Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Splash Page: The Plot and Characters of "Dark Reign" (Part One)

[We have returned and are trying to become better critics/dudes who talk about comic books. We may not succeed, but it should be fun to watch...

Chad Nevett: Normally, in the Splash Page, our focus is more on how stories are told (technique, style, and other elements) rather than what the story actually is. In discussing reviewing, Tim has revealed that he doesn't really care about what happens so much as how it is presented to the reader. Well, this discussion is going to change that as Tim and I have decided to discuss "Dark Reign" on purely plot and character levels (or try to, at least), talking about what we liked, what we disliked, and, really, let our inner fanboys out a bit. I already kicked things off (without meaning to) with my post on Noh-Varr and Dark Avengers annual #1, which was all about how Brian Michael Bendis has ruined that character in my eyes, so let's use that as a jumping off point: do you agree with my assessment of the use of Noh-Varr or do you like what Bendis has done?

Tim Callahan: Okay, let me see if I can keep this on purely a plot and character level: the plot of Dark Avengers annual #1 was no good. And neither was the characterization. And since we aren't getting into style, I won't bother complaining about the design of "Captain Marvel's" new costume. I mean, everyone has seen it, so I don't need to ridicule it any more.

Back to the plot stuff! Here's the thing: I'm not as proprietary about Noh-Varr as you are. I don't have any overwhelming compulsion to see the Morrison version of the character pop up in the comics of other writers, and if a writer has the character do something that seems out of place (which I guess is more of a character complaint than a plot one), it doesn't usually bother me much at all. I thought the Noh-Varr was dull in Young Avengers/Runaways, or whatever that comic was called, but I wasn't offended by what he said or did there. It wasn't good, but it wasn't the worst thing ever.

Noh-Varr's characterization and the plot of that Dark Avengers annual kind of did offend me, though. Not offend me, really, but annoy me. Because I don't know who that guy is in that comic, but it's not Noh-Varr, and it's not even Marvel Boy. It's some "stranger in a strange world" who's trying to grok the people of Earth -- some dorky, confused space-hippy -- when the character is supposed to be operating on a level that's way ahead of our current processing ability. He's ultra-kick-ass punk rock super-genius spaceboy. Or that's what he should be. That's what he was. Even in his watered-down non-Morrison appearances.

Until that ridiculous annual. That annual that has him somehow contact some version of the Kree Supreme Intelligence (I have no idea how that works within the context of Marvel continuity and/or parallel universes within that continuity). That annual that showed him not as a insect-laced super-scout from space, but a space-puppy. A nice little lapdog who couldn't be with Normy because he was naughty.

Am I even talking about plot and character here? I don't know how to do that without talking about the way the writer used these techniques. Plot and character don't exist without the authorial hand.

CN: Yeah, I know, I was thinking the same thing.

What surprised me most is that the internal logic of the story didn't make sense. Noh-Varr learns that these Avengers are bad guys: wouldn't that make him more inclined to return to his 'take over everything and remake it in Hala's image' plan? Obviously, the system is broken, humanity has screwed up and needs to be taken in hand to improve. I think where Bendis misses the point is that this character sees taking over and remaking the world as protecting it. He wouldn't just play superhero like everyone else, he's here to save us from ourselves. Sadly, the fake spoiler I gave at Comics Should be Good regarding Oubliette returning would have been far better. God, that sounds so sad and lame, doesn't it? "Screw you, Bendis, my version is better! PWND! LOL!" Shoot me now. Is this why we don't discuss plot and character specifically?

Going beyond that, how have you enjoyed "Dark Reign" in general? Have you been interested throughout or has it seemed like a year of kind of okay stories? Do you love or hate Norman Osborn? Ever want to see him in another comic again?

TC: I don't feel anything towards Norman Osborn, because he's a fictional character. But I have enjoyed seeing him play the Jerry-Lewis-as-Darth-Vader role in the Marvel Universe for the past year. I think it's safe to say that "Dark Reign" > Secret Invasion, mathematically speaking. I liked Norman Osborn's appearance in the Joe Casey-penned Zodiac series, and I like what's happening to him in the more recent issues of Dark Avengers. He ain't holdin' it together too well, that guy.

It's certainly the most interesting version of Norman Osborn that I've ever seen -- this guy who took over the Thunderbolts and then became the maniacal Nick Fury of the upside down world. Though Bendis'a Osborn isn't quite as viciously interesting as the character in the hands of Warren Ellis, he's still visibly on the same end of the spectrum. (Unlike Noh-Varr, Morrison version compared to Bendis version.)

I really like the Hood, too. And his role in Punisher has been great.

Overall, I'm pro-"Dark Reign."


CN: I've enjoyed it on the whole. I liked that Bendis made a crack about Osborn going overboard and doing everything in an issue of Dark Avengers to poke fun at him being in every book. I've really liked Osborn when he seems genuine in his desire to make this work and do his job well. He's still a messed up crazy guy, but at least he's trying to do the right thing, which is far more interesting than him just being an evil smarmy bastard all of the time. It's a shame that far too much of the time is spent on him being an evil smarmy bastard.

Some people didn't enjoy the scene, but his first discussion with the Sentry in the third or fourth issue of Dark Avengers is still one of my favourite moments to come out of "Dark Reign" as Osborn half-manipulates the Sentry, but also comes down to his level and says, "I know you have problems, but so do I and look at me, I'm doing great, which means you can get better, too." It was a really humanising moment for Osborn and, again, made him interesting. Watching him struggle to keep it together and overcome the image that some have of him was usually the best stuff for me whereas typical supervillain behaviour left me cold.

[To be continued over at Tim's blog...]