Wednesday, June 03, 2009

. . . And We're Back

Wolverine #72
Fantastic Four #566

I'll give him this: Mark Millar sure knows how to structure his stories. The problem is, that's all most of them are, just empty structures. Reading "Old Man Logan" feels less like experiencing an actual story and more like skimming a plot outline. All the beats are here, all the "moments", but not a damn thing in between. Like this issue, with Wolverine going buck wild and slicing the Red Skull's head off with Captain America's shield. It looks like it should be cool, but there hasn't been any kind of build-up or suspense leading to this particular moment. This was the first time we'd seen the Skull other than as a name on a map. This was just a cool moment with nothing but empty scaffolding to carry it aloft, no build-up, no emotional pay-off, nada.

The issue ends as we knew it would - with Logan finally popping his claws and swearing to go ape-shit on whomever killed his family. Millar is so confident that this is the climactic moment of the entire series that he devotes two pages merely to the sound effect - trust me, you know which sound effect I'm talking about. But the results can't help but be perfunctory, because this conclusion has been a fait accomplis since the very first page of the first issue of the story, and everything else has been building towards it so ruthlessly that the result has been nothing short of amazing in its mercenary terseness. But what exactly is gonna happen next, he's going to track down the Hulk gang and kill them? Hardly a climax worthy of these hundreds of pages of build-up. Maybe Doctor Doom will finally show up after skulking around the outskirts of the plot for these last few issues. But still, there's been no real building of a story, just a bare skeleton.

This whole thing is pretty much stillborn - and I say that with a great deal of affection for what Millar is doing simultaneously in the pages of Fantastic Four. He gets a lot of criticism, and most of it is well-deserved - but he can write well when he feels like it. Whenever he can find some kind of character hook to latch onto, something human in the midst of his trademark vapid violence and empty bluster, he can be quite good. Wolverine, however, really isn't a character so much as a coathanger: really only as good as the stories that are hung on him.

Fantastic Four is a hard book to get wrong, at least in terms of the characters - there have been many rotten Fantastic Four stories, but even the worst could still fall back on the indestructible character dynamics Stan & Jack put together all those years ago. The beginning of Millar's run was rough, but as he's progressed further he's figured out how to write these guys. I'm still a little bit skeptical about his plans for Doctor Doom: this latest story hinges on Doom's self-identification as a villain, which is a pretty tin-eared interpretation of comics' most complex antagonist. But still - his Reed, Sue and Johnny are identifiably themselves, and for old-timers like myself, just seeing these guys act like themselves can be sufficient treat to while away a few minutes. Furthermore, I have a theory that the Thing has to be the easiest character in comics to write, because he brings out the best in even the hackiest writers. This issue proves no exception - if you were wondering where his engagement sub-plot was going, the action here is pretty devastating. Good stuff, and a great cliffhanger. The Scotsman is bringing his A-game here, but apparently left it at home for Wolverine.

Uncanny X-Men #510

Hey, here's an idea: how about you hire an artist who can draw fight scenes to draw an all-fight issue? Because this vaunted Matt Fraction run sure isn't getting off to a great start - wait, it's been going for almost a year? Does that qualify as stillborn by now?

And boy that last page isn't doing anyone any favors. If we must have someone back from the dead, I much prefer Shatterstar.

Batman and Robin #1

So, hmmm. Yeah, that. What happened to putting so much plot into a single issue that it was barely coherent? What happened to that? Because this I read in less time than it takes to zap a Hot Pocket. It's really gonna seem slight when the book becomes a quarterly, any . . . minute . . . now.

Ms. Marvel #38-39

For over three years Ms. Marvel has limped along as the least beloved Marvel book in existence, a book that somehow managed to avoid being canceled time and time again despite no one caring in the slightest. And it's not as if the people working on the book haven't tried their damndest - the book has practically reeked of frustrated ambition and futile effort. Lots of people whose names I can't remember have thrown their heads against the wall trying to make a Ms. Marvel comic book that someone, anyone, would want to read. They didn't succeed, until now. The secret? All they had to do was get rid of Carol Danvers. Considering what a long and storied history the character has, she is unerringly boring - Moonstone, however, is fun. Moonstone flying around as an absolutely amoral Ms. Marvel actually makes the whole Dark Reign thing seem like not such a bad idea. This is a book that has legs (in more ways than one, heh). I wouldn't be surprised if there was an ever-so-slight uptick in sales once this new direction gets around. It ain't Proust, but it's fun, which is something the Carol Danvers' iteration absolutely refused to be.

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