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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Comics thoughts for the week of 2/27/13

Unlike last week that completely DC front-loaded, I came away with more balance this time around, picking up three DC, three Marvel, and two Image. A much more sensible (and cheaper) week on the whole. This week's spotlight issue choice was a bit of a struggle, as I mused about two possibilities in which this article could go.

One of these possibilities was Batman Inc #8, certainly the more popular option and something that I want to focus on eventually as I think Grant Morrison's Batman run has been utterly spectacular, blowing away even the lauded Snyder run for the most part. But, I recognize that next week, barring any surprises I'll be focusing on Morrison's Action Comics run that is coming to a close, and even more so I'll be writing at length about the end of Batman, Inc in a few months once all the dominos fall into place for that series (and his tenure) as well.

With that said, let's take a look at this week's spotlight comic(s), as always spoilers are a go!

FF #4
w - Matt Fraction, a - Mike Allred, Laura Allred

Hawkeye #8
w - Matt Fraction, a - David Aja, Annie Wu, Matt Hollingsworth

I'm gonna level with you folks, until Marvel Now began, I hated Matt Fraction's writing. I tried my hand at his work on Iron Man and I found it bland, stiff and uninteresting. I also found that run problematic in that it was beholden to cross-overs at a time when Marvel seemingly had one every six months. This was followed up by Fraction's own work on the completely incoherent Fear Itself event, which might be the worst crossover I've read since the mid 90's (the nadir of summer events, DC's gorgeous Final Night excepted). To be fair, I hadn't yet read his run on Iron Fist, which is generally considered his best work for Marvel until recently.

I was turned onto Hawkeye by some friends of mine, which was already getting critical raves at the time, with one simple gimmick: it has recommended listening for each issue. I was instantly intrigued enough to pick up the first two issues and from the opening line: "this is what he does when he's not being an Avenger" I knew this was going to be a fun ride of a comic. Everything about the book is so unlike anything you see in a mainstream comic today, most specifically its sense of humor. What's terrific about Hawkeye is its ability to allow for anyone to jump on at anytime via its standalone nature. Each issue tells a complete story and little background is required beyond knowing that Hawkeye is an Avenger and he's quite a good archer. The series quickly joined Wonder Woman, Batman and Action Comics at the top of my "must read" pile.

After Hawkeye, Fraction was given the keys to the kingdom for the Fantastic Four corner of the Marvel Universe. The Fantastic Four (and the FF title), having just come off its most epic run in years via writer Jonathan Hickman, was assigned to Fraction. I again, via my ever cynical nature, rolled my eyes. Sure, he can do fun, off the wall stuff like Hawkeye, but can he do straight-forward super-heroics? Well, to no surprise, Fantastic Four is pretty rote. Yet, the FF (Future Foundation) title in which Fraction is teamed with brilliant artist Mike Allred, plays in a similar sandbox to Hawkeye. With a sixties Marvel era vibe and a healthy dose of mad-cap humor. Fraction is able to take the completely otherworldy giant concepts introduced by Hickman and take them in the next logical step, complete intimacy.

This week, both of his issues focus around the concept of love, as a sort of late Valentine's Day celebration for the characters. In Hawkeye, Clint is reunited with his one-night stand from a few issues back named "Cherry", who ropes him into stealing a safe from the same group of tracksuited thugs that he's been dealing with all series. Needless to say, Clint gets stuck in a situation that "looks bad", as his opening narration always states. Over in FF, after some initial dialogue amongst the team regarding the on-going arc in its first few pages, the rest of the issue is dedicated to She-Hulk meeting up with her ex-boyfriend Wyatt Wingfoot (talk about a sixties comic-book name!), and the little Moloids, who are secretly in love with her, employing Bentley-23 to ruin their date to failed results.

Between both issues, the romance influence is at its heaviest in Hawkeye, which between plot beats has employed artist Annie Wu to draw romance comic book covers between pages. Not only do these "covers" give a sense of tone for the story as it chugs along, but they also play a role within the plot itself as they are the comics that "Cherry" left at Clint's home who numbers detail the combination for the safe her goal is to steal. While the second half of the issue kicks up the very seventies-esque action movie camera movements that have hallmarked the series so far, the romance elements still creep up, as when Clint is punching out another "Tracksuit Dracula" and states: "there's gotta be another way to tell my girlfriend the thought of a serious relationship makes me nervous". FF on the other hand, plays a bit more like a wacky cartoon, maybe one of those episodes where someone keeps trying to interfere with Bugs Bunny's date but it just keeps going wrong. When Bentley tries to hypnotize a waiter to ruin Wyatt's and She-Hulk's dinner, the waiter ends up comp-ing their meals. When Bentley tries to raise a horror from beneath the ocean depths to distract them from their date, it just ends up providing pink mood lighting. Everything he and the Moloids do just keeps drawing them closer and closer together.

Both titles end in fairly ominous ways, acting as another connecting tissue. In Hawkeye, we bear witness to a gathering held by the seemingly always present in NYC crime-matters The Kingpin. Within this conclave are basically all the crime bosses that Clint has foiled in the past 8 issues with them all agreeing that they must pool their resources and go directly after him. The final words "You dead now, bro. You dead now" does not bode well for Clint. Then again, the more of these tracksuit guys I can get, the happier I'll be, as I find them utterly hilarious. FF also ends on a strange note, with Bentley bummed about his inability to be malevolent (keep in mind, he's the young clone of a long time Fantastic Four villain), and Medusa (an FF member) stating that she will help Bentley achieve his destiny. Curiouser and curiouser....

Taken together, both FF and Hawkeye were wonderful back to back reads and show that when paired with a fantastic artist that understands his sensibilities, Fraction can indeed be one of the best writers in comics. It's a shame about Fantastic Four...

Both titles get an A grade this week, as they're fun and infectious reads.

One sentence reviews:

Prophet #34 - Finally, the major conflict is taking shape, I can't wait to see New Father John Prophet take on Old Man Prophet, but who will do the art? A

Young Avengers #2 - Beautiful art yet again, but not much story momentum as it only focused on three characters this week. B

Justice League Dark #17 - I'm already bored of this storyline and this just felt like one issue too many. C+

Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #4 - Gorgeous Adam Hughes art, I also really bought into the perspective gimmick, very well planned out; it joins Minutemen, Silk Spectre, Comedian, and Rorschach as the most enjoyable mini-series of the event. A (it also has the first "After Watchmen" scene we've gotten).

Batman, Incorporated #8 - A very good issue with a foreboding tone, since certain websites couldn't keep their yaps shut; my favorite scene being the interaction between Dick and Damien. A

I also picked up Comeback #4, but as I plan to go back and re-read the whole mini-series in one sitting I shall withhold my thoughts at this time.
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  1. That 15-panel scene from Hawkeye, which you included, was probably my favorite scene of the issue.

    I'm casually picking up Young Avengers mostly for the art, but I might just stay on if only for Kid Loki. Other than Kate, I don't quite have a handle on the other characters' personalities yet, so that may be why I'm just sort of indifferent to these first two issues.

    And remind me to lend you my Iron Fist Omnibus when you want to read more Fraction & Aja (and Brubaker) collaborations!

    1. Surprise, surprise, I actually own all three trades. I just haven't had a chance to really dig into them. This shall be rectified though.


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