Sunday, February 20, 2011

Comic Book Carnage 004: Legion of Super-Heroes and Silver Surfer

It's time for another edition of Comic Book Carnage, in which Mike (from It's a Bit of a Shame) and I put our friendship to the test and argue about stuff. Today, we review Legion of Super-Heroes #10 and Silver Surfer #1.

(Contains spoilers, mostly for Silver Surfer #1)

Legion of Super-Heroes #10
Written by Paul Levitz; art by Yildiray Cinar and Wayne Faucher; DC

Mike: I'll be honest. I don't like this book because it did anything better than any other book; I like it because it features characters I like doing cool stuff. Which made me wonder if it's enjoyable to someone who's not as big a fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes. So, Yan, you're nearly a year into reading this book. Have these characters grown on you at all?

Yan: Yes, they have. I feel like I'm starting to get a sense of who the individual characters are and the relationships between them. I'm still fascinated by the way Paul Levitz is handling this huge cast of characters who are often busy doing several different things at once in different parts of the universe. As far as I can tell, this kind of storytelling is unique to this book (at least in terms of what is currently being published by DC and Marvel).

Mike: Well, I'm glad to hear the book's succeeded at appealing to newer readers.

Yan: Yeah, although I wouldn't say it's new-reader friendly. It's definitely a challenge. If you don't already know the characters, you have to make an effort to get into it, but that's sort of inherent to the LOSH, I think. As far as the story goes, I confess that I'm not sure I fully understood what was going on with the Durlan assassins plot. It's probably not that complicated, but for me, because I'm already struggling to remember who the characters are, it was a bit hard to follow at times. At the end of the issue, when that whole plot seems to be resolved, it kind of took me by surprise. Because I was still kind of waiting for everything to click together and make sense.

Mike: One part that's bothered me about the direction of the story, and obviously this isn't Levitz's fault, is the choice of team leader.

Yan: Yeah. Maybe we should explain that, in case readers don't know what we're talking about. Traditionally, the leader of the team is chosen by the fans. They have an election in the story, but DC actually gets the fans to send in their votes. And this time, the Mon-El won the election, and the problem is Paul Levitz obviously had different plans for him with the whole Green Lantern of the 31st Century plot. You can really sense in this issue that he's trying to reconcile the results of the poll with the story that he'd already started working on. And it's kind of clunky.

Mike: I felt kind of sad when Mon-El's called back to take over leadership duties. He's right in the middle of what could have been a great subplot.

Yan: Yeah. It's a bit of a bummer. Fans really shot themselves in the foot with that one.

Mike: Although this lead to some great moments involving Brainiac 5, who is acting as leader until Mon-El's return. I feel like Brainiac 5 is the key to enjoying LOSH, much like Damian in Batman & Robin, there's just something really enjoyable about an arrogant jerk with the intelligence to back it up

Yan: Yeah, I agree. He's an enjoyable character for sure. I don't remember who I voted for in the election... In fact, I'm not even sure I did vote. But he's the character that stands out the most to me in terms of personality and I considered picking him. But then I realized that was too obvious, and in a way his character is more interesting if he's not in a position of authority. I like how he sort of stays on the sidelines and does his own thing, and then before anyone else has even had a chance to process what's going on, he's solved the case.

What do you think about the art? I know you were very critical of Cinar in earlier issues. Are you warming up to his style, or you still don't like it?

Mike: I acknowledge that this is an backhanded compliment, but I realize that in comparison to other artists working at DC he's not so bad.

Yan: Okay. Maybe that's why I never had a problem with his art in the first place. But another way of putting it is that it's competent. It may not be spectacular, but there's nothing really wrong with it. It's consistent.

Mike: I guess my problems stems from the fact that the last major take on these characters was by Gary Frank and George Perez, which shaped my current interpretation of these characters. So basically Yildiray Cinar's biggest crime is not being as good as the best of the industry.

Yan: Which is maybe a bit unfair. I mean, I wish this level of art quality was the standard at DC. This should be what average books look like, and then you'd have the really stand-out artists (Francis Manapul, Dustin Nguyen, etc) kicking it up a notch. If this were the case, I'd be satisfied. But when I look at the revolving door of shitty fill-in artists that Birds of Prey has seen since it relaunched, or the hacks they have on some of the high-profile books, it's really disheartening.

Okay, unless you have anything to add, let's maybe wrap this one up. I was thinking maybe we could start rating these books using my Patented Custom Super-vague Nebulous Non-scientific Rating Scale™. It's completely adaptable in the sense that you don't have to follow it at all. But basically, summarize your assessment of the book in a word or two.

Mike: Okay. Considering all that we have said, I think I will give this a GOOD.

Yan: Yeah, agreed. GOOD.

Silver Surfer #1
Written by Greg Pak; art by Stephen Segovia and Victor Olazaba; Marvel

Yan: I have a feeling we might not agree as much on this second book.

Mike: Yeah! This will be exciting. Since I get the impression that you enjoyed it, I want you to start us off so I will have more ammo for when I rip the book apart.

Yan: All right. As always with Marvel, I have limited exposure to the characters. Although in this case, I've at least read some Silver Surfer before. I read the classic Stan Lee/John Buscema stuff, and I've also encountered the character in The Infinity Gauntlet.

I was initially a bit thrown off by the way this ties into continuity. I figured out later that this happens immediately after Chaos War, which I haven't read, so I guess that explains why Galactus is knocked out at the beginning. At least they dealt with this quickly enough and then moved on with the story. So even though it starts as a kind of epilogue to a story I haven't read, it didn't take too much away from my enjoyment of the rest of the book.

What I liked about it was that it seemed pretty true to the character as I understand him: a kind of theatrical/emo drama queen. The Silver Surfer's inner monologue had a cheesiness to it that I always associate with the character.

I don't know who that Suzie Endo character is, and the whole plot about her working with the military and tracking those drug dealers or whatever was going on there... I wasn't too keen on that part of it. It was a bit hard for me to care about any of that, since it's a bit devoid of context. However, I thought the issue ended on a really strong note [SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS] with the reveal that Silver Surfer is losing his power. That scene was well done and it got me excited about where this was going, so I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Mike: First, yes, I agree that Greg Pak has nailed the highly emotional tone of the Silver Surfer, and for me that was one of the book's strongest points. But ultimately there were too many problems. Like the artist. Stephen Segovia's art just doesn't work for me. His Silver Surfer is too beefy. The Esad Ribic illustration featured at the beginning of the book is the ideal Surfer to me - smooth, kind of androgynous. Segovia's characters also lacked unique faces. The Mexican girl who shows up at the beginning doesn't look too different from Suzie Endo.

Speaking of Suzie, she didn't really grab me as a character, and I'm not fond of the idea that Pak feels this need to inject a more grounded character for readers, like the Silver Surfer is too hard to identify with. And my final gripe (I promise) is the use of the High Evolutionary. I'm guessing he's going to be the central villain, but he's only in this book for a startling two pages. Considering he's the catalyst for the main conflict, I would expect a little more time dedicated to him.

Yan: Okay. Let me tackle these points individually. I agree with your criticism of the art. It's not so bad that it detracts a whole lot from my enjoyment of the book, but I agree the female characters look too similar. I hadn't really thought about Silver Surfer's beefiness, but now that you mention it, I can see that also.
Although for me that applies to pretty much all super-heroes - I always prefer them with leaner bodies, so maybe I've learned to tune that out.

While I'm not really drawn to the character of Suzie very much, I'm not sure that her purpose here is to ground the reader who can't identify with the Silver Surfer. I'm hoping that she has an important role to play in the coming issues. Traditionally, Silver Surfer is always misunderstood by the humans, who see him as a threat. This is how the army guys react to him. Suzie's the only one who's willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And with him losing his powers, I'm assuming she'll have an important role to play in helping him regain them. So while I'm not really stoked on the character, I think she's there for a reason, and hopefully by the end of this mini-series she'll have grown on me.

Finally, about the villain, I don't know if that's a fair criticism. It's a pretty standard trope to introduce your major antagonist near the end of the first issue. I don't know that we really needed to spend more time on him. I'm surprised this bothered you. Is it more that you don't like this particular villain, or you would have felt the same way no matter who it was?

Mike: I felt that it ruined the flow of the story to have him show up so briefly. To me, Silver Surfer losing his powers should have had more attention. Basically the whole sequence felt rushed to me. So I guess pacing is my problem, not the villain.

Yan: Okay. Well, I disagree completely. Those last five or six pages were my favourite part of the issue, and I thought the pacing was perfect. I'd argue it's the strongest thing about the issue, even. The way that he first breaks away from the High Evolutionary and seems to have the upper hand, then he loses control of his board and it's like, "What the fuck?" Then the blood, then the bullets going through the board, then the reveal in the final full-page slash. That was like a perfectly edited sequence - very cinematic and calculated for maximum effect. And the fact that the guy who causes all of this basically just shows up, does something unclear, then says "my apologies" and leaves, is kind of awesome.

Mike: I guess then all the other problems I had made it so that I was no longer invested in the story. So when that sequence came along I wasn't capable of enjoying it.

Yan: Hmm. Well, too bad. So I guess this is a DROP for you, i.e., you're not gonna buy the next issue?

Mike: I feel bad saying it since you enjoyed it so much, but I am going to have to go with DROP.

Yan: That's okay. I don't take it personally. I'm going to go with a cautiously optimistic GOOD. Not a huge fan of the art, but a promising start. My enjoyment of the rest of the series will mostly depend on whether Greg Pak can make me like Suzie or not.


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