Marvel Comics Capsule Reviews
Here are some reviews of new and notable Marvel comics from the past few months. (Well, “new and notable” in the sense that I bought them. This is likely not a representative sample of all the Marvel comics that have launched recently.)
By the way, look for reviews of the new DC series to start in January. I’ve been giving them some time to establish themselves, but that is nearly up.
Captain America & Bucky
(Based on issues #620-624. With typical Marvel numbering tricks, #620 was actually the first issue of this “…and Bucky” series.)
Ed Brubaker has guided Captain America through a lot of plot twists in the past few years, including the resurrection of Bucky Barnes. Here, with co-writer Marc Andreyko, Brubaker explores that sidekick’s history leading up to his reappearance. There are many Captain America comics on the shelves right now, but this one stood out thanks to artist Chris Samnee.
Samnee is as good as ever, with his simple but expressive characters bringing a gravity that is rare in comics. This works especially well in the first few issues, which focus heavily on Bucky as a hot-tempered boy saved from self-destruction by Captain America’s mentorship. The art elevates a fairly clichéd plot into a fun, relatable story.
The fourth issue is the only one where the writing stands out, but it is impressive. It’s usually best for superhero comics to stay away from real-life tragedies, but here Brubaker and Andreyko address the Holocaust head-on. If Captain America and Bucky were publicly fighting throughout World War II, why did they never stop the worst atrocities? This issue provides a fairly plausible explanation, and manages to celebrate the characters’ heroic side without shying away from the guilt they feel for not doing more. It’s a rare example of a modern realistic and nuanced style fitting with the more innocent classic history of comics.
Unfortunately, the fifth issue doesn’t maintain that same high. The explanation for what Bucky was doing in his years off the grid has never struck me as believable, and this story doesn’t actually explain how or why it would happen. Given that Brubaker came up with this situation, I’m disappointed that he couldn’t do more with it.
Though uneven, Captain America and Bucky had some great moments of both art and story. Starting with the next issue, the series shifts to a new artist and present-day stories. What I read didn’t convince me to continue after that switch, but it was enjoyable.
(Based on issues #1-6. #7 came out last week, but I haven’t read it yet.)
DC may have started over with 52 issue #1s, but Marvel has still managed the superhero reboot of the year. With Daredevil, the hero returns to his roots as a fun-loving, well, daredevil. After a couple decades of Daredevil becoming progressively darker and grittier, this change of direction feels like as much of a relief to the reader as to the character. His history is still intact, especially the recent secret identity troubles, but new readers can still jump in without needing any knowledge of the past.
Mark Waid brings the perfect touch to this series, with a deep knowledge of Marvel history and an eye for clever situations to put Daredevil in, but still able to confidently mix humor and excitement into the life-or-death struggles. His plots have been fast-paced, unique, and play into Daredevil’s specific traits as a blind, super-powered lawyer. The real stars, though, are the artists: Though the first issues have already switched between two pencilers (Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin), they have both had incredible figure work, panel breakdowns, and action. I especially like the way Rivera showed the world via Daredevil’s “radar sense”, but Marcos kept up those standards: Just look at the ending to issue #5, for example. Most superhero fight scenes seem so standard and risk-free that the dialogue matters more than the action, but this is an incredibly brutal, believable two-page fight. It feels real and startling. The next issue opens on the aftermath, with Daredevil falling underwater. It’s not only a beautiful splash page and a great contrast to the previous scene, but shows a lot of confidence on the parts of both the writer and artist.
Daredevil was a character I’d written off as uninteresting and weighed down with too much baggage. Without even needing to change his past, this series has managed to make his comic one of the ones I look forward to the most every month.
The insane assassin Deadpool is a natural fit for Marvel’s R-rated, out of continuity MAX line. I haven’t been interested in checking out the other recent Deadpool books, but the superstar team of David Lapham (writer) and Kyle Baker (artist) made this title intriguing.
The comic mixes hyperviolent satire with “real world” twists on the Marvel Universe, and the occasional genuine character moment just to keep the reader guessing. Most issues are written as standalone stories, but they do fit together into a larger plot about government conspiracies. The most clever part is the way the story weaves in elements from mainstream continuity: The titular character is part of the secret “Deadpool” program that turns the insane into effective assassins. He believes in a nonexistent terrorist organization called “Hydra”, so his handler builds a web of lies to make the government’s true missions coincide with fighting Hydra. Along the way, characters like Domino and Cable are explained.
The series is good as a novelty, but the ongoing story turns out to be little more than a veneer for sick humor and violent fights. Ok, maybe that sums up all Deadpool comics, which have nonetheless been very popular lately, but I found it to be disappointing. I only stuck with it because of the hints that a larger story was building, and my expectation that it would have some payoff at the end of the 12-issue series. Instead, Marvel began a “season 2” of this comic without even missing a month after “season 1” ended. The plan was apparently to entice new readers with a friendly-sounding issue #1, but not to lose existing readers by providing any sort of closure at the end of the first year. After the annoying cliff-hanger at the end of this series, though, I no longer felt any reason to keep going. The novelty had worn off.
The series is worth checking out for its frequently funny and clever scenes. Don’t fall into the trap of sticking with it, though.
Following up after Sigil and Ruse, Mystic is the third title in Marvel’s Crossgen line. The high concept is clever: Two orphan girls are separated and sent on different paths, with the cynical one beginning a fairytale rise through high society while the idealistic one is left out on the streets to fall in with violent revolutionaries. It’s a world of magic, beauty, and strict class conflict.
G. Willow Wilson keeps the story moving smoothly, and artist Álvarado López brings a sense of fantasy wonder to it without losing sight of the human-centric core. The main sin of this miniseries is that it tries to do much more than it can comfortably handle in four issues. After the scene setting of the first issue, that leaves three for one girl to rise through the ranks of the revolutionaries while the other attends magic classes and deals with spoiled mean girls. By the end, they fight while also resolving a threat that could destroy their whole society. In between all that, they establish a set of supporting characters and each find love interests. There is no time for actual development or explanation, as the comic jumps quickly from one plot point to the next. A couple more issues to show some quiet character moments and give weight to the girls’ growing influence would have done the story a lot of good.
Despite some sparseness of detail, this hits all the expected points of a Young Adult story. That genre is quickly moving into comics, but there is not yet a large backlist of titles to choose from. Mystic stays fairly close to the expected formula for now, but if there are future chapters, the series has time to establish itself and stake out new ground before the YA comics scene becomes too crowded. I hope it does, as there is a lot of potential here.
Finally, here are a couple non-reviews of series that I reviewed before:
I’m going to let my previous review of issues #1-7 stand for the full series. It had the chance to pull me in to a complex, involved storyline, but got derailed on a side story that didn’t really fit the normal title. I did keep reading, up through issue #11, and it slowly started to draw me in again. But then the Fantastic Four series relaunched alongside this, starting with an overpriced anniversary issue. The series hadn’t yet convinced me it was good enough to follow Hickman’s mega-story through multiple titles, so it got put aside. It’s too bad this extended itself too quickly for me; Every impression I got was that if I had been following the story since it began, I would be enjoying this a lot.
I reviewed issues #1-6 before, and lightly covered #7-8 along with Spider-Island. The series went on to end with issue #10, which doesn’t give me enough material for another review. This lack of review, much like the years-long Hercules story itself (which wound through multiple titles), is a quiet finale, and much less than the great series deserved.