Wednesday, 17 October 2012

On "Marvel Now! Point One" (1 of 2)


In which the blogger ponders the storytelling that's been put to use on the opening page of each of Point One's six features. Spoilers lurk here-in, so do be careful;

     
1. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., by Nick Spencer, Luke Ross et al

In what's an inexplicably soporific opening to Point One's framing tale, Spencer and Ross give every sense of  being determined to try the patience of anyone but the most committed of fans. There's quite literally nothing that's visually or emotionally compelling about the page. Who could possibly be enthralled by a single frame in which almost a hundred charmless words are used to describe a time traveller's economic crimes? What is there to be snared on in the four somnolent panels in which three characters wander down barely-illuminated corridors while spouting an intimidatingly dense mass of exposition. It's not that the symbolism of their bromidic journey isn't relevant or obvious; at least some of the hidden secrets of the Marvel Now! project are going to be uncovered. But it's a dull, dry, overloaded beginning not just to this particular story, but to the collection as a whole. With 52 words in the first panel alone, and a clear commitment to telling at considerable length rather than showing, it seems no-one involved with Nick Fury: NYSE was thinking about reaching beyond the fannish consumer. When the most impressive aspect of a comic's first side is the contrast behind the shade of green used for the window in the final frame and the stultifyingly narrow pallet of purple applied elsewhere, it's hard to feel any measure of optimism for what's to come.

        
2. Starlord, by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven et al              

There's not a great deal that's said on the opening side of Starlord: Guardians Of The Galaxy, but that doesn't mean that Bendis and McNiven haven't effectively delivered a considerable degree of information and feeling. McNiven's evocation of an autumnal, rural, storm-threatened Wisconsin in the late-afternoon is beautifully judged. There's a nostalgic wistfulness to the page that's matched to a sense of an approaching ill-fate, with the sanctuary offered by Peter Quill's home counterpointed with the vulnerability suggested by its isolation. The low, looming clouds, the leaves caught on the wind, the shadows which mass under the trees and obscure the returning young boy's features; from the off, we know that things really aren't right here. Yet there's nothing of a comics-Gothic obviousness on display, and that's all to the good. For along with the sense that disaster's looming, we're also allowed to glimpse just how precious the Quill household has been. In that, it's not simply a killing ground.

There's an equally impressive sense of purpose and economy in the way in which the young Starlord's relationship with his mother is swiftly sketched out. Avoiding the most obvious strategy, Bendis and McNiven conspire not to show anything of the physical consequences of the fight that Peter Quill's just been in. In doing so, they sacrifice the chance to establish an immediate sympathy with the lad for the opportunity to show how perceptive his mother is. We can't see anything that's wrong with him, but she immediately can. Peter's loneliness, his principles and his willingness to suffer for them; they're all established here without the need for detailed explanation, narration or flashbacks. As technically impressive as it's informing and moving, Bendis and McNiven's opening page even ends on a quietly intriguing page-turner, with the shadows established in the second panel now being home to a string of mysterious lights. As such, it's a fine example of a creative team paying attention to the class 101 basics every bit as much as displaying the subtleties of their craft.

     
3. Nova, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness et al

As their recent collaboration on the woeful Avengers: X-Sanction might lead us to expect, Loeb and McGuinness manage to combine action and spectacle with carelessness and complacency on the first page of Nova: Diamondhead.  At least Loeb's exposition is delivered in a way which offers the compensation of movement and novelty. Yet it can hardly be said that a great deal of thought's been invested in the plot. With nothing being expressed in the word-balloons beyond a tiny degree of back-story and one-note youthful exuberance, a great deal of responsibility for the reader's entertainment has been devolved on the shoulders of McGuinness. Sadly, the artist's responded by offering a sequence of effort-sidestepping cliches. Everything that we see beyond the rather charming sight of the new Nova flying upside down and at speed in the first frame is entirely hackneyed, and suggests an artist working to a fantastically demanding deadline while reliant upon a tiny number of tourist's postcards for reference. Would we know that's New York City in the first frame if the text didn't tell us? Could there a more stereotypical representation of Monument Valley than the one in the last? With little of character or invention on show, it's hard to care.

If McGuinness' art have been just a touch less obvious and a measure more interesting, the implausibilities in the third panel might have proved less distracting. Why is it that the folks in "Littleton, Kansas" are so disconnected from life in the Marvel Universe that they can't believe in a "flying man". How did they even know that the luminous, incredibly-fast moving light-effect that's Nova is human in the first place? Indeed, what does that dialogue offer to the story at all in the first place? (*1) What would be lost if it wasn't there? As such, the one truly remarkable aspect of this page emerges. With so little information having been offered up, Loeb and McGuinness still manage to confuse.

File under slumming.

*1 - Jeremy Spitzberg in the comments below points out that the panel is presenting us with Pa Kent and His boy Clark, Littleton being Smallville and so on. My reply to him sums up my feelings on the matter.

to be concluded;

27 comments:

  1. Jeph is still doing comics? Well good for him! That Alan Moore had some minor adversity and just quit altogether, but that Jeph's a slugger!
    I think there's a rule at Marvel about their staff not freelancing as writers, so the upshot is that Jeph can ruin comics or tv, but not both at the same time.

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    1. Hello Mr B:- How can I put this? I do find myself confused about the degree to which the world is transparently a meritocracy sometimes.

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  2. Ny question is, why a second Marvel Point One, when fully half the plotlines from the first haven't seen the light of day yet (Ultron, Watcher, Coldmoon & Dragonfire...)?

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    1. Hello snell:- Apologies for your comment being delayed in spam hell. In answer to your question, I'd completely forgotten the first Point One until you mentioned it. Now I recall how I was thoroughly disappointed by it, and it's a really good point you made. Why would there any dangling plotlines left from a book which was trailed in the day as being essential set-up?

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  3. I have yet to understand how Nick Spencer is able to do such mediocre work, yet be lauded as a writer elsewhere. Is there a Comics 101 class they can *actually* take? Maybe he should read your blog.

    Enjoying your site, by the way. Your essays on the Gerry Conway/Colan run on Daredevil were excellent, and addressed my own concerns about the run. The bit about the shopkeeper who shot one of the robbers was one that really set my teeth on edge (and I'm certain Conway and I share the same politics) as being completely wrongheaded.

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    1. Hello Hysan:- I certainly struggle to enjoy NS's work. I fear it's a generational problem on my point, because there's a significant degree of acclaim for his work all over the blogosphere. I fear I couldn't even follow the Nick Fury's story conclusion in Point One. It's all very puzzling...

      Thanks for the kind words. At the end of a long if not unpleasant day, they're appreciated. I suspect that Gerry Conway's politics aren't that different to mine, I must say. In fact, his politics probably had an influence on my own. The shop-keeper scene is indeed a disturbing one, and yet it does carry a sense of the politics of the period. Wrongheaded, as you say, and yet replied across a great deal of the pop culture of the period.

      It all seems very far away now ...

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  4. Excellent work, kiddo! Reviewing the opening pages is a splendid idea, and as ever, you execute it with insight and pizzazz. Roll on part two.

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    1. Hello Martin:- Thank you :) You're an egg, and that's especially true given your use of the word "Pizzaz", which I always associate with a magazine advertised in the back of late 70s Marvels and never seen on these shores. An unavoidable nostalgia rush .... :)

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    2. Ah yes - file away with DC's Teen Beat!

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    3. Hello Martin:- Was there really ever a world of unobtainable wonders? I dread coming across affordable copies of unread comics from the day whose covers were in comics that I read back then. They can't possibly live up to my teenage self's expectations.

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    4. Can I be snarky? Please? If I can, I'd say, "Why yes, reviewing the first pages of comics is a BRILLIANT idea, sir! I wish I'd thought of it!!!!"

      But that would be mean. I don't want to be mean, do I?

      Regarding Spencer: Morning Glories took a while to get going, but Spencer has been really doing a nice job with it recently. Other than that, I've never read something by him that really dazzled me. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents had its moments, but I wonder if the acclaim for Spencer is just because he works really fast on a bunch of different comics. That would be weird.

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    5. Hello Greg:- You're perfectly welcome as an old friend of the bloke to snark here. Of course, I might mention that the discussing of first pages on this blog began long before this week, or indeed 2012. The following 2-part, many-thousand-word discussion from the May of last year - two thirds of a year before Frantic As A Cardiograph began - is the first example which comes to mind;

      http://toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/alpha-flight-1-justice-society-of.html
      http://toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/on-secret-six-33-what-is-first-page-for.html

      Alternatively, we might even travel to the distant past on my That Reminds Me Of This blog from August of 2010 for the following discussion of the tale-opening establishing shots on three first pages in the 2000ad of that particular week;

      http://toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/on-secret-six-33-what-is-first-page-for.html

      I don't know if you were writing detailed looks at first pages back then. Perhaps you've doing so for years and years. But at least I might suggest that I'm not new to this kind of post? As you said in your first FAAC, it's fun to look at first pages, and though I can't even begin to match your epic progress, I have had my big toe in the pond for more than several years now.

      What? You've not read EVERYTHING I've written?

      I'll spare you any other examples, because looking at my old posts makes me feel even more uncomfortable than looking at the newest ones! Still, I will say that your daily analysis was something which I thought was a splendid idea when you announced it, the kind of day-to-day endeavour that I'd have liked to have taken a joust at myself. And it remains, of course, well worth the daily visit even as you pass example #292;

      http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/01/01/frantic-as-a-cardiograph-scratching-out-the-lines-archive/

      Re: Mr Spencer. As I said above, I do worry that it's a generational problem on my part. For I read a considerable degree of positive press for his work and yet it quite passes me by. I didn't get beyond issue 4 of Morning Glories. I'm glad to hear it's worth reading and that he's doing, as you say, a nice job. The read-it-in-a-minute cheesecakeorama of the first tpb didn't hit my sweet spot, while what I read of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. seemed terribly thin and obvious.

      But I can't believe anyone makes waves without producing work worth experiencing. Just yesterday I was re-reading some of Jonathan Hickman's first work for Marvel and I remain as baffled about its worth now as I was then. Yet now he's producing the splendid The Manhattan Projects, which I was pleased to give a 4-star review to in Q, and which proves that his boosters were quite right.

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    6. Colin: I was just having some fun, as you well know! I know I'd read at least one of your first page breakdowns before this year, so while I wasn't thinking of your fine work consciously, it must have been tugging at my brain somewhere in my memory when I decided to check them out. I haven't read everything you've written, true, but I've read a lot of it!

      Morning Glories started to hit its stride around issue 7 or 8, after Spencer got the pieces in place. It still might not be for you, of course, but I agree that it was all over the map early on. I tend to give independent stuff a bit more rope (if it had been a Big Two book I would have dropped it), and I'm glad I did, because it's been really crazy (in a good way) for the past 12-15 issues.

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    7. Hello Greg:- I'd never imagine you were being anything other than good-humoured! But I would hate to seem to be lifting your splendid idea without paying the appropriate respect. It wasn't your intentions but the impression I was giving of mine that I was concerned with. Thanks for your generous words, but given that I've long owned up to using your What I Bought columns to inform my own reading and reviews, I think any suggestion of influence heads in the opposite direction. Absolutely :)

      I like the idea of a "crazy" Morning Glories, and I like the idea of being able to share your enthusiasm for NS's work. Our local library has a great big treasury edition of MG. I shall hunt it down. I've also had NS's Jimmy Olsen tales recommended too. These suggestions are the only homework I've ever been thoroughly pleased for.

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  5. It's always a mystery which Bendis we'll get. Will we get the Bendis that does a decent job of giving the right ratio of show&tell? Or will we get the Bendis that cranks the drama all the way up to 11 no matter how little sense it makes?

    Well, at least he's not Loeb, who I don't believe has ever put out anything above mediocre. I've not read his "colored" books with Sale, but I've read his recommended DC work and I fail to see how they come so highly recommended. And he's only gotten worse since then, so that's no surprise that his work seems lazy.

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    1. Hello Joe:- As much as I admired the first page of the Starlord tale, I would add that the rest of it was incredibly predictable and thin. Still, the first page was a peach, and well worth throwing a hat up into the air about.

      Mr Loeb hasn't written a word I've come across since around 2005 that I've valued reading beyond the exquisite Batman/Spirit team-up, which remains one of my favourite post-Millennium comics. Give it a go if you come across it. It really is very good indeed. Elsewhere; slumming.

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  6. Bendis on "Starlord" and Loeb on "Nova"? Enh.

    Oh well it encourages me to go and reread some "Annihilation" thru "War of Kings" collections again...

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    1. Hello LurkerWithout:- I fear for your sake that it'll be a very long time - if ever - before Marvel's outer space is under the control of DnA. I do find the idea of Tony Stark as a member of the Guardians Of The Galaxy interesting, mind you ...

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    2. I vaguely recall that the original Badoon Conquer the Earth Dark Future team eventually had a member from the Stark Corporate Homeworld...

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    3. Hello LurkerWithout:- You're beyond the limits of my limited comics knowledge! But I do know that the very idea of the Stark Corporate Homeworld sends shivers down my spine ....

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  7. 'Why is it that the folks in "Littleton, Kansas" are so disconnected from life in the Marvel Universe that they can't believe in a "flying man".'

    ... Especially since those are the Kents - Clark and Jonathan "Pa" Kent.

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    1. Hello Jeremy:- And thank you. I was thinking "story" rather than "tortuous, story-slowing in-joke", but you were properly awake and up to noting both. Two panels into an introductory story and JL wants to take such a detour? I'm sure some will be charmed.

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  8. After reading your piece I'm torn on whether or not to pick up Point One (or Now Point One or Point One Now or whatever it is called). I like the first-page-review concept.

    On the one hand is the underwhelming examples you've listed above and in your reply to Joe combined with the hefty price tage, while on the other is a Gillen/McKelvie story and a Fraction/Allred Ant-Man... it's a hard life collecting comics.

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    1. Hello Ed:- I'm just finishing off the second part of the Point One post now. I can assure you that the Gillen/McKelvie tale is splendidly good fun, and there's a lot to say for the Fraction/Allred Ant-Man tale too. It's a curate's egg, to be honest, and it's expensive at the cost. But those two tales, and the first page of the Starlord tale, are worth it.

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  9. As always when Jeph Loeb's name comes up on the internet, I feel the need to be the one guy sticking up for him by pointing to the greatness of The Long Halloween, which is still the best Batman story of them all. Well, it's my personal favourite at least, but I'd argue really strongly for an overall top position. And put Dark Victory not too far behind.

    I hear only bad things about his Marvel work and I'm sure you're all right on the money, but I have just about zero interest in Marvel and will propably never check any of that out...so Loeb's track record in my own little ignorant world is pretty awesome. I'll defend the guy every day on the basis of TLH alone. :)

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    1. Hello There: I wouldn't disagree at all that JL's produced some fine work. In fact, I tend to try to distinguish - as I did in the above comments - between his pre-2005 work, which contains some real gems, and the material since then, which I've struggled with beyond Batman/The Spirit. The Long Halloween dragged for me, I fear, and Dark Victory too, but the earlier prestige Batman issues were certainly to my taste. And I certainly don't think that "slumming" would accurately describe BTLH or BDV at all.

      But then, I've never heard of anyone who's read those early Batman tales and still argues that JL isn't a writer of talent. I'm sure there are folks out there who do so. But the distance between what he has achieved and what he now produces is ... well, I think its unprecedented.

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  10. As for Nick Spencer, I've thus far only read his Jimmy Olsen stuff, but that blew me away (positively, I mean). And I've got to say, reading that first page- I'm really intrigued! I'm not going to go out and buy it, as I'm uniformly biased against comics that have morphed in such a way to mimic popular movies (Sam Jackson Fury, Nolan style Bat-suit, etc etc.), but I dig what they've got there. Which makes it pretty funny how much you didn't like it, Colin. Different strokes, as you say.

    But that's me. I eat up purple prose and wordiness for breakfast. Probably because I feel "oh boy- I didn't waste my money on a book that can be glanced through in two seconds!"

    It's for that same reason that I was less than interested in that Starlord page- though you've rightly pointed out its nuance, and I happily stand corrected.

    The Nova bit... well. No Richard Rider? No sale.

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