It’s been a while since I had a chance to properly crack into some reviews, so you’re getting a bit of an all-star lineup of books up on the slate this week. First up will be the very talked-about Young Avengers, the not-talked-about-enough Flash, and the talkative Quantum & Woody. I’d be interested to see your thoughts in the comments too, please – what did you think about these comics?
Young Avengers #8
Kieron Gillen (w), Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton (a), Matt Wilson (c), Clayton Cowles (l)
This one’s out today. Despite the unabashed joy this series has given the internet, I’ve found myself enjoying rather than loving each issue. I think it’s working out interestingly as an extended art experiment from Gillen, McKelvie and Cowles in particular, with the sequencing and lettering trying some unusual and new ideas with each issue. At the same time, I think the story hasn’t really kicked off particularly, and as a result the characters have struggled to do anything but go through the motions.
The opening issue was called style > substance, so I can’t help but feel this is intentional.
This is speculative, but I get the feeling that Young Avengers is going to be a book that really truly works once it’s been completed. Every issue has given me the suspicion that Gillen has planned a kicker of an ending which is going to reassemble what the story has been about. Until we hit that point, however, Young Avengers is more about messing around with form and content than it is about telling a story. It feels very loose and real, which works best on an issue like this one, where there are surprises and twists to be had.
I have a bias in this respect, because I’ve read Phonogram, Uncanny X-Men, and Journey Into Mystery. I know Gillen has a way with narratives which organises things best in hindsight, or in a binge-read. I tend to find that nowadays I can’t rest easy on his comics, because I’m expecting there to be a shock down the line. Interesting, that. I think I give him harsher reviews too, because I’ve come to expect a lot from his comics.
At any rate, issue #8 sees the characters jump-kicking their way through a series of alternate universes, chasing after a mysterious villain. As a result, the creative team get to shock and surprise the characters at every turn. For a book which features characters who return to the same motions and characterisation issue after issue, it gives us a chance to see them experience new things and make surprising choices. I feel the very last twist may well be connected to Gillen’s grand plan, but it does take a character way out of their comfort zone and into the present. It’s a welcome jolt for readers.
McKelvie continues to refine his characters and expression. They remain a base from which he pushes his storytelling – they retain the shape and form his characters have always featured, whilst the panelling goes crazy all around them. Since his issue of Secret Avengers in particular, McKelvie has treated each new Marvel comic he draws as a challenge, and continues to show a refreshing inability to rest on his laurels. The storyline he’s playing with here allows him chances to try out some experiments with form, and both he and letterer Clayton Cowles have shown an unerring ability to tell story despite some very off-kilter page layouts.
Young Avengers, for me, continues to be a series which is a little too comfortable with the main characters; and is coasting slightly whilst the creative team mess around and have fun with the way in which they tell the story. With this issue though, I think it’s starting to shake off those cobwebs and move a stronger narrative into place. Keep an eye on it.
The Flash Vol 2: Rogues Revolution
Francis Manapul (w, a), Brian Buccellato (w, c), Marcus To, Ray McCarthy, Scott Kolins, Diogenes Neves, Oclair Albert, Marcio Takara, Wes Craig (a), Ian Herring, Mike Atiyeh, Hi-Fi (c), Wes Abbott, Carlos M. Mangual, Dezi Sienty, Pat Brosseau (l)
DC sent me the second hardcover collection for the New 52 version of The Flash this week, which I was delighted with. Wonder Woman and Batman have been the Justice League members who’ve received the most praise following DC’s reboot, but for my money The Flash is hands-down the best superhero book DC are publishing at the moment.
This second trade collects together issues #9-12 along with the Annual, which tells a series of one-shot villain stories leading to a Flash Vs Rogues finale. The series takes a drastic upturn in quality for any issue where Manapul is the artist as well as writer, and he takes on some of the more important issues here – he’s on three of the six issues here, and storyboards the annual as well. Manapul’s sense of layout is unparalleled here – and I know he’s got tough competition from people like JH Williams II and Jamie McKelvie right now – and builds The Flash into an awe-inspiring spectacle.
I don’t know anything about Wally West, so Barry Allen is my first Flash. And I’m really enjoying him in this series. He’s characterised simply as being a nice person, who works too hard to put other people ahead of himself. To that extent, he spent the first year of the New 52 being DC’s replacement for Superman as the nice-guy hero. Throughout this second volume, it’s made clear that he’s just a person, and his superhuman nature is played-down. Manapul’s layouts emphasise the powers and costume extensively, but most importantly they give the character momentum.
Marcus To handles the other issues here (with the annual being a jam-issue following layouts from Manapul) and manages to replicate the effect of Manapul’s spectacular pages without getting left behind. He suffers somewhat from not having Buccellato as his colourist, however, because the secret of this series is in the colouring. The most striking aspect of any issue Buccellato colours is the way he seems to streak the artwork to emphasise movement – when Flash runs, streaks of thin blocked colour fly in the opposite direction, demonstrating where the character has been and where he is going.
There are no flat backgrounds – when Flash is moving, the background streaks away from him. But when he’s standing still, Buccellato seems to blot the background with ink and wash, creating a sense of peace and rest in the panels. Sometimes he does both, as seen above. The art is the main selling point of this new series.
But the writing is also decent. The biggest problem is that from time to time the characters make decisions solely because it’ll cap an issue, rather than because it feels in-character. The second story here pits Flash against Weather Wizard, and has to rush the ending by having a character suddenly announce their guilt for no particular in-story reason. There are a few cases here of characters behaving as though they’re in a comic, being led around by the story rather than existing within and around the narrative.
At the same time, The Flash himself comes off very well from the series – and this volume in particular. Things end with a #0 issue which tells a story I’d never seen before in superhero comics – Flash has a unique family history and relationship with his parents, as far as I’m aware. It was an affecting issue, one which gave the character a strong foundation which explains and emphasises his need to act the hero.
I’m really enjoying The Flash. It’s probably my favourite New 52 book.
Quantum & Woody #1
James Asmus (w), Tom Fowler (a), Jordie Bellaire (c), Dave Lanphear (l)
This has been out a while, so sorry for taking so long to get round to it. Once more this is a property I came to fresh, having never read the Priest/Bright run outside of a few out-of-context panels floating around the internet. From what I know, this was a buddy-comedy story with two brothers: one of whom is possibly the worst human being alive. On that basis, this relaunch from Valiant stays true to the original — Woody really is THE WORST.
This first issue builds up to the pair gaining their powers, playing with the idea of superhero origins and making a lot of jokes at the expense of the main two characters. Whilst James Asmus is a great choice of writer for the book, firstly I have to point out that Tom Fowler is just an absolutely perfect choice as artist. I’ve just come off reading his Mysterius miniseries with Jeff Parker, and his ability for physical comedy is sensational. Fowler creates semi-caricature in his character models, making Quantum into a perfect alpha-male with stocky shoulders and strong jaw whilst making Woody look like a gawky, half-coordinated mess.
This is actually very restrained though, artistically. Jordie Bellaire’s colours work to make things feel natural and realistic, rather than cartoony and silly – and it adds to the silliness of the issue. The art and colouring go to great lengths to ensure normalcy, which helps really pay off the gags in the dialogue and story. This is an honest real-world scenario… which just happens to feature two colossal berks bickering at each other and causing trouble on every page.
Asmus’ dialogue snaps out wonderfully, a freeflowing game of one-upmanship which never settles down. Whereas The Flash struggles to reconcile the story and dialogue into the page count, and Young Avengers underwrites the characters for effect; here Asmus paces his story so things conclude at exactly the right moment. Every page builds up until we hit a final point where things can’t get any faster or sillier – and that’s when the cliffhanger jumps in. Asmus’ experience as a comedy writer makes him an ideal choice to tell jokes – but his previous work in comics also means that he doesn’t skimp on story for gags.
It’s a brisk, fast paced opening issue, and looks like another success for Valiant. A brilliantly entertaining first issue.