24 February 2010

Daily Breakdowns 065 - Wolk Sulk, Suat Hulk

I'm not sure if it's restraint or just an ingrained verbosity that keeps Gary Groth from turning his apology for TCJ.com's painful rebirth into the same aggressive, arrogant and still out-of-it tone about 60 words in with which he began the whole online exercise a couple months back. Just to be clear, I want it to succeed, and I'm not one of those who think it's a total failure. At the same time, I read it much less frequently than I did Dirk Deppey's old Journalista. As many have noted, part of it is that it's not that easy to navigate or find things once they've slipped off the main page. That seems to have been improved a bit, and there's better labeling. So it's not so bad. Still, as good as Douglas Wolk's interview with Kevin O'Neill was, why would you run it in five parts?

TCJ's Kristy Valenti explains to commenter "Wesley," that, "This is a 30,000 word interview, so we are running it in five parts. Each part will have the previous posts linked to at the top, and now on the homepage as well." That's not an explanation, that's just gilding the silly. If I threw a rock through your window and you asked me why I did it, explaining that I had the rock in my hand wouldn't really cut it, right? This is the internet. If someone clicks on the link to the interview, presumably they want to read the whole thing, and as easily as possible.

I don't have any big stake in TCJ making it or not. I hope they do, mainly because even in this form it's still a good way to read some good reviews and interviews and pick up some comics news. I just find some of the thinking here sort of backward. Groth says the crew have been working nearly 24 hours a day to fix things, which I don't really believe, because it doesn't seem like the technical issues are all that complicated. Maybe I'm wrong, which is something it would be nice to hear from Groth, actually. For someone who admittedly doesn't follow the blogosphere, he seems pretty confident about what he can bring to it, and yet so far it's some fairly vague talk about what others aren't doing and what TCJ can do best, like hard-hitting journalism. Well, where is it? Your #1 journalist, Michael Dean, is editing TCJ. Can't someone else take up some of the duties of wrangling more reviews and cracking the whip on blogging activity while Dean files a story? What big comics stories are really being missed, anyway, or not in the depth Groth wants? Danish conspiracy? Con War? State of the DM? Angouleme? Seems like I read these every other day.

It seems to me that "in-depth" is just something that gets thrown around a lot, but what seems like a worthy goal often becomes restrictive. Ng Suat Tong is correct about TCJ.com needing to show a strong editorial hand and clear vision, but I think he's off the mark here when he says, "A website which treats single line blog entries and articles running into a few thousand words with equal weight and respect is clearly one which doesn’t warrant any serious writer’s attention or approbation." Perhaps he is drawing his own line between his own group blog, where roundtables share space with reviews and the results of Wikipedia searches for obscure Star Trek character actors, and website TCJ.com, I don't know. For the record, I liked the Star Trek stuff. What I'm saying is that while you could perhaps more clearly separate the spontaneous, bloggy stuff from the lengthier stuff, the main goal is that it all be entertaining. There's nothing wrong with a fifteen minute review of a comic if it gets the job done. I'm going to go do one right now on some dumb Hulk comics, and that's all they really deserve. What TCJ needs is not necessarily more long pieces, but a higher standard of what runs, a cleaner way to find and view it, and a little more energy. Some, like R. Fiore, have gotten into the spirit, and I'm sure more will follow. But I think it will take more than more design tweaks and unearthing old audio to get the b.o. out of this thing. It's probably going to take some young blood to basically take the thing right the fuck away from Dean and Groth and remake it, louder, funnier, once again taking no prisoners. Right now it's sort of like Mayberry R.F.D.. Lot of the same people, one step further technically, but missing energy and purpose, as well as a deputy and lovable drunk.

Hulk #19 & 20
Writer - Jeph Loeb
Penciler - Ed McGuinness
Inker - Mark Farmer

Incredible Hulk #607
Writer - Greg Pak
Artist - Paul Pelletier
Publisher - Marvel Comics. $3.99 ea. USD

When I started with reviewing those beginning Fall of the Hulks issues, I was in fairly high spirits, not having read any Hulk stuff in years. Now I realize I skipped a couple chapters in this "saga," and I'm wondering if I should even go on. Ah, well, it happens. Hulk #19 finds Loeb writing a reasonably decent Fantastic Four before a generic Frightful Four shows up and nabs Mr. Fantastic way too easily. Most of this is pretty autopilot, right down to a needless Thing/Red Hulk fight before they team up to do...something. Red Hulk has to absorb energy from the Negative Zone for reasons that may make sense later. That's mainly what the issue is about, a lot of bogus action to advance the plot slightly. About the most I can say is McGuinness' Red Hulk is fun to look at, especially the black fingernails.

I missed Incredible Hulk #606, but it's easy to gather that Cosmic Hulk and Dr. Doom slugged it out for a while before Doom was defeated and captured by the Intelligencia (Leader, M.O.D.O.K., Mad Thinger, Wizard, Red Ghost), so that's two of eight right there. Hulk #20 makes much of the strategic battle being waged between the Leader and Red Hulk, and once again it ends up with Red Hulk and Bruce Banner arguing and Red Hulk saying a cryptic line that lets you know he hasn't shown his true agenda yet. Before that happens, Red Ghost and his Super Apes (now Gamma-enhanced) show up to Ororo's birthday in Wakanda and abduct a completely ineffectual Black Panther from likewise ineffectual X-Men Cyclops, Beast and Iceman. Red Hulk is there, too, and at Cyclops' order, they waste their energies trying to fight him while Red Ghost gets away with #3 of 8. One of the more embarrassing outings for the X-Men I've ever seen. I also got a kick out of Red Ghost telling one of his apes to kill Red Hulk. Who is he kidding? Even better, Red Hulk ripped the ape's jaw apart (off-panel), killing him, which somehow led to an enraged Red Ghost punching him unconscious. Hard to get a handle on the power levels here. More stupid than fun, and damn, we have five more superheroes to capture before we even know what the big plan is? Yikes. I liked the typo of "causalities of war," too--it's rare when a mistake sounds smarter than what was intended.

Finally (for now), Incredible Hulk #607 takes this storyline to the Avengers, as Red She-Hulk's part of the plan is to capture Henry Pym. But being the "scientist supreme," as he calls himself twice here (I guess he's in his cocky, Yellowjackety phase), he figured out the plan and takes the fight right to the Intelligencia, but has to come back to try to stop Red She Hulk from killing the Avengers singlehandedly. With all the characters, this issue is a bit busier and more compressed than the others, and maybe that's also just the difference between Pak's style and Loeb's. Skaar is there but isn't very interesting, and as with the X-Men, the Avengers make a pretty weak showing for themselves. The good part of the issue is Banner finally revealing his own motivation here, which is to rescue his wife Betty from the Intelligencia, though from what little we've seen, she may not want rescuing and may not actually be with them. At least this heartfelt (we think) goal gets the Avengers on Banner's side, but still, so far it's all going the bad guys' way, as Pym is captured.

I find myself talking almost entirely about plot points here. Unfortunately, while this last issue finally provided a glimpse of humanity amidst all the green, red and blue muscular characters, there hasn't been much else to talk about. Undoubtedly Pak, Loeb, Jeff Parker and their editor(s) have hashed out the story so that this will all make sense down the road, there isn't really a consistent rhythm or tone to the issues, which is understandable with three different writers, of course. Loeb is blustery and that suits Red Hulk and Samson scenes fine, while Parker and Pak are maybe a little more character-focused. Pelletier is suited to drawing the Avengers, and the glossier coloring fits well with the established style of Bendis' run with David Finch and Mike Deodato, while the more "matte-finish" look works better on McGuinness' art. I haven't read much of how Henry Pym is being written these days to know if he's off, but from what I can tell here, both the X-Men and Avengers are out-of-character enough, or just too darned weak, that I think this storyline is going to have its share of detractors from fans of those characters dropping in to see what they're missing. The story could use someone to like, too, as right now I'm sort of rooting for the Leader.

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