Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Marvel's Birds of Prey

If Marvel were to have an all female book ala Birds of Prey, what would the cast look like?  I know Marvel has the Lady Liberators, but I don't really care for the name and I'm not even totally sure what the concept is.

And that is important, why would an all-female team exist?  I saw this topic on a message board and it looked to me like some respondents were just listing their favourite female characters.  There needs to be a reason for these people to come together as a team, and why these characters in particular are the best fit. 

Therefore, for my all female Marvel team, let's go with the concept of a group of women who want to do things smarter; they want to target the source of the problem, not the symptoms.  In the super-powered Marvel universe this will still lead to fight scenes, don't worry action lovers, but it will also provide a platform to air a women's perspective on things.

So who wants to change the world for the better but also isn't afraid to throw down if things go south?  Here are my picks.

Team Leader: The Invisible Woman
Sue Richards is a pretty busy lady.  She is a mother of two very exceptional children (four if you count the antics of Ben and Johnny) and is a full time member of the Fantastic Four.  However, her husband is the undisputed leader of the team, and it can be difficult to try set your own direction for the group when the smartest man in the world is calling the shots.  I would view this team as something "just for Sue", where she can get away from the family and pursue her own agenda without Reed being there to influence what the team does.

Tech Support: Shadowcat
Kitty Pryde and the Invisible Woman just seem to be a really good fit, and I could see Kitty actually looking up to Sue.  Kitty would rather use her brains than her fists any day, and therefore I think she could be a pretty good fit.

The Rookie: Lightspeed
Lightspeed has been added recently to the cast of Avengers Academy, but I really think it's important to have that younger perspective on the team.  Without a character like Lightspeed, like it or not the "inexperienced" role is going to fall to Kitty, which I absolutely do not think is right.  It's been insinuated by a fellow teammate that Lightspeed is homosexual...could make things a little uncomfortable for her on a team of all women.

The Muscle: Big Bertha
I know that the obvious choice is She-Hulk, but that's just too obvious.  I'd like to see Bertha venturing into adventures without her teammates to see how she does.  And while Bertha is comfortable the way she is around her goofball teammates, does she still feel that way when on a more serious team of beautiful women?  She is a model in her civilian identity, but by stepping out onto a larger stage will she end up having issues with her superhero appearance?  Body image is a very real issue for girls and women that could really be explored here.  Or go the other route, and show Big Bertha being completely comfortable in her own skin.  Either way, it can be explored.

The Agitator: Emma Frost
Emma rubs a lot of people the wrong way, as opposed to when she was a stripped at the Hellfire club (Bazinga).  Kitty really doesn't like her, and I can't imagine the rest are huge fans of hers.  Emma is on the team for similar reasons to Sue, as Cyclops is undoubtedly the alpha male of his team of X-Men.  Unlike Sue, however, Emma is arrogant enough to think this venture is doomed to fail without her involvement.  And I will admit, Emma helps boost the star power in the book for the readers.

Intelligence: Sharon Carter
Sharon isn't really a superhero, but her resume is pretty impeccable as an agent of SHIELD.  If this team of proactive superheroines wants to tackle certain problems at the knees being forewarned is going to important, and Sharon in an intelligence expert.

The Difference Maker: Firestar
The New Warriors, when they were first created, didn't have a lot of direction.  As the series progressed though they developed an informal mission statement of changing the world for the better, which is exactly what this team is trying to do.  I can see Firestar taking on a sort of mentorship role with Lightspeed, and it doesn't hurt that she is a former Avenger.  I think I'd go with a Firestar who is perhaps a little too over eager at times, but still respecting that she is a veteran superhero.

I'm still trying to think of a name for this group...any suggestions?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Thursday, 26 January 2012

All Ages Book Gets It Right

Today I stumbled across a free (and legal!) online copy of Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #11, and I have to say, the characterization in this story was better than that in a lot of the 616 books these days.  You can read the story (I don't know for how long!) at http://goo.gl/rFJow.  Go ahead, I'll wait.  Note the solicit and the comic don't match, so don't panic when Thor doesn't show up.

Without spoiling too much, the book starts out with the Hulk seeking out the Thing for his help.  Hulk found something (I won't spoil what) and he didn't know who to turn to for help in finding out what it is, so he sought out the closest thing he has to a friend, the Thing.  As Hulk put it, "Rockman is strong and smart".  So off the pair go to investigate.

The other part of the book features Steve Rogers and Richard Rider, but I want to focus on the Hulk and Thing part of the story.

The Thing and the Hulk take the Fantasticar to investigate the Hulk's findings, and the Thing notes that the Hulk is uncomfortable and a little withdrawn.  He asks if the Hulk is afraid of flying, and Hulk replies that he is just scared he is going to break the vehicle and then the Thing would get mad at him; everything breaks easily for the Hulk.

After Hulk uncovers his discovery Ben calls in the Invisible Woman to help them out.  I admit I was surprised that he didn't call in Reed, but things are obviously a little different in the All Ages universe; for example, Sue says that she runs the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, while in 616 Marvel she is not a member of the Avengers.

Anyway, it becomes apparent why Sue was summoned, and it's for story purposes; she has a bit of a heart to heart with the Hulk, talking about friends.  Hulk says he doesn't really have any, and it's kind of heart breaking.

There's a fight at the end and a conclusion, but I've spoiled enough!

The Savage Hulk is a tricky character to write, but Paul Tobin really does a great job with him.  Hulk isn't a monster; rather, he is misunderstood.  His lack of social skills (he punches the Thing when they first meet in this issue because he's scared the Thing will punch him, whereas Ben then tries to explain the concept of a handshake as a greeting instead) combined with his immense strength lead him to a lot of the conflicts he finds himself in and would rather avoid. 

This book illustrates two things that are lacking in a lot of comics these days:

1. A story can be told in a single issue but still be a part of an over-arcing narrative.  I haven't read any other issues of Marvel Adventures Superheroes, and I had no trouble following the story.  I wasn't expecting Sue to be the leader of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, but it was explained very quickly and easily.

2. Characters drive the story.  Sometimes it feels like a writer has a story to tell and they will try to mold the characters to fit the narrative even if they have to act out of character to do it; in this story, it feels the opposite.  The characters are driving the story, which makes for a far more enjoyable reading experience.  It also adds a lot more impact to action sequences; I want a reason for characters to fight, especially when it is a hero-vs-hero match.  There are 2 fight scenes in this book, and both happen for a reason; the first one in particular has a lot of oomph due to the relationship between Hulk and the Thing even though it is a skirmish at best.

I have to admit, sometimes I wonder if switching over entirely to the All Ages line would be the way to go, as I find I am rarely disappointed when I venture into those books.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Rating the Thor Scribes

At the Thor Message Board the other day a challenge was put forth to rate out of 10 the writers on Thor going back to Dan Jurgens.  I tweaked the criteria slightly and said I would only rate the writers on the ongoing title, not mini-series or one-shots.  I thought I would expand on my reasonings here.

Kieron Gillen - 10/10
I've said this before and I am sure to say it again, Kieron Gillen is the second coming of Walt Simonson when it comes to Thor.  Like Simonson, Gillen has a great grasp on Norse mythology and weaves it seamlessly into Marvel's interpretation of the worlds of Asgard.  His dialogue, a tricky subject when it comes to Thor and company, is great, a perfect updating of the old "thee and thou" days.  His villains are layered, and have many aspects to their plans; watching Loki and Mephisto verbally spar with each other was a real treat.  What is especially impressive with Gillen's contributions is he has never been annointed the regular scribe on Thor, it's always been to pick up the pieces of somebody else's work.  I would love to see what Gillen could do with Thor if he as free to set the direction of the character, and if you're not reading it you have to check out Journey Into Mystery, one of the best books Marvel puts out and is written by, surprise surprise, Kieron Gillen.

Mike Oeming - 9/10
Oeming's Ragnarok storyline was perhaps one of the best send-offs a character could ask for.  Lots of great nods to past continuity and Norse mythology, real character growth and evolution, it was a great read.  The story itself I would rank a full 10/10, but Oeming had an advantage over the other writers in that he knew he didn't have to put the toys back in the sandbox when he was done, meaning he could effect some really drastic changes and developments that normally wouldn't be possible.  As such, it didn't seem fair to give him the full 10/10, but if he were to come back to the title I'm sure he would be embraced with open arms by the Thor faithful.

J Michael Stracynzki - 8/10
What I really liked about JMS' run was the slow boil of the story; you could tell he was building to something, and each issue advanced the plot nicely.  Most of the issues could be enjoyed as a somewhat standalone story, a rarity in today's market.  Some people think there wasn't a lot of action, but we got to see Thor take on Irom Man, the Destroyer, Surtur, those are some real heavy weights.  Fights need to have a reason for being, and every battle Thor entered was charged with personal or larger stakes; with Iron Man he was expressing his displeasure at Tony's actions in the Civil War, with the Destroyer he was fighting to save his people, against Surtur he was fighting for the life of his father, there were real consequences beyond something as simple as a grudge match.  The only real problem with the title was the delays, it really derailed the story and is the only reason I knocked JMS' ranking down.

Dan Jurgens - 6/10
I'm the opposite of a fair number of fans, I liked Jurgens later run on the title compared to his earlier issues.  I think part of that was the art; John Romita Jr. is a master storyteller, and a lot of guys could learn how to tell a story from him, but I've never cared for his sketchy/blocky style (I was a huge fan of his old style when he was working on Amazing Spider-Man the first time around).  But I didn't care for the story elements too; I thought Thor's dialogue was atrocious, for starters.  I didn't care for the whole Jake Olsen thing, so that didn't help either.  However, I absolutely loved Jurgens "King Thor" era, which slowly saw Thor turn into Odin, essentially.  It was a phenomenal way to explore and extract aspects of the character that hadn't been explored before.  Yes, Thor was returned to the status quo for Oeming to tidy up the series, but man Jurgens was cooking in the later part of his run.

Matt Fraction - 1/10
I'm probably being generous giving Fraction the 1 point, but he's had great artists doing his stuff, even though the colourist destroyed Pascal Ferry's art on his first run.  Anyway, Fraction seems to have simply ignored the work done by JMS and Gillen, taking away the more contemplative and mature Thor we were enjoying and replacing him with a hot tempered brute.  The dialogue, as I've chronicled before on this blog, is atrocious.  The story concepts are great, but the execution is horrendous.  I love Thor, and have a full run going back to volume 2 of the book, so Fraction not only got me to drop a book I was invested in emotionally, but also as a collector.  That is very hard to do.  I look forward to when he leaves the book and I can come back to it, and the collector in me has resigned himself to maybe getting the Fraction books in the dollar bin in future to re-complete the collection.

Friday, 13 January 2012

New Warriors

Okay, I promised a post this week about the New Warriors, so here we go!

Over the holidays, I read pretty much every issue of the original volume of New Warriors, excluding 2 regular issues and the annuals.  I wasn't in a position to purchase the New Warriors when it first came out, but I am assuming they were a fairly big deal based on the all of the spin-off titles (Night Thrasher, Nova, Speedball, and I think Justice got his own too).

To be honest, I'm surprised the Warriors lasted as many issues as they did.

The team's origin was, well, pretty lame.  Batman Night Thrasher wants to exact revenge against the criminal underworld for the murder of his parents, so he bullies teenage superheroes into working with him.  I mean, he tosses Nova off of a building to jumpstart his powers, and says he didn't really care if Richard Rider lived or not (for a guy who's mission is motivated by the death of loved ones he sure doesn't have any concern for anybody else's feelings).  I really didn't understand why the rest of the Warriors didn't kick the crap out of Thrash and turn him over to the cops.  I also don't get why the angry and brooding Thrasher has a skateboard that doubles as a shield and stabbing weapon; seems kind of whimsical for a character to focused on his mission.

The team doesn't really have a real reason to exist until around #50ish, where they start trying to effect more change in the world than just reacting to super-menaces that might pop up.  A superteam needs a reason for being, a mission statement if you will.  The Avengers have banded together to face the menaces no single person can face, the X-Men are about equal rights, the Fantastic Four are primarily explorers, etc.  The Warriors have no such reason to exist.

The series produced no memorable villains other than the Sphinx (and I suppose Hindsight Lad, if you read the Civil War tie-ins), the rest were, well, characters created in the 90's.

That being said, I love these characters, so I stuck with the reading.  The banter between the team was fun.  I absolutely loved the storyline about Marvel Boy/Justice and his abusive father; I've long known that he killed his father in self-defense and served time, but unlike a lot of times when I go to read the backstory on such an event this was very well done, definitely my favourite arc in the series.

The addition of the Scarlet Spider was fun while it lasted, though it felt weird to have a veteran hero (at the time I believe Scarlet believed himself to be the real Peter) on a team of lesser-knowns like the Warriors.  Full credit to the writer though, he acknowledged that and worked it into the story, with Justice feeling Scarlet wasn't respecting his leadership.  It was well done.

I can't quite nail down why I have such a soft spot for these characters, but I do.  Whenever the trio of Justice, Firestar, and Nova get together now it feels special, they're the Big 3 of the Warriors (despite Night Thrasher's creation of the team) and with good reason.  I saw glimpses of the hero Nova would become during and after the Annihilation event, witnessed first-hand the moral conviction that makes Justice the man he is today, and absolutely loved Firestar as the team powerhouse.

It's not the best superhero comic series I've ever read by a longshot, but the seeds were certainly planted for the later evolutions of the characters and the name of the New Warriors.  If you're a fan of the team it's worth checking out to see the team's origins.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Batman: Arkham City = No Man's Land?

Lately I've been playing Batman: Arkham City, and I have to say that it is possibly the greatest video game of all time.  When it comes to my reading choices I'm more of a Marvel guy than DC, but man, Batman AC is absolutely phenomenal.  I haven't completed the game yet by any stretch, I have to grab little hour or so snippets here and there when I can, but I could easily lose myself in this game for awhile.

What really makes the game so good is the story.  With a character like Batman, who has been around forever and has been featured in so many forms of media, it gets harder to tell an original story.  Batman AC has come up with a phenomenal story that I absolutely lose myself in. 

Not only is the story good, but so is the action.  I was actually disappointed when I went to confront Two-Face and his 40 thugs and 20 or so of them just ran off.  The combat is so good I relish jumping down into an entire pit of punks that need a good thumping.

I do think the concept of an "Arkham City" is a bit far-fetched, I can't see any city just walling off a pretty significant chunk of real estate and chucking all the criminals in, even in crime-infested Gotham.  However, I've found myself lately pretending that this is actually No Man's Land, a pretty bold story from the comics themselves.

No Man's Land was a Batman event where Gotham City is cut off from the rest of the United States because an earthquake has ravaged the city beyond repair; it's basically cheaper to just wall off Gotham than to fix it.  Right before the bridges were bombed and the city cut off, the inmates at Arkham and Blackage were set free.  So not only do you have regular citizens who chose to stay battling against a lack of electricity, food, and shelter, you also have to deal with unprecedented gang activity and a pile of supervillains running the show.  It was a pretty fantastic story.

Arkham City looks like No Man's Land pretty much to a tee.  I almost wish they had gone with an adaptation of No Man's Land for the game, but the story in Arkham City has been pretty fantastic, and is, as far as I know, an original story to boot.  I believe there is a comic book adaptation that I'm tempted to get, but I actually don't know if it could measure up to the game!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

I decided to take a bit of a break over the holidays, but it's time to get back to bloggin'!  I read 73 issues of New Warriors over the holidays, so I'll be sharing my thoughts on that next week!