Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Amazing Spider-Man, Orc Stain and Joe The Barbarian

In this edition of What I've Been Reading, I'm take a quick dive back into the world of single issues. First up, I take a look the recent Mysterio arc from Amazing Spider-Man. Next, I continue to read all things Grant Morrison with the first two issues of Joe the Barbarian. However, I'd be lying if I said he was the only draw since I am very interested in Sean Murphy's work on the series as well. Finally, from Image, I picked up Orc Stain #1 by James Stokoe to see what he has to offer with his peculiar looking fantasy series. Hit to the jump to find out what I thought of these.

Written by Dan Slott
Art by Marcos Martin(#618-620) and Javier Pulido(#620)

I got this arc mostly for Marcos Martin's art, which was great, but I was hoping that Dan Slott would be able to wow me with his writing again, which didn't really happen this time around. Slott did craft a very good Mysterio story and made good use of the character and, while there were some highlights, the overall package felt a little weak.

The story involves Mysterio conning the mob and using his unique talents to do so. The story flows well and Slott does a good job of characterizing Mysterio and explaining his motivations. Martin also does a great job of redesigning Mysterio's costume and gives him a nice new look that maintains the feel of the classic look while giving it a modern appeal.

Slott has a solid handle on the character and knows how to make him interesting. He plays Mysterio up as a showman more than a villain, which I liked. Slott characterizes Mysterio as a conman and semi-adrenaline junkie who's a villain not only because of the money but because he gets a kick out of it as well. It's nice to see a villain who isn't a villain solely because he's a genocidal maniac, which is very refreshing even as it is commentary on the sad state of the villains appearing in super hero comics.

Mr. Negative shows up as a part of the gang war Mysterio is creating and, while he isn't as compelling as he was when Joe Kelly is writing him, Slott does make good use of him for the most part. There was some nice humour to be found as well. Nothing particularly funny but enough to make you smile from time to time.

The thing that worked best for me though was Captain Yuri Watanabe, a friend of Jean DeWolff and ally to Spider-Man. It's a nice change of pace for a police officer in charge to actually consider Spider-Man an ally instead of a menace for once. Although the only other issue I know that she appeared was Amazing Spider-Man #600, I'm interested in seeing how the character develops.

Much like the rest of Slott's writing on Amazing Spider-Man, these issues disappointed me to a degree as well. I don't know what it is, but Slott seems to have lost something that his writing in She-Hulk and the early issues of Avengers: The Initiative had.

The main problem with this story arc is that there is some really bad drama injected into the issues. For example, Peter asks Carlie Cooper out to lunch, partly to get some information from her, but he feels guilty of the fact that he is involved with the Black Cat as Spider-Man. It does lead to an interesting moment later in the story but it still feels forced, cliched, and outdated. I know it's part of the whole Parker Luck aspect of the character Marvel brought back with Brand New Day, but it wears thin really fast since it's such an old aspect of the character that was dropped for a reason.

Next, Mr. Negative turns May Parker "evil," not really worth getting into how or why, but she basically then goes around and uncharacteristically yells at people to add some "drama" to the story but it is forced and adds nothing to the story. Finally, Mysterio sets it up so that Spider-Man accidentally "kills" some mob goons but, again, nothing is added to the story. Spider-Man just angsts for a couple of pages before he figures out that it was all set up by Mysterio.

These attempts are just wastes of space. Slott never gives them any room to develop into something that could be worthwhile so they take up pages that could be devoted to the Mysterio plot. In fact, it does look like Slott may use the final example above to do some interesting character work with Spider-Man but he immediately brushes it aside, quite literally as Spider-Man begins to think about it but then tells himself that he has other things to worry about.

One final problem I had with the story, but not really a problem on Slott's end, is that I've been reading Amazing Spider-Man haphazardly and just pick up some issues here and there based on the creative team, mostly the artists, so I'm not getting the full story. This really hasn't been a problem till I read these issues. There are a couple of scenes where I have no idea what is really going on. This never affected the main story since these were scenes about ongoing subplots but it was annoying. Can't say it was anyone's fault but mine though. Maybe Slott could have given the scenes some better context but, ultimately, it's always going to be a problem for readers who are not getting every issue.

Finally, in the nitpicking department, there are references to MySpace/Facebook and Michael Bay, both of which are part of the book's continued attempt to be "hip." This is, of course, just like your parents trying to be cool - it's not going to happen and is painfully embarrassing.

Verdict - Check It.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy

Joe the Barbarian is one of those comics that makes me fall in love with the medium all over again. It is a wonderful and imaginative series that just overflows with creativity, on the part of both the writer and artist. Like a lot of other Grant Morrison comics I love, he takes a back to basics approach to something yet puts his own spin on it that, while it doesn't reinvent the wheel, makes it highly refreshing. In this case, Morrison is doing a traditional fantasy quest that may or may not be a diabetic hallucination.

I know that part of the series is whether or not what is happening to Joe is real or just a illusion but I don't particularly care about that aspect of the story. Partially, this is because I don't find it very interesting and partially because it doesn't seem like it is a part of the story. For me, the comic is really about Joe's journey, which is magnificent. What I love most about it is that Morrison filters it through a teenager's point of view, hence the toys, but it also leads to wonderful lines like this,
"The Journey -- arduous, companions on the way, et cetera! Traditional rules apply!"
Morrison also does a great job of making Joe's journey compelling. He gives the reader a good handle on the character early on and then makes the direness of the situation immediately evident while doing some character development. Granted, Joe isn't the greatest, or deepest, character around and he could still use a little work but Morrison gives you just enough to get attached to him so you care what is going to happen.

(Click for larger image)

As much as a Morrison fan as I am, I can't say that, after reading these issues, Morrison will continue to be the main draw for me on this series. Although I thought Sean Murphy's art looked stunning when I saw his sketches online, it's absolutely nothing compared to reading it. His art is simply breath taking. The amount of attention and details he puts in every page and panel is astounding. I could just stare at the pages all day long and just soak it all in. They are simply mesmerizing. His designs are fantastic as well, from the characters to the world of Playtown. He really does bring the story to life. Although my original interest in this series came from Morrison, Murphy is definitely going to be the main draw for me for the rest of the series.

Verdict - Must Read.

Written by James Stokoe
Art by James Stokoe

This was a wonderfully refreshing comic. Aside from James Stokoe's obvious skills as a creator that were on display in the comic, what made it really stand out was the fact that it avoided so many of the Tolkien-esque tropes and cliches often found in any given fantasy series. Stokoe just ignores all of them 99% of the time and just builds his own world that is distinct from pretty much every other fantasy series you could find. Sure, the orcs are still very orc-ish at times but Stokoe more than makes up for that with everything else.

The basic story is that although the orcs have been a powerful force for a million millenia, they have never been able to maintain any unity as a group until the Orctzar took control of the various tribes. In his quest for power, he learns that he needs to find the one-eyed orc who will be able to get him is ultimate treasure, which then leads to the introduction of the main character - One Eye, an orc who can break into anything. The rest of the issue is about introducing One Eye and giving the reader a good feel for the character. Stokoe does a good job of this even if the comic ends up being a quick read but that doesn't detract from the overall package since Stokoe's work is just that good.

(Click for larger image)

As always, the world building Stokoe does is what really stands out to me. Nothing remotely resembles your typical fantasy setting and, naturally, the biggest thing that stands out are the orcs. Stokoe has managed to give them a completely different aesthetic than what you would normally expect but they still feel like orcs. This is because while a lot of the outer appearance has changed, he keeps a few fundamental aspects of the orcs in tact. They are still a violent, base and simplistic race but Stokoe gives them higher motivations and some of them, like One Eye and the Orctzar, rise above their stereotypical orcness to varying degrees.

Even the stereotypical orc who appearances is fleshed out to a degree that you would never find in another fantasy story. Stokoe not only gives the orcs their own culture but he even fleshes it out some as well. For example, famous orcs have a stone head carved in their honor and are assigned a number, the only kind of "official" identification an orc can ever receive.

Stokoe's art is fantastic as well. The thing that stands out the most are his designs. Again, they just don't look like anything you would associate with a typical fantasy story. The pages are just filled with details as well. The amount of detail he uses, combined with his fantastic designs, really bring the story to life. The coloring is also very distinct. Stokoe uses a lot of reds, blues and greens which differentiates it from a lot of comics in general. His art is just wonderful and some of the best and most imaginative I've ever seen.

Verdict - Must Read.

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Ivan said...

- Who the hell is Mysterio right now? I remember Beck coming back from the dead, but I didn't finish that arc. What happened to Klum, the "Kevin Smith Mysterio"?

- Man, I look at that spread page by Stokoe and I can't even imagine the kind of patience and perserverance you need to deliver this kind of illustration.

Eric Rupe said...

Ivan - The Mysterio in this story is Beck. As for Stokoe's work, pretty much all of the pages have that level of detail.

Approved said...

I have LOVED the new Spiderman stories. Every week seems to get better and better.


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