Imagine you're a kid growing up in a small town in Kansas. Imagine that your parents, in a fit of lunacy, decided to name you Clark when their last name is Kent. Imagine growing up in the shadow of a fictional character, always getting Superman memorabilia as gifts, being teased at school. Imagine not wanting anything to do with Krypton, Smallville, or anything related to this other Clark Kent. Imagine all of that.
Now imagine waking up and discovering you can fly.
A simple premise, no? And yet, Kurt Busiek has managed to turn it into one of the single greatest Superman stories I've ever read. Although, I suppose calling this a Superman story is a bit disingenuous, since it's not REALLY about Superman. It's not an Elseworld, after all. Nor is it an ASTRO CITY style comic, although it does have that sort of feel. No, this is something in between, an examination of Superman via proxy, while placing him in a real world context. That's the trouble with innovative stories; there are no preexisting labels you can use to describe them.
Part of what makes this book so much fun is all the little beats that Busiek uses that somehow work in a real world context. If you discover you have Superman's powers, are you going to use them while dressed as a ninja? No! You're going to dress like fucking Superman! There's also the moment where Clark meets his Lois, a scene that could easily have derailed the whole story, but manages to work wonderfully, specifically because she isn't Lois Lane. In fact, other than her first name, she's nothing like Lois Lane. As for Clark, yes he's a writer, but he's a novelist, not a reporter. Both these characters are their own people, more than just Lois and Clark.
There is a subplot, one that I know put Superman junkie Village Idiot off this series, where the Feds are tracking young mister Kent in an effort to capture and study him. While this bit is initially a familiar device, it does develop into something different. But more than that, it's only a subplot. The driving force behind this series isn't some government mouse hunt; it's the life and hardships of Clark Kent. And as an aspect of his life, these elements work.
But what puts this series over the edge, what makes the story that much better, is Stuart Immonen. The art in this book glows. Every nuance is a beauty to behold. Each panel feels like a splash page. Superman has never looked this good, especially in flight. Every image of a flying Superman is filled with an ethereal joy like I've never seen before. This is some of the best artwork I've ever seen in a book from DC, and if anything it makes me eager for his turn on ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR.
This is the best Superman book that will come out this year. This is the best mini that will come out this year. This may, in fact, be the best damn story to come out this year. From its simple beginning to its poetic end, this is going to be a comic people will remember for a long time to come.
Now that the Focus line has launched all four of its initial titles it seems fair to note that while DC is clearly hoping to emulate its success with Vertigo, it could be following that blueprint a little too closely. Not only are these comics aimed at a more mature audience and bearing some design similarity to keep the line cohesive, the titles maintain the same sort of humorless gravitas and high concept acrobatics that has more or less typified the Vertigo line. Even the art styles are highly reminiscent of early Vertigo, with a shaky sameness that conjures up the image of artists locked shoulder-to-shoulder in an airless room, pumping out pages. What Focus most hopes to emulate is the focus on writing; Vertigo was perhaps the first, perhaps the only, comics imprint to draw readers almost solely through its roster of talented writers. Many of these writers went on to (relative) superstardom, drawing praise from within the industry as well as from the outside, and were probably Vertigo's major and long-lasting contribution to the medium. The initial glut of titles produced by the imprint seemed to make little impact in themselves and usually failed to last, but even titles like SEBASTIAN O shared that obvious glee that comes of sudden creative freedom and the stirrings of some recognition of their efforts. Reading those comics one got that excitement of the inmates taking over the asylum, and while the results were hit and miss, there was a real unpredictability there that more than made up for it. Today's Vertigo titles are a bit glossier, and have to struggle with the weight of expected prestige - a black sheep gone respectable. I'd imagined that Focus would be an interesting experiment, a little more low-key than DC's last attempt at a sci-fi line back in the 90's Helix comics, allowing new talent to muck around a bit, simmer, and see what comes of it. There are two difficulties that may prevent Focus from developing into a Sci-Fi Vertigo. Firstly, they have no SWAMP THING or SANDMAN to build a line around, no strong titles with cult followings that would be inclined to sample the other books in the imprint. Secondly, and more sadly, one gets the distinct impression in these first four titles that these inmates don't know quite what to do with the asylum.
All of which leads up to FRACTION, and this : there isn't really very much to say about it. It's not quite bad exactly, but it's hardly a title to launch a prestigious line of books with either. As with the other Focus titles, HARD TIME, TOUCH, and KINETIC, FRACTION has a pretty decent concept (though slightly weaker than the other two titles) but can't quite pull it off. The book wants to be a character piece looking at the reaction of four friends to the discovery of a powerful mech-suit in an abandoned warehouse, but the characters are not very well-developed. All are criminals to some degree, one just got out of jail, and all have day jobs that they hate - but these are details, not personality traits, and they don't convince me to have much sympathy for them as protagonists. This wouldn't bother me in a #1 title if the dialogue wasn't so atrocious, with an annoying narrator to boot. For a character piece you need memorable characters, and for a concept as well worn as the super-suit, you need an interesting take that's free of contrived and obvious writing. The artwork, again, is very reminiscent of early Vertigo which should let you know right away where you will stand on it. With the right kind of writing this style of art can work very well indeed, and indeed if the words were stripped from the book I might like the art quite a bit. Together, though, the cliche-ridden narrative jars against the flat realism of the art to produce an effect that's really kind of annoying. Still, there are a few good points – the coloring is really quite good, and there is a nice dry humor running through (the chicken suit one character wears to work, for instance, and its clash with his cigarette-withdrawal induced mood). There are places to go with the concept, which has a nice cold-war era sci-fi robot feel to it, and I like that the characters choose to use their new toys to rob and profit rather than save the world (I mean, let's be real - what do YOU think would happen if someone left a super-suit lying around?) and that they have to divide up the suit into its component parts between them (one gets the laser-firing gauntlets, one gets the helmet, one gets the body armor, etc) rather than share the whole suit. There is no honor among thieves, after all, and at least they know it. Lastly I like that this is a true sci-fi concept rather than a straight-faced superpowers story like the other three Focus titles.
Which leads me to my point, which is that the Focus line seems to be aping the elements of series that have worked in the past rather than carving out an identity of its own. Worse yet, for a Sci-Fi division, there isn't a whole lot of science in here - even FRACTION's robo-suit is more fantasy than science so far. Has the failure of the Helix line back in the 90's spooked DC out of hard sci-fi? At any rate, without a distinct purpose beyond the surface style convention the line is superfluous and could be easily folded into Vertigo, except that the current crop of Vertigo titles are far better. I just don't see the point - if there must be a separate line, why not move over some existing sci-fi titles like Y: THE LAST MAN that have established strong fanbases? Out of these titles, I don't really see any of them lasting, and that doesn't leave me with very high hopes for the Focus line. Which is sad, because as a sci-fi lover I would be very happy to see such a line flourish.
I really did want to talk about this one last week, but I got caught up discussing Truth, Justice, and the Austen Way a little more than I'd anticipated. That's a shame, because I thought SHE-HULK #2 was an amazingly charming and entertaining comic book; and in a just world, it shouldn't have been forced to take the back seat.
Let's begin by talking about one of my favorite elements of SHE-HULK #2, the introduction of Awesome Andy. Awesome Andy is supervillian Mad Thinker's Awesome Android, on the road to a new life after gaining sentience and picking up a job at the firm as a law office office assistant. He's still "awesome," but now for his ability to get a coffee order right rather than for his ability to kill Spider-Man. There's something lovable about seeing a huge, faceless slab of granite in a shirt and tie, amiably communicating with people through a chalkboard tied around his neck. It was, in a word, cute. And there are many cute elements in SHE-HULK #2, often satirically deconstructive jabs at meta-textual aspects of comics. And although most of them worked, my only misgiving is whether things will hold up if things get any cuter.
In SHE-HULK #2, She-Hulk's alter ego Jennifer Walters is settling into her new job at a high-profile law firm, a job that demands that she stay un-hulked. To her surprise (and disappointment), they put her to work in the department of the firm that deals with superhuman law. As she takes on her first client, she discovers that superhuman case record, legal superhuman case record, is kept by way of. . .comic books. Marvel comic books. You know all those Marvel comics you own? In the Marvel Universe, they're valid as legal records of superhero history. The record department keeps them on file in long boxes.
Cute, even adorable, but also dangerously self-conscious and absurd. Again, there's a lot of cute in SHE-HULK #2, but the issue never skated so far to the brink of overindulgence as it did with this element of the story. Moreover, I worry the cumulative weight of all this whimsy may pose a problem later. Perhaps it's a fine line, but I wonder if Slott goes too far in the direction of surreal but adorable farce, it might be too hard to come back to the meaningful side of satire.
And that's wraps up the critically negative portion of this review, because, griping aside, so much of the rest of the issue was absolutely clever and charming.
Jen's foray into the world of superhero is a freaky trip, full of weirdness and irony. Her first client, Dan, is a typical superhero-universe victim of an accidental fall into radioactive vat -- after his accident, he's become "Danger Man." Only he doesn't want to be Danger Man; he wants his normal life back, and short of that, he wants to be legally compensated. To Jennifer, whose life is so centered on her identity as She-Hulk, this is almost incomprehensible. But as she struggles with the case and Dan's predicament, the incomprehensible becomes something not only understood, but felt.
And we feel it too. It's amazing how much story Slott has managed to fit into both SHE-HULK #1 and 2; both are normal sized comics, but the story seems to unfold in a way where the story seems more dense and more satisfying. But amidst all the story and satire, we can still feel what's going on. Perhaps a lot of the credit for this should go to Juan Bobillo and Marcelo Sosa, whose art has a wide and rounded fullness, like a friendlier version of Tim Sale. Great, fun stuff.
And so, SHE-HULK is shaping up to be one of the best surprises on the new releases shelf. Offbeat, funny, dangerously clever, and not bad to look at -- this is a title you should be checking out. So check it out.
Like most folks who find their way to Ain't-It-Cool-News, I've got a pretty abiding love of satire. Whether you're talking CHAPELLE'S SHOW, online newspaper THE ONION, DR. STRANGELOVE, or the ubiquitous SIMPSONS, if the laughs are pointed, I'm there. And I expected some pretty good laughs from Brit comic book gossip, Rich Johnston. He's inspired more than a few grins in his column, and I was outright laughing my ass off when he recently milked a hysterically funny picture of Marvel's new president, Dan Buckley for all it was worth. Rich's new book, HOLED UP, shines an absurdist spotlight on Middle America, taking particular aim at our obsession with guns, guns, guns - and I was ready for it.
Hey, just 'cause I'm a Texan doesn't mean I can't take a joke. We did do our best to co-opt Bill Hicks, after all.
But unlike Hicks' material, Rich Johnston's HOLED UP inspires neither laughs nor that uncomfortable squirming you get when a comedian's routine hits too close to home. The opening gag is typical of the broadly-played humor: an alarm clock ringing incessantly, then shot to pieces from somewhere off panel, then tinkling just a little, then finished off with one last shot. Not bad. Kind of Warner Brothers. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for me; the wackiness to come didn't get much more sophisticated.
On the next page we meet Bob and Sally, a crewcut-sportin' dad and his Carol Brady wife - perfectly normal rural couple but for the automatic weapons, grenades, and ammo boxes crammed into every corner of their camouflage-wallpapered house. Think idealized '50s family by way of Ruby Ridge militia nuts and you've basically got the gag. Their kids play "war" like all kids do, for instance, but they're playing "federalists and isolationists." I can imagine this stuff as potentially hilarious but the actual execution is painfully obvious:
Son (wrestling with his sister): Submit to the government!
Daughter: You'll never take me alive!
Son (shaking his sister): Turn ya inta Commnist with lectroshock therapy!
Mom: Ronnie, Nancy! Stop playing such violent noisy games.
Dad: That's right, try violent quiet games.
Mom (cheerfully): Gassing's a good one.
Dad (cheerfully): Or strangulation.
This is that notoriously sly British wit? Maybe it's being undermined a tad by the artwork of Gonzalo Martinez - adequate though uninspired - but my fear is that Rich might've "dumbed down" his wit figuring that was actually the approach to take to win the American audience. It's purely speculative and totally unprovable, but I'll stand by it because even the casual humor of Rich's gossip column is ten times sharper than HOLED UP.
What's really too bad here is that I feel more insulted that the book's so lightweight than that it openly takes potshots at Americans. Dammit, Rich, we Americans want to be subverted with smarter gags than the kids getting their first guns at...*groan*..."Guns 'R' Us." With the book coming out through Avatar, one of the more famously uncensored comic publishers, I was anticipating something more acidic, more pointed – something like the sick and twisted Rodney Dangerfield sitcom segment in NATURAL BORN KILLERS. And there are moments that aim for that blend of perverse humor – Bob and Sally reminiscing fondly about killing a homeless guy when Sally shot her first gun, or Bob making plans to kill elder daughter Deborah's black boyfriend. But is anyone really gonna feel the sting of the following exchange:
Black boyfriend: This is a color thing, isn't it?
Bob (to Sally): Deborah, pass the noose.
Feels neutered to me. By contrast, I remember feeling all but sucker-punched by the blistering racism of the following exchange from the first issue of '90s Vertigo hit, PREACHER. It sees the ultra-redneck Sheriff Root assessing the mystery of an incinerated church with his own colossally screwed-up logic:
Sheriff Root: Ask me, I reckon it was niggers. Kind of thing they do.
Deputy: What, burn two hundred people to death, right down to the bone? They do that?
Sheriff Root: Martian niggers, Kenny.
It's simultaneously repulsive and hilarious – not even a favorite brand of satire for me – but for the caustic humor Rich is attempting, I think Ennis-levels of profane absurdity would've better carried the concept. About all I took away from HOLED UP is that rednecks love guns and are racists and are stupid – hardly the fierce subversion American gun fetishism could really use. Maybe that's why I was surprised to read at Newsarama that HOLED UP sold out in the UK.
Aren't the Brits the ones who "got" Bill Hicks before we Yanks? Where'd all that good taste go?
I may be known as the Indie Gal here at AICN, but it's true that most people I know who read comics read primarily mainstream books from the major publishers. While I'm always recommending books to them that don't necessary include tights or even color, they have never developed much enthusiasm for my kind of comics. So I'm pretty tickled that this time they introduced me to a small press b+w comic called HERO HAPPY HOUR, a comic that marries the independent slice-of-life style to our typical Joe Superhero. The title started strong last year and has only gotten better and funnier since then, and it's great to see people picking it up.
It should be noted that HERO HAPPY HOUR was formerly known as SUPERHERO HAPPY HOUR, as it was published in the previous 4 issues and first trade collection. When earlier this year the swell folks at Marvel and DC came together to combat the common enemy of tiny independent publishers to be crushed beneath the iron boot of market hegemony... Uh, where was I? Oh yes. Marvel and DC threatened to sue Geekpunk for using the word "superhero" in their title, forcing them to change the name of their flagship title to avoid trademark infringement, not to mention resoliciting all their previous issues. Because the word "superhero" belongs to Marvel and DC comics (I don't know what Image has been writing about all this time, but they always were a little behind anyway) and no other publisher can use that particular word on their comics.
I'll give you a moment to think about the crushing stupidity of that notion.
Ah, you're back. Now that we've all savored the imagination and hard work of the DC and Marvel Legal Departments, who in this special Team-Up Edition have made the comics market safe from creativity and diversity once again and defended their market share from the evils of the little guy small press publisher Geekpunk and who no doubt are planning to sue me at this very moment - Hi Fellas! - I can talk about HHH, which will in fact continue publication with a snazzy new logo but alas without the cool SHHH acronym. Oh well. #5 is the most polished issue yet of this book, and loses none of the humor and quirkiness from becoming a bit more professional. The cover is an eye-catcher, and the new "Hero Happy Minute" back-up story feature is a real winner, and a nice throwback to the Days of Superhero Yore.
HHH has one of those premises that is so simple and obvious that it's strange that no one has really used it before – the series is set in the Hideout Bar & Grill, where superheros come to kick back in their off hours. Yes, Busiek used a similar idea in an ASTRO CITY story arc years ago, but from a different perspective (that of a waiter) and without really exploring the personalities of the patrons. Also, where ASTRO CITY's club was a hot night-spot for the super-powered, the Hideaway is kind of a dive, the place tucked into a side street somewhere that you wander into accidentally one day and never quite manage to leave. You can picture the Hideaway as the bar that TV cops go to when they're off-duty, but with the camraderie and beer-soaked wit of Cheers. There's a population of regulars who sit around in their costumes and bitch about the job, drink, fend off the press, and make fun of each other's adventures, presided over by the slightly mysterious bartender Rusty.
HHH has a canny affection for the superhero genre even as it pokes fun at it. In this issue, Night Ranger shows up at the bar trailing a camera crew for Hero Beat, a "COPS"-style reality show that is following him through his average day. Meanwhile, his younger sidekick Scout is appearing on his own reality show, and brings his blind date Tiffany to the Hideaway along with a camera crew of his own, which leads to a collision of egos for the always-bickering partners. While the "celebrity hero" angle is becoming a bit of a cliche, the characters have always come across more like plain working folks, albeit in spandex, who hunger for fame just like the rest of us, so their reality show appearances come off as more than a little desperate, and terrifically funny – especially when both of them tell the same tall tale on television while directly contradicting each other's versions of the story. This is fun stuff whether you are an indie afficianado like myself or a superhero junkie like my friends, and a great new title to pick up for any comic fan. Even without the "Super."
Have a seat, Mr. Socko.
What is this? What's going on? Does Don know we're back here?
We're asking the questions Mr. Socko.
Look, can you guys just call me Vroom. I hear Mr. Socko and I expect to see Mick Foley trying to stick his hand up my-
All right, Vroom then. We've got a problem with you and your @$$hole friends.
You've badmouthed Daredevil once too often, you little punk.
Whoa, hey, time out. I'm the @$$hole that's praised that book!
So you don't agree with your little friends?
Now I didn't say that. I mean, most of the time they have a point, it's just that it's not… I mean, it's like… It's like this guy I used to work with. We worked the graveyard shift at this hotel, and when we didn't have anything to do, we'd talk movies. Now, this guy hated Planet of the Apes. Absolutely hated it.
The Tim Burton version? Who didn't?
No, the original. See, he had this thing… He thought Taylor was the dumbest character in movie history. I mean, he arrives on this planet two thousand years in the future, and the first creatures he finds are humans, then horses, then apes. Then it turns out the apes speak modern English. Now, this guy's argument was than anyone with an IQ higher than a jar of mayo would instantly realize they're on Earth. Now, that's a valid complaint, but it also misses the point completely. You know? That's not the point. The point is the satire, the social commentary. And the complaints I hear about DD are like that.
You think they're bitching about stuff that's not important?
No, I think it's important. It's just not important right this second. Right this second-
Right this second what?
Right this second, it's about exploring the man behind the mask. And I think that it's a valid way to tell a Marvel story, as long as you don't dwell on it too long.
So we've been dwelling on it too long, then?
What do you want to hear, okay? Do I want do see more of Daredevil actually behaving LIKE a daredevil? Yes! Do I think the current storyline has gone on about six issues too long? Yes! Do I want less talk, more action? Yes! But-
Oh Jesus, not the "less talk" argu-
Dude, I respect you and everything, but don't fucking interrupt me, okay?
Look, I'm just trying to say that this, on the surface, this isn't what I'd have wanted from the character forty issues ago. But that doesn't mean this story sucks. DAREDEVIL is the superhero book that-
Goddamnit. DD isn't a pure superhero book. Stan created Daredevil as a pulp-
He was created as pulp hero.
I know. You're right. He's a pulp character. He's a noir character. This book has always been the most unconventional one at Marvel. That's why this sort of story works here. Besides, the people who've been bitching would probably see the latest issue as a light at the end of the tunnel.
I mean, the past thirty issues have been one hell of a character study. Matt has been absolutely broken down to nothing. The thing is… It's… If he's not built back up, then there's no point. To give the story meaning, Daredevil needs to be rebuilt. The latest issue is the start of that rebuilding.
Oh, you think so.
Based on this issue, hell yes. There's all sorts of great moments here that show Matt is beginning to come around, and some just plain great moments. We've got one of the supporting cast killed. We have Ben Urich giving Matt the verbal slapdown he deserves. We have Matt and Foggy in a scene that ends on the best beat ever. We have Luke Cage once again getting all the good lines. And we have a splash page at the end that just fucking rocks. So yeah, I'd say there's some rebuilding going on here.
Best beat ever, huh.
Don't let it go to your head.
And the art?
The art… It's very noir. It..
Don't try to bullshit me, pal. You may know my partner here, but that doesn't-
What? It doesn't-
Just give it to me without any bullshit.
You want it straight? Fine. The artwork is pure mood. It can be a bit creepy, actually. In the small moments, it's some of the best art out there. But it's also very static; there's no feeling of motion in any of the action scenes. It's not as alive as I'd like it to be. And I have to wonder about the scene between Milla and Foggy.
Well, why is she still in her underwear?
So… what, you'd rather have someone else on the book?
No… No, I like the look of the book fine. It's just not as vibrant as I'd-
Hey, calm down. I just-
Little piece of…
Hey! Get your hands-
What the fuck is this?
What are you-
Hey, calm down.
What the fuck?
You always keep a cassette recorder in your coat pocket?
What the fuck!
DON! AMY! SOMEBODY-
Some time back I decided that, superhero fan or no, I'd had it up to freakin' here with new superhero universes. Those endless analogs of Superman, Batman, and the rest....ENOUGH! Find something new to write about, you hacks! But it turns out there's a small cadre of writers out there – names like Busiek, Moore, and Brubaker – who're not only writing superhero worlds outside of Marvel and DC...they're one-upping their sources. And so we have ASTRO CITY. And TOP TEN. And SLEEPER.
To that elite trio, I'd like to add one more name: INVINCIBLE. Free of angst, yet wholly modern, it's not just for newbies to the genre, but for those jaded fans who think they've seen it all. I'll break it down for ya...
VOL. 1: FAMILY MATTERS
I don't know about you guys, but as traditional as it is to have heroes anguishing about loved ones learning their secret identities, it's also frustrating as hell. It's like the inevitable mix-up on a sitcom – it propels the action, but inwardly you're groaning because it's so, so rote. INVINCIBLE got off on the right foot with me by not doing this! Not only does our high school lead, Mark Grayson, know that his dad's a famous superhero, but he's anxiously hoping for the day when his own powers might manifest. Even Mom knows. She knows, and if you can believe it, there's no ongoing debate over dad's constant life-risking (though his trips to alternate dimensions do spook her a little). Hell, Mom and Dad even have a healthy (if coyly offscreen) sex life.
And that's the backdrop for INVINCIBLE, courtesy of writer Robert ("THE WALKING DEAD") Kirkman: a well-adjusted family living with a superhero tradition.
Dad's late for dinner, you say?
"Sorry. There was an enchanted flood in Egypt I had to deal with on the way over."
Though the book does have its darker moments, there's a surprisingly unabashed wish-fulfillment tone to the series. It's as if Kirkman got tired of the cynics deriding superheroes for being adolescent power fantasies and finally said, "Yeah, so what's wrong with that?" The opening chapter, of course, sees Mark's powers kicking in for the first time. He's pitching a bag of trash into a dumpster when he inadvertently...flings it into orbit. I'm a latecomer to the series, and one of the things that sold me on it was when a friend showed me that scene, then showed me a scene in issue six in which, without explanation, we get a single page of a London resident out walking his dog...right as that trash bag finally comes down! It explodes on the street, and one "Ey, wot?!" later, we cut away and we're done. Love the timing. If you're a fan of the Keith Giffen's JUSTICE LEAGUE issues, I think it's safe to say you're gonna like this series.
And if it sounds a little slight, well, it is. In a good way. With the more menacing turn of events in the second trade still several issues off, this opening focuses on how fun it would be to be a teen superhero with flight, super-speed, and super-strength. Mark (now sporting superhero name "Invincible") chances across his first mystery, has his first "team-up" with the local teen superheroes, and happily learns the next day that the foxy redhead on the team is the same foxy redhead in his physics class. The bad news for Mark is she's already dating a teammate, but their casual friendship is one of Kirkman's many winning turns. Others include Mark's training alongside his dad, his first alien invasion, and his visit to the superhero tailor who gripes about how everyone wants an iconic costume by no one knows what it really means.
And Kirkman's superhero world setting is fun, to boot. Take, for instance, the bank robbers who hire a super-strong thug to be their getaway by literally scooping them up under his arms and hopping away over fences and buildings. Just good, goofy fun, man! Cory Walker's the artist and co-creator of the series, and just as Kirkman was gifted with ideal artist Tony Moore on THE WALKING DEAD, so too is Walker the perfect man for the job here: crisp, clean-line style; expressive faces; strong costume designs; and minimal spotted blacks in favor of using flat, vibrant planes of color – TINTIN style - to really bring the layouts together. You can get a good feel for the visuals in this page of father and son playing ball. And yep, they're throwing it around the world. Be sure to check out the dialogue, too, showcasing one of the more laid back takes on the dangers of supervillains uncovering secret identities.
Among the more serious elements of this first trade, we have a villain using human bombs and the stage being set for some eerie mysteries surrounding Mark's father. Mostly, though...good, old-fashioned fun, a sly wit that speaks to a genuine love of the genre rather than subversion, and a refreshing familial tone that you just won't find anywhere else. INVINCIBLE Vol. 1 gets you a breezy four issues (plus a ton of cool sketchbook extras), and if it doesn't bring a smile to your face, I gotta figure you're reading too much Warren Ellis. I call it one of my favorite reads of the last year.
Did I mention you can sample the entire first issue from this page if you're of a mind? Darn tootin'.
VOL. 2: EIGHT IS ENOUGH
I always want to be square with you guys out there in TalkBackLand, and that means I've got to be up front when a really good book stumbles a little. In volume two of INVINCIBLE, the series does just that. Not critically, by any means, but it's not the perfect little slice of angst-less teen superheroing that the first volume was. It does open really strong, however...
Mark's at home studying when he gets a call from his super-powered dad on his cell phone. Seems Dad's stuck on a vital mission with the Guardians of the Globe and he needs his son to cover an approaching alien menace. "You've got about twelve minutes to get into orbit," he explains. Among the typically fun Kirkman touches: Mark's last-minute questions for his dead as to how he'll even be able to breathe in space, and his dad's last-minute request that Mark ask his mom to buy steaks for dinner:
"If everything works out here, I'm going to want to celebrate, and if it doesn't...well, let's just say it won't matter what your mom cooks."
Any wonder the book's so endearing? The clash itself makes for one of my favorite issues, with secrets best left revealed on reading, but it's clever, exciting, and it had me laughing out loud – no easy task from a static medium like comics. It also marks the first serious questions posed about Mark's father, opening up the possibility that he might not be the perfect Strange Visitor From Another Planet after all.
The next issue has Mark and his best friend scouting colleges and it's one of the weaker chapters I mentioned. Too much time is spent on a somewhat flat campus tour, there's a quirky running joke that seems to've gone over my head, and a campus subplot that's yet to be followed up on several issues later (shades of Chris Claremont). At the same time, it's got Mark and his dad playing around-the-world-catch, Mom and Dad *ahem* enjoying Mark's absence, and a classic "secret identity" moment between Mark and his best friend that showcases Kirkman's sense of humor at its best. Issue saved!
The rest of the trade remains uneven, though, with Kirkman's vaguely Marvel/DC setting seeing its most blatant analogs yet in the form of aforementioned Guardians of the Globe. They're literally one-to-one counterparts to the Justice League, and if their vignettes hadn't been so damn fun and funny (the summoning of the Aquaman analog, Aquarus, is sheer genius), I might've jumped ship right there. The teen superhero team of volume one was refreshingly unlike the X-Men or the Teen Titans and I really dug 'em – why then the switch to such obvious counterparts later? I can see the lure for Kirkman, but he'd crafted such a unique tone to the series previously that it had started to become a nicely distinct superhero universe in its own right. The JLA analogs were just too jarring, and the same goes for the guest-appearance by a Rorschach analog and even the inclusion of fellow Image heroes like Savage Dragon and Shadowhawk. Invincible's world just doesn't feel like their world.
There's no ignoring these scenes, though, because they set up some serious, dark, and enjoyable mysteries that are still unfolding in the monthly series (two issues ahead of this trade as of this review). Thankfully, they're intriguing mysteries, if surprisingly dark for the otherwise all-ages book; definite jumps from PG to PG-13 in a few of these chapters. As usual, Kirkman's sense of humor leaves me smiling, though, even when I've got some gripes. From The Immortal's battle with the ridiculous Bi-Plane ("When in doubt...throw them into space.") to Mark's hilarious heterosexual discomfort at taking his best friend flying, Kirkman's right up there with Bendis when it comes to bringing the ha-ha to superheroes.
As with volume one, there are a ton of sketchbook extras at the back, making this an exceptionally slick production - I'm talkin' about eighteen BIG HONKIN' pages here! Marvel and DC take note, 'cause this is how a nice trade is done. And sure, I've got a few complaints about some of the books twists and turns, but make no mistake - I'm still wholeheartedly onboard this book. So are celeb endorsers Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek, among others, and if you don't trust in an online yokel of a reviewer, you can at least trust in them.
As a final teaser, check this out. It's the cover to an upcoming issue where Aquarus' wife tries to put the moves on Invincible. Can't wait.