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Comics Reviewed! Wolverine, The Avengers and more!

Ah, Labor Day. BBQs, a night of drinking with your friends before school starts, maybe one last trip to the cottage...oh, and a delayed shipping schedule for comics! (In case you were wondering why this column was hitting on Friday.)

 

BECAUSE REGULAR WOLVERINE JUST WASN’T DARK ENOUGH, APPARENTLY

Daken: Dark Wolverine #1 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Adam Prosser

If you’ll pardon me for interjecting a personal note into this review, I’ve always been pretty detached from the modern-day Marvel Universe. I’m a fan of the classic Lee-Kirby era comics, and I’m somewhat familiar with the Bronze Age stuff, but once we get to the 80s it all seems to collapse into a heap of convoluted weirdness that I know little or nothing about. I don’t want to generalize about three decades of comics, of course, and I’m sure there’s plenty of good stuff in there, but I was rarely interested enough to catch up on my Marvel continuity. And when I did, it tended to be the more lighthearted stuff, like Nextwave or the work of Dan Slott.

But I’ll try anything once, so I’m going to spend the next few columns sticking my toe in some of the more popular Marvel books—with the obvious gateway being the newly launched “Wolverine family” series. This week, it’s the launch of a book starring Wolverine’s son Daken, a character I know literally nothing about. Will it hold up for a Marvel neophyte like myself?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes, although the larger metastory threaded throughout the issue wouldn’t make much sense without at least a passing knowledge of continuity past and present. Daken is Wolverine’s son, raised since birth by the shadowy Romulus to be Wolvie’s nemesis (in the literal, ancient Greek sense). He possesses all of Wolverine’s powers and fighting ability and none of his moral sense, being obsessed mostly with taking down his old man and, to a lesser extent, accruing power, riches, and women. And men, too, apparently. All this is effectively communicated in this issue, leaving little room for the minimal plot.

But that’s OK. What’s interesting here is that, while superhero comics are increasingly criticized for featuring amoral, nasty “heroes”, this is the first “big two” superhero comic I’ve read that deliberately presents us with a true antihero, a character we’re not supposed to identify with on a moral level, but who we find compelling anyway. TV has done a lot of interesting stuff in the last decade or two with this kind of storytelling (think Dexter, Tony Soprano, Al Swearengen…) so I’m down with Marvel trying it, especially since it’s linked to a larger storyline. The main question is whether the plot will be of any interest in the long run, but for now, the protagonist provides a solid core for whatever's about to unfold...no matter how much of a hateful S.O.B. he may be.

 

"WAR", WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? QUITE A BIT, APPARENTLY

Our Army at War #1
(DC Comics, $3.99) By Sean Fahey

This is the first in a series of one-shots revisiting some of DC's classic war titles, and while lacking with respect to actual combat and action, the comic is a thoughtful meditation on "why we fight." Writer Mike Marts does an effective job intertwining the stories of two soldiers - one in World War II Europe, the other in modern day Afghanistan - into one cohesive narrative, seamlessly overlapping dialogue and text from one era to the next and back. I think anytime you write about war, especially current conflicts, you run the risk of getting into some politically sensitive - even divisive - areas, but Marts does an exceptional job keeping the focus on the troops. We fight for our brothers-in-arms, the man to our left and right; we fight for the memory of those that we've lost (specifically in this case, those killed at Pearl Harbor and during September 11th). While not wholly original, it's well executed, and is a fitting start to this series of one-shots.

 

 

I Am An Avenger #1 of 5 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

Well, let’s start on a positive note: the fact that Marvel seems to have successfully reintroduced the idea of the anthology comic is kind of nice; not every story worth telling requires a trade-length arc, a bit of variety is welcome, and it can introduce readers to characters they might enjoy, but have never tried. On the other hand, it’s not the sort of thing that your established creators usually have time for, so what you often wind up with is the sort of potpourri we have to hand here: a jumble of unrelated stories, with a mixture of sort-of-well-known names and folks you’ve never heard of, with the resultant mixed bag you’d expect out of an arrangement of that sort.

Not surprisingly, veteran crime writer Duane Swierczynski has a feel for the pacing of the eight-page tale, and his story of Iron Fist and Misty Knight is a poignant vignette, with artwork by Jason Latour that recalls David Aja’s work on the Immortal Iron Fist series. After that, though, the pickings get pretty slim. Jim McCann and artist Chris Samnee present the Young Avengers’ first visit to Avengers Mansion, with eight pages of predictable action and pointless banter. The Pet Avengers get a groaner of a one-page joke from Chris Eliopoulos, and the Squirrel Girl segment by Alex Zalben and Tom Fowler feels as though it’s barely there.

As I say, Marvel—nice try. Appreciate the thought. But next time let’s have more than eight pages of material worth reading.

 

Taskmaster #1 of 4 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

One of the hallmarks of the Joe Quesada era at Marvel has been his belief that a conventional superhero universe can accomodate genres like sci-fi, fantasy, police procedurals, etc. And while no one’s likely to forget Vertigo anytime soon, this Taskmaster series is a good example of how that can be made to work, employing classic crime novel tropes in the service of some good ol’ four-color action.

It’s a vintage pulp/noir opening: in a rundown diner, a lone customer has a “meet cute” with the weary (but spunky!) waitress, and as the layers of his story begin to peel back, we learn that this is The Taskmaster, whose mnemonic abilities to mimic others’ powers are beginning to have a deleterious effect on his ordinary human memory. Meanwhile, we see the forces marshaling against him: seemingly every colorfully-garbed group of mercs/science troopers/henchmen that the Marvel U has to offer (my faves are the cosplaying weirdos of The Militiamen). See, he trained these guys—worked for Norman Osborne, doncha know—but now they’re all after the huge bounty on his head. By issue’s end, Mercedes, the waitress, is a reluctant fugitive, on the run with a dangerous man she hardly knows.

Classic noir stuff, but with a twist: once Taskmaster’s hunters make themselves known, it’s teacher against pupils in a multi-page throwdown of martial arts, high-tech weaponry, and borrowed superpowers with artist Jefte Palo evoking memories of the glory days of Steranko and S.H.I.E.L.D. Fred Van Lente’s dialog crackles nicely, never too cute, and conveying all the necessary backstory smoothly and effectively.

A couple on the run, both with their own baggage, both destined to run towards trouble rather than away from it. There’s a reason that classic story structures become classics: now and again you get creators like Van Lente and Palo that know just how far to run with them. A very promising beginning.

 

THIS WEEK'S TALKING POINTS:

Should Marvel and DC's mainstream comics be accessible to first time readers? Does that detract from the fun of longtime fans who are caught up in the continuity?

The Avengers: Do you like them as Marvel's JLA, with all the marquee guys on the team? Or did you prefer them when it was Cap and a bunch of second bananas?

Source: JoBlo.com

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