NOW! For Something Completely Expected 2

Continuing on with some Marvel Now stuff, I’ve got Captain America, the Hulk, and a comic even Marvel won’t gouge your wallet over.

Captain America #1 (Rick Remender, John Romita, Jr., et al)

There’s a good solid middle of the first issue of Captain America Now! that is an enjoyable comic. It’s sandwiched between a stupid prologue involving domestic violence (which I somehow forgot to mention in my review over here, likely due to coming off food poisoning when I was finishing it) and a freaky scene where Arnim Zola essentially tortures Captain America with a bloodmobile. I’ll admit, I found the latter not terrible–I’m a horror guy, and not above seeing that mixed in with superhero comics if done well–but it’s the combined presence of the two that soured the book for me.That, and Remender lifts the Teen Apocalypse plot he’s currently writing in Uncanny X-Force and files off the serial numbers to make it Cap specific.

It doesn’t help that the comic is a loose collection of events, rather than a story being told (as too many superhero comics are these days). Any chance of a guiding theme in the whole thing slips away time and again. Cap’s apprehension about marriage (and all that presumably comes with it), the thing that could have tied the comic together, is just ignored in favor of being loud, subpar pulp.

Indestructible Hulk #1 (Mark Waid, Lenil Francis Yu, et al)

It’s kind of amusing that Mark Waid saw the Iron Man/Hulk buddy relationship of the Avengers movie and decided “Screw that, I’m making them rivals!” Banner has a seething contempt for Stark here, and his entire motivation for joining SHIELD seems to be, “I’m tired of trying to fix myself, so let me be a genius inventor instead, show him up, and I’ll smash stuff for you.” Lenil Yu’s art style is slightly improved from where it was when he was drawing Brian Bendis’ Avengers run, but it’s never going to match what Paolo Rivera did on Waid’s Daredevil. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair in that comparison, as Rivera (along with Marcos Martin) got to visually redefine Daredevil’s core power–his radar sense–whereas the Hulk doesn’t have that same capacity.

Still, you compare the first issue of Paolo Rivera’s Daredevil with Lenil Yu’s Indestructible Hulk, and the differences are more striking: Rivera doesn’t just draw pretty pictures, but ones full of movement, clarity, and, above all, expression. His characters show more emotional range than Yu’s two facial expressions of grim determination and smug smirks. They smile, they grimace, they show fear, concern, and even sadness.

Yu, on the other hand, makes sterile choices when it comes to style. He’s like Zack Snyder, mimicking technique but not understanding it. Yu doesn’t know why people would draw characters breaking through panels or what repetition of imagery is supposed to convey (such as the ticking clock of this issue), but he knows people think it’s cool, so he does it. At times, it’s readable in the passing sense–just don’t think about the layout–but at others it’s as impenetrable as his Secret Invasion work (Hulk’s rampage against the Mad Thinker is an eyesore). Couple that with his limited, Gears of War emotional palette, and it’s just an ugly comic.

FF #1 (Matt Fraction, Mike Allred, Laura Allred, et al)

If the Now line is just going to lurch its way into existence, like damn near everything else Marvel does, I’m much happier to see it look like FF than Uncanny Avengers. The whole comic is spent introducing characters in a deliberate, structured way that manages to be sleek and appealing. Secondary characters (Val and Franklin Richards, Dragon Man, and others) are given six-panel grids to introduce themselves, before we cut to a Fantastic Four member finding their replacement. Except for perpetually horny Johnny Storm, in the comic’s funniest scene. The appeal comes down to the Allreds and their Pop Art touch: Ant-Man flashes back to his daughter’s death in a panel that rips through the page; Medusa’s hair forms a heart around the image of her husband Black Bolt, Franklin makes faces at Val when she’s not looking, that sort of thing. Hell, Mike Allred’s expressive figures are the opposite of Lenil Yu’s static faces and lazy style. Fraction lacks the focus he did in Hawkeye (which brought a stripped-down, stage production quality to the cape comic), but he does keep that series’ balance of humor and heart. When Ant-Man breaks the chorus of “I’m in” with a “Nnnnnnnno,” as if screeching the plot to a halt, it’s chuckle-worthy while at the same time establishing empathy for his plight. Who would want to babysit a bunch of other people’s’ kids after losing their own, right? It’s the emotional core of the book, even if it’s glossed over by the commercial one.

On that note, time for a filibuster!:

Over the last year or so, a large number of Marvel’s titles–particularly the $3.99 ones–have come with a “Free Digital Copy Offer” on the inside of the book. Marvel Now’s launch has been no different. In fact, most of the comics, up until this week or last, have been $3.99 and with a digital code. Here’s the rub: FF #1 is the first one (I’ve seen) with a cover price of $2.99, and it doesn’t come with a digital code. Both Captain America and Indestructible Hulk, along with all the previous Marvel Now comics I’ve touched on) were a dollar more (with the same page count), yet offering “free” downloads.

Really, this is old news, as Marvel’s been doing this since they rolled out their digital plan, but the lack of reporting on this, particularly from the CBRs and the Newsaramas of the comics press, speaks volumes.

(Maybe) To Be Continued…

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