For as long as I’ve been a member of my local library (about three years now), it has been free to reserve a book using their online system and I have used that to the full – the library is part of the London borough libraries, so I could get books from all over London even if my own didn’t have it. If you look at the ‘From A Library‘ category, you’ll see the extent to which I have taken advantage of this. However, as of this month, they are charging £1.20 per book to reserve an item online, which isn’t a huge sum but it feels enormous after getting it for free. Therefore, I’ve been cramming in as many books as I could get my hands on before the deadline. Here are a few.
JLA: That Was Now, This Is Then (JLA: Classified #50–54) by Roger Stern & John Byrne
This is some old-school comic books, as if Stern dug up an old script and dusted it off without changing it much. There are narrative captions explaining ‘J’onn J’onzz, the justly famed Martian Manhunter from Mars’ is ‘altering his density … like a ghost’ while the picture shows exactly that. There is ropey dialogue (Wally West: ‘I’m just quick – like a flash! Ha! I made a funny’ [Erm, no, you didn’t]) that feels at least 20 years old; I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be deliberately old-fashioned or not. Byrne’s art, once cutting-edge, is no more and he seems to deliberately reference old comic book art – like the last page of the second issue, with the disembodied faces of league members shocked at seeing Superman knocked down by their foe. Byrne is still a good artist, but his stock bodies and faces peek through more than normal, and the grimaces on his characters’ faces are starting to look ludicrous. He can design a good page but they’ve gone overboard for the last issue, where the two different time frames of the story switch and juxtapose and mirror each other to the point of confusion – it’s ambitious but slightly annoying. They don’t make them like they used to, for a reason.
Red Razors by Mark Millar and Steve Yeowell – so ho-hum, it’s not getting a complete entry. For Millar completists and people who want to see Millar’s development (if you can call it that) and his early obsession with pop culture infusing everything (I’m sure he gets Yeowell to draw one of the characters like Eminem …)
Ultimate X-Men Volume 9: The Tempest (Ultimate X-Men #46–49) by Brian K Vaughan and Brandon Peterson
In his proposal at the back of this collection, Vaughan states that he wanted to make Ultimate Sinister ‘the scariest character in the Ultimate universe’. I’m afraid he didn’t – Sinister is still silly, he just has some defined and dangerous powers. We are led to believe that he hallucinates Apocalypse, who tells him to kill mutants for him, only for the reveal at the end to be that he is supposedly real. Which doesn’t work as well as Vaughan believes. The stories in the Ultimate universe are supposed to be new with no link to the old, but they still feel like minor tweaks on old tales: Storm goes leather and gets a haircut, just like in the 616 universe, but here because Beast died; Dazzler is still whiny and annoying, although she is drunken and tattooed; Northstar is still annoying but at least he is allowed to be openly gay now. This is a small story trying to be bigger – Vaughan wanted to create a good impression so people would read Runaways – but it doesn’t succeed, particularly the anti-climactic last chapter, which has some preachiness thrown in to remind you of the Claremont days. Peterson provides strong art – slick, smooth, dynamic, pretty, although he draws women’s legs too long (there’s a panel of Kitty, in a completely inappropriate bikini for swimming laps in the mansion’s pool, in which her teenage legs appear to be responsible for three-quarters of her body), but the rest of the work is nice superhero comics.
Ultimate Annuals Volume 1 (Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual 1 by Mark Millar and Jae Lee; Ultimate X-Men Annual 1 by Brian K Vaughan and Tom Raney; Ultimate Spider-Man Annual 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Brook; The Ultimates Annual 1 by Mark Millar and Steve Dillon)
Millar provides two annuals in this collection, both of which are supposed to be more substantial than they actually are, and both of which are worth reading for the art. The Fantastic Four story is the Ultimate Inhumans but it’s a bit dull, and it’s only Lee’s stylings that making it interesting to look at. The Ultimates story is a non-story about Nick Fury, to show how bad-ass he is, but as an excuse to examine the behind-the-scenes of the Ultimates world. Dillon’s art is the usual high quality but his superhero work never seems as strong as his non-superhero art. The X-Men story is a very silly story about Rogue and Gambit, with Ultimate Juggernaut attacking them and Gambit sacrificing himself to get Juggernaut, which doesn’t feel remotely like his character, before Rogue kisses him and then absorbs him (like the 616 universe equivalent with Carol Danvers). Raney’s art is okay but but doesn’t have the pizazz of his earlier work. The Spider-Man story makes up for all of this by being a totally adorable and charming story that you wouldn’t believe came from the computer of Bendis. Kitty Pryde and Peter Parker go on a date and start their relationship, with some superhero hijinks along the way, of course. It is quite, quite delightful and leaves you with a great big smile plastered across your face. Brooks isn’t an artist who I’ve seen before but he does a great job here, especially as he draws his teens as actually teens, rather than small adults.
That’s enough to be getting on with. Lots, lots, lots more to follow, so prepare yourself.