Let us turn now to the Marvel Universe. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything there, which meant that I had a moderately huge backlog of graphic novels to read. And by “moderately huge” in this case, I actually mean: Forty-three.
Fortunately, Marvel’s recent obsession with crossovers ends up putting chronological milestones up everywhere, so I can say that the books I’m talking about are all in the post-Secret Invasion but pre-Siege world. Dark Reign is the main “crossover” that happens in this time, but it’s less of a plot event crossover and more of a thematic one. (Short summary: Norman Osborn, who is evil, takes over as head of national security, and starts doing evil things, so that heroes are forced to become explicitly anti-authoritarian more than usual.)
The thematic thing ends up working, even if it does feel a bit too reprisey of Civil War. I’m given to understand that, post-Siege, Marvel is going to do this big “Heroic Age” thing where they make everyone all bright and happy and uncomplicatedly heroic again, and frankly that seems like a fine change of pace from the spate of dark semi-realism that’s been all over these titles since Civil War. But for now, the dark semi-realism is also good.
So anyway, I’ve read a bunch of titles in this time period, and rather than even try to pretend to talk about each and every volume separately, I’m just going to talk about the titles individually. All of the individual volumes are listed in the Archive page, though — it will have been a major pain for me to type them in, but I know (from my experience this time) I have to do that if I’m ever going to have any idea where to pick up reading next time.
Okay, so! It turns out that the effort of typing them in actually caused me like a three month delay in finishing this damn entry, with the result that I only have the loosest idea of what I thought of anything. That seems perhaps counter-productive? I think I need an easier way to booklog.
Anyway, let’s start off with The Amazing Spider-Man, which is written by a whole bunch of different writers (the ones I listed on the archive page are the “showrunners,” but there are issues by other writers here as well), which leads to a bit of unevenness — but, surprisingly, less than you’d think. It’s clear that this is Marvel’s star title in many ways, and as a result it gets good writers; so even if a lot of people have their hand in the mix, they’re talented hands.
Or maybe they’re not, how would I know? Because it turns out that I have like zero critical distance from Spider-Man. I grew up on the title and love the characters, so as long as it’s not horrid, I’m there.
Next up is The Avengerses, specifically those of the Mighty, Dark, and New varieties. If Spider-Man is Marvel’s biggest title, then the Avengers titles are maybe the most important — because they’re mostly written by Brian Bendis, which means that they drive all the plot of the whole Marvel Universe. Even Norman Osborn, who’s the leading villain of the Dark Reign time period and should be Spider-Man’s enemy, is almost more important in the Avengers titles. (And, okay, Spider-Man is an Avenger, but you know what I mean.)
So anyway, if you want to know what those adjectives are around the Avengers, “New” is Bendis’ regular all-star team, the one that he clearly loves writing. “Dark” is a temporary team of pseudo-Avengers who are actually villains working for Norman Osborn — it ties in with the Thunderbolts stuff, which I’ll have more to say about in a minute. “Mighty” is a little different, because it’s Dan Slott, and even though it features some classic Avenger characters — Hank Pym, Clint Barton, and even some people who were never Giant Man — he’s basically playing it for laughs. Since Slott is a talented comedic writer, this is highly successful.
And speaking of successfully comedic, there’s also Greg Pak’s The Incredible Hercules . Pak’s Hercules is mythically comedic in a way that really could only work in superhero comics; it’s practically a demonstration of the glorious syncretism of the Marvel Universe, and highly recommended.
And shifting tonal gears, there’s Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors , a series focusing on Nick Fury, no longer employed by SHIELD, but still secretly pulling a lot of strings. The series is an enjoyable spy caper thing where nothing is what it seems... except that things aren’t what they seem maybe one too many times. Once you pull back a layer, and then pull back another layer, and then pull back another layer, things start getting a bit confusing. Which, considering we’re already talking about a secret history of SHIELD, means that it ends up being one of those X-Files-like messes that gets caught in its own continuity, and can’t do anything other than take it all seriously even as the audience is lost. But it’s not yet to X-Files levels of absurd over-mythologizing, and maybe it’ll avoid that fate in the end.
Next up is Thunderbolts, a team of villains pretending to be heroes. This starts off good, with one more installment from Warren Ellis, but then he gets replaced by back-benchers, plus Bendis steals most of the characters to form his Dark Avengers, so it’s B-team characters, too. Except that, given the original characters were already kind of the B-team, C-team characters. Meh. I’m done with this series, I reckon.
But Thunderbolts did have one positive thing — they had a crossover with Deadpool, who I ended up liking enough as a character to buy four volumes os graphic novels starring him. They turn out to be pretty good. The comedic antihero thing is basically the same vein that Dan Slott mined in his Ant-Man run, but I think Daniel Way actually does a better job of it here, by making Deadpool so phenomenally stupid that his greed and venality seem less calculatedly conniving and more just childish and forgivable. If I have a criticism of these books, it’s that they’re not quite as funny as they want to be (I think Slott is still a sharper writer overall), but hey.
Next is Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man . Iron Man is a great character who’s almost always had a mediocre comic book. Fraction’s run isn’t changing that around at all. Dull. And relatedly, there’s Greg Pak’s War Machine . Pak is a good writer, and he does a good job here, but he’s writing in that hard-edged gritty style that I find so tedious. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll probably really like this; I found it merely okay.
Next up: Thor, where we see the end of Straczynski’s run and the beginning of Kieron Gillen’s. Like Hercules, this is plenty mythy; unlike Hercules, it takes itself very seriously, all angsty ‘n’ shit. Which I guess makes sense, considering that Ragnarok apparently happened recently and all, but even so makes it a bit dull. I gather that the upcoming (to my reading; it already happened in real life) Siege crossover is based on some Thor/Loki stuff, so this will probably become important, but if it weren’t for that, eminently skippable.
Also skippable: Avengers: The Initiative, which is just irrelevant bullshit about third-rate, dull characters. Dark Reign: Sinister Spider-Man, which is an unnecessary side story to the Dark Avengers stuff. And Dark Reign: The List, which is one of those collections of stories that are either in, or belong in, the regular volumes starring individual heroes.
And that is everything, and yay.