I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but considering that Marvel has taken to spoiling their own comics through their penchant for same day (or day before) press releases, I'll make an exception for Amazing Spider-Man #700, especially because the "big reveal" is what I have the biggest issue with. So watch out for that.
At the end of Amazing Spider-Man #700, Peter Parker dies. And that's why this issue is no good.
We all know that superhero death doesn't last. I'm not venturing into new territory when I tell you this. At this point, it almost feels like a character isn't truly a superhero until they've died and recovered from that surprisingly temporary state of being. Superman, Batman, Captain America, Jean Grey (heck most of the X-Men), Wonder Woman, and many others have all died and gotten better. Heck, Hawkeye has done it three times. Death might have once held some kind of meaning in the realm of comic books, but it's been a long time since that's been the case for any character of relative importance.
It's the harsh reality of comic book business with the Big 2. Since merchandising and spinoffs are where they make their money from these characters, they're all literally worth more alive than dead, meaning that staying dead isn't really an option. Not in the long term, at least.
As a comic book reader, you know as well as I do that that makes superhero death pretty much devoid of any meaning. So when Peter Parker dies at the end of this issue, it doesn't mean a thing to me. If I could believe - even for one moment - that he would stay dead, I might care, but I will be surprised if he doesn't return to the land of the living by the end of next year (2014 at the latest - Spidey's got a movie coming out that year after all).
So because of this outside consideration, because I know that Peter Parker's death is only temporary, this story falls flat. It doesn't matter that Doctor Octopus learns a valuable lesson at the end. It doesn't matter that there are some genuinely fun moments in this issue (although there are quite a few questionable ones as well). None of it matters because everything hinges on a moment that is empty of any drama of meaning.
Verdict - Skip It. Doctor Otto Octavius is the new Spider-Man. Peter Parker is dead for now. Does anyone care?
Boom!'s newest comic book series, which is all about superheroes and supervillains fighting each other to the death for the reader's amusement (and maybe some story reason) is as gimmicky and transparent an attempt to cash in on the current Battle Royale / Hunger Games trend we seem to be going through at the moment as you can get, but as these cash-ins go, you could probably do a lot worse.
We open on Benny Boatright, one of our many characters who is more than likely heading towards an grizzly end, pretty much straight up telling the reader what's been going on. A whole bunch of heroes and villains been kidnapped (32 in total) and are being forced to fight each other to the death. No one knows who is responsible for all this, but it is clear that they have some strange way of controlling the combatants to ensure that they do kill each other, even if they don't want to.
All of this (along with some world building) is given to us in some rather explicit exposition to start the story, but it's tied in pretty well with Benny's disorientation after having killed one of his good friends and teammates, so it didn't feel too out of place. Even more impressively, this glimpsed into the world of Deathmatch is about all we get - at least to such a direct degree. Once we're given that glimpse, Paul Jenkins pretty much hits the ground running, writing as if the reader has a general familiarity with the world and the characters within it. It's a bold move, but it's also what makes this first issue worth reading. Jenkins does not hold the reader's hand, so we get to learn about what's going on through what the characters we encounter do and how they react to things.
It's by no means perfect - there are a couple of emotional moments that don't quite work - but it does a good job of hinting at a deeper complexity to this world that we only get a glimpse of during this issue. It feels like each and every character has actual motivations and backstories, even if we don't necessarily know what they are. In turn, this makes the mystery of what the heck is going on feel more slightly more interesting and important. None of the deaths that we get in this issue have any resonance to them, but that's okay, because those are just the background to the more interesting mystery that Jenkins builds in this issue.
While the writing was relatively interesting, I wasn't wild about the book's art. Carlos Magno's work feels just this side of overdone, with lots of tiny lines and marks added in in what I assume is an attempt to add detail, but mostly results in things looking a little off. It reminds me a little of the "uncanny valley" effect, where nothing looks quite right. This aesthetic isn't present in his flashback panels, and I feel if the rest of the book looked more like those portions, Deathmatch would be better for it. It's not a dealbreaker, but it's by no means my cup of tea. I'd prefer it if Magno laid off a little bit and let his artwork stand on its own.
On the other hand, I was quite taken with his character designs. We have 32 brand new characters here, and while we don't encounter all of them in this first issue, they look pretty cool thus far. What's more, they're not just reskinnings of pre-existing superheroes. I mean, there is a bit of Superman-like going on here, but for the most part, these characters seem to have unique looks and powers to them, which is appreciated.
Verdict - Check It. Deathmatch #1 is by no means perfect, but it's a lot better than I was expecting it to be. There's a genuine mystery going on here and while the answer may or may not be satisfying in the end, I am interested in knowing just what is going on. Maybe even enough to pick up issue #2.
I generally really enjoy Brian Wood's work. He pretty much always seems to have a solid grasp on society, culture, people, and what all makes them tick. You can check out virtually anything he's done for proof of that. So of course I was intrigued when I heard that he had a new series coming out from Image Comics. All I knew is that it was called Mara, and that was good enough for me. Now that I've read it, I'm not so sure.
Frankly, I feel like Mara really missed the mark.
Set in a nearish future world where sports and war have become the main pastimes of all nations and corporate sponsorship is everywhere, the world of Mara felt quite lifeless to me. I feel like Wood often does an excellent job of finding new concepts for his stories or of executing old ideas in new and exciting ways. Mara doesn't really feel like either of those in my mind. The whole concept of the omnipresence and pseudo mixture of sport and war never felt genuine to me, but more importantly, it never seemed like Wood did anything interesting with the idea. Instead, we just get some glimpses into what a world where celebrity, technology, and communication are everywhere, and it didn't really feel all that different from what we live today. It wasn't so much a commentary as a reflection.
The other problem, as I saw it, is that this whole world that Wood and Ming Doyle construct in this issue is more or less a smokescreen for the actual story they want to tell, which comes from the sudden (and jarring) revelation at issue's end. And while we get the revelation, we don't actually know where Wood is going to be taking the idea. I imagine that this whole thing might read pretty well in trade, as we'd be able to turn the page to figure out what the heck is going on, but being forced to wait a month leaves me wondering if I care enough to pick up another issue, which is unfortunate.
On the plus side, while the story didn't strike a chord with me, the art certainly did. I've seen a handful of Ming Doyle's work here and there, but never an entire comic's worth. And let me tell you, it's awesome. She has an energy and looseness to her lines that makes every page pop. Her style reminds me a bit of Ryan Kelly, but there's definitely more to it. Doyle gives us beautiful people, beautiful settings, and beautiful everything else, too. With a series that is ostensibly about sports, Doyle aces the sport scenes, but she also nails quieter moments as well. And I must say that Jordie Bellaire once again captivates the reader with her brilliant colours. She's all over the neons and artificial colouring for outdoor settings to tell us what kind of future people are living in, while moving to bright and stark colours for the stadium scenes to emphasize where the spotlight is figuratively being placed.
Verdict - Check It. This opening chapter is a bit of a let down, but considering Wood's other work and the reveal we get towards the end, it feels like there's something more going on here. I'm unsure if that will be enough to bring me back for a second issue, but Ming Doyle's art just might.