WHAT? A COMPANY-WIDE COMIC CROSS-OVER THAT DOESN’T SUCK?
“I’m coming, Elizabeth!”
Marvel’s Shadowland Comic Book Cross-over has just begun and trusted critics are already divided on whether the whole shebang sucks balls or is OK… So I thought this might be a great time to talk about a company-wide Comic Cross-over that actually DID work– even if the event did occur LAST YEAR!
I went into Dark Reign like I have every other Marvel or DC cross-over in the past 7 years… With a big sigh and lots of regret. Regret for spending all the money I did on all those useless Trades & Hardcovers (see Marvel’s Secret Invasion or DC’s Final Crisis)… And regret for spending all that time reading them too– especially when I could have been doing something better like fixing the internet… or surfing for Batman Porn.
But here’s another luxury of “Waiting for the Hardcovers or Trade Paperbacks”: Like any other empty entertainment non-event, fans can usually tell very quickly whether they think something sucks or not (see Shadowland again). So if I have 20 trades sitting in front of me that cover a wide range of overblown hyped suckitude… I can quickly read through the books– rather than have to wait months for the story to play out in floppy release.
The point of this post is Marvel’s Dark Reign did NOT suck! Really it didn’t. I don’t know if this was just a fluke (one good company cross-over in 8 years sorta proves it is) or worked because of careful planning– but someone at Marvel really stepped up to the plate by hiring some heavy hitters to write a lot of the ancillary supporting titles that surrounded the main books.
And no, I’m not talking about iffy writers” like Brian Bendis or Mark Millar or Jeph Loeb… I am talking about good writers like: Paul Cornell, Jeff Parker, Greg Pak and even Fred Van Lente. The art was so-so in some of these titles but at least the rough stuff was an unusual cut above a lot of the crap that passes for pencils and inks in some of these “throwaway”– barely related– crossover books.
I haven’t even finished reading all the trades and hardcovers yet and I have come across so many that rocked (and since I am almost a year behind the new comic releases already)… I figured now was as good a time as any to throw in some compact reviews:
Biggest surprise so far: the Dark Reign: The Underside GN.
The “Lethal Legion” story by Frank Tieri was surprisingly fun. Art was rough. (SLIGHT SPOILER AHEAD) But the “Zodiac” story, written by Joe Casey with art by Nathan Fox, is killer stuff. First off, Fox’s art looks like something you’d see in a cool indie book– it is almost the antithesis of the Marvel “style”… And that’s a good thing. That Fox was given this assignment is both nice & unexpected. Secondly, it was a great– but brutal– story. Contains several PRIME EXAMPLES of Marvel’s lack of continuity though: The Human Torch gets beaten so badly by Zodiac, he requires multiple stitches to his face… Yet is completely healed by the end of the story? Huh?
Forgetting Johnny Storm’s ridiculously rapid healing abilities… Were his horrible facial lacerations even mentioned in any other Dark Reign book? (Again, I’ve not read them all yet, so I don’t know. Yes somehow I doubt it.) You think SOMEBODY would’ve said something about Johnny’s over-the-top assault– especially since Zodiac razed an entire hospital attempting to kill Johnny, Sue and Ben! As much as I hate unbelievable shit like this that pulls me screaming out of a story– I’m gonna let it slide because the Zodiac tale was so very smartly done otherwise.
But Marvel… Seriously! The normally handsome Mr. Storm had what looked like over 70 stitches in his face at one point… But he was back to his old self in a week?
MORE SURPRISINGLY GOOD DARK REIGN READS
Dark Reign: Sinister Spider-Man written by Brian Reed with art by Chris Bachalo. I’m not a huge fan of the overtly cartoon style that permeates Bachalo’s work now… But Brian Reed has written a GREAT script for Chris’ current style. The book plays like a wacky Hollywood slapstick comedy. Brian’s absurd caricatures meld perfectly with Bachalo’s wacky art –making for a very entertaining read. The cover of issue #5 (used on the back cover of the trade) is a drawing of a HUGE Venom/Spider-Man munching on the Empire State Building (with a big fat belly). This piece was almost worth the price of the whole book by itself.
When Dark Reign: The Hood surfaced at the top of my read pile, I thought, “Never liked the Hood that much. This might be OK. Maybe.” Then I realized the script was written by near-genius JEFF PARKER and my whole attitude shifted.
This is the BEST Hood story written SO FAR, BY FAR. And Kyle Hotz art (he was the artist on the first Hood HC) was great too. Nice to see Kyle working on a book in the “real” Marvel U again (instead of Marvel MAX titles like Man-Thing… Although those were fun too.)
In all seriousness, Marvel Comics & Brian K. Vaughn owe a GREAT DEBT to Jeff Parker… Because Parker took a cardboard character and made the Hood a THREE dimensional, believable PERSON (NOT just a villain) for the very first time (at least for me).
Dark Reign: Young Avengers written by Paul Cornell. Hands down, also the BEST Young Avengers book since the original stuff (which I believe gets an Ultimate Collection reprinting from Marvel this week- 7/14/10). Paul hits all the right high and lows with this script– with good art from Mark Brooks. I did, however, want to shoot the colorists for some really outrageous 80′s-style over-shading (their use of the brown/maroon palette was gravely serious sometimes). But I quickly got over it because of the depth embedded in Cornell’s snappy tale. Marvel was acting really shortsighted when they allowed Cornell to slip through the cracks and sign an exclusive contract with DC Comics.
Which brings me to the SECOND MOST SURPRISING book in the lot: Dark Reign: Skull Kill Krew.
I honestly do NOT know what possessed me to buy this. I remember reading the original Grant Morrison / Mark Millar trade years ago. “Reading” is a term used loosely here because I had to put the earlier book down and STOP READING it halfway through… The Morrison/Millar concoction was that much of a joyless experience for me.
So when this title hit the top of the stack I thought, “Here’s the book that stops the insanity of me actually liking these Dark Reign ancillary books.”
Boy, was I WRONG! I mean, what the hell? I was CERTAIN I wasn’t going to like this book and now I was sitting here REALLY LIKING this book. MILD SPOILER WARNING: The whole absurdity revolving around the Skrull Cows was hilarious. But the book was so much more than that. It actually justified the existence of the Skrull Kill Krew– which I never believed would happen. You could tell that Adam Felber was having a great time writing the thing… And it is HE that should be writing a NORMAN OSBORN comic… Nobody else. Felber’s portrayal of Osborn was mean, funny and heartless simultaneously in virtually EVERY panel… Think a GREAT portrayal of the Joker WITHOUT the makeup. The art by Mark Robinson and Rob Disalvo was the only thing I questioned. NOT because it sucked — because it didn’t. But the artists’ styles are VERY different… So to have 3 issues drawn by one artist– then an issue drawn by another penciler– then back to the first guy… was all a little jarring. But that was a MINOR problem– as Felber took Morrison and Millar to SCHOOL with his writing on this series.
How fucking weird. Marvel “cross-over titles” that DIDN’T suck. I have been pleasantly surprised and would recommend ALL these books– if for very different reasons.
Unfortunately, it looks like there are a couple more on the pile that could still screw this hot streak up. Now I wish I had read Dark Reign: Skrull Kill Krew LAST… As Dark Reign: War Machine Volume 2 is next and it looks determined to slap all the joy outta me.