Checking In With Marvel

The last time I reviewed the Marvel titles I was reading, I was concerned to see them raising prices and swapping artists around to squeeze out releases faster than once a month. Well, eight months later, with about twelve more issues for each series available, it’s obvious that this is the new trend. It’s disappointing to see a dominant comics publisher treat the medium like an assembly line instead of a collaborator between artist and writer. My Marvel purchases had already dwindled down to just a few favorite series, though, so it’s not enough of a problem to get me to drop those yet. I guess that makes my purchases a (questionable) victory for Marvel, though I have to imagine that the people who have been buying two or three times as much as me are being forced to cut back.

In fact, I’ve only been reading five comics set in the Marvel universe lately. Here are my reviews, with the rest of the discussion about Marvel news afterwards.

cover to Daredevil #10



(Based on issues #7-20, and the issue numbered 10.1)

The accelerated schedule is blatantly obvious with Daredevil. This series shipped fifteen regular issues within its first year of publication, plus the “introductory” 10.1 issue. Between that issue and the crossovers with Amazing Spider-Man, Avenging Spider-Man, and Punisher, a fan would need to buy eighteen issues in the eight months since my last review.

The problem is that Daredevil’s defining characteristic was Paolo Rivera’s mind-blowing artwork, and no artist can keep up with that schedule. Most fill-in artists (such as Michael Allred) have been A-listers, and the new “regular” artist, Chris Samnee, is one of my favorites. But Samnee’s strengths are in body language and expression, while Rivera stood out for his dynamic action and creative depictions of Daredevil’s powers. This simply isn’t the same comic that it was a year ago.

Mark Waid’s writing is still excellent, and he does adapt well to the different artists’ strengths. Even the crossovers have been well-executed; I was fortunate enough to already be buying Amazing Spider-Man, and both issues of that crossover felt like above-average issues of their normal series. I decided not to buy the two other series involved in the other crossover, so I can’t judge it fairly, but Waid did a reasonable job of explaining what I had missed. If it weren’t for the frequency, these would stand out as crossovers done right.

Daredevil was the hands-down standout new series of 2011. It’s still an easy book for me to recommend, but that seems like a very far drop compared to what it had promised. The worst part is that every creator involved here is highly skilled and deserves to be working on a classic series. The blame rests entirely on Marvel’s financial decisions.

Grade: B

cover to Avengers Academy #31

Avengers Academy

Avengers Academy

(Based on issues #27-39)

In contrast, Avengers Academy thrives under a system of accelerated releases. Its art has always been workmanlike, with the writing being the draw. And since it juggles so many characters, speeding up the releases keeps all the plots moving forward more smoothly. This isn’t the answer for most comic books, but it’s very satisfying here.

I continue to be surprised by how I’m engrossed by this silly, disposable-sounding series. Christos Gage has a firm handle on the personalities of his cast, and even characters I don’t know well get moving scenes. When he does deal with more familiar characters, the results are excellent: A guest appearance by The Runaways is the first time that those characters have felt right in years. (They didn’t look right at all, but I’d already accepted that the art wasn’t the point here.) It may not be a high-profile title, but Avengers Academy is maybe the best current example of a classic Marvel soap opera. It’s a bonus that these characters are still new enough that they don’t feel “safe” and established yet.

This is the only series I’ve been reading that ties in to the big events of the Marvel Universe. Normally, these seem annoying and arbitrary, but Gage keeps the ongoing plots of his characters at the forefront. Crises like the just-completed Avengers Vs. X-Men story have natural consequences for them, and they are dealt with like any other storyline.

Unfortunately, the series ended with issue #39. That’s an impressive run for a comic focused on lesser-known characters, but sales finally dropped too much. The last few issues felt maybe a little rushed, but still they provided some satisfying character development and a plausible way for them to move forward on their own. This being superhero comics, of course, they will immediately be going in a different direction than the one implied. The upcoming Avengers Arena series will find Marvel’s teen heroes kidnapped and put in a Hunger Games-style battle. I’m nervous about this, especially without Gage writing it: There are so many more ways for that scenario to go wrong than right. The characters have earned my attention, though, and I plan to give it a chance. And regardless of how the next step turns out, Avengers Academy will remain one of the best Marvel comics of this era.

Grade: B+

cover to Captain Marvel #1

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

(Based on issues #1-6)

Though higher prices and faster shipping haven’t driven me away from any titles yet, I do seem less likely to try new ones. Captain Marvel is the only Marvel Universe series I’ve started reading this year – and yes, its first six issues appeared in four months.

Captain Marvel is exactly the kind of title Marvel needs to add to its lineup right now. It recasts Ms. Marvel as “Captain Marvel”, a powerful, respected legacy title that doesn’t just make her sound like the female version of a male hero. If Marvel only knew what to do with her now, it would be a great series. Unfortunately, the opening story arc is a confusing trip through time that feels inconsequential without providing much depth of character. As a military woman and skilled pilot in her secret identity, her propensity for daredevil tricks and insubordination makes no sense. Captain Marvel also happens to run into strong women everywhere she goes, except for a few rare cases where she finds men to discuss strong women with. Within a couple issues, this goes from refreshing to pandering. Female characters should be able to focus on something other than their gender.

Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing really isn’t bad. It just feels like the sort of page-filler that might show up in a series after ten or twenty issues. The artwork, however, is disappointing. Dexter Soy’s dark, painted images are the opposite of the simple and energetic cover art. Static and textured, they would weigh down any action story, especially one focused on a flying, dynamic hero. But then, Soy has been missing for the last two issues, so who knows what will happen long-term. But even if Marvel had found an appropriate series to assign him to, it still wouldn’t make sense to give such a distinctive artist a schedule that guaranteed he’d need frequent fill-ins.

Grade: C-

Amazing Spider-Man

This series is about to end and relaunch after issue #700. (And based on the events of this week’s issue #698, it may be a pretty big change of direction!) Though Dan Slott will still be involved, it appears that this will complete the Brand New Day/Big Time era that he has overseen for the past several years. I’ll wait for the conclusion before reviewing it.

cover of Venom #19



(Based on issues #15-27 and the “Minimum Carnage Omega” special)

Like Avengers Academy (but for very different reasons), I keep finding myself surprised to be enjoying Venom. Built around an edgy, metal sensitivity that stopped seeming cool a generation ago, the comic is dark and violent. It rarely feels gratuitous, though. And as Rick Remender has handed the writing duties over to Cullen Bunn, the quality has remained. Bunn has shifted the focus to more otherworldly topics, with the first two stories covering demons and a separate universe. I’m a little disappointed, since these stories benefitted from grounded characters and Flash Thompson’s military background. However, Bunn has made it feel right for the series: Flash’s battle to control his evil super-suit is an unsubtle metaphor for his alcoholism and violent background. Literally dealing with a demon inside him, and then visiting a universe that his suit threatens to corrupt, fit the theme well.

I don’t know if I’ll be sticking with this or not. That trip to the other universe was part of yet another crossover (“Minimum Carnage”), which required the reader to buy four additional comics, some at a higher price, in order to follow the two Venom ones. I only bought one of those extras, and found it to be as useless as the rest of the story. This comic is intermittently good, but it hasn’t built up the goodwill for me to wait through stunts like this. I’m curious about where Flash’s story is going, but the next time I’m asked to pay more for the privilege, I’ll give up on it.

Grade: C+

The big Marvel news right now is “Marvel NOW!”, a direction obviously inspired by the success of DC’s “New 52” relaunch. Except while DC restarted everything from scratch, Marvel is planning to keep all their titles going with about one new or relaunched title each week. It sounds a little like my advice to DC last year, when I said that it would be better to roll out a few new issues at a time. But that was with the understanding that DC would still be making the bold move to reboot their universe. Marvel, on the other hand, wants to have their cake and eat it too. These are billed as perfect staring points that still keep the history long-term fans love. But just as DC kept their old attitudes with their new titles, Marvel hasn’t given any indication that they are changing their continuity-heavy, for-fans-only, attitude. In fact, this event is going to add its own confusing tangles to Marvel’s history, with the flagship All-New X-Men #1 bringing the original X-Men forward in time to see their future firsthand.

I’m sure that some of these titles will be good and some bad. There are a few that definitely sound interesting to me. But so far, I haven’t seen any reason to treat this as a big event for Marvel. In fact, they already re-launch titles and shuffle creators around so frequently that I doubt I’d even notice anything unusual in their line if not for the press releases. The individual titles will be a mix of good and bad, as always, but I don’t see any hint that Marvel is addressing the problems that are currently frustrating me. I’ll most likely follow up later with first looks of the few titles I end up reading, but don’t expect the sort of comprehensive look that I had for DC’s relaunch. I’m just not taking this rebranding effort very seriously.

  1. “Daredevil was the hands-down standout new series of 2011”: I agree. Animal Man and Swamp Thing come pretty close.
    I’m a big fan of Daredevil too, as you can see: Do you agree with my choices?

    • It looks like a good list. It’s hard for me to compare it to my own list of best superhero story arcs, because I tend to live in the present for stories that are still being serialized. Most of what I’m familiar with is from the past decade, and I don’t often find the time to catch up on the old stories I didn’t read yet.
      I agree with you that Swamp Thing was among the best of last year’s series. ( Animal Man felt a little rockier to me at first, but it’s become excellent since switching artists. I need to follow up with new reviews for DC titles soon…

      • Great! And thank you for your reply! : )

  1. February 24th, 2013

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