain Marvel for a bit by that point. The story was able to focus on Kamala Khan taking up the mantle and the circumstances that surrounded her beginning the hero’s journey. With Thor, Aaron seems to be setting up a dual track that will focus on the way that Thor Classic deals with his fall as much as the exploits of whoever it is that takes up the hammer now.
So, does the issue work?
I would say that overall it is a very interesting Thor book. However, I will also admit that I have no connection to the new “Thor” because no attempt has been made to make her anything more than a mystery at this point. At the end of the first issue in this series, ostensibly her series, she is no more fleshed out than she was before the series hit stands. There is no change in my view of her as a concept. As a debut issue in that regard, the book falls short. The book should have given me a reason to stay on board. It should have made a connection between the reader and our new protagonist. If the series is to succeed based on the merit of this new character, shouldn’t we get some inkling of who this new character is as a person? If this book is supposed to center around her, and we are to accept her as our new Thor, making her a side element in the first issue of her own series is not the boldest move to take. Perhaps taking the time to do more setup in the previous volume or even giving the issue the double-sized treatment might have solved some of these problems.
The book is worth a read if you’re a Thor fan. If you were hoping to find something akin to Ms. Marvel, with a fleshed out new female character that sticks the landing on its first issue, this might not be your best bet. For that reason I’m grading it on two separate scales. For longtime Thor fans, this is a solid 8/10. It plays with the lore, we get familiar faces and the best elements of a Thor book are there. For Marvel fans looking to jump on board, it falls closer to a 5/10. The artwork and writing are excellent but the enjoyment you get out of it is qualified by how intrigued you are by Thor and his mythos.
Here’s to hoping issue number two makes significant strides with regards to setting up the titular character.
Marvel Studios may have finally crossed the point of no return.
With the release of Captain America:The Winter Soldier, the Disney/Marvel powerhouse has given us the first page to film adaptation that truly mimics the internalized feeling of reading a comic book. Avengers came close, I will admit, but Winter Soldier is the first film where established characters mingling organically within a shared universe isn’t treated as a gimmick. There is a significant difference in the way Captain America handles the idea of our central character teaming up with other heroes and the way Avengers did. Specifically, here it is treated as the status quo. In the Avengers, everyone teaming up to save the day seemed like a novel approach to deal with the threat at hand. Here, it’s simply the way things are and it is for that reason that anyone who reads Marvel comics on a regular basis can…
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I want to readily admit that I did not read the last volume of Wolverine. I just sort of missed out on it while it was going on. When I saw that they were relaunching the book, along with a host of others I thought I would give it a try because aside from Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron I haven’t been following a Wolverine-centric title in a while. Paul Cornell is always a competent writer and I figured it might be interesting to see where his take on the character has wandered.
The book picks up with a depowered Wolverine, stripped of his immortality and made vulnerable to all manner of hurt and injury. He’s sporting some heavy armor to protect himself from the elements of danger that being a superhero will put him in and he’s npw teamed up with a shady character called “The Offer.” This guy from my deductions is some sort of Vito Corleone “makes you a deal you can’t refuse” sort of fellow and he has tasked Wolverine with breaking someone out of a highly guarded facility with the aid of a couple of other folks that I didn’t recognize offhand. The issue focuses mainly on this little mission but there is some flashback to Wolverine’s conversations with Storm regarding the loss of his healing factor that helps put us in Logan’s headspace a little more firmly, or so we are led to believe.
Wolverine is a character that has gone through a number of different looks, personas, and interpretations. Everyone seems to fall back on the outsider/wandering samurai motif but sometimes it is fun to explore other options. Here we get something more akin to the stories of when he was a mercenary. A rogue agent who hadn’t yet found his true affiliation. This time he has some true friends to guide him along, as a scene with Black Widow is particularly effective in showing how he plans to cope with his new situation. The thing that strikes me about this issue, and this iteration of Wolverine, is that the focus seems to be on telling a fun, action oriented story that focuses less on the mysteries of Logan’s past and how it currently affecting him. In fact, the book seems heavily focused on showing Wolverine as a blank slate and the primary directive of the narrative is driven from where he could go in the future.
The ending of the book is supposed to be a shocker but based on context clues within the issue we could have seen it coming. The resolution of that climax however, could go in any number of ways and I’m interested in seeing how Cornell moves forward on the book.
I really am not the person who needs to be writing this review. There are many people who have more right to tell you why this book existing is good for Marvel, good for comics, good for diversity, good for female readership, just plain good. I am not the person who should be typing these words. I am a straight, white, male. There are plenty of books on the shelves for me. I can read just about any mainstream title and enjoy a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy by swapping myself out with the title character. I could be Batman. I could be Captain America. I could be Peter Parker or Tony Stark. I could be Bruce Banner or Wolverine or Superman or Cyclops. The generic template for the superhero is one of the straight white male. We are the default, the blank slate. The starting point for 99.99% of mainstream comic characters. There are some wonderful characters that are more diverse and I am sure they are inspirations to the younger generation of readers discovering comics in this sort of geek renaissance that we are experiencing, but the comic book world needs and deserves more. As a white straight male I understand this. I know that seeing the same white straight male characters ad nauseum gets repetitive and boring. I myself am guilty of being repetitive and boring. I imagine that folks who do not identify as straight white males find it frustrating, to say the least, that there aren’t a greater number of characters out there for them to identify with. Marvel seems to be attempting to rectify that by not only developing new characters that stand apart from their white male brethren, but giving them real focus in their own books. We’re getting a Latino Ghost Rider solo book soon, people. Sit and think on that for a minute.
So Ms. Marvel is indeed a refreshing book. We have a female lead, still a teenager dealing with school and family issues in the tradition of great Marvel heroes like Peter Parker. We have a character who is of Pakistani descent living in New Jersey in a post-9/11 world, dealing with the ramifications of her own culture as it relates to her social life or lack thereof. If anything, this book is one of the most honest looks at the perception of “the foreign other” in the high school structure that I can remember in recent memory. I had a good friend in high school who went through much of the same struggle that our protagonist, Kamala, goes through in this issue; the balance of faith and family with school and societal norms. Kamala is a very realized character. She wears her inner conflict on her sleeve. Who she is and who she wants to be are at odds with each other in a way that feels very human and real. She is a teenage girl dealing with serious issues, the escapism that she seeks through writing Avengers fan-fiction is a solid indicator of what Kamala truly is like as a person. She longs for power as a means of control, not of others but of herself. She sees strength in The Avengers and admires it.
From a writer’s standpoint the issue is quite strong. We are introduced to the character and we organically learn her motivation. We take the journey with her and we can empathize with her because even if everyone reading the book isn’t Muslim, we all can sympathize with being a teenager and disagreeing with our parents over the level of trust and responsibility we were mature enough to bear. That is why it is so important to have books and characters like these, because there is an across the board connection that we can feel with the character regardless of our race or upbringing. There is a universal quality to any character in a comic book. We can relate to a talking raccoon and his sapling BFF so we should easily be able to identify with another human being, regardless of their nationality or heritage. But it is important that these characters exist for that one comic reader who is the real-life iteration of Kamala who wants to be represented in graphic fiction. She deserves this character. We all deserve this character.
Artistically speaking the book is an A-plus effort. Adrian Alphona puts some gorgeous artwork on display. It takes me back to the days when Runaways was still being published and makes me wish there was more stylistically emboldened artwork like this on more titles. The colors and the expressiveness of the characters blend together to make a truly astonishing debut issue that sets it apart from the myriad other first issues that hit the stands on any given week. Honestly, the book is simply gorgeous.
I shouldn’t be the one saying this but everyone should buy this book. It is an important book. But it is also a good book. Sometimes we have to suffer through importance but this time around we actually get to enjoy it. So please take the time to do so.
I love pulp comics. I’m a big fan of The Spirit in particular. I have most of the hardcover archive editions that DC put out a while ago and even managed to suffer through those First Wave reboot issues a few year back. The style and atmosphere of pulp comics appeal to me on more than a few levels. With that in mind, I have to admit that much of the current slate of pulp stories don’t truly work all that well. Having worked for a good long while in a comic book store I can attest to the fact that pulp fans are avid and loyal people but they are also basically begging for scraps in the current market. Mark Waid is doing great work with Green Hornet right now, and I’ve heard great things about both Shadow and Doc Savage, but in my personal opinion people are buying those books because of the talent involved or the name recognition associated with the character, not because those particular books are doing something new or inventive with the tropes or elements of the genre.
That’s why I love books like Doc Unknown by Fabian Rangel Jr. and Ryan Cody. In the same way that Atomic Robo looks at the genre and plays within those conventions to create something special, so too does Doc Unknown. It has the colorful and outlandish villains of The Shadow or Dick Tracy, mingled with the playful action of something like Bruce Timm’s Batman The Animated Series. Ryan Cody’s art perfectly matches Rangel’s dialog and exposition and creates a truly engrossing experience. It feels like a true pulp story, not a weak imitation. That is a true feat of talent because the last time I felt that way was probably the first time I read Darwyn Cooke’s take on The Spirit.
You can read the issues on Comixology or track down Rangel or Cody at a convention for print editions.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a damn fine film, all Franco aside. This looks like they’re taking things in a crazy dark direction and playing it completely straight once again at the same time which could make for a very interesting sequel indeed.