Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
The people at Unlikely Heroes Studios sent me the first issue of their new series, Super!, and I’d like to thank them for it. It’s self-published, but the production values are excellent – it’s a nicely designed comic, with glossy paper and a professional look. It costs $2.99 and features 52 pages of story. That ain’t bad at all. This book is written by Zachary Dolan and Justin Piatt, drawn by Dolan, colored by Everardo Orozco, and lettered by Piatt. Tara Kappel provides art assistance, while Estela Yañez is the color assistant. It was offered in Previews, I know that much, but I’m not sure if it’s hit stores yet. If it hasn’t, it should be out soon!
As many of you know, I’m a bit burned out on superhero comics these days. That’s not to say I don’t like superhero comics, because I do, but so many of them remind me of gerbils running on the endless wheel and it kind of depresses me. So while I doubt if we need yet another superhero comic, like Super! is, I’m certainly willing to check one out that might – just might – try some different things than your standard Big Two superhero comic. I went into this issue with that kind of attitude, hoping for the best.
It’s certainly not a bad comic, but I’m not sure if I can call it a good one, either. There’s a lot to like in the book. Dolan and Piatt use their 52 pages wisely, as they introduce a TON of characters, from fairly straight-forward superheroes to parodies of your ultra-violent ones to strange supervillains (seriously, what’s up with the mime?). The book is exciting, full of action, but it also doesn’t take itself so very seriously, as Dolan and Piatt try to humanize their subjects and do it pretty well. They deflate the big fight scene at the end well, as they think about how superpowered beings would operate in the real world and how the regular folk would react to them. The city in which the story is set, Cosmopolis, feels like a real place, even if there are superheroes flying around all the time. There’s a main character, Paula, who goes by the name of “Blitz,” and the writers do a good job with her. She’s a waitress, and there’s a lot in the book about how she’s trying to make ends meet, which is a nice touch. In fact, the characters are all pretty well done – the dialogue is crisp and, while it’s a bit sitcom-clever, it does a good job giving us glimpses of the various personalities in the book. In a book with so many characters, it’s pretty impressive that the writers are able to keep them from falling too far into stereotypes. There are some very funny moments in the book, like when Blitz gets called to meet with her supergroup and the leader tells them they have to take down a villain … whom Blitz just saw get taken down by one of the A-list heroes on her way to meet them (there’s definitely a hierarchy of heroes in the book, and the writers focus on those who aren’t quite A-list). It’s the kind of thing that you can see happening in the Marvel Universe, because there are so many heroes in New York, but it doesn’t, if at all. Dolan and Piatt do a nice job thinking of things like that. Most of all, this is fairly unabashed love of superheroes in this book, which doesn’t come through too often in Big Two books. I love a good deconstruction as much as the next guy, but sometimes characters just have powers and they like fighting evil, you know?
Dolan’s art is a bit early 1990s Image-y, but for a straight-forward superhero story, it works well, and there’s no denying he (and Orozco) really make the book look great, from the details in each panel to the compact but tight storytelling that allows Dolan to give us truly impressive double-page splash pages, from the cool designs of pretty much every character to the way Dolan makes sure that when Paula is being a “civilian,” she actually looks like a regular person. Orozco over-renders some of the work, but he does a good job with the special effects and he contrasts the brightness of the action with the duller (but not dark) hues of the mundane world.
You might wonder why I don’t love this comic more. Well, there’s the unfortunate problem that it’s a bit too similar to the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League and Astro City, two of the better superhero comics of the past 30 years, and while I don’t mind if that’s the template Dolan and Piatt are following, it still feels a bit familiar. We need more comics like those in the world, to be sure, but writers need to do something new with that template, and in this issue at least, it doesn’t feel like Dolan and Piatt are going for anything like that. They might get there in future issues, but for now, they’re not quite there. I know this is more of my gut feeling than anything quantifiable – as I noted, there’s nothing blatantly wrong with the comic – but it doesn’t have that hook that really makes me want to read more. The big twist at the end is easy to see coming, but there’s nothing wrong with it and can have some nice story implications down the line, but it didn’t really grab me so much that I started jonesing for the next issue. The writing and art is fine, but for whatever reason, it only connected with me on a mild “Well, that was pretty good” way. That’s just the way I feel. Sorry, I can’t help it!
I will say that if you’re a bit bored by Marvel and DC superheroes, this is a nice alternative. It’s the same price or cheaper as the Big Two books, and it’s over twice as long as those are, and Dolan and Piatt don’t waste space with double-page spreads that could fit the same amount of information into one panel. There’s a lot of good stuff in the book, and I’m a bit bummed it didn’t hit me on a more visceral level. But I encourage everyone to check it out, either digitally or, if your store happens to get a copy, in the real world!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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