Noise to Signal

Login disabled.

Alternate Cover - 11th October 2006

Alternate Cover

Ordinarily, I'd pad a week of comics this sparse out with something a little more interesting, but after last week's 13-issue slog, I decided to give myself a break. Sad part is, if I'd planned ahead, I could have reviews some of last week's now, but I got caught up in the marathonesque nature of reviewing so much in one go. Ah well. This week we've got a Greg Pak double-bill with Incredible Hulk #99 and Phoenix: Warsong #2, and a JMS single-bill with Fantastic Four #540.

Fantastic Four #540

Fantastic Four #540

Publisher Marvel • Writer J. Michael Straczynski • Artist Mike McKone

At some point in the relationship between reader and comic, you have to sit down and agree that things just aren't really working. The more I read comics by JMS, the more I think he's a terrible writer on every level. Now, one of us has the career in writing, and one of us just does it for fun because he's not yet good enough to get a career, so what do I know?

Well, to coin a phrase, I know what I like. This emphatically is not it. My biggest issue with JMS, even more so than his dialogue (which I find atrocious) is his horrible characterisation of everyone. They're consistent, yet, but they're consistently a bunch of complete dicks. Iron Man and Reed Richards, far from being the sympathetic leaders of the Pro-Registration crowd, torn between obeying the law and their morals, are simply coming across as unreasonably brainless government stooges. In this issue, Reed Richards wrestles with self-doubt and tries to make sense of having his wife leave him over this. Or rather, that's what he's supposed to be doing. In execution, it's the most tedious version of him I've ever read, utterly devoid of any heart. Not unlike JMS' version of the Thing, perhaps, or even Spider-Jerk (see what I did there?) as written by JMS.

McKone's artwork is suitable subdued and moody, but with the material he's got it's a testament to his ability that he alone managed to keep me interested in reading the issue. Stories about wacky uncles and communist witchhunts as justification for Reed's position are so artificial it makes my eyes hurt from rolling. This is a guy who stole a rocket off his own government because he felt like it, not even because it was morally right, he just really wanted to. Seeing him written like this is, in my opinion, nothing short of ridiculously out of character.

Incredible Hulk #99

Incredible Hulk #99

Publisher Marvel • Writer Greg Pak • Artist Aaron Lopestri

Well, after a downer like that, you can imagine how glad I was to find a new issue of Hulk waiting to be read. I was initially sceptical of Marvel's heavy promotion of Pak - Phoenix Endsong was great, but his output prior to that was patchy at best. Those days are over. Planet Hulk has taken one of Marvel's classic characters and reinvigorated it in a way that would've previously seemed impossible. I love the character, but there's only so much I can take. With PAD gone from the title again, and years of mediocrity behind it, I was on the verge of dropping this comic. Planet Hulk has moved it gradually but surely back to the top of my reading pile.

In this issue, Hulk finally ends his rampage across the land with his warbound clan of gladiators in tow, when he realises that far from freedom being and end in itself, it leaves him available to fight for a cause. The Hero/Villain duality of the character is being thematically brought to the forefront, as we wonder whether he is indeed the Saviour of these people, or the mythical Worldbreaker, destined to destroy them.

There are some powerful images in this issue. It feels a little like Pak's not-so-subtle commentary on recent world events, but on the other hand, it has a timeless quality to it, not least because of the sci-fi medieval setting. As a lead in to the next arc and issue #100, you couldn't ask for a better conclusion to the Anarchy arc.

Phoenix: Warsong #2

Phoenix: Warsong #2

Publisher Marvel • Writer Greg Pak • Artist Tyler Kirkham

And here's Pak again! The second issue of the miniseries clearly sets out the direction. It's perhaps not what we might've expected, either. Following up on ideas introduced at the very tail end of Morrison's legendary run was a trick Pak used in Endsong. Unlike almost any other writers and editors to do so, one gets the impression Pak has actually read and understood NXM. What we're treated to is indeed, as predicted, the first real starring role for Emma's quintet-turned-triplet of telepathic teenagers, the Stepford Cuckoos, and a return to Weapon Plus.

Morrison's final arc referred to these characters in such a way as to imply they were part of the Weapon Plus program, as the collective "Weapon XIV" - this is the first time we're getting that information in-continuity, rather than from an alternate future. Because it builds on the New X-Men ideas and more importantly, does so while respecting them, you can damn well believe I'm interested in where this is going.

Structurally, it's going at a nice pace, and the plot has its fair share of twists already. It's far from being Morrison-lite, which could be a concern, Pak keeps the ideas original while making the characters his own. Kirkham's art is the only weak point of the book. Top Cow artists are, without trying to be harsh, at their best when doing two things: T and/or A. In a book like Pak's, which requires subtle yet clear storytelling, concentrating on Emma's outsized lips and breasts shouldn't take precedence, which is the unfortunate feeling I'm getting. Even those who hated him on Endsong will probably find themselves wishing Land was back for the sequel.

About this entry