5.19.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Joe The Barbarian #5 (DC/Vertigo): Sean Murphy makes those first page maps feel like coming home. It’s such a welcome invitation signifying your re-entry into this world. And as soon as you flip the page over, you get speed lines making objects jump off the page in a rousing chase sequence; it's a rousing chase sequence in a book that’s already been full of them. Murphy’s art, which here looks like a blend of Kevin O’Neill and Carlos Pacheco, never lets up, opening up further to reveal magnificent two page spreads. Todd Klein on lettering makes you remember why he won all of those Eisners for Promethea, with clever additions like “pedal pedal pedal” as the sloop ship dives. Yeah, it’s all here. With Grant Morrison, Sean Murhpy, Todd Klein, and Dave Stewart on colors, this is really a rock star creative team. It’s almost like you can see the pitch for this idea gestating in Morrison’s drunken Scot brain, taking popular genres from different media sources and toy properties, putting them in a blender, pulse-pulse-pulse, and then spitting out Joe The Barbarian. At times, the influences may be a little too transparent – the reveal of the Hall of Heroes bears a similar tone to Aragorn at places like Amon Hen amid the crumbling decay of times past, and the face off with the dog does smack of Gandalf at Kazadhum, wow, I’m really getting my LOTR on here – but at any rate, it’s a success that makes you want to plunge head first into the world, but also the possibilities inherent in the blender. Like, where are my action figures of the weird sail ship the issue opens with?! What I appreciated the most about this unison of scripting and art is how it’s not at all insulting to the reader. Some of the corollaries between real world and make believe are obvious, some not so. I enjoyed the duality of the Iron Knight’s presence, pairing the line “all to secure ten years of peace” with images of Joe’s father in real life. This parity continues with the alternating proportions and perspective of the dog in the hallway. Even in the art, you’re asked to participate and work things out. Notice during the opening chase, there is a panel of the rat drawing his sword. In the next panel, the sword is already impaled into the helmet of their pursuer. Look at how much action you had to imagine for yourself, and how quickly it must be done to keep up with the story. There’s so much closure occurring in your mind’s eye between the panels, it’s almost as if Morrison and company have drafted you to be a part of that creative process that can only take place as the story is actively consumed. Morrison displays a master’s ear for speech patterns, evidenced by the broken cryptic interrupted conversation Joe has with his mom on the phone. At the end of it all, you get so swept up in the momentum of the story and your participation in it, that you almost miss how Morrison has created a near perfect adventure, with the faint familiarity, challenge, adventure, charm, and psychological underpinnings of an instant classic. When you add in the amazing art, this just might be vying for contention as my favorite Grant Morrison project, clawing its way up and actually trying to duke it out with Flex Mentallo and All-Star Superman for recognition. Grade A.

Avengers #1 (Marvel): I have a few small quibbles with this book, but otherwise really enjoyed it. The tone of the Bendis script emotionally brought to mind the Kurt Busiek and George Perez run. It’s an assembling-the-team-for-a-new-era issue, a good mix of classic and “new” members, and the art is mostly grand. Steve might look a little too young, and Immortus might look a little too much like Stephen Strange, but I loved the shots in the rain, and Romita Jr.’s art has some terrific depth in the group shots that lend a vast sense of place. The art is probably best defined as “iconic.” When I envision an ideal Avengers book, the look and feel of Romita Jr.’s art is what I see in my mind’s eye. How and why Steve sets up the new Avengers’ teams is mentioned, but not explained very clearly. And I’m not sure how Thor wasn’t aware that Bucky was Cap, especially when they just spent like three issues together reviving Tony over in Iron Man, but that aside, the dialogue is effective at introducing the team, coming across crisp and efficient, without exposition. The book is rife with classic Avengers villainy, with a proposition that has lasting implications. The "Oral History of The Avengers" is a text back up feature that is an interesting experiment, having the feel of a VH1 Behind The Music Special or Jonathan Hickman’s early Image Comics work, but continuing it in another book is distasteful. Overall, the book seems poised to accomplish what it set out to do – a return to greatness with the potential to become a definitive run. Grade A-.

Invincible Iron Man #26 (Marvel): I remember thinking about the grand parity with which Matt Fraction was able to connect the first issue of this series with both the first Iron Man movie and Warren Ellis’ Extremis run . It seems to be happening all over here, someone walking in from Iron Man 2 could easily recognize the Hammer rivals fueled by a weapons race for supremacy, with some background Avengers notes to boot. The whole tone of Stark Resilient reminds me a bit of Spartan’s direction for the Halo Corporation in Joe Casey’s Wildcats run, wherein a real world “superhero” would likely be the guy that would end our dependence on fossil fuel. There are many fun threads here, Tony still coming to terms with his memory loss and attempting to reset his life, the introduction of Spymaster as a foil, and small foreshadowing intrigue like Captain America knowing what the password is going to be for the mayday switch. It’s almost like Superman giving Batman a chunk of kryptonite just in case, as a fail safe device. I still maintain that this is the best book Marvel is currently publishing, and certainly a contender for best mainstream superhero book overall, with Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca delivering 26 issues now, themselves, the very existence of that fact an odd anomaly in today’s market. If I have any criticism, it’s that this issue feels a little talky and repetitive, and after a long previous arc, perhaps a little more snap coming out of the gate would have been apropos. Grade A-.


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