Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sunday Open: Everything You Know is Different

So, I finally got the last part of "One More Day" yesterday. Was at the campus bookstore picking up Through the Looking Glass and an awesome book on The Big Lebowski when I saw the infamous comic. I said to Adam, "Aw, what the fuck, I guess I'll pick it up, see how it actually went down." And, yeah, it wasn't any good for all of the reasons everyone says.

I think, aside from all those things, what bothers me is that the story never actually lives up to the tagline of "What would you do if you had one more day?" It didn't seem to me like Peter and Mary Jane really got one more day. They're laying in bed and, BONG!, it's midnight already. That day just flew by.

As for the other stuff... meh. It just wasn't handled well. I much prefer Tom Bondurant's solution where you just jump ahead six months or a year (or whatever) and have the new status quo in place, fuck explanations. Maybe (and I stress the maybe) you go back and fill in the blanks, but, otherwise, you face forward, true believer, and deal with things as they come.

Not reading "Brand New Day," because none of the creative teams make me want to read it. Simple as that.

Fantastic Four: First Family

Another volume in "Joe Fills in Stan's Plot Holes," this time, Casey teams up with Chris Weston to fill in some blanks about the early Fantastic Four. I wasn't that impressed with this book, actually. The only thing that really stood out was the concept that there were other people altered by radiation, except the military was holding these people captive. The antagonist of the series is one such man, Franz Stahl, and he believes that his transformation has taken him beyond humanity--and also gives him a sense of comradery with Reed Richards. Stahl acts as a foil for Richards, also a genius and more than human, but one not prone to arrogance that places him above humanity. I've never really thought about the fact that Richards has always been confident in his abilities, but is rarely arrogant or sees himself as better than everyone else. It's an easy trap for a genius to fall into and Casey shows that Richards tries very hard not to. His one moment of arrogance is the theft of the rocket and the resulting consequences give him a much needed dose of humility.

The rest of the series is your standard stuff with more emphasis on how the characters react to their changes than found in the original comics. It's well done, but there's nothing here that blows my mind. There is a nice visual gag at the end of an issue where we see soldiers that Stahl has altered and they resemble the FF, but more grotesque.

Chris Weston's art is his typical hyper-realistic-but-a-little-bit-off stuff. It's interesting that Weston provides the art as he is very un-superhero in many ways--and very un-Kirby. In the current Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin series, Eric Cante has a Kirby feel to him at times, particularly the more cartoony, dynamic elements of his work. Weston is almost the opposite of Kirby in that his drawings look more like photographs of people in motion than actual motion (if that makes sense). I love Weston's art and I do think it works here, I'm just amused by him drawing this early FF. It's almost a sign to the reader that this is the way shit really went down and what you read before was the cartoony bullshit story. Not exactly the intention, but, in a way, it is. Joe Casey has done (or is doing) five of these series that fill in the blanks of early Marvel stories and the intention is always to give the stories more depth and psychological realism. First Family is the first series where the choice of artist directly tells the reader what to expect (compare Weston to Cante, Steve Rude, Scott Kolins and Will Rosado).

First Family is a decent read and is mostly for those who want some more depth squeezed into those early stories or fans of Casey and/or Weston.

Ultimates 2

I can't remember when I stopped enjoying Mark Millar's writing. When I first got internet at home, one of my first stops was the Authority boards, which then led to Millar's forums at X-Fan and then to Millarworld through a few revamps/moves. Somewhere in there, I just stopped enjoying his writing. I think it may have been during The Authority break. Ultimate X-Men did little for me, same with The Ultimates (which I read online on Marvel's site). I found his work to be stagnant and just a remixing of elements from his first Authority arc.

A few years back, I bought the first Ultimates hardcover, because, let's face it, it's one of those "must own" mainstream books of the early 21st century. Even if you don't dig on Millar, if you're at all interested in mainstream superhero shit, you should pick it up the way you should be reading Ellis and Millar's The Authority, Planetary, New X-Men, etc. Those books that are influencing others and actually altering the direction of mainstream superhero comics. Same with Ultimates 2.

I enjoyed this volume more than the first, but it still didn't do a whole lot for me--with the exception of issue six, the Henry Pym issue, which was really well done. I think my problem is that for this story to have any emotional effect on the reader, you need to care about this group of people and I just didn't. Hawkeye's family gets slaughtered and it means little because we've seen them maybe once before--Millar relies on us being shocked by the execution of the family and alluding to all of those movies we've seen where the hero's family gets slaughtered and he wants revenge. Very postmodern, but it's lazy and ineffective--if you want the reader to respond on an emotional level, that is.

Strangely, the only characters that had me feeling any sympathy were Pym and Banner, the two losers of the series. Actually, that's not that strange as the two geeky, horribly flawed guys are probably the easiest for Millar to write and the easiet for me to relate to.

I couldn't stand some of the Millar-isms that just pollute the book. The forced Wanda-hitting-on-the-robot stuff made me roll my eyes (one of those regular MU things that doesn't translate over well for me--the other big one is when Bendis introduced Ultimate Dazzler as a punk chick, mostly because, seriously, she'd call herself Dazzler?). The way he apes the action movie cliche epilogue where a character feels the need to tell us what happened after the ending, mostly because it's not good storytelling. I almost wish they'd just say "fuck it" and do the Animal House thing where during the final fight, each character has a moment where the action freezes and we get some details about what happens next. I'm amazed Millar didn't simply do that, actually.

The whole Norse battle at the end is anti-climatic when read as part of the overall narrative since Loki was the villain at the core of this entire volume and he's dispatched so easily along with his forces. I complained about the truncated action in the final issue when it first came out and hoped it would read better as part of the whole, but it doesn't. I understand that another extended action sequence would lack a certain power because of the numerous action sequences that came before it, but this is supposed to be the biggest of all of them and it just falls flat.

Also, Thor really was Thor, but he still got all of his power from his belt? What?

One place where Millar does seem to know what he's doing is in his willingness to ignore the regular MU and push characters in different directions. I like how Captain America is not an all-good character here--it doesn't make me cheer for him, but, intellectually, I find him a more compelling character than the Steve Rogers of the regular MU. I think his Tony Stark is a little over-the-top at times with the drinking (something Ellis really played with in Ultimate Human #1), but that's also a more modern way of handling that problem. His Jarvis is just retarded, though (not the best criticism, but is at the maturity level that Millar's Jarvis warrants).

I didn't mention Bryan Hitch's work, because it's great and there's not much I can add beyond that.

Ultimates 2 is worth reading for the simple reason that it is/will be influential to current/future creators. Also, if you want a pseudo-mature, ball's out action story, it works there, but in the way that the most mundane summer blockbuster does--except this requires more effort for the same payoff.