Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Comic Cavalcade: Siege #1 and More

Welcome back to another edition of New Comic Cavalcade, where we bring to you the most timely reviews around so that you can best decide what to spend -- or not spend -- your hard earned comics dollar on. Up for consideration this week: Siege #1, Weird Western Tales #71 and, as promised, Warlord #10. Let's get right down to it.

Siege #1
Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Copiel

Siege is an interesting case study in the drawbacks of writing within a shared universe. Of course, you might say the same about everything Bendis has written, but in the case the problems, such as they are, with Siege stem mostly from what is not in the story rather than what is in the story. So let's start first with what Siege does do: surprisingly enough (for me, anyway), it present a fairly entertaining preface to what promises to be an important story, as Marvel has promised this will be the endgame for everything that has been going on at the company for the past seven years. We get to see Norman Osborn marshal forces, with Loki's help, and we go behind the scenes with the supervillains to see what they are thinking as they prepare to attack Asgard. Typically for this current Marvel era, significantly less time is spent with any of the heroes, meaning that even when the battle is finally joined, we don't actually get to see much of the fight between Thor and Osborn's minions.

This is a drawback, as such a battle should be the meat of an action story but instead is depicted in long distance, grainy shots of tiny figures with an accompanying voiceover telling us Thor is down, rather than actually showing it happen. Which makes sense because, as I mentioned, what doesn't happen in the story is the main issue. We don't get any sense of what the motivation is for Osborn or what he stands to gain from this attack. More importantly, we don't get any explanation of a) why Asgard is back in Oklahoma (as opposed to Latveria, where it is still parked in the pages of Thor) or b) how Tony Stark ended up under Don Blake's care in Oklahoma, and with Maria Hill along to boot (again, nothing remotely suggesting this is happening in the pages of Blake's own title, Thor). I assume that this information is given somewhere, perhaps in Iron Man, perhaps in the Siege prologue one-shot. Unfortunately, the writers and editors also assume that you know this stuff as well, even though there's every possibility that you either don't read those titles or, in fact, that it simply hasn't yet been published (which not only applies to the end of the current Thor story, but also to the Steve Rogers appearance at the end of the issue, which... doesn't seem to make any sense based on when we last saw him). There has been a lot of talk recently about how scheduling delays have impacted the Marvel Universe, but allowing these problems to undermine what should be the culmination of a decade's work seems egregious.

As a stand alone tale, then, Siege #1 isn't half bad. But read in the context of the Marvel Universe, the more you try to figure it out, the more confusing it gets. And since the story only matters within that context, the failure to provide a proper setting to the reader is a major failing.

My Grades: It should be a solid B or B+. But editorial confusion demotes it to a C+. I will probably buy the next issue, if only for the fact that by the time it comes out, all the comics that were supposed to set the stage for it may also have been issued. One can hope.

Weird Western Tales #71
Dan DiDio and Renato Arlem

In case you've missed the last couple years of DC comics, they have a big event right now called Blackest Night, which is basically their version of Marvel Zombies, only it's taking place in continuity. As part of the promotion for the event, someone at DC had the absolutely brilliant idea to resurrect not just characters, but canceled titles from DC's past, so along with new final issues of classic comics like Starman and Suicide Squad, we also are given the unlikely treat of a new issue of Weird Western Tales for the first time since 1980.

The down side to this otehrwise awesome promotion is that these comics are part of Blackest Night. Which means in this case that we get zombie versions of the western heroes who appeared in the anthology's long history, including Scalphunter, Firehair and, of course, Jonah Hex. The story isn't too bad; DC EIC Dan DiDio does a decent job of tying this one-shot into both Blackest Night and recent events within Jonah Hex (in this case by bringing in Hex arch-villain Quentin Turnbull and his descendants as major characters). Still, though the comic is a fun call-back for long-time fans like me, it is necessary reading for pretty much nobody. I can't see Green Lantern fans bothering to buy this (or enjoying it much if they did), while Jonah Hex fans can also safely skip it without missing much. There's nothing wrong with the comic, mind you, but when the logo is the biggest selling point, chances are it's a good thing this is just a one-shot.

My Grades: A++++++ for the idea, C+ for the actual comic.

Warlord #10
Mike Grell and Chad Hardin

And, of course, it's Warlord. You may recall that in an earlier edition of New Comic Cavalcade I vowed to review every issue of Warlord until sales improved. Well, as far as I know, Mike Grell and I are still the only people reading it, so as promised, I'm bringing you the straight scoop on Warlord #10.

Actually, this issue is a slight improvement, all things considered. On the down side, Grell, who had stepped in to pencil a couple issues, is back doing just the covers and writing. But Chad Hardin, who returns to the book as artist, turns in with this issue his best effort to date. I'm not sure what it is -- probably the fact he is inking himself in a sketchier style, but I'm too lazy to dig out the back issues to check -- but this issue looks really good. I like his style in this issue much more than his previous efforts.

Unfortunately, the story struggles with the same problems it has had all along, namely too much standing around talking about Warlord by the supporting cast and not enough actual Warlord actually doing things. This time it's in the form of some on-camera interviews about Travis Morgan, which for people like myself who are long times fans is a little too close to Grell's six issue mini-series in the mid-90's, which was entirely about people discussing Warlord's legacy while he was off panel.

This kind of deconstruction is great if you're a long time Warlord fanatic, but chances are, again, that Grell and I are the only two people who find this sort of study interesting, and even I am getting a little tired of it after almost a year. Let's just have some balls out fantasy action and let this stuff be the subtext instead of the main text, okay? Since half this issue revolved around the newest incarnation of Deimos, though -- a character only long, long time Warlord fans care at all about -- things don't really look promising.

My Grades: Considering Grell wasn't drawing it, the art was better than expected, but the story is still stuck in neutral. B-.

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Yeah, Maria Hill and Tony Stark ended up going to Donald Blake for help a couple of months ago in IRON MAN.

This is the type of issue that should be loaded down with Old School footnotes, or at least a column of endnotes in the back, to help enlighten readers to all the various MU connections.