06 February 2010

Daily Breakdowns 061 - Ural Nautilus

Weapon X: Wolverine #10
Writer - Jason Aaron
Artist - C.P. Smith
Publisher - Marvel Comics. $3.99 USD

I'm pretty sure this is my first exposure to Aaron's writing. Marvel seems to have locked up more of the younger, fresher writers the past couple years than DC. Anyway, I was intrigued by the cover, which is badly drawn by Adam Kubert but has the germ of a funny idea to it: Wolverine as ladies' man. Kubert draws such a tiny cocktail glass for Mystique that I have to think he never goes out--maybe he just drinks from a hose in the backyard? He also has to use a sound effect--unusual for a cover--to convey Wolvie's boredom. At least the idea reflects the contents within, as Logan only has thoughts of his new gal, Melita, a San Francisco reporter. Smith draws a leaner, more Jackman-like Logan, and has the honor of drawing the flashback to his loss of virginity (Logan's, not Smith's). Aaron gets to the finish line where there's an unsurprising wrap-up: Melita is the one for Logan, because she accepts him, won't put up with his crap, has her own gig away from the X-Men, and is able to rationalize the severe increase in her chance of being killed due to dating a superhero as no different than the dangers of riding a bus. We'll see how long that lasts and if Aaron has the chops to find real dimension in her character and their relationship. What's funny is how he gets through the issue, with centuries-old Logan acting like John Cusack in Say Anything, leaning on his female friends like Ororo, Rogue and Black Widow for advice. Of course, Lloyd Dobler never had to turn down guilt-free, cyborg ninja sex.

Red Hulk #1
Writer - Jeff Parker
Penciler - Carlos Rodriguez
Inker - Vicente Cifuentes
Publisher - Marvel Comics. $3.99 USD

Parker has a pretty good batting average with me, but when you write for Marvel or DC, you do tend to get sucked into crapping out a superfluous story or ten when you're involved in a multi-title event. This could have just been a regular issue of any of the regular Hulk books instead of a new #1, and not a whole lot happens. Red Hulk and Rick "A-Bomb" Jones team up to break into an AIM base for information on M.O.D.O.K.'s new doomsday device. It's a trap, though, designed to get Red Hulk near the old "Cosmic Hulk" clone/robot/something, which gives it the spark of energy it needs to take off. So, basically, our heroes blew it, plus Red Hulk revealed himself as a traitor to old bosses M.O.D.O.K. and the Leader.

Sturdy enough work from Rodriguez but without the power Romita, Jr. and McGuinness have been bringing the Hulkverse of late. I'm still getting used to Rick Jones as a big, spiky blue behemoth, and despite his many years around superheroes, Red Hulk comes off the more sensible, pragmatic one. All in all, you'd be fine to skip this and just catch the next recap page of the next related Hulk issue.

The Indomitable Iron Man
Writers - Paul Cornell, Howard Chaykin, Duane Swierczynski, Alex Irvine
Artists - Will Rosado, Howard Chaykin, Manuel Garcia & Stefano Gaudiano, Nelson DeCastro
Marvel Comics. $3.99 USD

I'll give it an extra point for a new adjective for Iron Man, although if you're going to use "indomitable," maybe the longest story here, the Cornell/Rosado "Berserker," shouldn't be about failure? It reads a lot to me like an '80s inventory story, maybe something David Michelinie would cook up for the month when Bob Layton got behind or something. A kooky terraforming robot probe designed by Tony Stark for NASA gets its lifelike programming screwed up and tries to turn Earth into an alien world. It's angry at its daddy, Tony, for abandoning it, and in reprogramming it he somehow has some feelings of paternal regret. Not a bad premise, just not done that well here, although I liked Rosado getting into that old school spirit with an abundance of Ben-Day dots.

While that one certainly isn't a real inventory story, Chaykin's "Multitasking" looks more like one, as he draws more of an '80s style of armor. Actually, "multitasking" has lost a lot of its significance, hasn't it? It's like "recycling" or "rebooting,"--something that's so commonplace now it has lost all its initial zing. Anyway, it's an insignificant tale of Tony Stark fielding a number of calls from big clients and friends like Nick Fury (still directing S.H.I.E.L.D.), Captain America and Mr. Fantastic, while fighting a number of minor menaces as Iron Man. It's notable only for Chaykin's art, rarely seen in just black and white (the whole special is colorless, modeled on Marvel's '70s magazines), and his use of the exact same panel composition for each page, which works splendidly. Also, no one draws Stark more like an early '80s porn star than Chaykin. You can almost smell his mustache.

Swierczynski offers probably the most interesting story here, "Brainchild," which finds the granddaughter of Pepper Potts entering the protective monolith where an aged, Howard Hughesian Stark has been cooped up for decades, working on solutions to the real problems of the world without the distraction of fighting supervillains. There's a nicely bittersweet quality to the ending, where she gets him out into the fresh air to see how his ideas have been the building blocks for other scientists to finish and improve upon, but this only makes him feel obsolete. However, my favorite part was when he tells her he recycles his waste into nutrients and then asks her if she'd like something to drink. "Ah, right. You're probably going to pass on that. I would."

In keeping with the Marvel magazine model, there's a text story by Irvine and DeCastro, but as I've written about many times, I just have a big hangup about text stories when I'm trying to read comics. Aside from that, though, it's a pretty entertaining, if mostly forgettable, special, and probably a little more forgettable due to being in black-and-white from artists who are not generally good enough to carry the art on their own, or in the case of Chaykin, who is almost invariably served by thoughtful coloring.

Demo (Vol. 2) #1 (of 6)
Writer - Brian Wood
Artist - Becky Cloonan
Publisher - Vertigo. $2.99 USD

Demo was the first thing Brian Wood wrote that I actually liked. I found the works that got him his first industry attention, Channel Zero and The Couriers, to be pretty childish, petulant, though well-designed and drawn. But from the first issue of Demo on, I felt like he was reaching a new level, focusing on real emotions and with a genuine attempt to understand other people. Part of that may have been in writing for an artist like Cloonan, someone who hadn't yet settled on a style but had at least half a dozen capable-to-very-good ones to choose from, and also because he was writing stories that didn't use car chases or explosions to make their points.

Demo brought both Wood and Cloonan to Vertigo for other series, but they've overcome any trepidations they may have had about trying to catch lightning in a bottle to offer up another six issues together. This first, "The Waking Life of Angels," is a bit further removed from the "young people with superpowers" umbrella under which much of the first series operated, but there is some mysticism here, at least. Our heroine, Joan, has been experiencing dreams/visions of an angel in danger, falling from the upper floor of a cathedral. No one ever said Wood was the subtlest writer, so yes, our Joan is kind of like Joan of Arc, and readers can find out for themselves if she suffers a similar martyrdom for reasons that may be divine or could just be mental imbalance.

I haven't read much of Cloonan's work since the first series. It's lost some of that lovely, chunky inkiness, but while it's more assured, she hasn't lost that essential innocent quality. Even though rough pencils included at the back of the issue show just how hard she works, the end result feels unforced, and both she and Wood have a special working chemistry that doesn't appear to have dissipated. I wasn't absolutely thrilled by the ending, but ambiguity will do that, and all in all it's a quite welcome return.

Ultimate X #1
Writer - Jeph Loeb
Artist - Arthur Adams
Publisher - Marvel Comics. $3.99 USD

I sure didn't expect to start off 2010 reading a bunch of Jeph Loeb comics, but that's how things work out, I guess. I also thought the reformed(?) Ultimate Universe would be restarting small, but I suppose it's pretty typical of Marvel to start cluttering it up again right away. I actually picked this up not really knowing it was part of the Ultimate Universe at all. I mean, sure, it's got "Ultimate" in the name, but the trade dress is different from Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and Ultimate Comics: Avengers. I just wanted to see Adams' art.

Adams has never been one to be able to handle monthly deadlines, so we'll see how long he lasts on the book. But what you do get from him is, still, excellent work, for however long he can manage. And clearly, he doesn't adjust his effort based on how important he may think the title in question is, because let's face it, no one was exactly clamoring for another title with "X" in it.

And yet, this is pretty good, even while it has so many familiar elements, not just from various mutant books but also the recent Star Trek movie. Based on one of the variant covers which features a team of heroes including the Ultimate Hulk, Loeb is going to give us a "gathering the forces" arc, each issue focusing on one future team member. This time out, it's Jimmy Hudson, a rebellious, reckless teenager who's a real handful for his parents, James and Heather Hudson. In this universe, neither are Canadian superheroes; James is the sheriff of their small town, Heather his wife.

Like his dad, Jimmy has a thing for redheads, except Hudson isn't his real dad. As he learns from a visiting Kitty Pryde, his father is Wolverine, who died during Loeb's much-derided Ultimatum storyline, but not before recording a Princess Leia-style hologram for Jimmy. Jimmy knew he healed quickly from any injury, and now, with Kitty's prodding, he finds he can extend bone claws from his hands just like his dad, PLUS form metal over them, kind of like Colossus. And that's pretty convenient and easy, ain't it?

It would probably be rather been there, done that, if not for a couple things. Adams, as mentioned above, brings his "A" game, helped enormously by Peter Steigerwald's beautiful coloring (I suppose it's a sign of the times that Steigerwald gets cover billing while the digital inker, Mark Roslan, doesn't). Also, Loeb's use of the elder Hudson narrating, while a little confusing at first, ends up adding a warmth to the proceedings. You know how much the man cares for and worries about his headstrong son, and any kind of focus on the parents of mutant children is a welcome change. Of course, there's a lot more work to do from here, getting readers to care about the other characters, offering Ultimate versions of villains that aren't simply retreads, etc. But it's a better start than I expected.

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