The Secret Is Out

Secret Avengers is a pretty damn good comic book.

I was pretty sure it was going to be, with Brubaker writing it and all, but still, months ago, I was worried: what if it isn't any good? What if Brubaker can't write a team book? And isn't Mike Deodato's work a little stiff?

And, at the beginning, some of those fears were justified. Brubaker's writing was a little slow, at the start, and it just felt like he was being weird for the sake of being weird. Awesome weird, but still- it didn't really seem to have much of a point.

By the end of that first arc, though, Brubaker really hit his stride. By the time he hit the second arc, after an interlude drawn by David Aja and Michael Lark, he was really hitting it out of the park: now that he's playing with Shang-Chi and the Prince of Orphans, things seem really fluid and each piece fits together perfectly. Fluidity, too, is not something I was expecting from Mike Deodato Jr. and, while I guess "fluid" is probably the wrong word, there's a certain energy in his art. I can't place my finger on its source, precisely, and it doesn't help that his figures still look like, well, action figures. Action figures articulate, though, and you can look at them from all sorts of angles, which is precisely what Deodato does. The art here is good. Really good. The stiff look isn't usually my thing, but it's impossible not to appreciate the work and not only because he's clearly good (maybe even the best at this sort of style). Mostly it's because he's just so damn good at presenting it, with panels and page layout that are fluid and dynamic in a way that his pencils aren't. The way we look at it moves, even if what we're looking at doesn't and that's just utterly brilliant.

This aspect of Deodato's work is front and center in Secret Avengers #8, the third part of a five part story centering around the return of Shang-Chi's father, a character who can't be named for copyright reasons, but who I'm more than happy to tell is Victorian villain Fu Manchu. Brubaker finds plenty of clever ways around that particular obstacle, just like he does some pretty cool stuff with what is essentially a book-long fight scene. It goes maybe a mite too fast for my liking, and I'm concerned that he's used Sharon Carter as a damsel in distress two storylines in a row, but everything else seems spot on. He knows his characters, and not a word seems out of place or out of character. If he keeps writing the book like this, and Deodato keeps drawing and designing the hell out of it, I'm all in.

Also, here's to hoping Brubaker keeps Prince of Orphans around. He's a fantastic character, one of my favorite minor ones, and he's been in stasis too long. Would it be too much to ask for a mini-series or something?

Quote of the Week 12/24/10

The war was much on my mind in those days, and it was almost entirely the one being fought on movie screens and in the pulp pages of "funny books," known as comic books in other parts of the country. Both names were misleading for the kind I liked, the ones featuring costumed vigilantes who made violent swoops on spy rings and gang hideouts, with no Miranda palaver. Along with Superman and Batman, there were many others, now largely forgotten, such as Bulletman, Plastic Man, The Sandman, Doll Man (a fighting homunculus about six inches tall, in a red cape), The Human Torch, Daredevil, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Captain Midnight, and Captain America. Under any name the books were quite a bargain early on, at sixty-four pages in color for a dime. Or a kind of color. The palette was limited; Superman had blue hair. I never tired of the repetitive stories or the familiar scenes that were enacted over and over again.
Charles Portis, author of True Grit, for The Atlantic in 1999.

(As an aside, the Coen Brothers True Grit came out on Wednesday and it's pretty good. Not great, much better for Jeff Bridges' acting as Rooster Cogburn, but still very good. Worth going to see, anyway, even if it won't rock your world or anything.)

Portis, probably without realizing it, has articulated precisely the problem with the Modern Age of comics. Comics readers, on the whole, never tire of those familiar scenes, the ones enacted over and over again. In fact, far from tiring of them, comics readers on the whole beg to see the same scenes reenacted repeatedly, and continuously.

Actually, I'm wrong. This is the behavior of comics fans.

I think I've mentioned before that I am ill content with the label of "fan." One of my professors never fails to remind us that "fan" is short for "fanatic," and, as much as I sometimes bristle at his insistence, he's right. I'm not a Captain America fanatic, nor an Iron Fist fanatic, nor even a comics fanatic. I like these things. It may be that I even love these things, but I am not fanatical about these things. There are no characters or stories that I love so much that they are sacrosanct, no notions, no costumes, no thing about comics that is so important to me that I would prefer to preserve it than to see it change for the sake of a good story.

There is nothing wrong with that way of looking at things. In point of fact, most readers of mainstream comics are "fans" and far be it from me to tell them that they're doing it wrong: it's just not the way that I want to do it. I would much rather see writers and artists do what they do well than see Captain America live forever.

Heed the warning that Planetary left us with a little over a year ago: there are so many places to go. Rather than keep re-reading the past, why don't we ride right on into the future?

Here's to what's interesting, ladies and gentlemen, here's to what's new.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year.