This month, Marvel has presented us with what is likely to be the final installment of the Season One series of graphic novels. For those of you who don’t know, the Season One books are retellings of the featured hero’s origins and first encounters set in the present day. Some of them work, some of them don’t. Some were interesting, some were okay. Some use one story, others combine several into one. But which books were which? Well, sit right back and I’ll tell the tale. It’s the Marvel Season One Recap!
Over two columns, I’ll be giving a brief summary of each Season One story or "episode", followed by a look at the writing and art and a brief conclusion, so feel free to read the ones that interest you. At the end I’ll give a ranking of the stories. This column includes reviews of Spider-Man, Daredevil, X-Men, and Fantastic Four (to help you find them). Read on and enjoy!
Spider-Man: (Cullen Bunn, Neil Edwards) Our Season begins with yet another retelling of Spider-Man’s origins, this time set in the present. Cullen Bunn and Neil Edwards spin us the web of mild-mannered Peter Parker, a nerdy high school student who gains his abilities through a radioactive spider bite, and yada yada yada, “with great power”, blah blah blah… I’m sorry, but to me this seemed like the least necessary episode of the Season One series. If you haven’t heard Spidey’s origins by now, you must have been living under a rock. There are a few differences, though, namely there is more face time with Uncle Ben before his death. We also see more interaction with Peter’s classmates and his career before becoming a hero.
I don’t have much to say about the writing of the characters; Uncle Ben is Uncle Ben, Peter Parker is Peter Parker, and Aunt May is Aunt May, but just moved to the present day so there’s new technology and stuff. To be honest, I’m a little biased here. Spidey’s had countless cartoon series, a movie trilogy, and now another reboot this summer. It’s very difficult to keep the origin story fresh after that many retellings, so I’m giving writer Cullen Bunn as much credit as I can. Considering how many classic foes featured in the initial Stan Lee and Steve Ditko stories, I can understand how it’s difficult to choose. Bunn decides to extend the Vulture’s first appearance to be the third act of the story, which was actually done very nicely. There are panels that are taken directly from the original story, which is a nice touch from both Bunn and artist Neil Edwards. Personally, I would’ve preferred Chameleon or Electro, but hey, that’s me. I also appreciate how Jameson is clearly based on JK Simmons’ turn as JJJ from the Sam Raimi series.
The overall art is in a similar vein to Rags Morales and Gary Frank, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s not my personal favorite look for Spidey stories, but it’s by no means an ugly book. Something that kind of creeps me out is how FREAKING BLUE everyone’s eyes are. It’s a little disturbing. Also, I just noticed the Vulture looks a lot like one of my professors this semester… Pure coincidence, I’m sure. It’s a fun read, I’d suggest it to those looking for a quick primer to Spider-Man as a character, and I certainly enjoyed it more than Loeb’s Spider-Man: Blue.
Daredevil: (Antony Johnston, Wellinton Alves, Joe Rivera) Our next episode up in Marvel’s “debut season” is Daredevil, written by Antony Johnston with art by Wellinton Alves and Joe Rivera. Unlike Spidey’s book, this book combines the first several stories of Daredevil’s initial 1960’s run and features villains such as the Owl, the Purple Man, and even Electro’s appearance. Framing these encounters is a new story involving Nelson & Murdock’s interactions with a corrupt DA and a local priest which is actually told rather well.
When it comes to Daredevil stories, the bar is pretty high. Apart from "Shadowland" and "Father," I’ve loved every Daredevil story I’ve read. This story, while not outstanding, does a nice job of fusing together the first issues into a coherent plot. Matt Murdock is written as more sarcastic than he first appeared, in a similar thread to Mark Waid’s current run (which is excellent, in case you didn’t know). Foggy is shown as competent enough, serving as more than comic relief, and Karen Page isn’t the lovelorn girl she was originally, which is an era I’m glad we’ve moved beyond. The villains of the piece are nicely handled as well. Since Johnston decided to use multiple supervillains in the piece, he wrote each as a condensed version of the full character, which reads easily. The other characters feel like they could have been in the director’s cut of the Daredevil movie. By the way, if you get the chance, watch the director’s cut of Daredevil; it’s much better than the theatrical version.
As for the artwork, I quite like it. The colors are all slightly muted giving a more serious tone to the book. The characters are all recognizable, although I’ve seen different looks for Foggy in the past. We even see Murdock’s transition from the yellow costume to the now iconic red. The scene plays out a little “Batman”-like but I don’t mind. Hell’s Kitchen’s skyline is shown with a cool purple touch instead of grey or black, an interesting choice. Similar to the Spider-Man book, there are a few scenes either copied from or inspired by the 1960s’ issues, and for those who have read the reprints (or indeed the originals) it’s nice to notice those. I would quite recommend this story; it’s not only a nice “reboot” but a good story on its own. Much more enjoyable than Daredevil: Yellow.
X-Men: (Dennis Hopeless, Jamie McKelvie) Marvel’s favorite mutants take the stage in this episode of Season One. Written by Dennis Hopeless with art by Jamie McKelvie, this book follows the same formula of Daredevil’s episode by combining the first several issues of Uncanny X-Men into one story with a framing device. The vignettes include the team’s earliest encounters with Magneto, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, even Unus the Untouchable. These encounters are framed by Jean Grey’s narration about her acclimation to living and fighting alongside the other mutants: Angel, Beast, Cyclops, and Iceman, the original class, not to mention Professor X.
The writing in this book has quite a few balls in the air at one time, to butcher the expression. Not only does it try to retell the old stories in a modern way, but it has to condense the complex relationships of the characters within. For those familiar with how X-books work, you know how confusing they can get; who’s in love with whom, who’s angry at whom, who wants to quit, and so on. Well, Hopeless does his best to contract these key elements of the X-verse (did you ever notice how you can add the prefix “X” to anything and it makes sense?) into one whole story. Each vignette deals with one of these aspects or another, so it’s not too difficult to follow. I’ve never been that big of a fan of X-Men books because of these components, but Hopeless handles them fairly well by resolving them all by the end of the book. Thank god… the intricacies of the X-verse makes me almost wish they were completely separated from the rest of the Marvel U just to give people a chance to understand what’s going on. Thankfully Hopeless has given a pretty good primer to the X-Men.
One of the first things that came to mind when I looked at the artwork is Toy Story. Not so much the movies but how they would look if they were turned into a comic book. That’s not an insult by any means. The book is colorful, bright, and easy on the eyes, which is a nice change of pace from some of the grim, dark artwork we see in many comics today. Also, considering how this is retelling the origins of the X-Men team, all of the characters appear as they did in the 1960s with black and yellow costumes and pre-beast-form Beast. When did that happen, by the way? Regardless, it’s a good book, not one of my favorites, but that’s just because I’m not that big on X-books. Too broad a universe for me.
Fantastic Four: (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, David Marquez) Our next episode takes us on a visit to Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four! Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and David Marquez do the same as Daredevil and X-Men by bringing together several stories with a framing device, including such clashes as the Mole Man and Namor. The battles are connected by the team adjusting to their new powers, responsibilities, and lives as superheroes, a common subject in these episodes. Reed Richards’ expedition to space with girlfriend Sue Storm, her younger brother Johnny, and Reed’s oldest friend Ben Grimm is hit by cosmic energy, granting the crew powers beyond their imagination. The group must figure out how to stay together without their abilities getting out of hand.
While the action sequences are fun and cool to read, the primary appeal of the Fantastic Four for me is the relationships between the characters. Reed and Ben, Reed and Sue, Reed and Johnny, Johnny and Ben, it goes on and on. Writer Aguirre-Sacasa’s take on these interactions is a bit different than most I’ve seen, given the nature of the story. We get the chance to watch these four people come together as a team and as a family. Another tricky aspect is balancing which characters are more dominant in the story; here, like in most cases, Reed, Ben, and Sue take the lead (more or less in that order). I’ve yet to find a Johnny Storm-centric story, but that’s mostly because I’m a little gun-shy with Fantastic Four books. The only book I’ve truly enjoyed was JMS’ Volume One, but this book reads quite well. One qualm I have is how they handled the publicity of the team. I didn’t care for the whole media angle and Johnny’s idiosyncratic bravado. I’d like to see more depth from him in general, but that’s unrelated.
Artist David Marquez gives this book a vibrant and colorful style. The characters are given a few touch-ups here and there but they’re still the recognizable team we know and love. I do have a bit of an issue with the character’s faces, however. Reed, Johnny, and Sue all look a little too similar in my taste. You can clearly identify them as different characters, but the facial modeling is a bit too closely comparable for me. The Thing’s rocks look quite cool with more of a gravel-like grain than a patterned “skin”. Namor looks cool, Mole Man’s Mole Man, and the monsters are all nicely designed. Pick it up for a pretty good story. Not the best I’ve seen, but I’ve seen worse.
Tune in soon for my reviews of the second wave of Marvel Season One books: Hulk, Ant-Man, and Dr. Strange!
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