From A Library: Various Trade Paperbacks

I have been enjoying the delights of the library’s reservation system and reading an odd selection of comic books in trade paperback form. The notes I made on each didn’t quite gel into full discussions about them, but I wanted to collect them in one space together, so here they are.

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Super-villain Team-up: MODOK’s 11

Issues 1–5 by Fred Van Lente and Francis Portela

I saw this on the shelf in the library and I had to read it because it’s such a good idea: MODOK gets a bunch of supervillains together for a heist, with all the double and triple crossing you would expect, and a lovely twist in the end. Van Lente brings a clear and fun approach to the writing of a fun little book – there are some great jokes and he keeps the twisty plot clear and well explained throughout. The art is very nice – Portela has a similar style to Andrea DiVito in places, with good facial expressions, good choreography, clear panel transitions and a nice style. This is a good little story – and there is even a hint of a Watchmen reference, specifically to Jon Osterman when he returns as Doctor Manhattan, with the humanised Living laser. But the best aspect is the humour: ‘All hail MODOK!’ ‘Yes! All hail me!’

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Counter X Volume 1

X-Force #102–109 Plot by Warren Ellis, script by Ian Edginton, art by Whilce Portacio (#107 by Ariel Olivetti, #109 by Enrique Breccia)

I do enjoy the work of Warren Ellis but I can’t enjoy everything does: case in point, is the Counter X work. Ellis was given the reins of three titles – X-Man, X-Force and Generation X – and he plotted their direction, leaving the scripting to Steven Grant, Edginton and Brian Wood respectively. They were probably dense notes but, as can be seen from this collection, it doesn’t spark – the stories read like someone doing an impersonation of Ellis. The plots are typical Ellis: government stuff goes bad, San Francisco is turned into a centre of mutation, there is a killer with the mutant gene for murder, there is an alien thing that is a very silly MacGuffin. Each issue feels fleeting and insubstantial, with Edginton providing Ellis-like dialogue that borders on the silly. Things are made worse by the art from Portacio – I have an undeserving soft spot for his art from his days on X-Factor, even though I know he is a technically poor artist: he can’t maintain likenesses, very odd camera choices, a seeming inability to draw backgrounds (leaving them white instead) and drawing the ugliest and oddest faces around. Tabitha comes off worst, looking like a drag queen at times; Warpath’s body size changes from panel to panel, ending up impossibly wide on some pages; Sam seems to age from issue to issue, and Portacio can’t even keep Sam’s beard shape on the same page. There are some pages, particularly in the action scenes, where you can’t even tell what exactly is going on. It’s really quite bad – it makes you wish that Olivetti provided more than just the fill-in issue. I can see why this series didn’t do so well.

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Green Lantern: No Fear

Green Lantern #1–6 and Secret Files and Origins 2005 by Geoff Johns, Carlos Pacheco, Ethan van Sciver, Darwyn Cooke and Simone Bianchi

Having read and enjoyed the reintroduction of Hal Jordan to the DC universe as a Green Lantern, I thought I’d try the continuing series to see where it goes from there. The book isn’t helped by the inability of one artist to stick around for the job – even though Pacheco, Sciver and Bianchi are excellent artists in their own right, their styles jar with each quite drastically, making for an uneven visual feel for the book. It also appears that Johns seems to work better with a complete story than on the serial material – too many balls in the air trying to set up new plots leaves less focus on the main storyline itself.

After the recap of the origin from the Secret Files book, illustrated by Cooke in his very appropriate for the story style, this sees Hal go back to being a test pilot (where his new competition is a woman) and back to Coast City, where he ends up fighting a Manhunter with a Power Battery in its head, the Air Force is rebuilding Abin Sur’s ship, he visits Hector Hammon in jail, fights a super-evolved shark and the Black Hand. This is a lot but it still feels uneven and unfocussed.

As mentioned, the artists do good jobs – Pacheco’s work is beautiful, soft, classical; Sciver is detailed, content-rich panel; Bianchi is ethereal, painterly, otherworldly – but it makes for a chaotic trade paperback as you jar from one to the next. The other aspect that is unsettling is the violence – the evolved shark has a man’s head and arm clearly in his mouth, in Sciver’s detailed artwork: why is this necessary? I think we got the point that he’d been eaten when he disappeared under water and the blood appeared … This isn’t awful comics by any means, but it doesn’t make me want to read any more issues of the continuing series, so it can’t be considered a success.

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