Monday, 14 January 2008

Skrull Kill Interest

I forget when it was announced that Marvel were having a big Avengers-led crossover centred on infiltration of the Marvel Universe by the Skrulls, but the first evidence was revealed in New Avengers 31, in June last year. That issue ended with Elektra revealed to be a Skrull.

Oh how dramatic, a woman who once climbed her way back from the dead has been impersonated by an alien shape changer, and may be dead again. In the following six months its been revealed that the mute and never very interesting Black Bolt of the Inhumans was a fake, as was a teen member of the Initiative we'd never previously met. Be still my Vietnam/Gulf War/Afghanistan-injured heart.

The shocks come thick and fast, I tell you.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Marvel writers, artists and editors have been giving interview after interview about the upcoming Secret Invasion event, which will involve the now usual mini series, tie-ins and bookends. Read the comics press, look online, listen to a podcast . . . it's wall-to-wall Secret Invasion - and the event doesn't officially get going until three months from now, April.

I can forgive the parallels with DC's frankly rubbish Millennium series of the Eighties, when heroes suddenly found out that their parents, loved ones, dogs, were robotic alien spies; hey, there's nothing new under the sun, it's all in the approach, right? And it's quite fun to try and work out who is a deep cover alien - I believe crossover architect Bendis when he says he's been planning this for years. That means there will be clues around. As he told "If you've been dead and are now alive. If you've had an ill-defined power being used in ways that seem like many different writers are writing them differently .... If you have a moustache ... you might have Skrulliness";f=36;t=006877

Great, but can't we get on with it? Hurrah for Bendis' long-term planning that allows for clues and teases but couldn't Marvel have slowed down the publicity machine a tad? Every week there's a new piece of Secret Invasion hype and it's already starting to feel like I've read the thing. Twice.

And it's getting worse - Comic Book Resources announced this week that: 'Inspired by their research into humanity's history of psychological warfare, the Skrulls have assembled an EARTH'S MOST WANTED poker deck of 54 playing cards, each featuring some of the biggest threats to their invasion of Earth. Over the next 14 weeks, with the help of Marvel staffers like editor Tom Brevoort and "Secret Invasion" scribe Brian Michael Bendis, CBR News will reveal each card and what makes these characters such threats to the Skrulls' master plan.'

The first two articles ran to 1300 and 1000 words - and there are another 12 weeks of this to go. Seriously, how much time are Marvel staff devoting to interviews and articles? Didn't Marvel once have a dedicated PR department would would put out the announcements, leaving the creatives to actually get the books out? The longer this goes on, the less interested I'm booking - I am sick to the back teeth of hearing about this story, how about we actually get to read it and judge for ourselves how good it is?

Couldn't Marvel just give us a break? Skrully buggers.

Friday, 11 January 2008

The Twelve 1

The 12 being the first post-OMD work from writer J Michael Straczynski, with artist Chris Weston. I didn't have high hopes for this, the idea of a bunch of World War Two lesser lights being frozen in time and reawoken today sounded a tad 'been there, done that' but the promise of Weston on art, and the inclusion of Marvel UK pulp-style hero Nightraven got me to try the first issue.

Excellent decision, me. This is a solidly entertaining comic book, with intriguing characters and a story that seems to know where it's going. Much of the issue is set in the dying days of World War Two, with narrator The Phantom Reporter introducing us to the other 11 members of a group thrown together by fate.

They're a typically Seond World War bunch of generic heroes and strongmen, including burning man The Fiery Mask, flying fellow Captain Wonder and avenging angel The Witness. There's just one woman, the original Black Widow who - OMG OMD! - made a deal with the devil to get a death touch and more. The Phantom Reporter is what the more powerful heroes call a 'tourist' - no actual powers, more your gas mask Sandman type very handsome, though, in his natty purple suit with pink highlights.

Aside from the obvious craft and graft represented here, thing that tickled me included the aforementioned Captain Wonder - a bare-legged hero who doesn't shave his pins - and the protests-too-much Dynamic Man, who seens sissies everywhere.

When the heroes arrive in 2008 they prove to be smart and likeable, as the US tries to help them adjust by lying to them about the date. Deciding to then appeal to the 12's patriotism after their (well-meaning) deceit is revealed may not prove the brightest decision.

JMS writes up a storm here, giving us an intelligent, meaty script; I don't know enough about US speech patterns of 60 years ago to suggest anything is jarring - I did wonder if 'closet' was applied to secret 'pansies' but these terms are often older than we assume. And anyway, I can live with the odd anachronism when a story is this good.

Weston does a wonderful job - his lack of flash suits the characters while he does strong work differentiating the 12. And colourist Chris Chuckry does a great job making the mystery men stand out against the greyness of war. The look reminds me of Gene Ha and Xander Cannon's work on Top Ten, high praise.

The package is rounded off with excellent production design - Kaare Andrews' wonderfully pulpy cover has a creased, aged quality (slab that!) while the splash page is a mock-up of a Forties-style Daily Bugle. Buy it - even if Nightraven has for some reason failed to show up.

Oh just look at that gorgeous Nick Cardy cover - colourful teenage heroes fighting with a smile on their faces.

And there's a Cardy sketch gallery at the back - lush stuff.

As for the unashamedly 1963-set story itself, original Titans writer Bob Haney has a whale of a time reviving the hokey Sixties dialogue, both hip ('She may have gone more than pointy yellow fruit over him.') and plain daft ('a girlish burst of Amazonian energy and your entrapment shaft becomes a memory'). And the art by Jay Stephens, Mike Allred and Laura Allred is sheer delight, dynamic, open and colourful. There's the odd problem with body proportions but nothing awful, while the alien designs are just so Sixties.

In true old Teen Titans style Donna falls for pretty much the first boy she sees and Garth volunteers to remain behind at Titans Lair cos 'somebody's got to hold the fort'. Dick is wonderfully capable with a habit of quoting stuff, while Speedy and Kid Flash are the comrades in arms I remember. The whole thing is a hoot, til we get to a final twist - at first, tasteless, then cheekily charming. Buy it for a new twist on an old conspiracy theory subject.