Thursday, August 19, 2004

Quick comics reviews!
Man, there are some controversial superhero comics out there these days. From DC, we have Identity Crisis, mystery novel writer Brad Meltzer's grim 'n' gritty take on the classic DC heroes. From Marvel, Brian Bendis is "disassembling" The Avengers in a multi-issue storyline that will take the team of heroes apart and rebuild them (apparently, in a new lineup that includes Luke Cage (woo!), Spider-Man (!) and Wolverine (?!?)).

Avengers #500
I dig Brian Michael Bendis, and think he's among the better writers these days, but one criticism frequently weighed against him is his "decompressing" stories -- long, drawn-out tales that could've been told in one or two issues in the ol' days becoming five or six issues. But while I agree somewhat, Bendis' snappy dialogue, solid plots and firm grasp of his characters makes it all work. The super-team concept of "Avengers" isn't geared to his strengths, though, so I'll be curious to see how he does in the long run. This first issue of his thunderous arc -- called "Chaos" to give you an idea -- is basically a double-sized blast of terrible rotten things happening to the Avengers. At least one teammate is killed, one goes nuts, the Vision gets some impromptu detailing work, Iron Man goes wacky at the United Nations -- oy vey, a bad day to be an Avenger. That's pretty much it for this issue, all set-up with no resolution, to be expected in part one of four I guess. This isn't bad, but it does feel somewhat melodramatic -- the way the Avengers are so shocked and disorganized by what happens, you'd think they'd never been attacked in the past 40 years or so. I don't buy the freaking out so much. Besides, being comics, I have a hard time thinking any of these changes will last. Gorgeous art by David Finch, who brings a realistic, crisp look to the destruction, certainly helps, and I'm definitely curious to see what happens next. I just hope all this sound and fury adds up to something more than another "big event" that'll be forgotten in a few months. Grade: B-

Identity Crisis #3
This'll be vague, because I really am trying to reserve judgment on this series until it's all done with #7. "Identity Crisis" basically features a serial killer on the loose in the DC Universe, in #1 killing Elongated Man's wife, and this issue, another hero's loved one. There's also a nasty conspiracy by the heroes involving mental adjustments to ne'er-do-well villains, a kind of "big brother" hero intervention that leaves a bad taste in many peoples' mouths. Like others have said, technically this is a great, gorgeous comic, with gripping writing by Meltzer and picture-perfect art by Rags Morales. This issue features a fantastic fight sequence with Deathstroke the one-man army taking on the entire Justice League in a bout that leaps off the page. It's almost worth the $3 right there. But "Identity Crisis" is also kind of a morally unsettling book, one I like to read but which leaves me feeling dirty afterward. The murder at the end of this issue just left me feeling bad. It feels unclean, somehow, and is far nastier in tone and subtext than I'd imagined it would be. (Many critics have also accused the book of misogyny, but I'm not quite with them on that.) It certainly takes a hard, ├╝ber-realist look at what it'd really be like in a world of superheroes who conceal their identities and what would happen if their enemies found out. The word "controversial" gets bantered about a lot without merit but this series certainly deserves it. So far, I give it an B+ but I have reservations about it.

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