I’ll break this piece up into two pieces because they don’t really meet, and both need their own space to make their points.
I’m not an absolute Muppet, I flipped through the pages of this title before I picked up the first issue. I was hoping for something that would be a bit of an insight. I was hoping to see interviews with all sorts of editors and talent scouts who would dispense advice and email addresses to all of us reading and then it would be an internet scramble to see who could shoot off the first PDFs of brilliance to get a new job. I hoped for that but never really considered it being the product that would be offered for sale.
I’m glad I prepared for the worst because as far as how to break into comics the Marvel way this two-part showcase doesn’t tell you how to do it so much as show you a bunch of people who just did. I think that’s kind of annoying for people who want to, considering all of these new Marvel employees got in via ChesterQuest, the art scouting spectacular that C.B. Cebulski put on to find the finest pencils and inks in the globe. That’s right, art work is the key here, this has no help for aspiring writers who can't draw a bath, artistes need only apply. These lucky devils all got in the same way, and it was quite a structured path, so that rules out any amazing insights into how to break through the well-guarded walls of the Bullpen that so many of us desire to work for.
We are given a paragraph as to why Cebulski liked each person’s art, so I guess we can use those tips to hone our own art (those of us who even have art to hone) and then we get a few one-column interviews with artists and mine them for insight as to when they started drawing and how they broke into comics. It’s insightful, but not always the greatest thing we want to hear. Most of us aspiring creators know the drill; you pay your dues, you wait it out, you bank that persistence in the end. Though it seems that nearly all of these people got to see an editor, or drop into the Marvel building, so that will rule out a fair group of international people who don't make it to conventions. For artists who live elsewhere in the world, I guess you can just put your stuff on the net with the thousands of other people and hope for the best that some scout stumbles upon your DeviantArt page or webcomic.
The second issue gives us more of the same, a few paragraphs, a few one-column interviews, some sound bites from Cebulski’s twitter account (which are really good, for artists) and then a one page from him as well, which brags that Marvel hired 144 people last year and they’re always on the lookout for more of the eager hordes to step up to the plate.
But this information forms the slim side of this series. The rest of each issue is stacked with short 8-9 page stories, mostly written by very big names, and then drawn by all of the new names that they are pushing. This aspect deserves its own section so push on, constant reader, and look below the next sub-heading to see what I thought of the stories and the art.
This series is all about the art. We have big names writing the stories but we’re supposed to take note of the art so why both issues have some of the worst cover art I’ve seen in a while I have no idea. The first issue has Spider-Man and Spider-Woman, which seems like a good idea, but they seem to be shot through a lens dripping in Vaseline and Jessica Drew is absolutely snapping Peter Parker’s thumb all the way back. Why? I also don't see Drew as being a Courtney Cox-lite type of gal. Then issue 2 has a gaggle of pseudo-emo/manga girls with fringes and teeny tiny mouths looking at me like I’m some sort of slasher killer about to off them all. It’s not appealing and I can only assume it scared many people off from even flipping through the title, which is a shame.
It does need to be noted that for only $3.99 an issue you get 49 pages of art and words in the first issue, with 3 extra pages of content, and the second issue doles out 48 pages of goodies, plus an extra seven pages of additional content. That's very damn fine bang for your buck, in this reviewer's eyes.
Marc Guggenheim on Spider-Man
Damion Hendricks pencils the Spider-Man story and he delivers a dynamic page structure and a Spidey that you’d be happy to see within the thrice-monthly title for sure. He gets the look right, he generally chooses the right angles and he gets to quickly play with the FF and a few Avengers as well. The pages look good and make for a very fine intro to what we’re about to see. Had these pages been a let down then the whole initiative may very well have been doomed, so there was a lot of pressure on Hendricks and he holds himself, and Spidey, up admirably.
Mike Benson on Bullseye
Michele Bertilorenzi gives us a Bullseye tale that’s a real chiller. We get the standard empty eyes from the bald, accurate one, and we get a style that’s somewhere between Steve Dillon and Leinil Francis Yu, and I mean that in all the possible good ways that I can muster. We get excellent pacing across the pages and we get Bullseye wearing someone else’s face. It’s a wicked little tale and Bertilorenzi matches Mike Benson’s evil side beat for beat. Perhaps there was a little too much leaning on the evil grinning on Lester's behalf but overall Bertilorenzi gives us a quick and violent tale that pulls no punches and feels ready to slip into something larger for sure.
Brian Michael Bendis on New Avengers
Christian Nauck has already been getting some work, from memory (I’m sure I picked one of his Ghost Rider covers for Cover of the Week not that long ago) and you can see why he’s already on his way to the top. He’s got a great superhero style that can still match make you appreciate the people behind the spandex. We get characterization in the looks and poses, not just made-for-poster leaps in every splash. Nauck plays this lust story between Spider-Woman and Iron Fist for laughs in many panels, and does so quite effectively. The only thing I want to know is; in the montage sequence of love is Danny Rand really just giving Jessica Drew a douche-bag reveal of his abs or am I missing something?
By the time I got to the end of this first issue I was amazed at how much I had enjoyed myself. There were a few tales that fell flat on me; the Tony Stark from Joe Suitor had too much of a manga influence and I don’t like it when someone can’t draw the man behind the mask well, and the X-Men from Paul Davidson looked fine but the tale seemed contrite and generally left me with a shrug all round, and the Serena Ficca Runaways pages were also well made but just not my style. I can see how many others loved it, though, so that’s cool.
I wasn’t a lock to pick up the next issue but I was most certainly guaranteed a flip on the racks. Now this is interesting because I’m generally not an art type of enthusiast. It’s generally I know what I like and I like what I like. I doubt I’d buy any titles just because one of these guys was on it, I don’t buy a title for any artist only, I need me a writer to get me through the gate, but I know I’d certainly be happy for a few of these artists to tackle some of my favourites.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I flipped through the pages of the second issue and quickly resolved that I would be buying it, creepy Argento’s Deep Red meets J-Horror image aside. And I was, again, really glad that I did. Here we get the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Psylocke, New Mutants, and Deadpool as written by Simon Spurrier, Kevin Grevioux, Peter David, Mike Carey, Jonathan Hickman, and Frank Tieri. Another quality assembly and most matched by their nascent artist friends.
Simon Spurrier on Fantastic Four
Stephen Thompson’s first fantastic family battle a horned squid vagina of an alien, and everyone’s a winner after that opening clause. His Thing looks great, and his sturdy pencils give us adequate others of the FF, if not quite as perfect as Dale Eaglesham’s, though to hold anyone up to his standard is a tad harsh. I like the smiling, thumbs up General in the background of one scene as he relishes the thought of getting to use a nuke if the scenario doesn’t go out as planned. What we have here are absolutely solid superhero pages to open the issue. And it’s a treat again.
Kevin Grevioux on Thor
Thomas Labourot draws Thor, and other Asgardians, in a manner that I would describe as being perfect for an all-ages comic book. It’s a cartoony line and yet I also find that the more I look at it the more I really dig it. It’s simple and looks like a cartoon played out in freeze frames, but they’re very good choices of when to freeze the shot. Labourot is able to draw Thor as someone I respect and fear rather than just some broad-nosed blonde pretty boy with shoulders too wide for his teeny head. I dig this style but I don’t know where exactly I want to see it next, though I do want to see it.
Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Jonathan Hickman on New Mutants
Gabriel Hernandez Walta paints the New Mutants in Asgard and it does look gorgeous but you’d have to match the style to the project very carefully. Walta paints his work and you can see that he obviously puts a lot of effort and love into his work for each and every panel. It fits the 'what if?' tale here, as presented by Hickman, quite well but seems to straddle a line between Bill Sienkiewicz’s layout and Cary Nord’s structure mixed in with a little bit of Frank Frazetta’s sweat and so it might not suit a superhero. A god or a demon might be better and I hope Walta finds either in the near future.
Frank Tieri on Deadpool
Matteo Scalera gives us Deadpool exactly as he needs to be seen. Heavy set, loaded for bear, and crazy as a shithouse rat. Deadpool is a fun character and Matteo shows this in the many different expressions we manage to get from a guy who wears a mask constantly. We get a meat cleaver to the head (don’t worry, it’s just Mr Wilson’s) and then Matteo cleverly shows us that Deadpool ices an old lady right between the eyes by not showing us anything but her busted glasses. It’s masterful and I’d expect to see Matteo on something in the spandex realm of fun very soon. He seems like he’d be able to work with someone like Dan Slott in a heartbeat.
The two stories I don’t mention I still feel looked pretty good but they just didn’t hold my attention as much. Tommaso Bennato gives us an interesting and brutal Hulk across eight pages of silence and he must be credited for that, and Shaun Turnbull draws one of the better Psylockes around as she’s not complete fanlad pin up (her costume actually has leggings instead of the usual abdominal slip to cover the business) and I really liked the layout of one page as Betsy Braddock’s psi-blades framed the page. They’re both good stories and perhaps let down by the writing a little.
I got to the end of this little experiment and was glad I had been along for the ride. I kind of wish Marvel had named/pitched this project to us in a different way. Had we known we were supporting new artists in a well-written anthology series we might have had more people come in to see the exhibition instead of walk away grumbling for the fact that it wasn’t what they wanted it/thought it would be; or perhaps the title got more people in and hopefully many stopped their griping when they saw what they were getting for their money.
I would also like to add that I would love, absolutely love, to see this format touched upon again but in a flip side to the coin showing us the new writing talent that Marvel has acquired and just what they could do with the big guns behind them on art duties. This would be harder to pull off as a writer slinging off a few pages of script is a lot easier to manage than an artist giving up a few pages worth of work that would come out of their monthly budget for page creation. Still, it would be good to see how a newbies' words looked with Steve McNiven, Olivier Coipel, or Leinil Francis Yu, big hitters who only ever work with the top tier of writers and so we'd see if it is the writers who deserve the top billing or sometimes the artists carrying them through their events.
Verdict – Check It. This might not be your cup of tea, though because it has a little bit of everything I’m sure you’d find something to love, be it superheroes making whoopee, or Gods learning humility, or even just your favourite character or writer doing their usual thing. That’s the beauty of anthologies, you get a little bit of what you want and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of what you didn’t know you needed. I’m digging supporting some Marvel anthologies because sometimes you just need to try something different and also support the company that you always want to do something different. I don’t know how, or where, these two issues will be collected so I’m going to say you should check them out now because I doubt there will be a trade to wait for. I also have to say that a two issue set is easy enough to open up the coffers for rather than an ongoing, or even five issue mini, set of material that you can’t be sure you’ll enjoy. Also, did I mention Stephen Thompson’s horned squid vagina alien?