Book Of The Week – FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT #1
As an event, FEAR ITSELF has manifested into several reflections of Marvel’s current editorial strategies. It has sought to insert mumblings about current social trends and climates to feel as if it is in “the world outside your window” – or rather, to make a plot simple enough for a wrestling match sound more weighted. It has focused on Thor and Steve Rogers, two characters who, surprise, get films from Marvel Studios this summer. After a year of HEROIC AGE, the tone of the Marvel Universe as a whole is back to panic and bleakness, which has usually been what Marvel has utilized for stories since about 2004-2005. The main FEAR ITSELF mini series is strictly obligatory reading, and while the first spin off, FEAR ITSELF: THE HOME FRONT has been interesting, it is hardly a base hit thus far. This second spin off mini series, however, finally hits one into the outfield. Sean McKeever and artist Mike Norton, the team who launched GRAVITY in 2006, reunite here to follow the stories of the younger Marvel heroes in this epic struggle. While AVENGERS ACADEMY is the proper sequel to AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE, this mini series features many of the younger characters who were part of that Initiative; several of whom were co-created by Dan Slott or Christos Gage. Veronica Gandini lends superb color work to Norton’s pencils and inks. McKeever has gotten to return to Gravity by including him in the short lived YOUNG ALLIES and the ONSLAUGHT UNLEASHED mini series (which has one issue left), and naturally the character returns here. Besides former Initiative creations like Cloud 9, Komodo, Hardball, and Boulder, there are other “young” characters who are actually older than many readers realize. Firestar, for instance, is an immigrant from the mid 1980’s NBC cartoon “SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS”, while Ultra-Girl, created by Peter David and Leonard Kirk, is almost 13 years old. The alien Tarene, or Thor-Girl, who is front and center on the cover, was created by Dan Jurgens and John Romita, Jr. is almost 11 years old – created before the controversial 2000 Presidential election, in fact. Yet in a universe that still relies heavily on characters created in the 60’s and 70’s, these are all still considered “young’uns” who often remain on the outskirts of the major action.
To get the negative out of the way, the title for this six issue mini series is terrible. Certainly nothing is going to encourage retailers and fans to order copies in advance like a subtitle such as “YOUTH IN REVOLT”. Younger characters often struggle to become sales draw, and part of the dilemma can be misleading, old, or uninspired titles to the series they appear in. These are characters who were all connected to AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE, which ran over two years – why not put that in the title, even if AVENGERS ACADEMY is the spiritual sequel? How would it make any less sense than splitting up THOR and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, or HULK with INCREDIBLE HULKS? Or even inserting BLACK PANTHER into DAREDEVIL, MAN WITHOUT FEAR? For the first half of the decade, any comic that had anything remotely to do with the X-Men, even if it was just a single character or a subject, had X-MEN in the title. Marvel recently dithered with a title to a 3 issue crossover between AVENGERS ACADEMY and the canceled YOUNG ALLIES, and wasted time initially trying to sell it as ARCADE: DEATH GAME and not have the strongest franchise in the title. Did any reasonable fan need three months to figure out AVENGERS ACADEMY was the best thing to stick in the title? Someone in the marketing department is not earning their paycheck when the best they can come up with for characters loosely related to the Avengers is “YOUTH IN REVOLT”. Why not “THEM UPPITY BRATS” while they were at it?
Aside for the title, the story itself is rather good for those who enjoy seeing characters younger than their parents. The gist is that after FEAR ITSELF #2, with evil Asgardian hammers falling around the world like meteors (that possess superhumans into acting as monsters for the Serpent), panic in America is at an all time high. Steve Rogers realizes the Avengers alone aren’t enough, so he asks Richie Gilmore, who was formerly the disgraced hero Prodigy (of THE SLINGERS from 1999), to quit a dead end government desk job to lead a volunteer super-hero force to stem riots and opportunistic criminals during this crisis. Fortunately for him, many of his fellow Initiative trainee heroes are still active, such as Thor-Girl and Ultra-Girl as part of Atlanta, Georgia’s official team, the Cavalry. Gravity and Firestar still seek to distance themselves from admitting that they’re full time heroes, but remain reliable to pitch in. Yet at least one former Initiative graduate has no interest in returning to a life of spandex, and Tarene learns that this isn’t the best time to pattern oneself after a Norse hero in terms of public relations. Above all, a guy like Gilmore whose previous superheroic endeavors have never ended well is suddenly thrust into a major leadership role that he may not be prepared for, despite himself. Plus, look out for cameos by obscure heroes new and old, such as the Order, Red 9, Stunt-Master, Rage, and even Frog-Man!
The artwork by Norton and Gandini is terrific; Norton is at times an underappreciated penciler whose solid lines and simple fundamentals should be appreciated by the same fans who enjoy the artwork of Mark Bagley or even John Romita Jr. He isn’t the flashiest artist, but his lines are clear, his action is easy to follow and he draws energetic, distinct characters. In terms of the story, McKeever continues on his usual flare for writing young heroes, and is able to continue where other writers recently left off with some of them (such as in last week’s AVENGERS ACADEMY #13: http://icedjamb.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-5-4-11-my-giant-sized-costumed-ball-review ). While there are many characters here, he has chosen about a half dozen as his leads so far, which is a wise choice. Despite all of the Thor-related stories that have come over the past year and change, Tarene has been a fairly neglected character; here she seems to be getting her due at long last in a major role. Every character has a solid voice, and the tension of the overall situation is broadcast well – especially after Sin (Red Skull’s daughter and heir), as Skadi, leads an army of Nazi robots into Washington, D.C. Plus, unlike many other FEAR ITSELF books, this is priced at $2.99, making it one of the cheaper ones to enjoy.
FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT has become the best comic launched from Marvel’s 2011 event thus far, and given McKeever’s usually solid track record, that looks to continue. Readers who desire new blood in the Marvel Universe or are even looking for something FEAR ITSELF related that is good, and not just “important” from cover to cover, need to give this a look.
THE STANDARD #1 – This is a new independent creation published by ComixTribe, available via download for $1.99 from Wowio and DriveThruComics (with Graphic.ly, Iverse, MyDigitalComics and Oxicomics set to offer it soon) and print-to-order physical copies at $3.99 from IndyPlanet. This has the honor of being the first comic book in which an advance review copy was sent to this humble columnist; while RED 5’s BOX 13 crew did invite yours truly to a release party, the actual comic itself still had to be purchased. New creators John Lees and Jonathon Rector write and draw, respectively, this tale of the trials and legacy of a superhero mantle in the fictional Sky City. The Standard is the world’s first super hero, a creation of fate and science during the late 1960’s. The first half of this 28 page issue offers the summary of the past, while the other half is set in present day. The segments set in the 60’s are full of vigor and corn-ball expectations of what heroes were, while the present segments have more dark tones and gore. The original Standard was a scientist empowered by a freak meteor that hit his laboratory and doused him with chemicals and alien radiation; the current Standard is his former sidekick grown up. While the original Standard was all about stoic one-liners and punching giant robots, the newer Standard has to resort to frequent injections to maintain his power, and has a grimy reality show career after revealing his identity to the world. There is also another vigilante in town who is creepy and violent, and a missing child who causes a conflict of morals for this issue’s lead character. The ending offers a splash of blood and a bit of a twist as to who the real star of the next five issues may be. The colors by Mo James and Ray Dillon enhance Rector’s artwork very well, from bright colors to heavy shadows when needed. The art styles of several ages of superhero comics are homaged within this issue, from Neal Adams to “Kirby dots” in the origin sequence, to the newer Standard’s costume that very much looks like something Jim Lee might have designed for the X-Men in 1992. The bright superheroics of yesteryear contrast greatly with the gore of the present day bits, which is deliberate. If this issue has one flaw, it is that in the attempt to cover all of the vital information for the series in this issue, the reader has to get past a bit of exposition. The flashback sequences are paced better with the current segments later on in the issue, but the beginning bit can feel a bit obligatory and possibly turn off some people if they feel it is too retro – even if that is exactly the point. What the issue accomplishes is setting up the hero, the world he/they take part in, and a central mystery to propel the rest of the story forward. This was a solid debut for Lees and Rector onto the comic book scene as well as for a new superhero story that may offer something a bit different than what Marvel or DC are doing right now. The website of the series will offer more direct links and ordering information (http://thestandardcomic.com/). The Internet has been a godsend to independent creators, and hopefully THE STANDARD lives up to that potential. If you are someone who wants to support “indie” comics but isn’t into the supernatural or angst ridden gothic things, this is the title for you.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #660 – Despite the “Infested” banner at the top, this is in reality the conclusion of an arc in which Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente capitalize on Spider-Man being a member of Jonathan Hickman’s FF series to feature an FF style adventure. After the events of last issue (http://icedjamb.com/comic-books-in-new-york/comic-book-week-for-4-27-11-this-mace-isn-t-for-spraying-or-rapping-review), Spider-Man and the rest of the Foundation (adults and kids, and Dragon Man) find themselves on an island under the attack of not just zombie pirates, Spider-Man’s old rogues gallery, the Sinister Six! Artist Mike McKone (AVENGERS ACADEMY) draws most of this 20 page story, with Stefano Caselli only contributing the final three pages. Marte Garcia’s colors manage to tie it all together so it all gels together. Despite the kids of the Foundation mostly being geniuses, such as Val Richards and Alex Power, their intervention actually plays right into Dr. Octopus’ long term plans. Given that prior alliances of the Sinister Six have warranted team-up’s with the Fantastic Four and a slew of other heroes during the 90’s, Slott is doing wonders in booting their threat level beyond simply plaguing Spider-Man solo. An ending bit where the Foundation counter Spidey’s usual “over responsibility” even in a victory is an amusing moment. A bit in which dimensions flux around the heroes offers all sorts of fun cameos. Less amusing is an obvious typo (unless Ben Grimm really meant to say, “rouge’s gallery” instead of “rogue’s gallery”) and a subplot with Carlie Cooper and a tattoo that “broke the internet in half” last week which now becomes much ado about nothing. While Carlie Cooper, Peter’s first major love interest since his marriage ended (or never existed) is a character who needs a subplot to get attention, this probably could have been handled better. The “Infested” build up continues in another two page bit following Jackal’s experiment, where he seems to have sought to create genetically enhanced bugs to bite New Yorkers and grant them powers similar to Spider-Man’s, against their will and knowledge. Given that Jackal has become infamous for the Clone Saga of the 70’s and 90’s, another plot in which he seeks to endlessly duplicate Spider-Man in another way is both in character and a bit too on the nose – like when the Penguin decides to steal a bird shaped statue. Rob Williams and Lee Garbett also finish their Ghost Rider/Spider-Man team up back up strip, which is essentially a promotion for GHOST RIDER #0.1 that is coming soon. Given that next issue begins a two part guest run by Christos Gage featuring the AVENGERS ACADEMY, and it is easy to see that AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is once again seen as a launch pad to promote new or current ongoing series, as well as upcoming mini series like POWER MAN AND IRON FIST. Given that it has steadily sold about 52k copies an issue or more since 2008 and been a solid Top 10-25 presence in the sales charts, this makes a degree of sense. This was a solid conclusion to this three issue arc, although the extra AVENGERS ACADEMY story in issues #661 and #662 are even more eagerly appreciated.
Another Good Read: FF #3 (Marvel Comics)
Last Week’s Comic Reviews – http://icedjamb.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-5-4-11-my-giant-sized-costumed-ball-review
Free Comic Book Day 2011 Report – http://icedjamb.com/comic-books-in-new-york/free-comic-book-day-2011-what-s-worth-reading-or-propping-up-a-table-review