Time for another graphic novel roundup, I reckon:
- Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, vol. 6 is, you’ll be shocked to learn, the sixth hardcover collection (which contains the 11th and 12th paperback collections) of the continuing adventures of the rebooted Peter Parker. The thing starts off with an alternate version of Carnage, which I can’t compare to the version in the regular books, because I quit reading comics before he appeared; on its own terms, it felt a bit too much like a Venom reprise, with a very been-there done-that feeling. The second part contains a very, very weird story where Spider-Man trades bodies with Wolverine for no good reason. You can tell that everyone involved is embarrassed by this story, because they’re even writing little apologetic introductions. Did somebody lose a drunken bet? Perhaps! The book finishes up with a surprisingly good Human Torch crossover issue, which neatly turns on its head the relationship Spider-Man and the Torch have in the regular comics; and a vaguely lame meet-up with Dr. Strange, whom I hadn’t even realized had been Ultimatized yet. Overall, it’s just more pretty decent superhero comic stuff. If you’ve been reading up to this point, there’s no reason to stop.
- James Sturm’s Unstable Molecules has an interesting premise: It pretends that the Fantastic Four were based on real people in the real world, and tells their stories. It strikes me as being very likely to appeal to people who are grasping for mainstream respectability — it’s got a post-modern twist with the faux-historical angle, it’s got psychological stuff, it’s got all sorts of commentary on the pre-feminist suburbs and Beatniks and such, and it’s got no tawdry superheroes mucking everything up. For my own part, though, I found it vaguely irritating. The premise is contrived, the psychological stuff is more cliched than not, the suckiness of old-school housewife life is obvious enough already, and the absence of superheroes is a bloody pity. Plus, it just feels like obvious and transparent award-bait, which grates at me.
- Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways vol. 4: True Believers continues the story of teenage quasi-superheroes, now with their big origin story arc all finished up. Enh. It’s okay and all, but it’s really just another super-group, only teenage style. Based on the manga-format size of the book, and the youthful protagonists, I expect that Marvel is trying to pick up a non-superhero-book reading audience, but if so, this is very much not the way to do it, since it’s laden with intertwinings to the big ol’ Marvel Universe.
- Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, vol. 2: Dangerous pretty much continues with the style set in the first volume. He’s writing a very traditional superhero story that happens to be very well done. Brilliant dialogue, tight plotting (this seems like it’d be one of the few modern comics that wouldn’t be actively painful to read in pamphlet form), a good mix of comedy and drama, and just general goodness. Whedon the comic book writer isn’t the super genius that Whedon the DVD writer is, but he’s nevertheless pretty damn good. Highly recommended for all fans of traditional superhero comics.