Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
As I’ve mentioned before, I hope this OGNs do well for Marvel, because I like the idea of Marvel (and DC) doing graphic novels even more than I like the quality (or lack thereof) of some of these books. So far, this is the fourth one I’ve bought, and they’ve ranged from okay (Daredevil) to pretty good (X-Men) to very good (Hulk). This latest one is vying with the Hulk one for the best of the lot, although I have, to be fair, skipped some. This time around, it’s Greg Pak writing, Emma Ríos drawing, Álvaro López inking (“additionally,” so Ríos obviously inked some of it), Jordie Bellaire coloring, and Clayton Cowles lettering. And, as always, this is $24.99, with a reprint issue (this time, it’s Defenders #1) in the back.
One of the reasons these books haven’t been as superb as they could be is, as I’ve mentioned, because the writers really can’t deviate too much from the template. So in the X-Men book we get a Magneto story, in the Daredevil we get Matt figuring out a mystery, but with a lot of the old villains dropped in throughout the book, and in this one, we get Mordo and Dormammu. I think the Hulk one is the best so far, writing-wise, because van Lente created a new villain. He wasn’t the most original villain, true, but at least it wasn’t the Leader or the Abomination! So it’s hard to really love these books solely based on the writing – none of the writers have re-invented prose in these books, they’re just telling a story, but when the story dictates you have to use characters everyone has seen for years, it’s a bit more difficult to get into. Marvel, I guess, wants to make these new-reader-friendly, but that doesn’t mean you just have to recycle old villains in because new readers won’t know who they are. All it should mean is that these comics stand completely alone, without years of continuity to wade through in order to understand that. I can’t imagine the audience for these books is ONLY new readers, so why not make it “new” for old readers as well by inventing someone new for the good guys to fight?
Anyway, that’s getting off track a bit. One reason why this book is quite good is because Pak focuses on Stephen’s friendship with Wong, and while I’m in no way a Doctor Strange expert (I’ve read less than 20 comic books starring the good doctor as the title character, I would surmise), I don’t recall Wong ever getting such development, and it makes the origin a bit fresher. Strange is technically superb at being a sorceror – he would be, as he’s a surgeon and all – but he lacks a conscience, while Wong is pure of heart so the Vishanti respond to him, but his technical proficiency is terrible. Instead of Strange learning on his own how to be a great Sorcerer Supreme, Pak gives us two men who need to learn in different ways to be great sorcerers. It makes the book fresher than just a torturous journey through Strange’s soul!!!! The plot is perfectly fine – a woman from a museum in Rome (is she the curator? – I don’t think it ever tells us) says she found mention of three rings of great power that, if brought together, can command the Vishanti (and hey, Pak name-checks Simeon I of Bulgaria, who seemed pretty neat when I first read about him 20 years ago – everyone know Bulgaria had a Golden Age, right?). She thinks it’s imperative that they find these rings before someone evil – like Mordo – gets his evil hands on them and … I don’t know, takes over the world or something. So she (her name’s Sofia), Strange, and Wong go on a quest (humorously enough, she trekked to Tibet to find Wong, not Strange) to find the rings. It’s unclear how Mordo found out about the rings – he shows up at the Ancient One’s monastery after the others have left, so unless the Ancient One told him about the rings, how did he know? I suppose the Ancient One could have told him just to push Strange and Wong to fight Mordo and become better people, but that seems like a dick move – although I guess, if you’re so Ancient, you’ve probably pulled some dick moves in your life. It’s a nice story – the three people who possess the rings use them for different things, and Stephen Learns a Lesson™ from each one of them (well, mostly from the second one, but he still learns something from each of them). No, it’s not the most original story, but Pak tells it well, and that’s always appreciated.
Much like X-Men: Season One (Jamie McKelvie) and Hulk: Season One (Tom Fowler), a very big reason to buy this is the artwork of Ríos, ably abetted by Bellaire. Ríos’ frenetic style makes her a very good superhero artist, and her big battles in this book are a flurry of activity without being overwhelming (well, they’re overwhelming, but in a good way). It’s impressive how well she incorporates mystical stuff that seems to take the book right out of the realm of reality but manages to keep the storytelling clear. Her detail is amazing – the page with all the creepy creatures in the Cairo street is wonderful – and she’s able to pack a lot into each panel without making the reader go blind. On the other hand, she’s also a lot like Nathan Fox, with enough of an “indie” sensibility that she can easily do odder comics, and that blend of styles works very well on an oddball character like Doctor Strange. Bellaire, who continues to get better and better, does a fine job helping Ríos out – she uses greens and reds very well throughout the book, and her “special effects” – coloring the weird creatures a bit differently to show that they don’t exist per se; turning Wong into a negative image of himself – are imaginative and worked well into the book. Nothing looks like it was dropped in digitally – I’m sure the book was colored that way, but Bellaire makes it all seamless – and even the slightly out-of-sync creatures are part of the drawing rather than manipulated in afterward. The comic is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s very nice to see two young creators getting such wide exposure (Ríos was born in 1976, so she’s not a neophyte, but she’s new to American comics, and I have no idea how old Bellaire is, but she hasn’t been working in the industry too long).
As with all of these books, I wonder about the packaging. It’s a nice hardcover, but it would also be a five-issue mini-series costing 20 dollars total (at four dollars a pop), and I’m not sure if the reprint is worth the extra five bucks. I don’t even know if Marvel plans to release these in softcover! I think they’re neat, but I get that not everyone wants to spend the money. However, I’ll Recommend this whole-heartedly based on the actual story, because Pak does a nice job “re-imagining” Strange and his transformation into the Sorcerer Supreme (or at least someone who could be SS in the future) and Ríos and Bellaire do a marvelous job bringing it to vibrant life. Which is very keen!
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