04 March 2006

Some Bullshit About Love: Still Better Than Tie-Ins

Well, February's over, it's still damn cold, and DC is in full event swing, while Marvel is gearing up for another one. Both companies have already announced their intentions to keep at it into the future -- Marvel's Planet Hulk/Annihilation/Civil War trifecta is the middle chapter to a three year plan they've hinted at, and DC's already announced a new $1, 80-page, loss-leader comic for the summer. The last time something like that happened was, well, last summer. And it kicked off Infinite Crisis. So even though I'll buy the book, because A.J. Lieberman and Al Barrionuevo are too good to pass up as a team, even if there are other writers and artists on it we haven't been told about yet, I'm wary -- and weary -- of another event so soon after the IC clusterfuck.

But even in this silly storm of tie-ins and event minis and crazy bombastic "breaking the internet in half" declarations, there are some comics you can read just for themselves, without having to buy five other titles. For example, to celebrate February and Valentine's Day and all that mess, Marvel put out the I Heart Marvel books, a collection of one shots or anthologies that tried to bring a romantic twist to the superheroes in the Marvel universe, with predictably mixed success; not everyone's cut out to write a romance comic.

Web of Romance #1 - This one was written by Tony Bedard with art from Cory Walker, Cliff Rathburn, and Matt Milla, and it was surprisingly good. The dialogue flowed very well, the characterization was spot on for all of the characters Bedard put into the story, and he even managed to work in some reflection on that oh-so-central issue of Gwen Stacey vs. Mary Jane, and didn't even have to invent hyper-aged clone children to do it! The art fit the piece well, and overall it's well worth the purchase price; depending on how it's collected, it may even be worth the price of the trade for this story alone.

Marvel AI #1 - Not as strong, but still decent. All of three of the stories in this book were written by C.B. Cebulski; the conceit here was that AI is the Japanese word for love, and therefore all the artists on these stories were Japanese; Tomoko Taniguchi on "Meld with You," Key Kobayashi on "Silence of the Heart," and toga on "Love is Blindness." The first story, "Meld with You," was a story about Wanda and Vision's first date, and it was competent enough. The concept is the fairly standard "robot/alien/outsider to the prevailing culture learns about love from a book, interprets advice wrong, and makes a mess of things" plot, but it's only a seven page story -- not too much else was necessary. I didn't like the art, but I'm not a big fan of the style. The second story, "Silence of the Heart," was the strongest of the three, dealing with the Inhuman Black Bolt and his wife. The writing is solid and conveys the silence in the relationship, and the art is in a sort of nice, subdued style that works very well. The third story, "Love is Blindness," is pretty terrible; the art is too cutesy and the story is basically just a catfight. There's no dialogue, which works in some very limited cases (such as the previous story), but it doesn't work here, and the substitute for dialogue in the form of crude pictorials gets annoying. Overall, a mixed bag, but cute enough.

My Mutant Heart #1 - Even more of a mixed bag than the last issue. Three more stories, with the common theme being mutants. The first story is a Wolverine story by Daniel Way. Daniel Way? Really? They couldn't find anyone else to write a romance comic but Daniel "Hey guys, I'd be worried about your nerdy ass concerns about my MAX run on Ant-Man, but I'm too busy fucking bitches and doing lines of coke off of strippers" Way? And Wolverine, of all characters? I'm sure a good romance comic can be done with Wolverine, but not by Daniel Way. And surprise, surprise, his story is terrible. Ken Knudtson's art doesn't help any, but the banal plotting is hardly his fault. Way only gives us little bits and pieces of a traditional NAZIS ARE EVIL AND KILL EVERYONE BECAUSE THEY ARE EVIL story involving Wolverine -- yes, the Nazis were evil, but when you reduce them to ridiculous caricatures that just shoot their own agents because they're evil and that's how Nazis do things, you're missing the point. The Nazis were real evil, not cartoon evil. Putting that aside, Way only really gives us half a story with no explanations and no real reason for reading it, and perhaps this is supposed to be mistaken for clever storytelling, but really it's just pointless. And frankly, I've had enough of Wolverine vs. the Nazis recently. Thanks, Mark and Dan.

Luckily, the second story is a marked improvement. Peter Millgan writes a P.I.-investigating-an-affair story with a twist that I don't feel like spoiling here, but everything about this story -- which involves Doop from Milligan's X-Statix run -- calls back images of the old romance comics from back in the day; the artist, Marcos Martin, gives it a really old school look that few artists are doing these days outside of Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred, and Milligan's story is set up a lot like some of those comics. When it veers off course, it's not in a biting parody of the old comics, but a gentle twist on them. Overall, a very good story. Makes up for the one immediately before it.

The last story, written and drawn by Tim Fish, involves the mutant Cannonball and is entirely forgettable. The art is decent but a bit unpolished, the storyline is eh, and all in all it's nice filler, but I don't really care about anything that happens in it. Perhaps if the narrative weren't so blatant about forcing the reader through the story -- the captions explaining what's going on in the story on panel are too breathless and too long, and overall get in the way of the characters interacting. It feels like a Cliff Notes version of a longer comic. Then again, Fish didn't have much room to work with, and it's not bad. It's just not good. All in all, you get a very good story, a very bad story, and a very neutral story from this issue. It could be worse.

Masked Intentions #1 - This was a slight bit of fresh air, I suppose. Both stories in this were written by Fabian Nicieza; the first one, "First Kiss," had art from Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco, and A. Street. It involved Speedball and Squirrel Girl and was, uh, kind of pointless. I like Speedball and all, but he doesn't really do much of anything, and Squirrel Girl, who's the main focus of the story, plays far, far too hard into the "obsessed teenage girl" archetype that really it's not very interesting. And not too believable either. I picked this up mainly for Speedball, since he's not going to be around too much longer, and his completely secondary role in the entire affair was somewhat disappointing.

The second story, "Last Date," is the breath of fresh air I was referring to. The art's done by Mike Norton, Don Hillstreet, and A. Street on colors again, and as the name of the story implies, it's about the end of a relationship, not the beginning or continuation of one. It's the only story in this entire collection that was both tolerable to read and didn't have a happy ending. The story involves Justice and Firestar, who you may or may not remember from their appearances in something or other (obviously, I fall into the "may not" catagory). Nicieza's writing is much stronger here, and manages to actually capture people acting like people, instead of playing out silly archetypes, like in the previous story. Probably the third best story of the lot, next to Milligan's Doop story and Web of Romance.

All in all, a nice little themed line for the month of February. Some good stuff, some bad stuff, some stuff that was in the middle; I'd either pick it up in collection, or just grab Web of Romance and Masked Intentions if you see the singles lying around. They're good standalone stories that don't require a ton of backreading or future investment to get into, which is more than you can say for your Civil War tie-ins and your Infinite Crisis sprawl.

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