Monday, March 22, 2004

Looking To The Stars: What Once Was Old Is Old Again...

Did I step through a time warp and wind up back in 1992? All evidence suggests yes. There’s a Bush in the White House, once seemingly invincible thanks to a war in Iraq; now looking weaker and weaker as the economy crumbles. I’m ecstatically happy and yet feeling like a clumsy dork… all due to a girl who is as equally convinced that I’m her soul mate as I am of she, just like the not so glorious days of Jr. High. And Marvel Comics is getting ready to put out a new “Venom vs. Carnage” book.

To paraphrase the great Louis Black… “WHAT THE HELL ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING?!?!”

I mean, honestly? Has there really been that big a demand for the return of the symbiotes from anyone who isn’t a speculator? Somebody who isn’t still sitting on five-long boxes full of every single misguided attempt Marvel made during the early 90’s to give Venom a solo series? Someone who can intelligibly give reasons for why Venom and Carnage were the greatest Spidey villains of all time without using the words “kewl”, “w1ck3d!” or “aw50m3”?

It’s almost enough to make a fanboy wish for the second coming of Bill Jemas. Almost.

I mean, ignoring the fact that the current Venom book (which didn’t even really have Venom in it until recently) is one of the most vile pieces of filth to be foisted onto the comic-reading public in recent memory and that pretty much everything done with the character except the recent “The Hunger” storyline in Spectacular Spider-Man within the last ten years has… to be blunt… stunk like a dead skunk in a natural gas processing plant… Carnage is dead. Has been since Peter Parker #10 (vol 2) and I haven’t heard anyone complain since.

The news of this ill-conceived concept came recently in a Marvel Comics news briefing, which also heralded the arrival of other new titles of questionable judgment. Among these are…

Amazing Fantasy #1

Staring a heroine who is “…fierce…sassy...she sticks to walls!” and promising “teen-friendly adventures set in the current Marvel Universe!”, this title will be written by Fiona Avery (aka J. Michael Straczynski’s protégé) with art by Mark Brooks of Marvel Age: Spider-Man.

Wary as I am of any title billed as being teen-friendly, I could see this one actually working so long as editorial and Avery concentrate on building it up as its own unique thing and don’t turn it into a guest-of-the-month book and then have Wolverine and Spider-Man show up in every other issue.

Who are we kidding? This is Marvel. They’ll cross-promote the heck out of this, it will wind up looking like “just another superhero book” that will go ignored by the teenage girls that we’re OH SO DESPERATELY trying to get into the comic book stores and this will go down as one more example of why Spider-Woman has failed to take off in the same way She-Hulk did.

I’m also somewhat wary of having Avery writing this one. This is, as far as I know, her first solo work as writer and plotter and what I’ve read of her writing with Straczynski’s plotting on “Amazing Spider-Man” hasn’t filled me with a lot of confidence. Loki seemed very out of character on her “Chasing A Dark Shadow” story and last week’s “Vibes” seemed derivative of countless other stories where Peter reaches out to a troubled youth and makes a difference by doing something other than webbing up a crook.

Still, though my Spidey Sense is screaming “Miss” the more I read about this title, I’ll wait for it to come out before I get too worried.

Mary Jane

Written by Sean McKeever with pencils by Takeshi Miyazawa, this one will center on teenage Mary Jane Watson, showing “the thrilling highs and the crushing lows of high-school existence in a new, ongoing teen drama!”

This one I see a bit more hope for. The most popular books with the much desired teen girl market these days are manga books that center around this very concept; an ordinary teenage girl who gets caught up in extraordinary events all while trying to balance her life and all the regular problems of a teen girl. Not that a book featuring a super-powered heroine can’t do well, but… well, I see more teenage men reading “Slayers” than “Fruits Basket” and more teenage girls reading “Hot Gimmick” than “Battle Angel Alita.”

McKeever has already proven that he can do this kind of story on various Tsunami title and while I’m not familiar with Miyazawa’s work, what I’ve seen looks good.

Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One

Written by Zeb Wells with art by Kaare Andrews, this one will take a look at the early years of Dr. Otto Octavius.

Wells work has been hit or miss with me in the past. While he can do a cute one-shot, he’s failed to entertain in the past on stories as serious as the early years of Doc Ock are likely to be. Also, I’m curious if he’s going to try and utilize the new background (ie troubled childhood, abusive father) that Octavius has seemingly developed over the last few months. Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of the “Octavius as an altruistic scientist, forever changed by a lab accident” origin as it just makes Dr. Octopus another example of one who could have been a hero had it not been for cruel fate as opposed to just another mistreated maniac.

Still, it will be interesting to read if nothing else… assuming I haven’t gotten Dr. Octopus burnout by then.

Other projects announced for June this year (though not expanded upon in the announcement) were Identity Disc, Invaders, and Witches; none of which grab me by title alone.

And in another announcement, Marvel announced that they would restart “Avengers” with a new #1 and a new team made up of the “big guns” of the Marvel Universe with Brian Michael Bendis writing.

Okay. This one I won’t wait on do declare an outright BAD IDEA.

I thought we were past the days of restarting books with #1! This one seems particularly gratuitous as we are now rebooting the book just a scant few issues after it will be renumbered as Avengers #500 and taking it into yet another volume!

I like Brian Michael Bendis as much as the next guy but thus far he has not proven able to write an effective team book. His best works usually focus on a single character as they deal with an event, with a supporting cast to back them up. This is how his work on Ultimate X-Men thus far has read, with a focus on Wolverine and the rest of the team just showing up later… or with a focus on Angel and then the rest of the team in the background not saying anything except for a few panels. I’m not saying that he couldn’t do well on Avengers… but the evidence thus far suggests it.

Also… the “big guns” idea for the team is a bad idea since, in this case “big guns” means the most popular characters and not the most powerful. That approach might work in JLA, where all the most popular heroes are also among the most powerful and versatile. Compare that to Avengers mainstay Scarlet Witch. Wanda has never been as popular as The Hulk, but there’s nobody better to have on your side going into an unknown situation than a woman who can control the unknown.

Compare that to the concept of Spider-Man and Daredevil on a team. Bad idea: they both team-up well, but are not the “sit around the base and do patrol duty” type of hero. Besides, with Spider-Man’s reputation and Daredevil all but retired from active duty (thanks to Bendis’s work on his title) they would be hard to fit into The Avengers.

Storm and Wolverine on a team other than X-Men. Bad idea. True, they are team players but both are more used to covert ops than the more visible role the Avengers play. Also, with Wolverine’s habit of cutting down those he fights, it’s unlikely he’d gain much public acceptance.

And I’m not even going to touch the concept of The Hulk in his current savage form on a team. Mark Millar already showed how well that works in Ultimates; not bloody well. Still, we can hope that something good will come of this. And hope, if nothing else, is the one thing a good comic book can give you.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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