Noise to Signal

Login disabled.

Alternate Cover - 16th August 2006

Alternate Cover

Another Marvel-centric column as we look at Civil War's latest tie-ins with Front Line #5 and Ms. Marvel #6, we look at the Ultimate Spider-Man Annual, featuring Mark Brooks, the man most likely to succeed Mark Bagley, and we take a peek at the latest chapter of Planet Hulk to see if anything changed since the last review.

Civil War: Front Line #5

Civil War: Front Line #5

Publisher Marvel • Writer Paul Jenkins • Artists Various

With Marvel's Civil War titles pushed back so much, it's a damn shame that this week's seem to have lost steam, because they're likely to be drying up slightly over the next couple of weeks. In this issue, Ben Urich gets fired (again?) and Sally Floyd gets taken in by the government. Both pretty big events in themselves, but lest we forget, as Mark Millar reminded us recently - this is an anthology title. Those plot points are barely raised before the brakes are hit.

Stepping into the gap that leaves is the latest episode in Speedball's never-ending punishment for a crime he didn't really commit. After failing to accept a plea bargain, he's suffled off to Guantanam...I mean, The Negative Zone, without much in the way of due process. One wonders if this prison is being used entirely for renegade heroes because god damn is it large, and seems to be receiving way more traffic than would be possible.

It's an odd tale, this Speedball one. On the one hand, I have no sympathy for a protaganist who refuses to accept that attacking, unprovoked, a powerful group of villains for a TV show of all things was irresponsible and, yes, illegal, especially in light of the tragedy it caused. On the other hand, you've got a government that's trampling all over him in a way that makes the Nazis look like relatively lenient chaps. The marketing slogan for Civil War asks "Whose side are you on?" - The answer in this story is a definite "No-one's."

Lacklustre use of speedball not withstanding, there's a third story where Wonder Man is recruited, or rather, *blackmailed* into tracking down the Atlantean agent seen in previous issues. Similar to before, it's hard to care for anyone because Wonder-Man himself is Pro-Reg and fails to notice that the people he's supporting as the moral choice are the ones blackmailing him, and the government themselves come across like unreasonable pigs (so at least something's realistic.) As if that wasn't bad enough, there's yet another of the awful Civil War-meets-History Lesson shorts where painfully uncomfortably parallels are drawn between the events of the crossover and actual history. So far they've all been dire at best and tasteless at worst, and this one isn't breaking the format any.

The quality of Front Line jumps up and down worse than the Star Trek movies. On occasion it's been the best part of the crossover, but in issues like this, when three quarters of it is approaching the level of dross, you wonder why the series needs to take so long.

Incredible Hulk #97

Incredible Hulk #97

Publisher Marvel • Writer Greg Pak • Artist Aaron Lopresti

The comparisons to Conan are probably getting tedious about now, but this is quite possibly the greatest Conan story I never read. Hulk's band of warriors, having escaped from slavery and left a trail of defeated enemies and freed slaves in their travels across the planet, find themselves turning the fighting inward, as Miek undergoes a transformation (quite literally - he pupates) from youngling warrior to leader of his people as a result of his experiences, and then instantly turns on former mentor, the Hulk.

It's a great twist and totally fitting with the epic nature of the story. It's been an incredibly strange departure from the Hulk Vs. Army cat & mouse games that've been a tired staple of the title for all too-long, but it works like you wouldn't believe. Okay, it's not always the best quality work and it's never going to be Watchmen, but in years to come people will look back at this and remember that it was a fun story and it did a lot of new things with the character. It's a legend in the making, and something I suspect writers will draw on for inspiration and material for a long time yet.

With Planet Hulk's year, and the current storyline ("Anarchy") at the mid-point, it's perhaps a little late to jump into the title. Even so, when the collection comes out, it's going to make a hell of a read. As a monthly it's perhaps a little slow, but collected, I suspect it's going to read much better. Keep it in mind for then.

Ms. Marvel #6

Ms. Marvel #6

Publisher Marvel • Writer Brian Reed • Artist Roberto De La Torre

Ms. Marvel manages to do for Civil War something that seemed utterly impossible before I read this issue. Does it make the Pro-Registration side look like something other than brainwashed facists? Of course not, let's try to keep things at least vaguely realistic. No, in fact it actually makes the focus-group pleaser and public relations coup that is spunky latina heroine Arana into a half-readable character. Just about.

However, far more interesting than her or the half-successful attempts that writer Brian Reed makes at putting over the Pro-Registration issue in a logical way, is the use of former Spider-Woman II, Julia Carpenter, now using the name Arachne. She appears as a hero working undercover with the government, while actually opposing the registration act. Just as House of M brought Ms. Marvel back into the spotlight, Civil War is bringing back a variety of characters not seen for a long time, and the use of them here really underscores the richness of the Marvel's shared universe, while giving fanboys like me a nostalgia trip.

Arachne's appearance in this title is probably an excessively good idea, really, as I suddenly have a character to root for. While Carol does seem to be seeing the rather, er, heavy-handed approach the government is taking as slightly over the top, she nonetheless doesn't feel the need to openly oppose it. It's in-character, of course, since she is ex-military, but it's still a little grating.

It's the title's first misfire so far. To be honest, it's not even the fault of the writer, more of the crossover itself. I'm happy enough with it for now, but after looking forward to the Civil War tie-in, I'm finding myself a little disappointed by the execution, and now I'm just hoping it doesn't take too long because this issue aside, Ms. Marvel has consistently been one of my favourite new titles.

Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #2

Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #2

Publisher Marvel • Writer Brian Bendis • Artist Mark Brooks

By christ, it's all going horribly right for Ultimate Spider-Man. I didn't expect to like this latest annual at all, for two very large reasons. The first reason is that it's a sequel to "Warriors" - a story arc from the parent title that was nothing more than a giant fight scene with about 6 new Ultimate versions of unpopular Marvel heroes showing up. The second reason is that it's not a sequel to the previous year's annual, which saw Kitty and Peter getting together as a couple. That story was an instant classic in the eyes of spider-fans everywhere, and the response to that was so great they brought back Brooks for another annual, failing to realise that as much as he's a great artist, what really made the annual popular was the story itself.

Of course, both of those reasons were rendered null and void by the comic, which openly embraced them both and yet remained a fun read. Frankly, it goes at the pace that the original arc should've. In theory, it's not much different from it - essentially Daredevil, Moon Knight and the Punisher show up for a big fight with the Kingpin and Spider-Man's caught in the middle. In execution, however, it's got the speed and clarity that was missing from that arc.

The only real downer is the token death of corrupt police chief Jean DeWolff, who seems to have died almost before she was properly introduced, mainly because she was killed off in the regular Marvel Universe. It's another situation where Bendis' character choices tend to be just going through the motions, and the end result of the story is nothing but lost opportunities.

Mark Brooks, however, turns in some faultless work. With Bagley's announced departure suddenly mere issues away, no-one has been better groomed to take the reins to the title, and he's got two annuals of amazing quality to prove he's made for it. He's got to be the favourite at this point, and I'd look forward to seeing him turn out work like this every month.

About this entry