Get back to where you once belonged, here's some Quick Comic Reviews to liven up the weekend:
Concrete: The Human Dilemma #1 (of 5)
Ah, it's like welcoming back an old friend. Paul Chadwick's "Concrete" ranks among my top 10 comics of all time, and it's been far too long since the last series featuring the low-key adventures of gentle, thoughtful Ron Lithgow, trapped in an immense alien concrete body. This series shows Concrete realizing his stone form might well lead him to live for hundreds of years -- and what to do to make his life feel worthwhile? He's approached by a businessman who has an interesting proposal to have Concrete become spokesman for a radical anti-population growth organization. Chadwick's black-and-white art is graceful as always, and the story raises big questions about Americans' knack for consumerism and where that might lead. Chadwick does come perilously close to being too preachy (several little inserted environmental "factoids" disrupt the story a bit much), and the story's first issue lacks some of the easy charm of earlier stories, but as always, "Concrete" provides deep thought and solid entertainment. If only it came out more often, but I'm eager to read the rest of this miniseries. Grade: A-
New Avengers #2
It's still not the Avengers I'm used to, but writer Brian Bendis' "A-Team" take on the venerable team is growing on me. This issue continues the massive jailbreak we saw last issue, with heroes including Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man and Luke Cage trapped in a massive escape by dozens of Marvel's worst bad guys. It's light on content, but heavy on action, with some really ugly beat-downs for the heroes and a palpable sense of desperation. Yeah, Spider-Man's grim little fate has happened a few times too often lately, but it still worked for me. Several good moments tipped the book to the good side for me, including a great entrance by "The Sentry," the mysterious hero, and some very Barry Windsor-Smith-esque art by David Finch. I still don't know if all this will add up into great comics, but right now, it's fun enough to ride. Grade: B+
What If? specials
Suckered by the hype, I pre-ordered five of the seven new "What If?" one-shots by Marvel, which take established storylines and spin them in new radical directions for alternative history tales. Unfortunately, overall these "What Ifs" are pretty disappointing stuff, lacking the originality or the whimsical fun of the 1970s and 1980s series. The worst offender, sadly, is Brian Michael Bendis, whose two tales -- "What If Jessica Jones Joined The Avengers?" and a "Daredevil" tale, "What If Karen Page Hadn't Died?" -- are really sloppy hackwork. Each comic takes multiple pages to recap the events in the "real" reality before diverging into an alternate continuity - a feat the old "What If" comics managed in a page or two at most. The "Daredevil" issue is particularly bad because it's all exposition, and nearly no action. Having a "Bendis" character narrate the books just puts them firmly in the camp of fan-fiction. In a fanzine, this would be acceptable, but for $3 a pop these two books are just sheer mercenary.
Better are the "Fantastic Four" book,"What If Doctor Doom Was The Thing?" and "What If General Ross Became The Hulk?", which rely more on the "What If" fun of creating strange configurations of familiar characters. Writer Peter David's Hulk book particularly has a nice streak of black humor. Unfortunately, both comics feel too short and rushed -- the old "What If?" comics tended to be 48 pages, and these ones feel like sketches at shorter lengths.
The best of the five "What Ifs?" I picked up, though, is the "Spider-Man" issue, "What If Aunt May Had Died?" instead of Peter Parker's Uncle Ben. The answer is, Parker becomes a moody rebellious loner and Uncle Ben still gets a rather raw deal, but the story, like the best "What If's," is pretty gripping and not over-the-top dark like Bendis' "Daredevil" tale. Overall, though, these "What Ifs" aren't quite as good as "What Were." Grades: Daredevil, C-, Jessica Jones, C+, Hulk, B, Fantastic Four, B, Spider-Man, B+