Friday, 12 February 2010

Moody anti-heroes from Marvel

First, if you think Wolverine is all about mindless action, take a look at recent miniseries from acclaimed comics writer Brian K Vaughn and artist Eduardo Risso, simply titled Logan.

After reading some confusing and unexciting solo Wolverine adventures, it was such a breath of fresh air to open the beautiful pages of this short miniseries and see the classic rogue hero battling to take care of his past in a way that couldn’t have been done until recently. Since House of M (see here for an explanation of that) Wolverine’s wiped memories of his past seventy-plus years of life have been returning and in Logan it’s clear he is still feeling the weight of all that has been done to him (and guilt at the things he has done too). Here he is confronting the horrors of what he survived at the end of the Second World War.

The art deserves a special mention, especially in the first part – the dark page layouts, gradually change to brighter, more expansive panels as Wolverine escapes a Japanese Nazi prison. Risso really is a fascinating storyteller in his own right, and this miniseries easily tops his work on a so-so Batman story a few years ago. Observe the way Risso shows us simple things like the light falling in the cell to the way he illustrates some of beautiful rural Japan, not often seen in films or comics, and a traditional Japanese home.

Finally Vaughn gave us a monstrous villain - borne of madness and paranoia and war. I'd love for more ghosts from the past with this kind of regenerative power to pop up. Regenerating and out-living others like that must give you some kind of god complex - and was chilling stuff to read. I guess the Marvel universe should be thankful Logan doesn't see himself as “homo superior” as this villain suggests he should. He has a more realistic attitude, feeling his own responsibility even in the way he's been programmed and used in the past.

Planet Hulk

The Hulk is one Marvel character I have barely any knowledge about. But in this year-long epic a tragic “persecuted monster” storyline is fused with the political machinations and arenas of the film Gladiator, on an advanced planet far from Earth.

And why is the Hulk is ejected from Earth to start a new life on an alien world? All for the safety of humanity, of course, as decided secretly by Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Guess what? Hulk is mad – and the madder he gets….

Brilliantly it is far from being a story about the Hulk smashing everything in sight. Originally inhibited by alien technology and enslaved, he grows cleverer than the other gladiators, he shows loyalty to those who prove themselves serving alongside him, he manages to unite some of the diverse races on the planet, finding ways both to deliver an oppressed people and even to begin to undo the damage caused to the planet. And all along, he is followed by the devout and hopeful, who look to him as an unlikely saviour from their insanely self-obsessed monarch, the Red King. The question that kept me reading was this one: Will he succeed in all this? Can he actually play the hero? And when you see his rage and stubbornness, or some of the more despicable aspects of his allies, what will his new world look like when he’s done? Can he possibly find a home so far from Earth?

Highly recommended, because it is refreshingly different from the rest of mainstream comics, very different in scope to most comics on crime or superheroics, and the art, through most of this wild, surprising ride, is also excellent.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Catching up with Heroes

For the Heroes faithful, things are going well. This fourth season, which BBC2 is currently showing, is focused on character and a plotline and not just getting characters to certain places in time to use their powers and move on to the next crisis (like some of season 2 and 3). Finally we have Peter Petrelli determining to use his power to help people, Claire is getting a new support cast (albeit a weird one) and Hiro’s family has also developed while he has been able to invest in those lives he has a chance to touch to make some difference.

What’s more, new characters with powers only seem to be included to further an overall plot. For instance, the new carnival characters have created an intriguing alternative lifestyle for those with powers, and a menace which is not easy to define. They are clearly a twisted “family”, taking in the vulnerable, but they are also kept in check by the uncompromising leader Samuel Sullivan - and to what ultimate end?

Another new character to pop up, a young teen who is a “healer”, also reminds us of the need for a strong family, and good guidance for those with powers, which has helped us see Mr Bennet’s new place in the world, and his good instincts for this sort of situation. However how he deals with the boy also reminds us that he doesn’t have all the answers, and highlights his powerlessness when the boy’s confusion and panic leads to disaster. If only he had these powers under control, he could be a force for great good – but even in the real world, bringing our bodies under control for good is not easy, and so sometimes even those used to being in control, like Mrs Petrelli, are faced with their faults and their insufficiency.

I guess there still needs to be something more each character is working towards, which they share – but it is early in the season and Samuel does seem to be drawing most of them together. What kind of web he is weaving I don’t know, and I don’t know if the new “blank slate” Sylar trusts him or not. I can't wait to see more of how this "family" theme plays out. Is redemption possible for those who have been outcast from society? Or will they keep on playing the hate game and make things worse between those with powers and the outsiders who visit them?

(Thankfully, we've had a break from Mohinder's angsty scientist routine as well! The painting of him was good though so I thought I'd add it here. More on films and comics coming soon...)