Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Iron Man, Haunt and Spider-Man

Once again, thanks to the power of the public library, I'm taking a look a some of trades that I was curious but did not want to purchase. This time though, I'm hoping for the best! Well, with two of them anyway. The other, not so much, and it falls under my need to read what I consider a bad comic just to see how bad it can be. Plus, I actually bought one of these comics! Can you guess which one? Hit the jump to see what I though of this trio of collections.

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by David Lafuente
Collects Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1-6

There isn't a thing I don't love about this collection. I love that Spider-Man isn't public enemy #1. I love that Peter is dating Gwen instead of MJ since Peter and MJ dating in the Ultimate Universe always felt a little stale and predictable. I love that Aunt May's house is now the headquarters for Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. I love Bendis's use of the Human Torch and Ice Man. I love that Mysterio really is a mystery character that we know nothing about. I love that Mysterio kills the Kingpin by basically pushing him out of a window. I love the Bombshells, the seeming replacements for the Shocker. I love the humor that Bendis has put back into the series. I love Lafuente's art. I love that Lafuente's Spider-Man looks kind of like a child when compared to all of the other characters. I absolutely love everything about this comic yet I will never spend a dime on it.

Although Marvel intended to use Ultimatum to rekindle peoples' interest in the Ultimate Universe, it obvious that it has had the exact opposite effect at this point. The miniseries served as a jumping off point for many readers, myself included. Why? After all, Bendis's work on the title seems to have suffered no ill-affect from the reboot. Well, $4 price point aside, what made the Ultimate Universe, and specifically Ultimate Spider-Man, appealing was that it was a playground where creators could tell their stories unencumbered from things like 40 years worth of continuity, the limitations of a shared universe and overt editorial meddling. Ultimatum fundamentally changed all of that.

Ultimatum broke the illusion that Bendis was in change and had something approaching the final say on what happened with USM but that's now gone. I read USM because I was interested in what Bendis was doing with the characters of the series, not because I cared about the characters themselves or cared about the Ultimate Universe in any way. What Ultimatum showed is that Marvel lost sight was what made people interested in the Ultimate books by applying the same technique they used to prop up sales on their flagging core titles, events and tie-ins, but those techniques are antithetical to what made the imprint work in the first place. Given that, I'm not sure why I should stick around. That said, while I may not spend on this title, I have no problem to continue reading from the library, which I'll do until I lose interest or they stop getting new volumes.

Like I said though, I really did love this collection and it does feel like a return to form for the series. Bendis manages to capture what made the series so great the first time around while making some fundamental changes to it as well. Peter's general status quo is very different from USM and the series feels more like an ensemble book rather than a series with a main protagonist with a large supporting cast. Bendis definitely deserves a lot of credit for his ability to change to basic dynamic of the series while still maintaining the feel of the original set up and what made it enjoyable in the first place.

Lafuente, with some time on series, could become my favorite artist that has worked on USM in one form or another. Mark Bagley was a solid and consistent artist but his style is not particularly distinctive. Stuart Immonen, on the other, was a step up in quality but he never really had time to put his mark on the series, in comparison to Bagley. Lafuente has a far more distinctive style than either of them and I generally like his designs on the series. His art also just seems to better fit the tone that Bendis is going for better than either previous artist managed to do.

Verdict - Check  It.

Interested in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol 1, The World According to Peter Parker? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larroca
Collects Invincible Iron Man #8-13

Matt Fraction is one of those writers whose creator-owned and lower tier Marvel books I absolutely love but, when he takes on higher profile work, whatever made me love his work in the first place ends up disappearing. I read the first arc of Invincible Iron Man when it was coming out and, while it had some nice ideas, it was just kind of bland and thoroughly average. His next arc on the title was a Dark Reign tie-in which killed my interest in the series but I heard good things about it since then and the library had a copy so I gave it a look was surprised by how much I actually liked it.

The problem with Dark Reign is that, when you think about it, it makes absolutely no sense. Why is Norman Osborn in charge exactly? Because he killed the Skrull Queen? That makes sense why? And what exactly did Tony Stark do so wrong? In the story, Osborn basically says everything that happened in Secret Invasion is Stark's fault but, if you actually make a time line from Civil War to Secret Invasion going by Brian Bendis's Avengers titles, it ends up being two months. Maximum. That really isn't much time from Stark to do anything really much less be responsible for an alien invasion that he maybe knew about for a week or two. It makes it hard to buy into the story, at first, but Fraction does some excellent work that more than makes up for it.

One of the most noticeable things about the story is that Osborn is comically evil. Absurdly comically evil, but, I think that's the point. Osborn's actions are just so over the top that I can't see Fraction meaning for the readers to take them seriously and it feels more like a not so subtle mockery of Dark Reign as a whole. In fact, Stark calls Osborn a "dyed-in-the-wool, mustache-twirling looney toon" in the first issue of the collection. And, it top it all off, Osborn actually comes off as a threat to Stark, who is literally running for his life. This is what makes the story work for me. Fraction not only inverts the the standard portrayal of Osborn but turns him into a series threat at the same time.

I haven't read too many Dark Reign books but, going by reviews, summaries and such that are online, it seems that in most of the stories the heroes beat up and humiliate Osborn and/or his stooges and then run back to their secret hideouts and go on about how big of a threat Osborn is despite the fact they just made him look like a chump. Not to mention that everyone keeps going on and on and on about how Osborn is just going to eventually snap and lose it anyway. It's kind of hard to take your big, important villain seriously when he keeps getting made into a fool that everyone believes is going to crash and burn at some point but Fraction does both of those things and makes it work none the less.

The best thing about the collection though is that Fraction uses this framework to tell a very engaging story about Stark, Pepper Potts and Maria Hill. The over-the-top situation Fraction puts them in allows him to get down to makes the characters tic in a short amount time while putting them in so interesting situations. Fraction even makes Hill interesting, which is the first time I've thought that way about the character, and I do like what Fraction is doing with Potts and her suit of armor. I'm more than interested in the second book so I hope Fraction keeps up the forward momentum and brings the arc to a good conclusion.

Verdict - Check It.

Interested in Invincible Iron Man Vol 2, World's Most Wanted Book 1? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Greg Capullo, Todd McFarlane and Ryan Ottley

Image should be congratulated for getting me to actually spend money and buy this. After all, I've made my distaste for Robert Kirkman and Image-styled superheroes clear before. So, why am I in possession of the first six issues of Haunt? Well, the trade collecting the first five issues was only $10 and I got for $6 with online discounts and I got the sixth issue for free as part of an online promotion. Obviously, Image only gets credit for the $10 trade but, that's why I bought it, since it was so cheap. Now, this is not to say that Image, or any publisher, should pricing everything at this kind of price point, but, cheap introductory prices are something that I think more and more publishers should be trying out because you might get those customers who are curious about a series but don't want to pay full price on a comic they don't know if they will like or not. So, kudos to Image on attempting to get readers to try out a new series. Unfortunately, that is the only good thing I have to say about these comics.

I'm just going to cut to the case - Haunt is just a bad comic. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Just awful stuff. Now, it's not Ultimatum/X-Force level of suck but but still very unappealing. Basically, it's a shitty 90's comic written in 2009, with all that entails: weak plot, almost non-existent characters and ugly art.

Rather than nitpick this comic to death, which I could easily do, I'll just stick to the big picture. First up, the characters! The brothers Daniel and Kurt Kilgore, the series's main characters, are two of the world's biggest assholes and some of the most unsympathetic lead characters I have ever encountered. Now, main characters don't have to be likeable in order for me to enjoy a story. After all, some of the best character's from Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts run were unrepentant assholes but Kirkman is clearly means for us to sympathize with them. For example, in issue three Daniel, a priest who sleeps with prostitutes and pays them by stealing money from the church where he work's, finds out that Kurt has been cheating on his wife, who Daniel had a thing for, and then proceeds to start crying like a baby about. We are obviously meant to feel sorry for Daniel but I hard time just trying to stop from laughing. Seriously, it was hilarious that Kirkman thought that we should feel sorry for him since he was written as a complete asshole for the previous three issues! Kurt, on a similar hand, is a rather remorseless black-ops agent who develops a plot-induced conscience that the beginning of the series and, as already mentioned, as cheated on his wife, multiple times. Why are supposed to feel bad for these characters in any way in beyond me.

The rest of the cast doesn't fair much better but for a different reason. The rest of the cast all have character traits, generic ones at that, but no real personality to go with them and are pretty one-dimensional because of that. In fact, most of them conform to one standard archetype or another. While this makes it easy to get a handle on the supporting characters, there just isn't much to get. Daniel and Kurt have this problem as well, but to a lesser degree since they get more page time thus being slightly more developed.  The supporting characters are also used for exposition and info dumping a lot of the time and they tend to sound like Wikipedia articles. Their lack of personalities plays a part in this for sure but it is odd since none of Kirkman's other comics I've read have had this problem, which occurs even when they aren't filling in the reader on various things. And tend shout at out each other. A lot. So, a lot of the dialogue reads like Wiki articles shouting at each other. Fun times.

The plot is just a generic conspiracy story involving an immortality formula. The plot twists can generally be seen a mile away and the characters have a tendency to act in a manner that is blatantly convient for the plot, like Kurt growing a conscience when the story needed it. The writing can be very sloppy in general as well. For example, Mirage, another black-ops agent and Kurt's current lover, decides that she's going to make sure Kurt's wife, Amanda, gets into protective custody safely since Mirage is basically responsible for his death. She verbally declares this at the bottom of page 15 in issue #6 and then, on page 16, when Amanda is attack Mirage declares, and I quote, "Damn it! I'm not taking a bullet for this bitch!" while jumping out of her car, guns blazing, trying to save Amanda. Yeah. I wonder if anyone actually bothered to read this before it was printed.

The art is just as bad. Not sure who had the idea of sandwiching Ottley's crisp, sleek and uncluttered art in between Capullo's and McFarlane's artwork, which has a lot of unnecessary lines and details, but it was a dumb idea that creates an visual look that feels like it's always fighting against itself, given the conflicting styles. Another problem is that it is very inconsistent with Ottley's work having more influence one a panel or page or the Capullo/McFarlane combination winning out at other times. This creates a very schizophrenic look and there is no apparent reason for why either Ottley or the Capullo/McFarlane combo will have a greater influence on any given page. And, once you get to issue six and Capullo becomes the regular artist (though he isn't "officially" the ongoing artist until issue #7 for some asinine reason), the art loses any of it's redeeming qualities since Ottley is no longer around.

I will say though, the idea of having three "big name" artists each do a part of the art (Capullo on layouts, Ottley on pencils and McFarlane on inks) to create a new look is an interesting idea but, obviously, I  think it failed in its execution. It would have worked better if they had used an artist who didn't clash with Capullo's and McFarlane's styles but who still a distinctive look to bring to the table but, I'll admit finding an artist like that was probably going to be extremely hard. Personally, I would have also gone with other artists than Capullo and McFarlane as well but that's just because I just don't like their styles. Sure, I'll admit, I loved McFarlane's work on Spider-Man, when I was 10, but, like most of the other Image artists, once you grow up and, presumable, get a more refined taste in art, the positive aspects become negative. Essentially, it's the whole style over substance dynamic. His art looks good to the untrained eye, but falls apart on closer examination. His biggest problem, on top of some wonky anatomy, is that he just has way to much clutter and unnecessary lines that add nothing to the comic and just serve to distract the reader.

Who is this "Spider-Man" you speak of?

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Haunt isn't a completely knock off of Spawn, just mostly a knock off. Both are black-ops agent that get killed and come back through supernatural means with a suit of supernatural origins that allows them to preform superhuman feats. And they look a lot alike. Haunt hasn't gotten into a fight with Satan though! And the whole Spider-Man rip-off thing doesn't really apply outside of the original McFarlane teasers, in case you were wondering about that as well. Except for the wall crawling business. Haunt definitely does that.

Verdict - Avoid It.

Still interested in Haunt Vol 1? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Anonymous said...

OK I know you don't like X-Force but comparing it to Ultimatum? Come on.

Zdenko said...

Yeah, I agree. X-Force may not be your cup of tea but to say it's Ultimatum level-bad, well... That's just insulting. :P

As for the new Ultimate Spidey, I love everything about it. Except the art. Lafuente is a major turn-off for me. O, Bagley, how I miss thee... :(

I-VAN the CRIPPLER said...

when it started X-force was the only X series other tnan Legacy worth reading.....Uncanny sucked, astonishing was delayed, young xmen sucked, and cable was just plain X-Force actually took the story further and realy did mean somethin when u look at the progression of the X-men franchise in the last couple of years....

Jerem said...

No, no...X-Force is pretty God awful and not very fun to read(much like their work on New X-men)

Anonymous said...

I'll just politefully disagree with you about X-Force and New X-men.

Anonymous said...


I do like a lot the writing of Bendis in that UCSM but what I find laughable is the art side; the head of spiderman, it remainds me a lot of Charlie Brown from Peanuts.

I just can not stand how the mask of spiderman looks being drawn that way.

forrest said...

I, for one, have loved Fraction's entire run on Iron Man. I think he's done a great job with keeping accessible to movie-goers and comic fans both (something I fear for with Captain America in 2 years when Marvel inevitably forces Steve Rogers back into the role to coincide with the movie, leaving Bucky by the wayside). I can't wait for his run on Thor.

As for Haunt, I've tried the first arc out because I trust Kirkman's writing, but it's just been pretty "meh".

And I think Ultimate Spider-Man goes without saying. How can you not love it?

Anonymous said...

Not loving the Stewie Griffin head of spiderman, that is just awful! Where is Bagley when you need him?


Anonymous said...

"There isn't a thing I don't love about this collection."

That is what you said about Ultimate Comics Spider-Man before giving it a 'Check It' rating. It deserved a 'Buy It' rating at the very least!


Anonymous said...


In a recent issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy, Kitty Pryde and MJ forced Peter to get his hair cut as it was so long that his head looked perfectly round when wearing the mask. Hilarious stuff!


Anonymous said...

@JonHend: haha haven't seen that issue man, will see it, sounds funny!

I do not like Haunt neither, it makes me remember my highschool years when Spawn was a great read ... but it makes me remember it in a bad way, the bad 90´s ultraviolent-vigilante-comics way.

Eric Rupe said...

For the record, the three worst comics that I read in 2009 were X-Force, Ultimatum, Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian.

As for Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, I guess I'm alone is my love for Lafuente's art. And for the lack of a higher rating, while I do love the series, I can't really recommend it since I don't really have any faith that Marvel won't meddle with the comic anymore.

forrest - I don't think that someone who has just watched the Iron Man movie would be particularly interested in the Dark Reign stuff or that they would be able to get all of it by just reading IIM. Also, I don't think Steve Rodgers is going to be Cap again anytime soon either since Marvel is pushing him as Director of SHIELD is a pretty big way.

forrest said...

Eric- For Iron Man I meant the arcs that coincided with the movie releases, i.e. the first arc and the current one. As for Steve/Cap, I'm 95% sure they'll have him back in that role in 2 years time. A lot can happen in 2 years, the registration act only lasted about 2ish years. If Marvel doesn't give Steve back the shield, I will congratulate Marvel on their restraint to put existing fans before potential new fans from the movie.

Black Ice said...

@Eric Rupe

Have you written any articles specifically about your dislike of image superheroes? Could you post the links?

Flip The Page said...

I know it's never referenced in Dark Reign, but the moment that inspired Norman's rise to power was him saving Washington DC in thunderbolts' secret invasion arc. which makes sense because that's where politics happens.

but y'know, remembering the point that makes sense is a bit beyond Marvel at times

Chris said...

Yeah I tried reading Haunt because I love Kirkman's Walking Dead and I usually Like McFarlane.....but it just wan't good. I have, however, really enjoyed Fraction's run on Iron Man a lot so I agree with that as well.

Gotta dissagree about X-Force though, I do rather enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

You say x force is bad but you read nova?

Anonymous said...

I dropped USM because I loathe the art. The round head on Spidey... the fact he looks about 7 years old in the costume... bleh.

Anonymous said...

I disagree x force has been great . A large part of second coming came from. Force stories . I agree that nova was bad nut it's gone now :)

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