I've been absent on here for a bit, mostly because I spent the last several days with my parents visiting my younger brother in Boone, NC. It's a beautiful little college town in Appalachia that I quite enjoyed, but there was't a great deal of very reliable Internet access up there in the mountains, and so the few things I was hoping to put up have been delayed.
Hopefully today I will have time to get them banged out so they can be published in the not-too-distant, but I wanted to get SOMETHING new up in the meantime, and since I wasn't doing much writing this weekend I got to do a bunch of catching up on various recent Marvel books. When Marvel NOW! was announced, my dad thought it'd be a good chance to get back into reading current comicbooks, and so he's sampled many of the titles. I know he is at least still following Uncanny, New, and adjectiveless Avengers, and I believe All New X-Men as well. However, he's not so much a collector as a reader, and he's given many books a try that didn't stick, so as he finishes with various issues/titles I typically inherit them. He brought me a few things on this visit, and I had with me some books he'd sent a couple months ago that I still hadn't read. Now I am all caught up on that material, and so here are my basic impressions of the handful of Marvel titles I just finished reading.
Avengers #1-3: Jerome Opeña is easily the best part of this arc. Jonathan Hickman does a alright job of introducing some big, cool, new Hickman-esque ideas, but with worse art I think his scripts would've felt far too dry. There's a lot of expositional dialogue, and the pace drags for two issues before the third rushes to wrap everything up. Also, new/obscure characters are brought into the fold with some very jarring introductions, most notably Captain Universe. I like this direction for the Avengers, not only the idea of expanding the team but simultaneously amping up the threat level. They should be dealing with the worst, biggest, most unthinkable threats comicbooks have ever seen. But I wish Hickman took more care with his structure and, more than anything, his character work. Anyway, Opeña colored by Dean White is always fantastic. All three of the villains introduced here are distinct, original, and alive. And though I wanted to get to know them all better, the massive cast is handled deftly by the art team. Everyone is given the same level of detail and life, nothing ever gets crowded or confused, and in those rare moments that Hickman does shine a light on someone's personality, the visuals always capture it perfectly. Also, issue #1 makes the strongest case for returning Captain America to his old uniform I've seen yet. He wears it initially and looks incredible, and then after a full page of putting on the new suit, he takes center stage on the final splash and looks bulky, awkward, uncomfortable, and stiff. This helmet-and-armor look is doing no one any good.
Fantastic Four #1-5: There's a lot I don't like about the premise of this series, particularly the idea that I could possibly give a shit if Reed Richards lives or dies when all he's done so far is lie to his family for wholly selfish and cowardly reasons. Kick rocks, Reed. You don't deserve the wife or kids or even friends you have, you fucking villain. Literally everything he says and does, including those moments where he supposedly feels remorse and/or realizes his mistakes, are like nails on the chalkboard of my mind. Everyone else would be safer and generally better off if he did die, or, at least, if he went on this foolish and reckless mission of self-preservation on his own. I don't know if Matt Fraction means for Reed to be so godawful, but based on some of the shit that Sue says to him, it certainly seems intentional: "You behave like a human for once so well, it makes us forget what you really are." Yeah, no thanks. That's not what I want from my superheroes and, more than that, it's not what I want from the fathers and husbands I read about. Not if they are supposed to be good guys, even in the broadest sense. There's other stuff. The story takes forever to get started and then, once it does, the self-contained escapades of each issue keep the main narrative from developing. The kids have changed dramatically under Fraction (compared to Hickman's time on the book) and not in a way that works. They've become generic kid characters instead of intelligent and unique forces of personality. Franklin is practically as annoying as Reed with his incessant crying and generally infantine behavior. He's seen enough shit not to be reduced to a sniveling baby every time he has a nightmare, no matter how intense or precognitive it might be. So yeah, Fraction's take on Marvel's first family just does nothing for me. Everyone is a little too one-note and, on top of that, most of the notes are sour.
Iron Man #1-5: Dullsville. Never terrible, never great, and never interesting. Kieron Gillen seems to take too simple and easy an approach to this opening arc. It's set up SO obviously and never breaks form: one by one, Tony Stark has to hunt down the Extremis kits, each time using a new Iron Man suit tailored to the specific mission. It feels like so much borrowed material, and there are no surprises along the way. The uses of Extremis by each group are at least varied, but every issue follows the same structure of Stark picking a target, explaining why he needs the armor he does, and then successfully thwarting the plans of whichever group he goes after. And then, when it's all wrapped up nice and tidy, it turns out the whole arc was really just a drawn out introduction to a new stage in Stark's life as do-gooder. Just very fluffy stuff. Gillen's Stark is fine, and his Pepper Potts is maybe a step up from that, but they don't dazzle me. Everything Stark says is shit we've heard from him a million times before, and that's true of pretty much everything he does, too. He's built all kinds of different Iron Man armors before, he's dealt with Extremis before, he's womanized and ignored his responsibilities and on and on and on. It is an entirely too basic take on the character and his world, helped not at all by Greg Land's art. Almost the right choice for Iron Man, Land looks like he is drawing robots no matter what he's actually drawing. It works for those few armored fights, but there are actual human beings on the page more often than not, and Land never makes any of them look the least bit alive or even motive. They are frozen wax figures with speech bubbles floating around them. So definitely a dud all around.
The First X-Men #1-5 (aka the whole miserable series): This is not technically a part of Marvel NOW! since it predates that effort by several months, but it happened to catch my dad's eye since it's by Neal Adams and so he picked it up and gave it a look. It's pretty awful. Adams' art is more good than bad, but never the best stuff he's done, not even close. There's too much inconsistency in the cast, and at the same time all the men's faces look too similar to each other. But he's still a skilled visual storyteller, and overall gets the job done. Trouble is, the story being told is far too ridiculous and ill-fitting to be taken seriously. I mean, come on. Wolverine and Sabertooth recruiting a team of teenaged mutants not only before Xavier but actually serving as the inspiration for Xavier's school (and Magneto's brotherhood)? Dumb and wrong. And yeah, in general I advocate that continuity is pointless and everyone should choose for themselves what stories count or matter or are real or what have you. But this is just too far out of character for too many well-established characters for me to swallow. Yes, these are meant to be younger versions of these people, so the argument could be made that they don't need to act like themselves, but it'd be nice if they were recognizable. I never buy Logan or Creed as dudes who would care enough to do this, and if you can't sell me on that, then the whole story falls to pieces. Add to that a few indistinguishable federal agents and half the kids never being properly introduced or at all developed, and you end up with something bordering on total dreck. I would like to see Virus as a villain done by someone more inventive, but even that I could take or leave. Otherwise, nothing about this held my attention or interest at all.
Basically, I didn't much care for any of the Marvel stuff I got caught up on, but what the heck! It was free, it was fast, and it helped fill some of my vacation time. Plus now I know for sure that I have no interest in following any of these books, something I wondered about beforehand.