Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 06: Secret Invasion: Black Panther and The Complete Multiple Warheads

Secret Invasion: Black Panther:
American superhero comic publishers have the annoying habit of regularly releasing “event comics”. Event comics are company-wide crossover story that is often months, if not years, in the making and it generally results in a temporary shift in the status quo. A less favourable description would be that it’s a cash grab on behalf of the publisher. My only concern regarding event comics is whether or not they’re any good. I have no real interest in memorizing the minutiae of superhero continuity but for those that care about such things, event comics are a big deal. Again, for me it’s just about good stories and unfortunately, event comics are wildly unpredictable when it comes to quality. There is one pretty constant rule though, the tie-in comics are generally terrible. But with every rule, there are exceptions and Secret Invasion: Black Panther is such an exception.

Written by Jason Aaron and with art by Jefte Palo, these three issues from the regular Black Panther ongoing series are better than main Secret Invasion story! It’s a great example of a successful tie-in story for a few reasons. First of all, it’s clearly a Secret Invasion title because it deals with the Skrull invasion head on as opposed to trying to pretend it’s not a tie-in comic (which is just an awful approach). You don’t need to be overly familiar with the characters or the series to be able to enjoy it. All I know about Black Panther is that he’s king of Wakanda, a technologically advanced African nation which is rich in a rare metal: vibranium. If you know who the Skrulls are, then you know everything you need to know in order to enjoy this comic. Even if you don’t know any of that the story will fill you in as it goes along. It’s surprisingly friendly to new readers despite how it’s a tie-in to a comic book event that was years in the making.

The story is pretty simple. A legion of Skrulls is sent to invade Wakanda and steal as much vibranium as they can. They are led by Commander K’vvvr, a veteran warrior, who is on his last mission before retirement. It’s little touches like that one that make this a good comic. We also get a nice sense of how strong a leader Black Panther. He also gets a few moments that demonstrate just how great a strategist he is. Simple, yes, but also very effective. The art by Palo is heavily inked and dark. The skies are a sickly green colour suggesting that the Skrulls are infectious and poisoning Wakanda. It might sound a bit strange that I’m giving so much praise to this little story but it’s because it’s a quality story amongst dozens of other tie-in stories that were just terrible. If you liked Secret Invasion you owe it to yourself to track down this little gem. With Secret Invasion: Black Panther Aaron and Palo prove that you can create a very good tie-in story and that you don’t have to limit yourself to rehashing in fuller detail events that already took place in the main series.

The Complete Multiple Warheads:
Chad Nevett once wrote that Multiple Warheads is a hang-out comic. That’s one of the better descriptions I’ve found for this comic. Written and drawn by Brandon Graham, Multiple Warheads is the story of a young organ smuggler and her genius mechanic werewolf boyfriend who are travelling in search of a new home and a new purpose in life. It’s also the story of Nura, a bounty hunter and her latest mission. In reality, it’s not about any of that. The comic is really about the science fiction and fantasy influenced alternative Russia. It’s about the world and it’s strange inhabitants more than anything else. Brandon Graham doesn’t really care about the plot. We get a beginning to the story of the young couple and the bounty hunter but it never ends. It sort of just wanders around, allowing Graham to blow out collective minds with his wild imagination and skilful artistic flourishes. The reason I think “hang-out comic” is an apt description is that it starts with the intent to do something but really the characters and the writer just bum around the world of the comic and it never really goes anywhere but you encounter some very interesting things along the way.

Those interesting things are made up primarily from pun-heavy dialogue and in-jokes by Graham and European comic influences art. There is a beautiful simplicity to Graham’s art but it also manages to be very detailed. It’s somewhat unexplainable. Graham doesn’t resort to abstraction and blocky shapes like many other skilful artists who seem to require half as many lines as other artists to convey twice as much beauty on the page. The image above kind of explains some of it. There is a lot of detail on the page but there are also a lot of open spaces. Look at the large beast that carries the city on its back. The beast itself is very simple but the city that rests on its back is lavishly illustrated. Look at the wrecked train, the smaller beasts with their riders and the cracked mountainside, the detail is all in the world which the characters inhabit.

Multiple Warheads isn’t a great story but it’s a unique and fascinating comic. It’s not nearly as good as Graham’s King City or his reboot of Rob Liefeld’s Prophet, but the aimless wonderings of his characters and the travelogue approach to world building have an endearing quality. The art is also pleasing to the eye but offers plenty of additional goodies for readers who wish to linger a while longer on an image before turning the page. There is a sense of unbridled joy to Multiple Warheads that reminded me of teenage slackers who don’t have a care in the world but are capable of doing extraordinary things, if only they had a little motivation. I’m actually quite surprised that Graham become an accomplished comics creator because his Multiple Warheads stories strongly suggest he’s also a slacker. How he manages to keep this aspect alive in his comics is a mystery to me but I’m glad he’s found a way to make it work because his comics are like nothing else I’ve ever read.

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