In which the blogger reviews several of Marvel's new Now! titles, a business that inevitably involves spoilers;
Jason Aaron's script for his first issue of Thor focuses on the not inconsiderable drawbacks of a prospectively eternal life. Portraying his protagonist during three key moments of his past, present and future, Aaron succinctly sketches out Thor's absurdly powerful capabilities while simultaneously suggesting their limitations. To the ninth century's God of Thunder, what passes as immortality has brought with it an overconfidence bordering on arrogance. To Thor's future self, besieged alone in the Great Hall Of Asgard by an army of terrors, century upon century of life has brought incalculable loss, senility and infirmity. And where today's Odinson is concerned, nothing so accentuates the pitfalls of the possibility of athanasia as the sight of a room full of the corpses of giant alien gods, left hanging from meat hooks for several hundred years after having been slowly tortured to
death. Artist Esad Ribic's impressively disturbing depiction of the relatively tiny and agoraphobically isolated Thor faced with a room of murdered colossi is perhaps the single most unsettling sight in any superhero comic this year.
To the reader who's either unfamiliar with Thor or unconvinced about why they ought to be interested in his adventures, this debut is an impressively tense and engrossing introduction. To those of us who've enjoyed something of the character's adventures before, this innovative and fresh take - far more Robert E. Howard than Hal Foster or Stan'n'Jack - suggests a fusion of outright horror with fantasy that promises to be well worth the sticking with.
Matt Fraction's script for Fantastic Four #1 makes for an awkwardly disjointed if often undeniably charming experience. It jumps backwards and forwards through time and situation as if Fraction had been concerned that his tale just wasn't as compelling in itself as it ought to be. As such, it's far easier to remember the issue as a number of discrete and on-occasion entertaining scenes than it is to recall being caught up in the forward momentum of it all. At moments, it's even hard to tell what the relationship between a particular incident and the story as a whole might be. Why, for example, were three pages given over to the Thing's interruption of a street-fight in his old neighbourhood, and why was he so very concerned about footage of his doing so appearing on the net? The intention appears to have been to give each cast member a defining moment of their own. Sadly, doing so reduces Ben Grimm to an easily embarrassed and largely ineffective old curmudgeon, while Sue Richards is portrayed solely in terms of her being a loving and attentive mother to the Baxter Building's extended family of super-kids. Though the scenes of her matriarchal duties are the most touching in the book, they also carry the unfortunate sense that the Invisible Woman's defining characteristics are those of a housewife. She's in charge of meals, comforting distressed nippers and even supervising the kid's pre-bedtime rituals. Anyone new to the Fantastic Four could be forgiven for thinking that they were being told Sue Richards was the ideal homemaker and little else. Even when the formidable artistic team of Mark Bagley and Mark Farmer show her touchingly tucking in one of her charges while Dragon Man sweetly reads in the background, it's hard not to wonder why the men of the household aren't helping.
Yet threaded through the longueurs and miscalculations are a series of undoubtedly fascinating enigmas. How will Reed Richards save himself and his team-mates from the fatal condition which is afflicting him and threatening them? What will the planned voyage through time and space in search of a cure involve, and why has Richards decided to hide the truth of both illness and mission from his wife, his brother-in-law and his best friend? Match those narrative snares with the appeal of scenes showing, for example, the Human Torch dining Darlo in a flying saucer in the Negative Zone, and there's an inarguable agreeableness about much of what's on show. It may not be enough to convince the curious and as yet uncommitted to return next month. But it will most probably encourage a significant number of readers to keep an eye on things in the hope that reports of tighter storytelling on Mr Fraction's part begin to appear..