Wolverine #1 and She-Hulk #1

Wolverine 2014 #1 Cover

By Paul Cornell, Ryan Stegman, Mark Morales, David Curiel, Cory Petit, Ryan Stegman, Edgar Delgado, Frankie Johnson.

Wolverine created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Romita Sr.

The premise to the new Wolverine series is found within recent events were Logan looses his fabulous healing factor. Now that he’s mortal, he decides to compensate for the loss by making certain adjustments. None of them are particularly compelling on their own, or add up to an interesting new direction. On the contrary, they’re actually a bit of a regression.

The new “Rogue Logan” joins a team of superpowered mercenaries working for a crime boss called The Offer. Apparently his power is he can make offers that almost no one can refuse, which in Logan’s case is getting to old foe Sabertooth. He also starts wearing body armor that, as drawn by Ryan Stegman, looks a lot like his traditional outfit but can supposably withstand a nuclear blast. Now that’s a convenient substitute.

Wolverine 2014 #1

This is a really slick-looking comic, thanks mainly to the lavish coloring of David Curiel. But there’s something a little goofy about Stegman’s figures. Logan in particular looks like a more cartoony version of himself, and when everyone runs, they float a few inches above the floor like they’re Loony Tunes characters.

All the changes to Logan are mostly superficial. As one of the more opportunistic characters of the Marvel Universe, his employment by a crime boss isn’t that strange, especially if he’s doing it for the aforementioned reasons. The most controversial alteration is that Logan begins to pack heat. This is the kind of decision that raises the ire of many fans. And we’re led to understand that this marks an important development in Wolverine’s personality. But Logan’s a trained killer with a long and bloody career, as he himself points out within the pages of this issue. So for now, the move from claws to bullets is more style than substance.

She Hulk 2014 #1 Cover

By Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, Muntsa Vicente, Clayton Cowles, Kevin Wada.

She-Hulk created by Stan Lee and John Buscema.

No one likes lawyers in fiction, unless they’re the type who aids the cause of the little guy against The Man. In this case, the lawyer is obviously Jennifer Walters, the little guy is a harried widow, and The Man is none other than Marvel’s most famous 1%ter, Tony Stark.

Similar to the premise of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s well-received Hawkeye series, this latest She-Hulk relaunch focuses on the lead character’s life when she’s not playing superhero. For her, that usually means practicing law. Good thing then that real-world attorney Charles Soule is penning the title. Artist Javier Pulido supplies more suitably down-to-earth visuals, complemented by the flat color renderings of Muntsa Vicente. I particularly enjoy how Jennifer stands out as a very conspicuous, tall, emerald figure in a crowd.

Jennifer starts out working for a cushy law firm before quitting and agreeing to represent said widow against Tony. The tone is consistently light with the humor targeted squarely at the legal profession. Jennifer’s former employers are so emotionally disconnected they can only talk to her using a robotic, condescending voice when reviewing her work. And then there’s the runaround Tony’s council gives to Jennifer. Simply calling himself “Legal”, he’s the embodiment of the ruthless legal shark you’d expect to be retained by a wealthy technocrat/industrialist. Legal speaks entirely in legalese. As drawn by Pulido, he’s a slight, bow-tied man who delivers his lengthy arguments in perfect deadpan while hiding his face behind thick shades. He’s an intimidating opponent, and even Jennifer realizes that it would make more sense to exploit her personal connection to Tony than try to win against Legal in court.

She Hulk 2014 #1

This issue will be a disappointment to those hoping for the usual superhero shenanigans. The only slugfest takes place off-panel, and Pulido’s style doesn’t exactly make Jennifer the Amazonian figure most hardcore fans have come to expect from most representations. But She-Hulk has always been a little unconventional that way, and Soule demonstrates a solid grasp of his subject.


Ragnarok is Upon Us

Thor #272-278  by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, et al.
From Thor: Ragnarok, originally published as Thor #272-278
by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, et al.
So claims the Jorvik Viking Festival (via Lauren Davis)

I for once will not argue with a bunch of axe-weilding viking warriors. Those are some hardcore cosplayers.


Ms. Marvel #1

Ms. Marvel #1 by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna, Sara Pichelli, Justin Ponsor, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Jamie McKelvie
By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna, Sara Pichelli, Justin Ponsor, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Jamie McKelvie

Kamala Khan created by Sana Amanat, G. Willow Wilson, and Adrian Alphona

Both Marvel and DC’s superhero titles have become a little more homogeneous as of late, conforming to each publisher’s respective “house style”. Blame it on how DC’s “New 52” and Marvel’s “NOW!” re-branding efforts are striving for more synergy between their comic book lines with their various cross-media adaptations. But having to orchestrate increasingly grandiose “event” stories is par for the course for the Big Two. And besides, they need to keep coming-up with new material for their long list of intellectual properties, lest some opportunistic competitor swoop in and claim the valuable trademark. Which is why a lot of these brands have been around in one form or another for more than half a century. Take the comic being reviewed here. When Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel, was repositioned to claim the recently abandoned title of Captain Marvel, someone else had to take over her former codename. And so the character of Kamala Khan was created for that very purpose. But while the economic motives behind her invention are hardly progressive, Kamala herself marks a significant departure. Conceived as a Pakistani-American teenage girl, she’s an obvious stab at diversity within a fantasy universe so desperately in need of anyone who isn’t white, male, straight, and created before the twenty-first century. Kamala came in on a wave of considerable media attention and goodwill. But given concerns about whether a series starring such a non-traditional character would succeed, Ms. Marvel #1 needed to be good. Really good. In my opinion, the series is off to a very promising start, as it manages to avoid feeling like the average Marvel comic for reasons that are more than skin deep.

Superficially, Kamala resembles Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, as they’re both struggling adolescents. Or at least that’s how he started out. As a comics fan, I grew up on Spider-Man. But even I know that Peter, like the X-Men, Hulk, and other baby-boomer heroes, is a creation born in another era. He was a lone teenage nerd raised within the bland uniformity of his Post-War surroundings, bearing the relentless persecution of his small-minded peers, and fighting to protect the people who feared and hated him. It’s a claustrophobic setup full of extremes, and after several decades the soul-crushing consequences of its unending labor are mirrored by the gloomy tenor now flowing through Marvel and DC. By comparison, Kamala lives in a more complex milieu of shifting, contradictory identities. She’s a geek who posts Avengers fanfic on the Web for consumption by other geeks. Kamala’s a second generation immigrant and a Muslim-American who wants to participate in all the popular youthful activities. Concomitantly, she clashes with family members who are far less enamoured with mainstream American culture: chiefly a religious-conservative brother and her more moderate parents. Kamala may inveigh against a parochial society that doesn’t get her like most teenagers are wont to do, but she has friends who share her incongruity. And the people who torment her do so more out of cluelessness than the usual mean girl cruelty. The underlying archetypes may be familiar to any Spider-Man fan, but they're refashioned to be more modern. I dare say that while still remaining true to the universal awkwardness of adolescence, this makes Kamala a lot more relatable to a huge swath of younger readers.

Ms. Marvel #1 by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna, Sara Pichelli, Justin Ponsor, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Jamie McKelvie

More significantly, Kamala doesn’t come across as a well-meaning token needed to fill some self-enforced quota. A lot of multinational superhero casts tend to have members with shorthand “ethnic” characteristics: exotic looks, a funny accent, catchphrase, or strange mannerisms. For example, the Japanese guy is a samurai/martial artist who wields a katana. Or the Native American wears feathers and posses vaguely shamanistic abilities. As the lead of her own series, Kamala seems to come from an authentically different place, and not from the usual Anglo-American perspective. She has her own internal life. Kamala's precocious, inquisitive, rebellious, and impetuous. And for once, she actually looks like a normal teenage girl, which in itself is a triumph in superhero comics. Much of the credit for such a carefully crafted creation has to go to editor Sana Amanat and writer G. Willow Wilson. Wilson has managed to convert Amanat’s own experiences growing up as a Muslim-American to good effect. This dialogue-heavy issue is atypically naturalistic and character-driven for a superhero comic, punctuated by amusing conversations often revolving around the immigrant experience rather than melodramatic confrontations between heroes and villains.

This portrait is rounded out by artist Adrian Alphona and colorist Ian Herring. I’ve already mentioned that Kamala looks like a real teenager. But the whole book is convincingly populated by a lot of normal-looking youthful characters all individually distinguishable by their body type, facial expressions and fashions. The delicate line-work is further accentuated by a soft warm glow that makes this comic look very different from most of Marvel’s current superhero titles. The tone is probably closer to young adult fantasy than the superhero genre even though this is supposed to be an origin tale. Superheroes barely make an appearance. When they do, they show up in a few “imaginary” scenes. The first is in hilarious fan art that teams-up the Avengers with a My Little Pony facsimile. And in the issue’s climax, Kamala experiences a remarkable vision of her idol Carol Danvers that is simultaneously quixotic, fannish, and intensely mystical. It’s a nice way to encapsulate the things in Kamala’s life that are tugging her in different directions.

Ms. Marvel #1 by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna, Sara Pichelli, Justin Ponsor, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Jamie McKelvie

The first issue is measuredly paced to be the opening act to a larger story, so it’s a little premature to declare the new Ms. Marvel an unqualified success. The problem of course is that the Big Two have a terrible track record when it comes to sustaining any series headlined by new or minority characters. They often fail to market titles clearly meant to reach a new audience. And as long as Kamala Khan is technically a denizen of the Marvel Universe, the fact is that the series is subject to the kind of corporate mandates that could diminish her unique qualities, watering her down to better fit in with the rest of that universe. Or worse, she could be killed-off or replaced by another Ms. Marvel if judged a commercial failure. That would be a shame because this is an audacious launch executed by an accomplished creative team possessing tremendous potential.


Space Dandy (Ep. 1-5)

Space Dandy

The weakest parts of Space Dandy are the boob jokes. That’s unfortunate, because the show leads with the titular character ranting about being more of a butt man than a breast man, then makes a beeline for the intergalactic version of Hooters, appropriately called “Boobies.” Sadly, thats not the only monologue within the pilot episode that could be described as rambling and stupid. But viewers who stick with it are rewarded with a monster-fighting action sequence that is remarkably well-staged, especially for a television series. Already five episodes in, its almost feature-film production values have hardly wavered. And that’s an impressive achievement.

There were a lot of unrealistic expectations heaped upon Space Dandy because its director Shinichiro Watanabe also worked on the acclaimed Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. All three series are about a small band of drifters surviving from paycheck to paycheck performing the most odd and dangerous jobs. That’s were the similarity ends. Unlike those earlier efforts, Space Dandy is aggressively upbeat. Not to mention light on continuity. The cast actually dies in the pilot episode, and things don’t get any easier for them from there. But this is an affectionate parody of those classic swashbuckling space adventures, so killing his cast, only to resurrect them in the next episode is just all part of the gag. Space Dandy the protagonist is a doofus, not to mention a sexist jerk. And that’s the point. It’s not a particularly profound point to make, but does it have to be? As the show itself exhorts, “Go with the flow, baby.”

And Space Dandy is a candy-colored visual treat. This is not the dystopian or post-apocalyptic future that currently pervades much of today’s sci-fi. The show's setting is a bit closer to yesteryear's shining world of tomorrow. It glides from one gorgeously-drawn set piece to the next. And there are almost always a bevy of aliens crowding the background, as if it’s constantly trying to outdo the cantina scene from Star Wars. To call it world-building would be way too generous, but there is plenty of stuff to marvel at - the endless variety of space ramen being consumed, a futuristic version of Twitter, Hawaiian-themed mecha, hideous transmogrifying monsters, or a hospital infested by space zombies. Every episode satirizes/pays homage to one particular theme (Episode five recalls Cowboy Bebop), and the one important plot point that carries over is a running gag about a villain who is hounding the oblivious Dandy for us yet unexplained reasons. The writing for this narrative structure is naturally uneven, but there haven’t been any horrible episodes yet. And Space Dandy can even be clever, such as when it subverts itself during the zombie episode.

Animax is currently airing the english language dub, which I don’t feel the need to complain about. I’ve gotten a lot less snooty about the whole dub vs. sub issue after years of reading poorly worded and overly-literal fansubs and scanlations. In this particular case, the anime’s producers have been targeting the foreign market from the very beginning, and they’ve done a better than average job matching the voice quality to the carefree tone of the series. So unless they’re trying to disguise the fact that Space Dandy is a serious existential drama in Japan, I’m down with that.