Sunday, October 23, 2005

Comics Review: October 23

Another short one this week: just the debut of Keith Giffen's Marvel series, "Nick Fury's Howling Commandos". This week also saw the conclusion of Ed Brubaker's "Authority: Revolution" miniseries, but I'm saving that for an upcoming retrospective on the series, from Ellis' Stormwatch to today.

So... "Nick Fury's Howling Commandos". I had hopes for this series based on its premise: SHIELD, premier spy organization of the Marvel Universe, has assembled a commando squad comprised entirely of monsters. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, mummies, it's all fair game. Their job is basically to go where SHIELD can't (or won't) send human operatives and wreak carnage. The underlying idea is that these monsters are somehow more expendable than human beings, at least where Nick Fury is concerned. It's a disturbing notion that Giffen points to, but doesn't really discuss at any length.

October has been declared "Marvel Monster Month", another one of those dreadful navel-excavating stunts where Marvel talks up some random, not-particularly-well-written projects, and then utterly abandons them a week later. They then mourn the need for premature cancellation, blamings fans who'd never even heard of said projects for low sales and lower interest.

Of course, this is a perfect demonstration of Marvel's inability to think beyond the short term: granted that assorted one-shots will probably, at the very least, recoup printing costs, but series like "Howling Commandos" bear the onus of carrying the themes once the fad (and the hype) is gone. It didn't work for Tsunami, it didn't work for the Young Guns initiative, and it didn't work for Marvel Next. So, all things considered, it's very unlikely Giffen will make it to issue 12, much less go further than that.

How does the issue itself stack up? Not very well, sadly. The story begins with this "monster squad" - comprised of new character Warwolf, Nina Price (Vampire by Night, from "Amazing Fantasy"), a clone of Frankenstein's monster (no, I don't get it either), a mummy, a zombie and a talking ape (apparently the latter three are all established Marvel characters) - infiltrating and attacking a terrorist cell. This sequence is very muddled, due in part to the artwork and in part to a lack of narrative focus which has the plot bouncing all over the place. Following their victory, the Howling Commandos are airlifted out of the region by a dragon who looks a lot like Fin Fang Foom, but apparently is not (it's also unclear whether they hitch a ride in his mouth or whether his stomach has been hollowed out).

Half an issue later, Nick Fury places Clay Quartermain in charge of the squad, and gives painfully brief descriptions of the characters. Apparently Giffen is counting on you to recognize these characters on sight; given their age, that strikes me as a touch too optimistic. And then someone called Merlin escapes from a warehouse. The end.

As introductory issues go, it doesn't quite get the job done. I came away from it utterly disinterested, and to be fair to Giffen, it's not so much that his writing is bad, it just lacks any hook. I didn't really see anything that compelled me to come back for a second issue, and I wouldn't recommend anyone else do the same.