Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Miscellaneous reviews 02

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus volume 1

Jack Kirby is great. I don’t love everything he does but when it comes to dynamic art, he takes the cake. The Fourth World is probably his masterpiece and these handy omnibus volumes give me a chance to read it for the first time. Best of all, the whole thing is in chronological order which is a big deal for me as I find that’s the best way to read any series of books or comics. The Fourth World is a story told with fourth by monthly titles, Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen, New Gods, Mister Miracle and Forever People. Unfortunately, not all of the titles are as worthwhile as the others. Jimmy Olsen, despite being filled with excellent ideas, interesting settings and some oddball characters, just doesn’t work for me. It’s not very good.

Thankfully the rest of the titles are better, Mister Miracle is my favourite in this first volume. The journey from Scott Free to Mister Miracle is a joy to experience. I love every single escape act that happen in the first three issues. New Gods is also an excellent title. It’s Jack Kirby at his most mythic and grandiose. I don’t think these stories would work in any other medium and Kirby proves that time and time again by filling his comics with big ideas, page after page. It allows for a quick, and fascinating, read for those who like to read their comics that way. The real strength of these comics though is that the big ideas also coalesce into a larger narrative in a satisfying way. There is plenty here to make the more pensive readers stop and reflect at the wonders of the Fourth World.  

Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don’t get Seen, Save the World by Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis is one of the best writers when it comes to single issue stories. Particularly when it comes to writing single issue stories that also built a larger narrative while also providing the reader with interesting character interactions. He’s done several series that shy away from excessively long and decompressed multi-issue story arcs such as Fell, Global Frequency and Planetary are just a few examples. Even some of his longer series had shorter story arcs. The Authority and Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. are built on a three issues arc structure. Transmetropolitan was built on a combination of three issue arcs followed by three single issue stories. That particular series lasted for 60 issues and it’s the most representative of Ellis’s style and content out of his entire body of work.

With Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don’t get Seen, Save the World, Ellis tells stories similar in concept and execution of the stories in Global Frequency but with a superhero twist. The trade paperback contains six stories that mix together the super spy and science fiction genres together into an effective mix (super spy stories often come with a nice helping of science fiction anyway). Each issue is drawn by a different artist starting with Jamie McKelvie and continuing (in order) with Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev and Stuart Immonen. It’s interesting to see how Ellis seems to write a story that will suit the artist he’s working with. The use of a different artist with each new issue makes this series seems even more like a superhero version of Global Frequency which is a good thing because it’s one of my favourite Warren Ellis series. I don’t think Secret Avengers is as good a collection because we’re so used to seeing these characters do extraordinary things that it’s difficult to put them in interesting and original situations and have the story begin and end in 22 pages. Ellis and the rotating team of artists do an excellent job telling engaging stories with overly familiar characters and that’s an impressive feat in the climate of today’s comic book industry. The fact that most of the stories deal with moral dilemmas of various kinds is just the icing on top of the cake, proving once again that Ellis, even while doing work-for-hire work on superhero titles, is a master of the genre.

Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment
I’ve never really been a big fan of Doctor Strange. Not because I dislike the character but because I’ve never really read one of his solo stories until Doctor Strange: The Oath. Before that I’ve only ever read stories with Doctor Strange in them as a guest star or as a supporting character. Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment is written by long time Doctor Strange writer, Roger Stern. It’s drawn by Mike Mignola and inked and coloured by Mark Badger. It’s also the best Doctor Strange story I’ve ever read (ok, I know this isn’t saying much considering the beginning of this paragraph). Once every year, Doctor Doom travels to hell and fights for his mother’s soul. Each year his battle ends in a stalemate. Triumph and Torment tells the story of the latest attempt by Doom to win back his mother’s soul. Doom, through an interesting series of events I won’t spoil here, is able to join forces with a reluctant Doctor Strange and once again challenges Mephisto in his domain.

Despite being more of a Doctor Doom story, Triumph and Torment is an excellent comic through and through. There is a theatricality to the comic that elevates it to the status of modern classic. Stern’s moving and often philosophical story also helps with this. The biggest highlight though is the artwork. I wish comics had art like that nowadays. The line work by Mike Mignola is very different to his work on Hellboy. I think the primary cause for the difference in art this early on in Mignola’s career is Mark Badger’s contribution as inker. The colouring, also by Badger, is simply beautiful. It adds so much depth to the comic that I doubt it would work as well without it. I love everything about this story. IT’s so rare to see a creative team firing on all cylinders while also having their individual contributions coalesce into a single work, a single vision.  

Despite being more of a Doctor Doom story, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, is an excellent comic through and through. I’ve read this comic twice since its release and I plan on doing so again sometime soon because there is so much to love. It’s also convinced me to track down some more Doctor Strange comics. Luckily for me, this collection also includes three more Doctor Strange stories form the 1970s and 1980s which provide additional context to the main story after which this collection is named.

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