Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thor #10

Is it churlish to point out at this late date just how awful Fear Itself ended up being? It's hard not to be constantly reminded of this fact when so many of Marvel's more high-profile titles are still playing with the story beats imparted by that crossover. Most specifically (but obviously not surprisingly), Matt Fraction's two main books - Thor and Iron Man are deep in the middle of long storylines jumping right out of the final pages of the event. (And, of course, the Captain America titles were also completely rebooted after the event.) So every time you pick up an issue of Thor you're reminded that, yes, Fear Itself is a thing that happened, and no, it isn't getting any better in hindsight.

But if you squint past the boring crap of the main storyline - Thor dead, again, his role usurped by a pretender, again - you just might see something new for a change. One of my pet peeves about fictional kingdoms - and you can pretty much pick any fictional kingdom in the Marvel or DC universes and this will still apply - is that they are all to a fault absolute hereditary monarchies. I know that for many people that's just the default mode into which any fantasy setting should fall, but the fact that we still just take it for granted that people like the Sub-Mariner and Black Bolt are absolute monarchs cut from the same authoritarian cloth as the Saudi royal family, is more than a little bit unsettling. So for once they're trying a different tack: with Odin dead and three women sitting in his throne, the inhabitants of Asgard are actually trying out something resembling to representative democracy. I think that's fascinating, not because I'm a progressive liberal whose heart jumps when he sees democracy taking root in the Third World (you know damn well the Storms of the Jotuns have read their Fanon, fuck this "inalienable rights" bullshit and keep your smallpox blankets to yourself, man), but just because it's something different. Such an obvious idea, and it's amazing no one has ever thought to try it before, at least that I recall off the top of my head. (They did do something similar in a Ka-Zar miniseries last year, but because it's Ka-Zar about as many people read that book as are reading this post.)

Whether or not the idea pans out or is simply swept back the moment Big Daddy Odin makes his inevitable return to the main stage and we can once again indulge in our racial longing for a return to the glory days of paternalistic Nordic feudalism, remains to be seen. Still, his generally acknowledged shortcomings as a mainstream superhero writer notwithstanding, Fraction remains one of the very few guys in that building who might maybe conceivably at some point in their lives have read a book about politics and political theory that wasn't A) Don't Think Of An Elephant, B) A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity or C) The Butter Battle Book.

Justice League #5

I know we're supposed to be jumping on this book like it's some kind of leper. Oh well, it's not that bad. It's not great. It's basically how the Justice League has gotta be these days: loud, dumb, and stupid like a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Only, you know, by modern standards those classic Bruckheimer productions of yore look positively like David Lean. People yell and do stupid things because the plot is a hungry monster which must be fed. Yadda yadda.

The real reason why this is an enjoyable book is the art, but not for the obvious reason. The obvious reason would be that "Jim Lee draws pretty pictures" - which is technically true but not particularly interesting. It's no secret after all these years that of all the original Image artists, Lee was the one with the most actual drawing ability. (Silvestri came in a close second but his skills have atrophied pretty hardcore, as anyone who suffered through his epic one-and-a-half issue run on Hulk can attest.) Lee can still draw but the dilettante's schedule with which he's been operating for the past decade and change has done a lot to drain the interest out of his work. When he draws now, he can usually afford to take the time to make sure everything is perfect - and since he's such a dab hand with composition and texture, that means that he can work over a drawing near to death.

But being once again put into a position where he positively, absolutely has to draw a comic book at a monthly pace is doing strange, wonderful things for his style. (Sure, the book was one week late, but seriously.) He's already dribbled away whatever head-start he had going into the New 52. He's back on the balls of his feet playing catch-up. So a lot of his illustrative tricks are getting thrown out the window. His figures are getting looser and his layouts a lot simpler. It's great to see because he's always known how to draw, but he hasn't always been the best cartoonist: seeing someone with such obvious skill being forced to work past their comfort zone in order simply to get the job done of telling the story is quite something. Don't get me wrong, we're not into complete primitivity yet. He's not suddenly morphed in Gary Panter, and the four inkers roped into the production of this comic attest to the fact that the company is doing their damndest to cover up the fact that the star artist is beginning to falter. But it must be said: the "faltering" is the fun part. Lee has some life left in his bones yet.

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