Friday, April 16, 2010

The Savage Axe of Ares - Review

This week saw the release of another Mighty Marvel Magazine and this one I had been keen on for months. For a format that was spawned from the heights of being the Savage Sword of Conan, it seemed only right that Marvel's god of war, Ares, should finally get his chance for a guest hosting spot. Here we get three comics stories about Ares and then one text prose piece. It's an ambitious format, and one I've already professed my undying love for, so instead let's take a look at how the actual tales rate. Hit the jump to see what I thought of each contribution to this title.


This Super Issue, which promises 'Skull-Splitting Metal Mayhem Featuring Marvel's God Of War' right on the cover (by rising star Rafa Garres), assembled a fine crew to take us into the world of Ares. Just the cover alone was enough to whet my appetite as finally someone nailed that Frazetta look that an issue of this type needs.

Each creator tackles the deity of battle in different manners, and to different achievement levels, but overall they're all fresh takes and I appreciated them being brought together in these pages as one whole package. For the purpose of this review, I will be breaking the issue down and reviewing each story separately.

Red Mercury

Words by Gregg Hurwitz
Art by C.P. Smith

This tale, set in East Germany during 1990, is an interesting start. We follow two defecting comrades as they steal some very potent chemical that they believe is their ticket to freedom. It quickly becomes obvious that they won't be able to make it, that is until a guardian angel suddenly helps them in their escape attempt by brutally taking out all of the enemy soldiers who stand in their path to a new life. No points for guessing who that helpful stranger is, and sadly also no points on offer for why he wants to help these two hapless fools. They don't know what's going on, and they're far too happy to still be alive to really think about it, so instead they run through the wake that Ares carves for them.

This tale shows Ares as a John Rambo type, dispatching larger and larger foes with only blades and arrows. It's interesting and fun but ultimately suffers like a lot of lead tales in this format as it is too long at 22 pages. This story shouldn't be a whole issue's worth to itself, and so the point feels belabored. In the end it is obvious why Ares wanted these men to escape with the chemical compound, so that this could then spark more war. It's a simple story, a single concept, but the payoff of the final double splash page is pretty well worth it all as we see the pending battle between Russian and American forces reflected in Ares' axe while he calculatingly watches his manipulated scene unfold from behind.

C.P. Smith's art seems uneven as some shots of Ares are well rendered and seem polished whereas others seem like colouring-in book silhouettes of the god of war. It's a shame as overall I like the feel of Smith's work and his black and white tone matches the grit of this format effectively, when he's on a good page. Gregg Hurwitz does a good job but his words do feel spaced out, and I can't help but feel that was simply to pad the pages out to 22. Overall, this is a cool story, with two excellent double-splashes, but nowhere near the best one in this issue.

The Gods Answer All Prayers

Words by John Barber
Art by Jefte Palo

This ancient tale is set 'Once upon a time, when gods still roamed the Earth...' and we find Ares a prisoner in a cruddy dungeon. He quickly is given his helmet and a mission and off he sets happy to do what he does best. He is to rescue the daughter of the king and bring back the evil wizard's head. It's a simple Robert E. Howard type of story and it's nice to see a tale set in Ares more nascent days. He gets there quickly and easily trashes the guards and finds the princess about to be sacrificed to a very large snake. Ares has an excellently cocky line while killing the snake as he thinks; "This creature has never before faced a god. I know this because until it met lived." This is the sort of Ares I could see easily sitting around with a few golden apples and waxing warfare and wenches with a young Thor. Or even with the original ad the best, Conan.

By stories end, Ares has his way by helping the young girl win back the kingdom from her father who she says was rather too oppressive for her likes. Ares is happy to help her with her war campaign and when the battle is done and she has what she wants he shows her what she is left with, a kingdom ravaged by war and not really anything that she would want at all. But that's her problem, Ares is already on his way.

John Barber infused this tale with enough pulp and mysticism that it feels like it should have been an old paperback short. He gets a younger tone for Ares and makes sure that he's always looking out for the most important thing in the world, the fight. Jefte Palo's art is one of the best things in this issue. His work definitely channels the style of Frank Miller (with 300 being an obvious influence) and his Ares is a lot leaner than most other incarnations shown us. I'm not sure if this is because he is meant to be younger, but I like this look more than the absolute muscle bound hulk that Ares usually is. This guy looks ripped for battle, he'd be able to run without being weighed down. He looks like the ultimate warrior. I'd say that this tale was my favourite comic segment in the issue.

Bonebomb Babylon

Words and Art by Ted McKeever

Here we have Ares wandering through the middle of an Iraq battlefield. He meets a female and quickly informs her that he's not there to take sides, he's simply had his attention gained by the Golden Fleece that angers below the ground. The ram-headed monster cracks through the ground and Ares gets the woman to help him defeat the beast. It's a massive battle and all play their prescribed parts perfectly. Ares reigns triumphant and wanders off to allow the original battle to play out behind his back now that he knows they won't be interrupted by anymore nasties.

Ted McKeever has a very interesting style, you'd either love it or hate it, but within this one tale I go from one to the other. His depiction of the god of war and the beast are very cool. But when he gets Ares to remove his helmet he makes him look like some low-rent 80's action star meeting the end of his laborious career. All awe is left behind and that is a shame because the beast McKeever draws looks wicked. Each panel seems to be as much about what isn't shown as what is, white lines are McKeever's friend. This story is passable but nothing superbly fantastic, which is a shame because I loved McKeever's addition to last month's Doctor Strange issue in this format.


Words by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Leonardo Manco

Swierczynski gives us 2,500 words of prose here that are a fantastic little read. I like having a chunk of text at the end of the issue, makes me feel like I'm getting more. I like it in comics like Criminal and so I appreciate it here too. Wojna is the Polish word for war and here we are given a piece of medieval noir as a lone Polish survivor of a raiding party tries to survive when surrounded by Tartar invaders. A strange wanderer joins with the last Pole, Ziemowit, and shows him how to do what must be done. The tale is well paced and it ramps up to an excellent climax. The stranger, who takes the name Wojna, slices through the enemy with gusto and keeps Ziemowit by his side and calls him hero throughout. There is a great moment where Swierczynski sets the scene of bloodshed brutally:
The way Wojna chopped through the Tartan raiders, it was as if he'd plunged a sharp lance into the very heart of the world, and warm red rain splattered down upon them all.
At the end of the tale, Wojna follows through on his promise of making the teen a hero by slitting his throat and leaving him to be found by his brethren. They will spread the myth of Ziemowit and he'll rule in spirit over the battlefields that will surely follow after this skirmish. It's a great read and I liked having it as a part of this issue. I'd easily say that this story is the best prose piece in the issue (ha, got you with that one, but seriously, I'd rank it up there with the Barber/Palo piece for sure).

The story also came with an artist, Leonardo Manco, who framed the pages with absolutely beautiful images of Ares at war that you could think were images taken from centuries old wood-prints. They add a spice to the pages and the lead-in splash could easily be a poster were someone to make it up. I'd certainly want one.

Meek To...Marvelous

Marvel, being the kind and magnanimous publisher that they are, also threw in a little ad with their tales of war and gods which is worth a mention. This page shows all the runts of the world who read comics how to get 'The Bob Ares Greek God Body Building System' book and learn how to go from zero to Zeus in no time. He was once the laughing stock of those around him but he found a way to bulk up and hulk out. Now, Bob Ares guarantees that he "can build YOUR body the very same way - without weights, cosmic rays or Pym particles." It's a funny little piece and I like that Marvel would include this. Comics are meant to be fun and this certainly is fun. Doing this sort of thing gives the whole issue a complete vibe, like everything was thought about and put together just for us readers. I like that personal touch.

Verdict: Buy It - There are two tales, The Gods Answer All Prayers and Wojna, that are easily worthy of raving over and I thought they both added to the Ares mythos quite effectively, and the other two weren't necessarily bad, they just weren't as good. That's a pretty good ratio of content worth paying money for. This issue is relatively diverse, at least in styles, and in the end it shows you that Ares is a manipulative bastard who only cares about the war aspect of the world. The people who fight the battles are inconsequential unless they get him to the next battle. It's like he feeds off the power that surges through the air during a war and cares not for the players or the consequences. And this to me feels like a true representation of how he should be played out. I'd easily say readers should buy this comic as for $3.99 you get 48 pages of everyone's favourite god of war, and that includes a great text story, a funny ad, some excellent and varied art, and a main character who only wants to see you kill other people or kill them in his name. I think that's a pretty good bang for your buck.

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Aaron Kimel said...

@Ryan - I think your review is spot-on, though I personally rate "Wojna" just ahead of "The Gods Answer All Prayers". I think "Wojna" was perhaps the best indication of your theme of Ares "feeding off the power that surges through the air during a war": he creates a hero, saves a people, defends the weak... and all only to get them to put up a fight and slay more invaders. All of Ares' nobility and heroism seem to be accidental by-products of his lust for war.

RoadRunner88 said...

Great recommendation, I would never have given this a thought otherwise. I agree that Red Mercury was rather strung out but The Gods Answer All Prayers and Wojna were really great. Sort of reminds me, personally, of the old Warhammer Monthly comics.
And yes, Ares seems to be helping the weak but is really just making the odds more even, not to give the disadvantaged a chance of winning, but to just keep the fight going.

Dickey said...

I really need to find a way to get a print of Manco's opening piece from "Wojna". Everything about it just screams of unbridled fury and beauty. Kinda wish they were able to get Kieron Gillen to do a little piece for this issue though. The miniseries he did last fall was stellar, especially when the Russian looks in surprise when he find out Ares was at the Battle of Stalingrad, and Ares just looks back and goes "I wasn't fighting with your people."

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Aaron - yeah, I'd rate those two stories just so close, really good stuff. Seems most of you agree with me on that part, which is cool.

@RoadRunner - so glad to know that one of my reviews just improved someone else's reading timetable. It's also awesome that you let me know about it, thanks man, made my day.

@Dickey - I'd love to see that as a print, it really is impressive.

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