Friday, October 28, 2005

Comics Review: October 28

Kicking off this week's reviews is Young Avengers, with the two-part story "Secret Identities" (issues 7 and 8). Heinberg proves his successful debut was no fluke; having met the Young Avengers in costume over the last six issues, we're now starting to delve into their civilian lives. Heinberg's approach remains carefully balanced: on the one hand, he's only giving us very small glimpses at who these kids really are. On the other hand, revelations come in all sizes: little things like explicit confirmation that Teddy and Billy are boyfriends, and a rather significant exposing of one Young Avenger as a complete fraud. This is precisely why "Young Avengers" has been maintaining reader interest: Heinberg knows he has a winning deck, but he's setting the cards down one at a time. Based on solicitations, it seems we'll be spending an arc delving into each character in turn. But this is no padded, decompressed sales gimmick; "Secret Identities" does, after all, manage to work in an additional subplot where the Young Avengers bust up Mr. Hyde's MGH operation (at no cost to the running character arcs). Things are happening in the present while we're looking into the recent past, and Heinberg is keeping his promise: none of these kids are what they seem to be. Eight issues in, this series has lost none of its charm or energy, and I'm still completely into it.


"Legion of Superheroes" continues with issue 11, and again, there's not much I can say about it that didn't apply last issue. We're still building to the climax of Lemnos' attack on the United Planets; it's still an exciting read, with some very touching moments (ie: Brainiac spending the entire issue standing still, trying to calculate a way to bring the murdered Dream Girl back to life - and failing). I think this is also the very first issue to feature all the main characters in the Legion at once - there's a rather formidable roll call when the issue begins, but Waid has done his job well in prior issues, and you know just enough about every single member to make them distinctive.

There's a backup story in this issue where a Legionnaire is trying to collect scattered issues of DC comics in the rubble of Legion HQ (the idea being that these "historical artifacts" are priceless because they inspired the new heroic movement). There's a nice effect in the artwork where poses and actions seen on various covers play themselves out in a mirror effect (ie: someone points to the sky, cut to a cover of Superman doing the same thing). However, it's a bit more muddled than Waid's usual efforts: the point, at first, seems to be that Elastic Lad is desperate to preserve the past, a valid concept when their future seems so bleak. But when he's confronted with the casualties around him, and those that need his help, he tosses them away with a dismissive "It's just comics". So what is Waid saying here? That the past isn't as important as the present? But if that's the case, why are these people unknowingly acting out scenes from various comics? How can history repeat itself if it's meaningless? And if they are important, why discard them at all?

Still, a slightly off-kilter backup story doesn't compromise what continues to be an excellent saga. I look forward to the next issue.


The Luna Brothers, Joshua and Jonathan, won me over last year with their spectacular debut miniseries, "Ultra: Seven Days". I was specifically blown away by how well they wrote believable female characters, and I certainly count "Ultra" as one of my favorite reads of 2005. So when they announced a new ongoing series at Image, I didn't hesitate. Not even at the grimace-inducing titles, "Girls" (as in, "Hi, I'd like an issue of 'Girls', please... I've got six 'Girls' in my longbox back home..." and so on).

As it turns out, "Girls" is as strong an entry as "Ultra" was, even though the two could not be more different. Whereas the latter was a bit of superheroes mixed with a bit of "Sex and the City", the former is more of a toned-down, quiet mystery. The pace is slow, but not padded; the characters are varied (though some stand out better than others); and the enigmatic Girl at the center of the story is eerie, invoking curiosity without testing the reader's patience.

In issue 6, the Lunas seem to deliver a very convincing explanation of the Girl's origin; whether it's what it appears to be remains to be seen. This revelation sends the town into a panic, but an attempted evacuation goes terribly wrong and the remaining refugees discover they have nowhere to run.

We're currently at a point in the series where plot movement has overtaken characterization for the time being; as such, when we're introduced to new players such as the female Reverend we don't get to know them very much. One flaw the Lunas are trying to overcome here is how to deal with a cast made up of an entire town's population. As I said before, some characters are distinct (protagonist Ethan, the Picketts and Sheriff Wes to name a few) while others are so obscure they're interchangeable (Cole's parents, the various women injured during the prior attack). I think one thing "Girls" could really use is a dramatis personae; all we get in the intro page is a map of Pennystown (the setting of the story), and a list of the citizens and their homes. It's very difficult to match the faces to the names.

That aside, "Girls" still succeeds at building an interesting riddle from the ground up. The first issue wasn't much more than Ethan's problems with his ex-girlfriend, and his encounter with a silent, wounded girl on the road. In six issues, we've had fatalities, hysteria, unexplained events and tangible evidence that something otherworldly is at work. I don't think the Lunas are going to lose me anytime soon. :)


"Vegas: Play To Win" (Amazing Fantasy 13-14) was a pretty disappointing read for me. I've never been one for Karl Kesel's writing, but it had an interesting angle: moving away from the traditional urban, metropolitan trappings of the Marvel Universe, this story concerns a grifter named Vegas who comes to Texas looking to avenge his murdered sister. We quickly learn that Vegas has a vaguely-defined ability to manipulate luck, gained by the same accident that took his sister's life; bullets miraculously miss him, keys to his handcuffs just happen to turn up in his hands, etc. The catch is that Vegas siphons good luck from people around him, so any use of his power results in disaster for someone else (although who it affects, when and why, is left unclear).

Unfortunately, the lack of coherent description isn't limited to Vegas' powers. We don't learn just how his sister Jane was killed, or precisely what happened to give him these abilities. We're given a painfully brief description of how superhumans behave in this environment - no gaudy tights for this bunch - but there's no mention as to whether these people are mutants, aliens, or something else. Vegas' characterization is lacking, with no discernable qualities that could maintain the reader's interest. On top of all that, Kesel only barely scratches the surface in terms of what life in a Marvel Universe version of Texas would be like.

Realistically speaking, it was perhaps optimistic of me to expect a satisfying read out of a two-issue standalone story. But Kesel doesn't take advantage of the space he does have, to the point that he runs out of pages before the story's over. There's no conclusion at all - rather, the issue ends with Vegas reaching the mid-point in his journey following a startling revelation. And... well, that's it. There's a vague promise of a further adventure "if you liked this one" (read: "Buy this comic if you want to know how the story ends"), but I'm not holding my breath. An insufficient ending is just the icing on this bad, bad cake. Better luck next time, "Amazing Fantasy".