Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stripping Down #21

The Avengers United #80 (Panini UK)
“Breakout!” by Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch & Danny Miki
(New Avengers #5-6)

“The Redoubtable Return Of Crusher Creel” by David Michelinie, John Byrne & Klaus Janson (The Avengers (v1) #183)
“Gather, Warriors!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Vince Coletta
(Journey Into Mystery #119)

A blistering conclusion to Breakout!, as the team clashes with Wolverine, Sauron and his band of mutates, plus Black Widow Mk II and a highly suspicious S.H.I.E.L.D. operation in the heart of The Savage Land. This is probably the most enjoyable mainstream superhero series that Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Finch excels at drawing mean dinosaurs and reptiles. There’s plenty of action, some good dialogue and a neat set up for the new team. Speaking of which, the characters are a good fit so far, at times echoing the tension of the Captain America / Hawkeye / Quicksilver / Scarlet Witch dynamic from waaay back. ‘The old order changeth’ and in this case, it’s definitely been for the better. I’ve almost forgotten the Chuck Austen run that came before…! The 1970s strip provides a welcome change of pace from the epic storylines both in the lead strip and in previous archive instalments. Ms. Marvel and The Falcon officially join the team, with mixed feelings, whilst David Michelinie is smart enough to recognise the popularity of the ousted Hawkeye, giving him a large slice of the story in the second half. The plot revolves around Crusher (The Absorbing Man) Creel’s efforts to sneak out of the U.S. and start a new life (of crime) down South. Of course, kicking off his plan with a robbery and kidnapping isn’t the smartest thing to do and it attracts the attention of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, promising the inevitable slugfest next issue. John Byrne and Klaus Janson are well matched on art duties, whilst Michelinie’s script is dripping with humour, mostly courtesy of The Beast (who, you have to admit, is far too serious in The X-Men these days). As usual, Tales Of Asgard wraps things up. It’s ostensibly an introduction to the now infamous Warriors Three, though only Volstagg gets some lines and more than one panel in this chapter. The urgency of Thor and Loki’s mission is emphasised by a grim warning of ‘the war to end all wars’ Ragnarok. Light but fun storytelling that won’t ruin your appetite.

Marvel Legends #7 (Panini UK)
“The Lonesome Death Of Jack Monroe” by Ed Brubaker, John Paul Leon & Frank D’Armata (Captain America (v5) #7)
“The Sons Of Yinsen” by Joe Quesada, Frank Tieri, Alitha Martinez & Rob Hunter (Iron Man (v3) # 31)
“Wrecking Havoc” by Dan Jurgens, Erik Larsen & Klaus Janson
(Thor (v2) #28)

A break from the regular Captain America story, flashing back to Jack (Nomad) Monroe’s last year on Earth. His seemingly callous murder by The Winter Soldier in Marvel Legends #3 is seen in an entirely new light as it is revealed that Monroe’s days were already numbered. Having followed Nomad’s appearances in Captain America during the 1980s Mark Gruenwald/Paul Neary run, I missed the character’s solo series and subsequent appearances in the Marvel Universe so don’t know much about the breakdown that led to him becoming an incarnation of superhuman serial killer Scourge. However, it seems that this, and a degeneration of the super soldier serum that granted Monroe’s powers, is slowly killing him. Ed Brubaker presents a poignant first person perspective of a man experiencing both physical and mental deterioration. It’s not difficult to empathise with Monroe’s desire to go out fighting (crime) as Nomad, though there are signs throughout the story that the drug ring he is pursuing is nothing more than a delusion. That this ultimately proves to be the case underlines the quiet tragedy of a man who railed against his status as a perennial second stringer in order to make a difference. Taking all of the above into account, the Winter Soldier’s actions are more akin to a mercy killing than a brutal murder. Whether the Winter Soldier proves to be Cap’s long dead partner Bucky or not, it’s clear that he may be operating on the side of the angels after all, albeit with more extreme methods than the Sentinel Of Liberty. A brief mention for guest artist John Paul Leon, who never fails to impress. His loose, almost indie style here is a stark contrast to regular artist Steve Epting’s uber-dark photo realism, yet it perfectly suits Brubaker’s intensely personal narrative. Just one criticism and that’s the rather sloppy editing that allows the titular character’s named to be misspelt Munroe throughout the contents page. Come on, show a dead guy some respect…! In the aftermath of The Mask In The Iron Man, Tony Stark finds he has a brand new heart, though not without it’s own limitations, and decides to ‘go retro’ with a return to a former, iconic, suit of armour. Frank Tieri joins Joe Quesada on writing duties but the latter is still clearly in the driving seat judging by the rather clumsy plot and dialogue. This is yet another story centred on a foe long thought dead - this time Iron Man’s very first adversary, Wong Chu – that had this reader thinking “so what?” Likewise Alitha Martinez is a competent artist, heavily influenced by the early Image house style, but I’m already missing predecessor Sean Chen who seemed the ideal artist for the Iron Man series. This is the least impressive of the issue’s three stories, so I’m hoping things pick up next issue. Following the Blood Oath mini-series, we pick up Thor’s regular series more or less in line with Iron Man’s, i.e. a few years behind both Captain America’s current run and the Collectors’ Edition line as a whole. I’ve heard good things about Dan Jurgens’ tenure on the title, though this is very much old-school Thor in the style of Stan Lee, Gerry Conway and subsequently Tom DeFalco, with an emphasis on unsophisticated (melo)drama, humour and of course fighting. In this instalment, Thor and The Warriors Three are assaulted by The Wrecking Crew, who are seeking to reclaim their Asgardian-enhanced abilities. This they do, with apparently dire consequences for Hogun The Grim. Jurgens ticks all the narrative boxes, but I had been hoping for something more, whilst Erik Larsen and Klaus Janson’s perfunctory visuals do little to excite. Whilst not as much of a disappointment as the Iron Man strip, this series will need to up it’s game in the next few issues.

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