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A Little Pile of Marvel Comics, 2001-2004
posted November 15, 2004

My friend Jordan Raphael recently sent me a pile of Marvel comic books in the mail, without a note, as if I had requested them of him. He never told me why he passed along the gift, but I thought I'd provide brief reviews. I don't know why, except perhaps there's really nothing sadder than a capsule review of a comic that's two years old and the holiday season is all about sadness. Also, because I wasn't reading these in the context of whatever they meant in Marvel's ongoing drama of properly pleasing or discouraging twenty-something smart people, I'd possibly have a fresh insight or two. Okay, I don't really believe that, either.

imageTitle: Captain America #8
Creators: John Ney Reiber, Chuck Austen, Trevor Hairsine, Danny Miki
Publishing Info: Marvel, $2.99, 2002

The only thing I liked in this issue is a set piece where Captain America bumps a small-arms LAW-type missile with his shield. I liked it because it looks absolutely hilarious, which I don't think is the authors' intent. Capain America jumping his chain-mail ass in the air to bump that rocket reads like a moment in a role-playing game where a bunch of middle school kids have to explain the results of a strange dice roll.

The rest of the plot, which is about Captain America tracking down a secret agent acquaintance, is filled with a billion tedious details. It's nearly impossible to invest any of the muttered half-truths or hinted-at shadowy agendas with any meaning whatsoever. As far as required comic book assbeatings go, Captain America whoops on some dorky-looking guy in a fight that has all the drama of Arnold Schwarzeneggar beating that ridiculous pudgy guy in the mesh shirt at the end of Commando. When he gets in trouble and the reader is temporarily fooled into believing some sort of clever trick will be required to get Cap out of his predicament, he's rescued in an off-hand manner by some goofball we readers have just met. This comic is good if its intent was to irritate people.

imageTitle: Captain America #20
Creators: Dave Gibbons, Lee Weeks, Tom Palmer
Publishing Info: Marvel, $2.99, 2004

This sounds better, but it's actually worse. Captain America is spending time in an alternate universe where the Nazis won World War II. Every major character from 1960s Marvel comics is now a supporting character in a bad Jerry O'Connell movie. I guess this is the sort of comic where we're supposed to thrill at the alternate version of Stingray or whatever, but mostly you just end up thinking things like "Sweet Christmas, Luke Cage; lose the yellow shirt if you want to fight Nazis." Shouldn't this whole planet have been consumed by Galactus?

At one point, the Invisible Girl sets comic book plotting back fifty years by seducing a few guards, the kind of thing Abbott and Costello movies used to make fun of. A few pages later, a climactic plot point is predicated on the ability of man with a robot arm and a reddish skull for a head to quietly snake his way through the crowd unnoticed. The average child's soccer game is better choreographed than the final fight, which ends with Captain America laying one sloppy tackle on his arch foe.

How bad were the previous comics that this was a refreshing change of pace?

imageTitle: Elektra #1
Creators: Brian Michael Bendis, Chuck Austen
Publishing Info: Marvel, $3.50, 2001

Elektra made for a pretty good villain for a couple of issues of Daredevil back in the day: she wasn't just an old girlfriend; she was an old girlfriend whose life had taken a really ugly turn. This allowed Frank Miller to deal with a favorite issue of his at the time, how superheroes and, as a result, all of us, can be in no position to help certain people no matter how much we'd like to. Then she died; but that worked, too, because in proper pro wrestling fashion she gave a "rub," or increased credibility, to the Bullseye character.

Except for Elektra: Asassasin, where she was played for cruel laughs, I've been bored by the Elektra character ever since. This was never more true than in that goofy Daredevil movie, where Jennifer Garner flipped her weapons around in a controlled pattern as if she had made a completely awful choice of talent routine in a beauty pageant. This issue goes with Elektra as total, reality-bending badass and plays it for a much less crazy kind of humor than Miller and Siekiewicz did 20 years ago. Lots of talking, none of it memorable.

imageTitle: The Invincible Iron Man #68
Creators: Robin Laws, Michael Ryan
Publishing Info: Marvel, $2.99, 2003

In this issue, Iron Man runs around like a fugitive and by issue's end takes the fight to his enemy, who looks like he graduated from Generic Kung-Fu Guy University. The art is fairly ordinary and the plot moves much too quickly. A more effective writer could have put suave pussy-hound Tony Stark through the paces over several issues, tightening he screws as he went. When the writer fails to make the alarming and very convenient overlap of forces conspiring against his lead feel, you know, like an overwhelming series of obstacles, he greatly reduces the level of tension and makes potentially severe stakes into some routine plot movement in a forgettable comic book. I don't think I'd care to hear how the story turned out if women with whom I went to high school offered to read it to me while naked.

imageTitle: Elektra #30
Creators: Rob Rodi, Will Conrad, Sandu Florea
Publishing Info: Marvel, $2.99, 2004

Rob Rodi is one of the finest writers to ever put sarcasm to paper in The Comics Journal, and I've enjoyed the one or two of his mainstream comics works I've run across as competently written pulp. This I found extremely boring; the outcome of this issue, as much as there is one, is never really in doubt, and nothing about the way the plot progresses keeps me hooked going from A to B. The art is standard competent Marvel dullness. I'd provide more descriptive words, but I'm not sure they're applicable. Modern comics 101.

imageTitle: Elektra #33
Creators: Rob Rodi, Steven Cummings, Sandu Florea
Publishing Info: Marvel $2.99 2004

I can barely even remember this and I just read it. I think it was about Elektra putting the hit on a guy who is scared to death of her because of the way she mercilessly killed people around him in a previous encounter. Yes, that was it, all right. He's so darn dull, though; there are walk-on characters on The Sopranos with more personality, and that show hardly offers an unattainable gold standard when it comes to distinctive character work. In the end, Mob Guy becomes not quite as scared because Elektra has some sort of flu and passes out at a convenient moment. I'm going to assume it works out for Elektra in the next issue.

imageTitle: Terra Obscura #1
Creators: Alan Moore, Peter Hogan, Yanick Paquette, Karl Story, Jeromy Cox, Todd Klein
Publishing Info: DC/Wildstorm, $2.95, 2003

Wow, I have no idea what's going on here. I'm so baffled I don't even realize this isn't a Marvel comic.

This seems like a basic superhero false-utopia story where one of the characters looks to end up questioning the underlying cost of and agents behind that restrictive peace. It's not horrible, but pretty much you have be Alan Moore to find those tiny switches to throw that keeps this kind of thing from becoming a walk through heavy, wet snow to a postal box where all you get out of it is a pile of junk mail. You know? Following Moore's choices when he was doing really out there, expansive work is one thing; working in his style when he was admittedly doing straight-ahead standard stuff garners you pages of pretty standard stuff leavened by the occasional conceptual weirdness. This reads like an ill-advised extra season of a television show when the original producer has moved on.