NOW! For Something Completely Expected

There was a certain degree of skepticism, if not outright cynicism, I had in reaction to the announcement of Marvel’s “Now!” line. Following on DC’s half-thought New 52 reboot and relaunching several titles (including ones that had started new volumes less than two years ago) gives the impression Marvel didn’t think this through. Couple that with it being yet another status quo change coming off the back of a crossover, and it appears to be business as usual for Marvel.

And that’s because it is.

However, as with the New 52, Now! has piqued my interest enough to check out some of these…er…”new” titles. “So, that’s how they get ya,” and all that. Either writers, artists, or takes on characters that just caught my attention. Surely, amongst them, there must be something worthwhile, for Marvel to have gone through such effort? Least, that’s what one would think.

Uncanny Avengers #1 (Rick Remender, John Cassaday, et al)

New Union is such a puzzling comic. There’s this kind of struggle between the corporate mandate for the book (Avengers and X-Men, teaming up) and Remender and Cassaday’s twin fixations on creepy imagery (Red Skull cutting mutant brains) and grief. The bulk of the thing is devoted to Charles Xavier’s funeral, with the reactions of Wolverine, Havok, and Scarlet Witch playing the central role. It’s a comic at odds with itself, wanting to be the flagship of Marvel’s superhero line while simultaneously deconstructing the general direction of the same over the past decade.

This is all old hat for Remender (and for me, as I mentioned all that here), but I had to re-establish that to point out how weird it is. New Union being the start of Marvel Now! indicates Marvel is still trying to sell itself as edgy. Why, they even make fun of their own recent, stupid crossover by having Havok chastise Cyclops about the whole Phoenix thing! Rather than being charming or subversive, though, it just comes across disingenuous. I mean, Marvel is trying to bill this as a “Revolution,” when all it comes down to is a bunch of guys who were writing their core comics continuing to write those comics. Probably the closest New Union comes to striking the right tone is Cassaday’s image of Wolverine against Xavier’s portrait. Portraying Logan, a character defined by a narrow set of fan-pleasing traits, as a small man against the ideals of the X-Men benefits Uncanny Avengers more than Remender’s often clunky dialogue.

Iron Man #1 (Kieron Gillen, Greg Land, et al)

If Uncanny Avengers is at odds with itself, the latest volume of Iron Man doesn’t even have that going for it. It’s kind of turgid, really. Kieron Gillen and Greg Land make the leap from Uncanny X-Men to this, and bring absolutely nothing to the table. Land is awful, as usual, with his heavy use of photo-referencing giving off Uncanny Valley vibes. Gillen’s script is competent, in that “killing time” fashion, but he ends the issue with Iron Man vowing to track down stolen weapons technology, which he was already doing. There’s not a whole lot to sink into with Demons and Genies. No new hook to Tony Stark, unless you’re excited by the armor’s color change and him shaving his mustache, and the one element that isn’t a plot mechanic–the not-so-bimbo blonde Stark takes out clubbing–is, of course, brushed aside for the plot mechanics. Gillen is capable of doing better (check out Colin Smith’s critique of his final issue of Journey Into Mystery), but seems at a loss with this material.

Deadpool #1 (Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan, Tony Moore, et al)

My colleague Skott Jimenez didn’t really like this, and it does have some groan-inducing moments. On the other hand, Posehn, Duggan, and Moore absolutely know what it is they want to do with this comic. It’s just Deadpool killing stuff and cracking wise while other people regret even getting involved with him. Thor, especially, as he’s quick to point out after a monster battle. To that end, I’d say In Wade We Trust is the most successful of this endeavor. Sure, it’s premise involves “Zombie Presidents trying to destroy America” (oh, haha zzz), but it also leads to Zombie Lincoln going John Wilkes Booth on Deadpool, which is such a perversely funny image.

Thor: God of Thunder #1 (Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, et al)

I won’t be sure for a while, but this might be my favorite thing to come from Marvel Now. I enjoyed Aaron’s Scalped and his Ghost Rider run, and this millenia-spanning premise (with three tales of past, present, and future Thor) sounded pretty good, but I had some doubts. Aaron’s time at Marvel has led to some thoroughly mediocre titles (Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, Wolverine and the X-Men). He’s also become something of a corporate lap dog, throwing a public hissy fit over some perceived slight by Alan Moore after Before Watchmen was announced. I see a correlation, there.

This, on the other hand, is just fine. Infusing a bit of Beowulf and Ridley Scott’s Alien into the high fantasy, quasi-Shakespearean mold of Thor is an inspired choice, which Esad Ribic handles perfectly when Thor visits a city of dead alien gods. Thor’s horror at coming across a completely secular world is unintentionally hilarious, but also a bit revealing of some deep-seeded fear of his own obsolescence (and/or mortality). When he comes face to face with it at issue’s end–alone, broken, and staring down many enemies–it actually gets really close to Walt Simonson greatness. That Aaron and Ribic pull this off without the pretension of the writer at his worst (Wolverine, certain issues of Scalped) makes me a bit more hopeful for God of Thunder.

To be continued…

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