Let me guess. When you think about Marvel Comics you think about the very best comic book titles being published in the world today. Naturally that means you’re thinking about Black Panther, Incredible Hercules, Nova, Secret Warriors and Guardians of The Galaxy. No? Well don’t feel bad. Like many other people reading Marvel comic books, you’re probably following the more mainstream recognized top tier books for Marvel, and with the limited budget that many people have available to them you’re not able to explore titles with which you’re not already familiar. With that said, today I would like to spend a little bit of time telling you what I really enjoy about some of Marvel’s “B” books, and why I think they are more engaging than many of their “A” books.
Now I can’t take credit for being brave and giving this book a try when it first came out (it is now into its second volume, with the start of Dark Reign) but I was fortunate enough to find a number of back issues at The Heroes Lounge (now closed) in Georgetown and pick them up on discount when I had a couple of extra dollars in my pocket. Looking back, it is one of the best decisions that I’ve made. I immediately started reading the book on a monthly basis, and was really impressed by the writer’s ability to weave together the concept of a super-hero (to me he’s Marvel’s Batman) with politics and intrigue. The Black Panther isn’t your typical story in any way, and because of that, it manages to always maintain a very fresh and original sense to it. It deals with cultural differences, isn’t based in the United States and really touches on the concept of tribalism that dominates the African landscape. Mix in a marriage to Storm, and an outsider’s perspective to things that happen on U.S. soil (like Civil War) and you get a very different kind of book. It’s wonderfully written, and I really recommend it.
They all laughed it off like I was joking, but I wasn’t. When Greg Pak, who was doing brilliant work setting up Planet Hulk, made plans to spin Incredible Hercules out of the absence of an Incredible Hulk series at the time, I decided I would give it a try, and I was never disappointed. The writing was smart, the new characters that they introduced were interesting, and the story served to really add depth to Marvel’s use of characters like Hercules, Athena and even Aries (currently a member of Norman Osborne’s Dark Avengers.) More than that, my longstanding impression of Hercules in Marvel had been that he was bland, one-dimensional and basically a generic strong guy (not to be confused with Strong Guy of X-Factor.) After reading this series, I finally care about the character, and I see him as much more impressive and fleshed out than longstanding Avengers characters like Wonder Man or even Hawkeye. Pak embraced the character, and took him out of his comfort zone, setting Hercules clearly at odds with his family and with the American government. The story is continuing to evolve, and I think that if you’re not reading this book, you’re miss a great opportunity to see a character get properly fleshed out for the first time. That kind of freedom for a writer creates a myriad of possibilities, and Pak is exploring some damn good ones. Plus, the mythology that is being woven into the super-hero genre works well too.
Man is it good. Super-powers, secret agencies, and Nick Fury operating well outside the law. It’s intelligent, without being highbrow, and it has powers without being Avengers. Fury is building an army, and supplementing them with a black-ops group of young powers in a bid to retake the reigns of the spy world from the people like Osborne and Hydra (who we find out have always been the secret power behind SHIELD?!) It’s a fun book, with the kind of character I always have time for. Fury is so old school that if he thought that making you cry would save him seven seconds in a fight, he’d find a way to break you emotionally in case he ever needed to beat you up. He’s just so……so…..hard. I like that when it is written up against the backdrop of young heroes, whose natural tendency is to rebel against authority. What can I tell you? Read this book.
There are other limited series and such that come and go, but these books have been at the heart of all things going on in space for the last few years. The men writing both of these books have long since earned my admiration for telling smart stories, with creative edges, that somehow manage to hold on to that fresh feeling that I got when I was reading books as a kid. You may be surprised to hear that this is the fourth time that Marvel has attempted to tell the story of Nova. The other reads are not very good, although they are reflective of their eras. The Nova Corps is an intergalactic peace keeping police force (sound familiar anyone?) that has seldom had a big impact on the Marvel Universe. That is no longer the case. Abnett & Lanning launch the series by taking away the corps, and condensing the power all into one person; Nova Prime – Richard Ryder of Earth. Once a New Warrior (the poor bastard!) Ryder is now the sole repository of a tremendous power source. From there the story takes many twists, while bringing back into play some other characters from Marvel’s inter-galactic past. Because Nova hasn’t been used in a deep and meaningful way, the writers have a lot of freedom, and as such they can tell original stories, making it a very interesting read.
Now before I sign off, I should mention that while I have almost always enjoyed the work of Misters Abnett and Lanning, I found their recent ending to their time on The Authority for Wildstorm to be rushed, choppy and unfulfilled. The premise that they were working on had legs and should have been allowed to run its course naturally, instead of being hurried to a resolution to make way for a new direction. I don’t know if that’s their fault for not pacing the story better, or Jim’s fault for rushing their ending, but it left a sour taste in my mouth and I dropped the book.
Also, if you're read Morrison's Batman RIP, I'd like your thoughts. We may have to discuss it some day soon.