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Graphic Novel Round-up: Big Names

Portrait_incredible-1Another round-up of five graphic novels. This time, only the big names need to apply - Kirkman, Millar, Bendis and Ennis all feature with five epic titles from past and... recent past.

Civil War (Millar / McNiven): I know, the biggest event of 2007 and I'm just getting around to it. And, to be honest, if Forbidden Planet weren't flogging signed copies, I never would have. Still, I'm pretty impressed by the core concept of Civil War - it is both ambitious and timely. I also liked the focus on Iron Man and Captain America (especially the latter), although every other character felt a bit hard done by (including Mr. Fantastic, who got just enough page time to look like a total knob).

Unfortunately, as a stand-alone title or a miniseries, Civil War doesn't have much more depth than a What If? Christmas Special. I get the impression that if I dedicated myself to reading the seventeen-thousand other comic books in the continuity, it might be a richer experience, but it'd leave me a lot poorer. Plus, with Secret Invasion and Secret Crisis on Infinite Ultimatums coming out, why bother? 

Preacher: Gone to Texas (Ennis / Dillon): Sometimes you reread titles and are disappointed. Other times, they've not faded at all. As much as I enjoy all most of Ennis and Dillon's collaborations, they've never topped Preacher. Any single volume of Preacher makes for a self-contained read, but this, the first in the series is still one of the best. Jesse and his band of merry pals are all introduced and the overall plot ('find God') is thrown up on the table within the first few pages. The rest is joyous wackytime, cluttered with some of the most memorable characters in all comics history - from the true badasses (The Saint of Killers) to the real bastards (Sheriff Root). Offensive, disturbing and a thoroughly satisfying story. 

Invincible: Volume 1 (Kirkman / Ottley / Walker): This hefty volume collects the first 13 issues of Invincible. Invincible is Mark Grayson, the teenage son of the world's greatest superhero. The series starts with Mark discovering his powers ("finally!") and beginning his adventures alongside his father. His actual superheroics are fairly lackluster - Mark is... unsurprisingly... invincible, and he doesn't have a tough time beating down on the bad guys. Instead, he's frequently thrown into situations - in and out of costumes - where he's forced to think clearly under pressure. The bright colors, easy humor and seemingly casual storylines make this look deceptively like a children's comic. It isn't. The challenges faced by Mark, his family and his friends are surprisingly mature and brutal - although their world is cartoonish on the surface, thanks to Kirkman's superb writing, the characters run quite deep. A quick read, but well worth it. I came late to this series, but look forward to following it for quite some time. 

Wanted (Millar / Jones): Although I feel guilty picking on Mark Millar twice in one Round-up, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Life, apparently, is unfair to Wesley Gibson as well. Oppressed by his wimmenfolk and talked down to by his various minorities, he dresses like a tool and feels sorry for himself. Then, kazam. He turns out to be a supervillain. Wesley reacts to his new powers by raping and murdering his way to the top of his supervillain game without a single hesitation. I think there may have a moment or two where he stopped and tried to generate some empathy, but I probably blinked and missed them. Fortunately, he's surrounded by a cast of equally vapid monsters, with nary a bit of depth between them. Wesley is a dweeb as a mundane human, but as a supervillain he's actually one of the most genuinely unlikeable characters in comic history. I imagine that I've missed the post-modern/ironic twist, but I wasn't going to go rooting through it in this pile of nihilistic fanboy trash.  

Jinx (Bendis): Jinx is very early Bendis (anyone remember 1997?), both illustrated and written by Marvel's latest flagship writer. Jinx tells the parallel stories of a down-on-his-luck con man and a female bounty hunter (the title character). Their paths coincide in a few places, and, at the close of this first volume, it looks like they'll go on to many merry adventures. Jinx is a nice little indy - the protagonists (even the foul 'friend') are all entertaining and surprisingly engaging characters. It feels a little dated - like a combination of Swingers and Out of Sight - but pulls it off with great charm. I'm not sad that Bendis decided to concentrate on his writing - Jinx has great visual style, but isn't groundbreaking as much as 'aggressively independent'. Nice for a break, but hard for a series.