Howdy! I hope your various holiday celebrations were as safe, fun, and sober as our 48-hour New Year’s Eve decoupage-a-thon was, a gala event that afforded us the opportunity to confer softly about nozzle control on the new ‘07 crackle-paint spray-can models while raising money to have the church rectory renamed so that those little youth group snots in the back row won’t laugh their filthy-minded heads off every spring when we announce that it needs to be scrubbed.
Our family visits were remarkably pleasant and low-key, with most of the time given over to eating, sighing, and watching football, and almost none to waking up in terror that I might not have hidden my car keys thoroughly enough. I was going to write a comics post at the end of the week, but I see that new comics day is going to be a big one this week, plus a day late, so I thought I’d take moment and look back at a few recent comics that particularly filled me with joy.
Fantastic Four 541. It doesn’t seem likely, does it? A lot of words come to mind when I think of the phrase “Civil War Crossover,” but “joy” isn’t one of them. I gave Straczynski’s FF a once-over a while back and found it not much to my liking, and Straczynski used up most of my goodwill—not just toward him, but toward all humanity—in his lazy “Sins Past” storyline over in Amazing Spider-Man. But I picked this up because I was interested to see what sort of lead-in he’d provide new writer Dwayne McDuffie, who will be shaking up the roster a bit. It’s time-honored FF tradition that always leads to interesting, if not necessarily great, stories.
This issue actually gives very little of that set-up. Instead, it’s a light-comedy solo Thing adventure, no longer in abundance after the demise of Dan Slott’s short-lived The Thing series, and its tone couldn’t be more at odds—thankfully!—with the grim, over-serious cover. The story finds the Thing, who can’t quite choose a side in the ongoing registration kerfuffle, opting for exile in France, where he is recruited by a band of thinly veiled DC-hero analogues who need his help to defeat a Gallic Mole Man.
It’s still kind of a mess. The DCU copycats conceit feels tired and pointless (although I do like The Cowboy) , and Straczynski way overplays the Thing’s initial reaction to the pleasantly old-school nature of the threat. Still, it’s fun to see him go into battle against some European moloids and a lovelorn villainous tunnel-dweller, and penciller Mike McKone does a swell job at rendering both the action scenes and the lighter comedic moments.
Dr. Strange: The Oath 1-3. Hey! I like this series! I might as well have said “Hey! I’m literate!” This is quite a surprise for me, though—not that I’m literate, but that I’m enjoying a Dr. Strange series. I generally avoid Marvel’s magic- or Asgard-related titles because the writing is usually fraught with what I like to call deus ex MacGuffina. But Bryan K. Vaughan has gotten around all that in this mini-series by playing the story as a kind Indiana-Jones-meets-Sherlock-Holmes swashbuckling detective adventure, with just a hint of Hepburn-and-Tracy in the banter between Strange and new, hopefully long-term, supporting cast member Night Nurse. The stakes are high—and, rare for a Dr. Strange story, intelligible—but Vaughan’s deft touch with characterization and humor keeps his tale from being dragged down by the mopey angst that plagues the Dr. Strange canon. For all your Dr. Strange needs, check out Neilalien.
Agents of Atlas 1-5. In which Jeff Parker runs a clinic on dealing with comic book history. In fact, navigating and narrating comic book history—a topic of some interest to us here—seems to be one of the meta-themes of this mini-series, though Parker’s ultimate statement, if there is one, won’t become clear until the final issue hits the stands. But it’s got to be significant that the first issue ends with the surprising revival of Jimmy Woo—a revival that can best be described as an in-story continuity reboot. And surely it’s important that the foundation for the rebooted Jimmy has nothing to do with any essence or fundamental Woo-ness; instead, the youthful, vigorous Jimmy that emerges is based on one character’s memories of how he should be—a fanboy’s dream, yes, to have his favorite version of a character become the “real” character?
But regardless of all that, let’s not forget that this is a comic chronicling the adventures of a g-man, a gorilla-man, a spaceman, a killer robot, a goddess, and a mer-woman. These characters—and their nemesis, the Chinese mastermind known as the Yellow Claw (or, as he understandably prefers, the Golden Claw) are from the cusp of the Marvel Age, not quite belonging to the monsters-and-romance Marvel of the 50s or the superheroic Marvel of the 60s. In updating them for a modern context, Parker weaves nimbly between potholes aplenty, neither wallowing in nostalgia nor grittifying them beyond recognition. His revisions and retcons add layers of complexity without invalidating previously published stories, and they do that without adhering too slavishly to past continuity. Easily the best series published by the Big Two last year. And it would have been even if every page of every issue were just a variation on the panel included here.
Firestorm the Nuclear Man 32. I’m sad that it’s the last issue for writer Stuart Moore, himself a master at weaving together continuity and contemporaneity, but I’m delighted by this:
Oh, and Jamal Igle should draw as many of DC’s superhero books as he possibly can.