Sunday, 27 January 2013

On Young Avengers #1, Minutemen #6, Jennifer Blood #20 & Masks #3

How can Before Watchman still be staggering on? What could possibly be left to strip-mine from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' work? There's certainly nothing but homoeopathic traces of Watchmen's quality to be found in Darwyn Cooke's Minutemen #6. Instead, there's everything you'd expect from a soulless and mercenary ransack of a best-left-alone classic. In short, Minutemen has ended exactly as it began. The persistent reliance on a consistently counterproductive nine-panel grid. The enervating dependence upon entirely inessential aspects of the original's backstory. The lethargic, space-filling pace of the storytelling in the absence of anything substantial to say. Cooke hasn't just failed to add anything at all of value to Watchmen over the course of Minutemen's run. He's even forgotten to convincingly flesh out the bare bones of his own hackneyed endeavour, layering as he has one cliche over another as if that might pass for a well-worked story. No matter how much sentimentality and bluster Cooke's struggled to trowel over its pages, he's never succeeded in making Minutemen seem like anything but a corporate-mandated, trademark-exploiting stunt. In The Last Minute, he offers up the destruction of secret base, the murder of a super-bloke, and the revelation of an undreamed-of string-puller too. You'd think that there'd be something in all of that which didn't feel forced, irrelevant and shallow, but nothing of the sort arrives. Even those moments when Cooke's undoubted ability to evoke a genre-savvy, film-set sharp sense of the past feel almost entirely hollow, since all he's really doing is filling up space on the way to fulfilling his quota of pages. If anything at all is transmitted by Cooke's storytelling, it's the air of a determined and professional slog to obscure the lack of a worthwhile yarn with 140+ pages of empty-hearted distraction. At the very least, a pot-boiler ought to give the impression of simmering every once in a while, but Minutemen never once threatened to do so.

There's nothing of Before Watchmen's cynical, coin-counting ennui to be found in Masks #3, but there is something of the former's lack of distinctiveness and purpose. Unlike Cooke's superficial and apparently disengaged work, writer Chris Roberson's enthusiasm for his own gathering of crimefighting vigilantes seems evident. But though Roberson's set-up of a fascist coup in the New York of 1938 is an undeniably fascinating one, there's little of city, era or indeed anything but pantomime fascism to be found here. Instead, Masks quickly reveals itself to be a stultifyingly formulaic tale of how a small cadre of virtuous and hard-fighting vigilantes join together to counter overwhelming odds, etc, etc, etc. It's an efficiently crafted narrative, as you'd expect from Roberson, and it's heartfelt too, with a obvious and touching respect for the source material that's constantly on show. But in focusing on the traditions of the by-the-numbers comicbook team-up, Masks comes across as little but more-of-the-same. So much of the potential for distinctiveness which the setting of late-Depression New York offers is squandered on a story which, with a little effort, could be set in any city and at any time with just about any stereotypical cast of day-saving protagonists. As such, Masks seem hardly any different from the most typical of modern day superhero fare.

To be fair, some of the reasons for the book's lack of individuality are clearly beyond Roberson's control. With so many of his cast sharing a similar appearance, power-set, ethnicity, gender, and even class identity, he's reliant upon the collaboration of an artist who can ensure that everyone appears both distinct and engaging. Regrettably, that's not something which artist Dennis Calero appears able to achieve, while there's also little of the age to be experienced in his listlessly photo-referenced scenes of the period.Without anything but the comicbook equivalent of a guide-vocal to follow in Calero's art, the third issue of Masks is finally sunk by its lack of any notably compelling sequences. In truth, it's mostly just a comicbook's worth of exposition and foreshadowing, and although that may perhaps work as a dry but essential part of a collected edition, it makes for a thin and unengaging read in an issue that's cost $3.99. Given how promising the idea of a pulp-era super-team is, and considering the beguiling possibilities of a tale set in that particular time and place, Masks is an expensive and disappointing under-achievement

By contrast, the creators of Young Avengers #1 seem totally unable to resist the compulsion to infuse their work with a great exuberant mass of pop culture, social politics and creative ambition. From the ethics as well as the pleasures of sex with partners and strangers alike to the emotional temptations of access to a multiverse, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie appear set on describing the experience of late adolescence rather than just the comicbook traditions of the same. In that Young Avengers is a superhero comic where the requisite costumes and powers and brawls are smartly put to use to playfully discuss everyday life in the 21st century everybit as much as they're enjoyed for their own undeniable virtues. It's a dual purpose which means that Young Avengers is grounded in character rather than type, and driven by an outward-looking curiosity and enthusiasm rather than a fannish longing for yet more comfortably pre-masticated product.

At times, there's a vivifying desire to innovate that sparks up off of the pages of "I Have No Powers...". The fractured, multi-panneled and wordless double-page spread which shows the book's first melee, for example, succeeds in being surprising and yet perfectly transparent and compelling too. Similarly effective as well as innovative is the counterpoint provided by a slowly unspooling, Ellison-referencing title, which makes for a considerable belly-laugh when its punchlines are reached. Yet the point of the storytelling is always to precisely describe the experiences and responses of Gillen and McKelvie's cast. This is anything but change and novelty for the sake of it, and often the most impressive aspects of the writing and art are the less  immediately conspicuous aspects of it. Rarely, for example, has a mass of first-issue exposition been channeled to an audience in a less conspicuous and more entertaining fashion. Similarly, there's few if any artists at work in the super-book today who can inspire so much empathy for a cast through the panel-to-panel precision and subtlety of their character's emotions.

Those who know what they like and like only what they know may be wary of such an idiosyncratic project. Where are the tie-ins, where are the Events? Where does all of this fit in the MU's broader context? They may even suspect that crimes even worse than being peripheral to the continuity could be being perpetrated. What if Young Avengers arrives complete with an elitist's hijacking contempt for traditional super-heroics? Nothing could be further from the truth. There's not a panel that's arch and excluding to be found here. Instead, there's a sincere regard for the super-book in addition to the conviction that it needn't be so disconnected from everything but itself. And so, there's no rejection of the decades-worn tropes of other-worldly analogues, for example, but there is a belief that they ought to be used for matters of emotional substance as well as golly-gee-wow spectacle. True, the politically reactionary may well find reason to resume bleating about the supposedly liberal bias of the Big Two's output. Both writer and artist are clearly disinterested in labelling any of their diverse cast as immoral or inferior, and homophobes in particular will be just as appalled by what's shown here as they will have been by Allan Heinberg's incarnation of the title. But then, that's just one more reason to enthusiastically applaud the arrival of this new volume of Young Avengers.
If only Al Ewing had as able an artistic collaborator to dovetail with on Jennifer Blood #20. Eman Casallos' pages are competent enough, and in places they're unarguably effective, but they're sadly not the equal of  Ewing's remarkable script. In what's a celebration of the American thriller tradition everybit as much as a satire of the crimefighting-psychopath trope, Storm's A-Coming depicts Jessica Blute's inevitably futile and incendiary attempts to start over in the isolated rural town of Revere, New Mexico. As always with Ewing's work here, horror and laughter tend to co-exist on the page rather than taking turns to dominate particular scenes. On the one hand, Blood's attempts to hide away her family and resume what appears to be a typical existence is a clearly farcical and frequently hilarious business. Yet it's also a tale of a clearly baffled and perpetually deluded serial killer whose children have been reduced to traumatised trophies by their mother's psychoticism. Though Ewing succeeds in making something pathetically vulnerable out of Blute's inability to make sense of the world around her, he never suggests that's she's anything other than a curse to herself and everyone else she encounters. When he has her declare that Revere's hungover, street-vomiting county sheriff is a bad example to her children, it's impossible not to laugh. There are, after all, few worse examples than Jennifer Blood. Yet the very fact that she's expressed such a judgement is thoroughly chilling too. Does Blute ever disapprove of somebody that she doesn't also end up killing, and what is it that Ewing's suggesting lies at the heart of the will for conformity in small town communities? To have ensured that the reader pities Blute for her abnormal psychology without ever once considering it as a marker of order-establishing heroism is no little achievement.

But there's no place to hide in the thrilleresque realism which Ewing's script demands for an artist who at times struggles to convincing portray the forms that he's depicting. Though the emotions of Casallos' characters tend to be clear, his still-evident struggles with anatomy mean that they're rarely as compelling as they ought to be. Similarly, his backgrounds often suggest barely-functional stage-sets drawn largely from the imagination, and that again undermines Ewing's purpose. (Unlike Calero's similarly under-par work on Masks, Casallos lacks the opportunity to hide his weaknesses behind noirishly dark scenes dominated by muscular superpeople.) At moments, Casallos does succeeds in catching the nature of the characters he's describing. The final shot of Sheriff Carter suggests a man who may just be as formidable as he's an alcoholic liability, while Pruitt's role as Blood's personal fury is both underlined and undermined by the presence of the intravenous drip that she's forced to wheel around behind her. In both cases, Casallos succeeds in convincing evoking the physicality of the characters while also emphasising the particular mix of tragedy and comedy which distinguishes them. Yet Jennifer Blood is currently one of the best-written comics on the market, and it will sadly never generate the sales and acclaim which Ewing's writing deserves until its art becomes exceptional rather than adequate. If a Steve Dillon or a Jamie McKelvie or a Henry Flint were contributing to Jennifer Blood, I suspect that there'd be talk of Eisners and prestige hardbacked collections. As it is, it's a comic whose potential remains in part unrealised on the page, even as its scripts ensure that it's a must-read monthly.



  1. Pray tell me this ludicrous "Before Watchmen" time-waster has run its course. I am hard-pressed to think of a single instance in which a prequel comic (or book or movie or series) has proven worth it. Isn't there some mathematical principle which states that a prequel cannot be of greater length than the original? As far as I can tell, all they have done is take the well-established history and spell it out graphically, vainly trying to create some sort of tension when we know what will befall the characters.

    1. Hello Rabbi Joe:- I fear that Before Watchmen has still some way to go before it finishes. And then, once the pages are all in hand, DC gets to stuff two big hardbacked collections with WATCHMEN on the side out into the marketplace. You see - and I of course know you're well aware of this - the mathematics of this whole sorry business are those of corporate quarterly profits.

      I've not done the maths to work out whether the page count of the new collections will exceed that of the original. I assume it must. It's an absurd business, but careers will be built on this, or at the very least significantly furthered. There are even critics who have declared that some or even most of these books are masterpieces ....

  2. Like yourself, Colin, I am enjoying Jennifer Blood, but my issue with the art would be that in emulating Darrick Robertson (accidentally or by design), I think the book runs the risk of being dismissed as something done in a "Garth Ennis style", which is tremendously unfair on what should by now have been a breakout title, though in being a reaction to and retraction of the tropes of the super-book of late, I think it's being dismissed by a lot of people because Ewing is just pissing them off now. "Vigilantes are bad people and torture doesn't work? WHO DOES THIS LIMEY PRICK THINK HE IS?"

    Goodness, are they still making Before Watchmen? Bless.*

    I have what I consider must be a homophobic reaction to Heinberg's Young Avengers, as during the coming out scene my reaction was "Ugh, this is just awful", so I assume it's homophobia and not just that the scene rang as false wish-fulfillment compared to the unashamed recycling of any confrontational soap-operatic trope going in the rest of the book, be it the black guy on (super) drugs or Girl Hawkeye's one-word origin**.

    * I joke, of course. I am well aware that they are still making Before Watchmen comics as there is a buttload of unsold copies in my LCS every time I go in to the point they were giving them away to regular customers with a standing order worth more than 20 quid - only for almost all of them to be given back. Sales charts are of course compiled through pre-orders and not sales, so BW will be doing very well in terms of sales, I imagine, even though my store insists they literally cannot give copies of the books away.
    ** "Raped"

    1. Hello Brigonos:- Now I didn't know enough to recognise that any specific style was being emulated. As heretical as it sounds, I've not had a great many encounters with Mr Robertson's work. I've never been able to generate enough enthusiasm to get beyond the first few books of The Boys, for example. It's no reflection of my regard for the style. The stories just aren't to my taste.

      Ewing's work on Jennifer Blood has, as you imply, been thoroughly impressive and enjoyable. His work ought to have inspired an HBO series for the property by now, and though he's always resppected the comic's origins, it's a very different thing now. I'd not come across the reaction you discuss, but I could believe that some folks with a serious admiration for frontier justice would struggle with JB's content. In many ways, it's a VERY important book because of the way in which discusses these vitally important matters while also being a hoot of a read. There's a regretable tradition of comics being very well-intentioned and well-informed when it comes to social justice and yet failing to be very much fun. Jennifer Blood has entirely sidestepped that, and it ought to the breakout title you mention. But until the art matches the script, that's not going to happen. None of that means that the art isn't functional and even on occasion fine, or the artist not working his socks off. But ....

      Before Watchmen will continue through the decades until DC feels that it's bored the blogosphere to the point at which After Watchmen can begin. And that Event WILL happen. It will generate profit and profit is often irresistable when corporate politics comes into play. Try to tell a bean-counter that the Watchmen "property" can't be used to generate more profit and I suspect that the argument will be a short one. After Watchmen for 2015? I wouldn't bet against it if the 2 Before Watchmen collections sell well. And those collected editions are a very big deal, I suspect. Designed to sit beside the ever-selling original, no doubt, they're a prime example of mutton being sold next to lamb. Or something like that.

      I quite enjoyed Heinberg's first Young Avengers run. I was surprised that he made such a dodgy concept work so well. I've not read it since then, and part of that is that the later issues didn't work well for me. That there were problems with the first series, mind you, I wouldn't deny. But it seemed well-structured and sincere at the time. And now you want to ruin my comforting memories? What kind of man are you?

  3. Chris Roberson is a puzzle to me. He's so obviously smart and decent and has something worthwhile to bring to funnybook writing...and yet nearly every comic I've read by him has left me unmoved, no matter how much I wanted to like it. Your description here sums up how I feel about pretty much all his work. It's competent. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe if he'd do something reckless and totally beyond his ability, something stupidly ambitious, it would engage me as a reader. As it is, I'm left rooting for him to even try.

    1. Hello Richard:- My experience of CR's work is limited to Grounded - where I thought he made a far better fist of a daft situation than JMS - and the 3 issues of Masks. Even the Alex Ross interiors on the first one left me wondering what the point of it was. Relatively decompressed, largely by the book, it seemed far more interested in moving the characters round the board once again than saying anything about anything beyond "Aren't these characters cool?". Given that most of them in that first issue were rich white and largely characterless blokes, it was hard to agree; types, not characters, and suited to an audience of some 80 decades ago. A shame.

      Yet the New York of 1938 is, as of course you'll know better than me, the most fascinating setting for a comic. There's Leadbelly and Woody, Arthur Miller and Orson Welles, the broadcasts of fascist Father Coughlin and FDR. There's modernism and Victorian squalor, communism and Murder Inc, Jazz and blues and the consequences of The Harlem Renaissance, political corruption and the Great Hurricane, and and and .... Masks seems to have no interest at all in anything at all to do with the time beyond the Pulps. Yet the readers of the day would have brought that knowledge - to a lesser or greater degree - and used it to inform the adventures of The Shadow etc. The characters functioned in the context of a specific cultural landscape. Strip that away, or fail to include another to function in its place, and all you have is a bunch of threadbare 30s properties.

    2. Most of his work-for-hire(and even his first volume of Memorial) comics seem that way, competent but not really engaging.

      But I really enjoyed his work on Edison Rex(as derivative as it is) and on the second volume (also presented in small, cheap, satisfying digital chunks) of Memorial. If you haven't checked them out, you might want to.

    3. Hello Alin:- I always had a suspicion that Edison Rex would be right up my street. I'll make a point of chasing it and that second volume of Memorial down. Thanks :)

  4. Hi Colin

    I too noticed tons of unsold issues of Beneath Watchmen in my LCS over the last few months. I have no doubt that the 3-4 month period where comicshops have to order in what they think might sell without really having an opportuinity to guage the market is where DC made their money on this, and that is why they opted for flooding the market with all the different BW titles at once. The highest ranking of them sell around the 50k mark, so it will be interesting to see whether that number falls in the charts showing the 4-5 issues of the series when comic shops have a better idea of who is buying them.

    (Counting sales is very trainspotterish approach to comics that I sometimes indulge in.)

    Having said that, DC had the confidence to bring out Moloch and Dollar Bill later in the game, so they must be selling well enough. Moloch and Dollar Bill - I ask you?

    My own Comicshop Guy's opinion on BW was 'I wish it would be over, already', which is a very strange attitude, I thought. I think he's picking up bad vibes from customers who disapprove, and probably disapproves himself, but he has to go where DC puts its hype.

    I thought your tumbler piece linking Doc Doom with the quote about hating those we harm was very relevant to Alan Moore's position, by the way. By taking part in something they know is offensive to Moore, the likes of Cooke and JMS have to justify themselves somehow by running down Moore, instead of just talking about the merits of what they are doing. So they are amking it hard for me to care about their other projects. (Whatever about his execrable Earth One books, I used to be a big fan of Babylon 5, and was thinking of getting the DVD sets to watch with my non-geek wife, because she liked Battlestar Galactica, but I don't think I'll bother now!)

    I got issue 1 of Masks free from Comixology. I liked it well enough. I've read half of Ennis' Shadow run and liked it so I'm interested at the moment. Still, I couldn't figure what they were trying to say with the whole Fascists running the city argument. These comics were written as riot-geared coppers baton charged and tear-gassed peaceful Occupy protesters in various US cities, at the behest of their politicians. Who needs the mafia to be involved?

    When I heard about the Young Avengers I put in an order with my LCS, but after I read the last few issues of Journey into Mystery, I was so upset at what happened to Loki, that I cancelled it! But, I see now I should maybe sign up again. The preview of the first few pages looked excellent. I love McKelvie's art too. In this case, I'll light a candle, but that doesn't mean I won't keep cursing the darkness! :-)

    Appropos of nothing, Colin, I thought I'd let you know that I have finally gotten around to the series of posts on DC One Million that I mentioned here once or twice that I was trying to put together. I've still to put up the last two parts, but I'm over the hump now. It's a lot of comics to cover!

    Hope it isn't too tacky putting it into the responses here, but I thought you might be interested!

    1. Hello Figsrello:- It's not tacky in ANY way to link to posts in the comments here. Well, there are folks who pop in having never commented again with the purpose of sharing a link and I tend to think that can be a bit much. (Not always, mind you, but there are folks who appear, plug and then never appear again.) But you've been a good egg to this blog and I'd EXPECT you to remind me of something we'd mentioned before :) Thank you.

      "When I heard about the Young Avengers I put in an order with my LCS, but after I read the last few issues of Journey into Mystery, I was so upset at what happened to Loki, that I cancelled it! But, I see now I should maybe sign up again."

      There's no maybe about it, Mr F! Run, nay, sprint comics-shopwards.

      Oddly enough, I found myself being very interested in the new/old Loki. Kid Loki had a good life and a good death. Though I of course miss the character, KG's written it all in such a way that I'm interested in what's next. It's a job well done. I'm not sure there's an equivilant of it in recent comics history. Or even, very much not recent comics history.

      I can only agree with you about the Fascist in Masks. As you say, they're a perfect opportunity to discuss the quasi-fascist aspects of modern-era politics. Certainly there were fascist activists, sympathizers and a worrying degree of parallels between major strands of US politics and the far, far right cause in Europe. Father Coughlin's popularity, for example, can seem shocking today, and yet in the day he was part of the political and cultural landscape.

      I think that Tacitus quote is one you use well here. Certainly, participation in Before Watchmen will do few if any creators any serious good beyond the silver and the promise of future work from the corporation. It simply doesn't reflect well on those who involved themselves, and no amount of bluster from JMS - who seems intent on rendering himself entirely unimportant - will obscure that.

      I love the idea of a retailer who wants an Event to be over. I think it says it all. Before Watchmen seems to me to have three obvious purposes; it established who was in charge, it made a very public claim to trademarks previously associated with Moore and Gibbons, and it helped generate profit. Quality of storytelling came a very poor fourth to those obviously far more important corporate concerns.

      I suspect that one positive outcome on the corporate front of having so many BW books out - beyond their being up for collecting and flogging in the Spring on the back of the original - is that its bored the criticism out of much of the blogosphere. One way to get away with doing something objectionable is simply to keep doing it until criticism seems both futile and repetitive. The strategy of targeting the Rump with fanboy confections while pumping out more and more product was a smart one IF you don't include moral issues or matters of quality. Divide, conquer and bore to death is a smart, if soulless, way of going about reducing the heritage of a fine piece of work to ordure.

    2. And in my experience, the Tacitus quote also applies to the readers who've signed up for BW. As they receive various signals that there's disapproval out there (however muted in the grand scheme of things) they too start to justify their purchasing choices with sneering at Moore. Ah well, human nature.

      I've finally read Planetary all the way through to the end recently. Ellis really showed how to handle old pulp concepts in that book, as well as highlighting the pitfalls. Doc Brass even mentions there, that with the world changing he shouldn't be surprised if women and minorities are getting a look in in the modern scene.

      Whatever the justifications, a 21st century book featuring only (rich) white males is going to feel wrong. At least Zorro is hispanic! And comics featuring armed tough guys in masks are only going to present problems that those guys are equipped to deal with. So, much as I like the (simplified) parallels with modern and 30s history in mask, the creators really have their work cut out doing something smart with them.

      Still it's an earnest attempt to say something about issues that matter, at least. Ross's projects do tend to probe the boundaries of where you can go with a superhero story, if he never manages to break them.

      I too have an interest in Roberson because of his public statements, but I guess iZombie is still looking like his best work. His use of Morrison's DC One Million characters in Superman/Batman was a game attempt to work with a great area of the DCU that others stayed away from, but it didn't quite live up to its promise. Still, it was great to see Robin the Toy Wonder in action again!

    3. Hello Figserello:- Nobody likes to be reminded that they're set on a dodgy business, do they? And the justifications for buying into, and even celebrating, Before Watchmen often rest on absolute BS. The strangest illogic gets put into play.

      A book full of mostly white guys does indeed feel wrong, although that's also a good many of the Big Two's product as well. As you say, there's a Zorro in there, and there's an Asian-American sidekick and a blonde super-woman too. But it doesn't balance out the problem, does it? I just couldn't care less about seeing the rick white blokes meeting in their clubs. It's a cliche we've seen since the age. It's easy to do. It's convenient. And it's as dull as dishwater. Somebody in the process might have said: Beyond the fannish business of seeing these characters together, what's interesting about this scene?

      I don't know enough of iZombie to be able to agree with you. I've read a few issues and found it pleasant enough. Certainlt Allred's art is never something other than a pleasure. I hadn't realised that Robin the Toy Wonder had popped up again. I would - here's my fannish hat getting donned - a team between Damian and his 1 000 000 counterpart.


      (Actually, I'd buy it if it were set in a gentlemen's club ....)

  5. Hey Colin, did you even like the original watchmen? From reading your blog, it sounds like even that would have irked you. Personally, I loved it as a teen, but reread it recently and just found the tone and plot implication horrifyingly nihilistic.


    1. Hello Shlomo:- Did I even like the original Watchmen? What an odd question. You say you think it would irk me, and you base that, you claim, on the evidence of the blog. Odder and odder. I clearly refer to the "quality" of Watchmen in the first paragraph of the above post, and follow that up by calling it a "classic", which most people would think suggested a considerable respect for Moore and Gibbons' work. Where else in the blog might you have got that idea from then? Not from the 7 articles linked to this page by the keyword "Watchmen", for example, since they all speak highly of Watchmen.

      You know, every blogger gets it in the neck for what they write. That's part of the process. What has surprised me is the degree to which they also get accussed of things which they clearly never wrote in the first place.

    2. Go easy on Shlomo, Colin, he's just confused that someone on the internet has mentioned Moore without throwing a big strop about him not liking superhero comics anymore.

    3. Hello Brigonos:- I'd not have replied so to Shlomo if he'd posted a link. As it is, he's anonymous, so any sharp-edged comment doesn't embarrass him in public. But whatever's confusing Shlomo - and you may well be right :) - what baffled me was the fact that he hadn't actually read what I'd written and then, having been snide, thought he was so important that he'd share his own opinions too! Because, of course, people always want to know what someone who's just insulted them thinks.

    4. I didn't really see malice in Shlomo's post, just absentmindedness. I don't think he was attacking you--though his first "even" (as in, "did you even") does seem combative, I'd like to think it was just a slip or miswording on his part.

      --and it'd be /too/ brazen an act for him to deliberately insult you and then chime in with his own opinion on the heels of that!

      I can think of a few aspects of /Watchmen/ that someone--with a simplified/incomplete view of your tastes and writing--would believe you are put off by. Put off by to the extent where you may not like it, or so they think.

      I don't know. I suppose it's up to him to clear the air. I will say that I don't associate my name with a link because I've nothing to link to. :)

      And a brief comment about Masks #1: there is this one sequence where "Mr. Quinn" is getting facial bandages removed by Rafael, and his reaction to his sudden blindness seems inappropriate--I'd probably be freaking out at having lost my sight. He's going into a talk about putting on a mask like his old friend, Brian O'Brien, who hasn't been in the papers recently. Which leads to his friend Rafael talking about his family pedigree. It all seemed very weird--clunky--to me.

    5. Hello Vik:- No, I didn't read malice in Shlomo's post either. An excessive self-regard, perhaps, but then, bloggers who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, I suspect.

      There are of course aspects of Watchmen which do put me off. The ending for one! To be honest, it's only the one issue that details the break-in to the prison which I can wholeheartedly say I still love. But it's obviously a terrific and influential work. I respect the heck out of it even where it isn't to my taste anymore. And of course, I was lucky enough to be able to read it when it first appeared, on an issue-to-issue basis. In that context, it worked very well indeed.

      I'd agree with you that the bandages scene is a problematical one. It did seem to be about exposition to an awkward degree. The art certainly didn't help. Even on the level of the design of the frames, I couldn't work out what was being intended.

      It's a shame, because I very much wanted to enjoy Masks. I've bought all 3 issues so far despite finding the same problems in each. I fear I've come to the end of my putting faith before experience.

  6. Of these three books, I have only picked up Young Avengers...but gosharootie, it has been fabulous. The art is charming, and the story is fun...two things that are so often lacking in my comic books.

    I LIKE fun!

    1. Hello Sally:- You're of course absolutely right. Young Avengers is FUN, and it's fun in a way that doesn't leave the book unable to evoke sadness or discuss more serious matters. The only other comic I can think of from recent months that came anywhere close has been FF #3, which I'd've written about in the above if I'd not run out of time. It's a different book to YA, and I don't think it's quite as successful, but it a hoot!

  7. Hi Colin!

    I agree with you that a superhero series set within a (well researched, mind you) 30's milieu would be a fine thing indeed. In a different, better marketplace, there would a place within the Big Two for such a book - after all, the period has so often been explored to great effect in movies, books, TV and so on. Unfortunately, however, I doubt such a project would be deemed "commercial" in today's bloke-ish market, since it wouldn't likely feature well-worn characters, nor would it obviously tie into a company-wide crossover event. Shame, really, since such a setting would be a novel way to reintroduce older characters to a new audience - the supremely good and criminally underrated SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE would be one example of the sort of thing I mean, although there are other fine ones I'm sure.

    Oh, and YOUNG AVENGERS is just a wonderful book, isn't it? In my view, YA and THOR: GOD OF THUNDER are the stand-out efforts of the Marvel Now initiative thus far. I gave UNCANNY AVENGERS a try on the strength of Cassidy's art and the positive notices Remender received for his X-FORCE run - it's been alright so far, I suppose, but not exactly earth-shattering yet. And as far as Hickman's AVENGERS...well, it's a bit like what one of your earlier commentators said about Chris Roberson's work. It certainly seems like there's a good deal of attention and aforethought behind it, but to paraphrase Gertrude Stein's remarks about Oakland, it doesn't seem like there's a lot there THERE, is there? Or perhaps it's just me? It certainly would appear to be, given the overwhelming praise the book has receiving...

    1. Hello Anthony:- You do make a fine point about the long-standing lack of support for superhero-esque books set in anything other than the present day. Sandman Mystery Theatre was indeed a fine comic, and it remains a much-missed title. Yet the Dynamite Masks title is already set in the 30s, so I think it's safe to assume that anyone buying it is already showing they're up for experiencing something of a different period. It's a mistake, I suspect, to suspect that a more bland 1938 will make folks more willing to buy into it.

      I'd agree with you entirely about your picks, and anti-picks, from the Marvel Now! line. I certainly think that Jickman's Avengers is dull, thin and somewhat pretentious stuff, which is a shock, seeing how Manhattan Projects is anything but that.

      One title you don't mention which you might enjoy is FF, the most recent issue of which struck me as being extremely enjoyable. Fraction and Allred are doing a fine zeisty job there.

  8. I'll tell ya what is killing me about the "Before Watchmen" franchise - they got Steve Rude! I really love NEXUS, where Rude's art shines, and I wish I was seeing more of his work. I read that he is drawing for one of the "Before Watchmen" comics, but I can't bring myself to buy it. Ah well....

    1. Hello Jim:- There have been moments in the Before Watchmen line where artists whose work I admire and enjoy have signed on. Conner, Hughes, Cooke and, yes, Rude all come to mind. When I've needed to read books for my columns elsewhere I have, and I've yet to read one BW title where the art redeemed what was essentially a vacuous, ill-principled project. Worse yet, and for all that individual artists may well have had a pressing need to take the Before Watchmen silver, my regard for all involved has inevitably suffered.

      And I didn't want to think any less of the man who did such fine work during the Third Way years - and beyond - on Nexus.

  9. Sergeant Hartman30 January 2013 at 07:31

    Well, I see I'm not the only one who's LCS is sitting on a sh*tload of unsold BW comics. Isn't it truly tragic that DC was able to assemble the combined talents of Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Amanda Conner, Darwyn Cooke, Len Wein, J.G. Jones, Eduardo Risso, John Higgins, Adam & Joe Kubert, Steve Rude and Adam Hughes, and the only idea they had for them was a giant "F*CK YOU" to Alan Moore?

    1. Hello Sergeant Hartman:- I've heard alot about unsold BW issues. I wonder if it's a general problem or one confined to certain areas or shops. Of course, in a sense, it matters less how the books do individually and more what they shift when they're collected together. Watchmen has shifted SO many units over SO long at time that DC's bean-counters obviously want to replicate the process. The shame is, Watchmen is often bought by folks who know nothing of the super-book industry, and they may well end up buying the BW books thinking they're of similar quality.

      Because that's exactly what this. An entirely unprincipled and inept attempt to associate corporate piffle with one of the few widely known and acclaimed works from the sub-genre.

      Is it surprising that this particular DC could assemble such a range of talent and still screw it up? Looking at the quality of some if not all of those involved, then the answer has to be yes.

      But looking at the DC end of things, and what's been happening under the Warners/DiDio regime, then the shock would've been if the project - or any such project - had been worthwhile.

      Alan Moore wouldn't have needed to cast a curse on DC in order to ensure that the project ended badly. DC can do all that for itself without even trying.

  10. Informative reviews as ever Colin, and many great comments too!

    Like Sergeant Hartman, Jim Sheridan, Figsarello and Brigonos have mentioned in their comments above regarding Before Watchmen - my local comic shop also has a lot of unsold issues stacked up. I think they significantly reduced their orders in the last few months though, they're generally very astute in their stock decisions.

    For me the two worst things about the whole sorry BW affair is that it has made me think less of everyone involved and that it's taking up time they could have spent on new ideas or projects. Seeing the likes of Amanda Conner, Len Wein, Steve Rude, Darwyn Cooke, Jae Lee and the Kubert brothers involved made me sigh. It's not my place to tell people what they should do with their talents but I do wish they hadn't done this. As for the comments from JMS and Cooke about Moore... they'll probably live to regret it.

    You mentioned to Anthony your dislike of Hickman's Avengers. I must admit I've only given it a cursory glance through online previews and Marvel's free preview/excerpt pamphlet/things. The art is certainly very pleasant to look at (somehow Hickman almost always manages to end up working with excellent artists) but it didn't capture my attention and the captions did seem somewhat pretentious. For Marvel he specialises in epic scale stories and applying sci-fi concepts to the cape genre and that seems very much true of his Avengers but perhaps it lacks the emotional heart which the family and kids gave his F4/FF. This was particularly true in the latter stages, which were more enjoyable than the somewhat hollow feeling middle section (all that fluff with the Inhumans was the low point for me). Regardless, when compared to his absolutely excellent body of Image comics (which I will defend to the death!), Marvel's Hickman feels like Diet Hickman to me - it tastes sweet enough but there's not the same fullness of flavour you get from the original.

    Hickman's Avengers/New Avengers are certainly proving to be popular, outside of this blog I've seen little other than praise for it. Perhaps Hickman's forethought in plotting and use of sci-fi ideas in a straightforward action comic is, compared to the meandering spandex soap-opera that came immediately before, a breath of fresh air for the Marvel hardcore. I'd certainly appreciate seeing a more in-depth breakdown of the series from you - especially as I'm unlikely to invest in it myself!

    On a more positive note... Young Avengers! What a first issue - it "does the work" of introducing the characters and foreshadowing the group's dynamics whilst also being a beguiling artistic package and hitting the prerequisite action beats. I concur with everything you said above but I'd also like to emphasise how much I appreciated the care and attention to detail throughout the comic. Even the pink 'notes' hanging in the air while Marvel Boy dances to the Ronettes is actually the opening notes to the song Be My Baby. The lettering was superb, with subtle distinctions between the different characters' internal monologues, and the colouring was beautifully done. What's interesting is that the whole team, including the editor, was hand-picked by Gillen and McKelvie and I'm sure that's why it felt more like a creator-owned book than just another unit off the Big Two production line.

    It's early days but FF, YA and the excellent Hawkeye look like they've got the potential to keep me buying Marvel for a while yet when barely a few months ago I was completely ready to abandon the company altogether once JitM and Hickman's FF finished. It's not all good news though - rumour has it that DeConnick's Captain Marvel is getting canned.

    1. Hello Ed:- Thanks for the kind words. I was very frustrated with how the reviews ended up. I felt they got quite away from me. Yet they did at least result in the conversation in these comments which good folks such as you've contributed to. Silver linings, etc, etc ...

      I'm really only a fan of Manhattan Projects when it comes to Hickman's work, though I do appreciate and warm to the fondness he poured into his FF issues. (I'd also agree that the later issues were the best :)) Perhaps Hickman's work for Marvel is stymied by his understandable determination not to give away any new properties to the company without securing a very good deal first. I'm in no way criticisng what seems like an exceptionally sensible policy. But there's a sense of recycling in most of the Marvel work that's very much there in the Avengers tales. I think I'd warm to a Hickman Avengers which allowed him to be as creative as Gerber and Englehart once were in the MU. Yet they weren't rewarded as they should have been, and I applaud JH for holding back unless he's sure he will be. Until then, I find his Marvel work mostly too thin and off-puttingly portentous.

      I've just finished writing about Young Avengers for somewhere else and it suddenly struck me that it was a teen book in competition with the likes of Ravagers! That just about says it all. It's remarkable to realise that Gillen and McKelvie are even working in the same sub-genre as the various and typically wretched DC teen books. Because Young Avengers is so far ahead of the competition that they shame themselves with their piffle. As you say, it reads like a creator-owned book, and yet it feeds off the shared universe and is all the richer for it too. Great, grand stuff :)

      There are good books out at the moment. Daredevil, the scripts on Captain Marvel more than the art, Hawkeye, Young Avengers, FF, Daredevil ... That's more good mainstream titles than at any time since, at a guess, the end of the Jenas era. Good for the company. As you and I have both said before, there's a huge amount of good stuff beyond the super-book, but a few good super-books never go amiss, just as would a few more fine western and crime and romance titles.

  11. I love YA. I've read and reread that issue in a short space of time more often than anything since... probably Phonogram come to think of it.

    Everything from the posters on the walls to talking sausages to the way the second spread mixes in your face wowness with subtle comics only parralel storytelling stuff I love this.

    The closest I can get to a complaint is the speed with which Billy turns from a guy too miserable to superhero into a character I want to read about.

    I'm really looking forward to where this is going. (As you may have noticed.)

    1. Hello Mark:- Agreed! I think one to measure how good a new arrival might be is to compare it to what's already on the stand. As someone who's just sent off a piece for elsewhere which compares Young Avengers to the likes of Red Hood And The Outlaws, I can say I'm sure YA has no competitors.

      I'm told that even the musical notes that accompany the sixties girl harmony groups line are actually those of Be My Baby. I hope that's so. I suspect it is. I wouldn't think any less of YA if it were rumour, and yet, it's in the mixture of compelling storytelling with lovely detail that the comic shines.