By Al Kratina
January 2, 2007 - 19:08
The first story in the issue, written by Marc Guggenheim with art by Leinil Yu, gives us the background to Venom's entry into the Thunderbolts. Suitably brutal and grim, the story is nevertheless incidental, essentially consisting of Venom being offered membership and him saying yes. Guggenheim's script is entertaining, though a touch overburdened with in-jokes, and Yu's art is suitably grotesque. But since this isn't even the creative team that will be handling Thunderbolts come January, I'm a little confused as to its inclusion.
The next story, from Robert Kirkman, penciled Phil Hester, and Andy Parks, is Conscientious Objector, featuring Ant Man. I wasn't filled with a burning desire to find out how a 3-inch tall criminal in an Olympic luge uniform is dealing with the events of the Civil War, and as the answer is he's mainly ignoring it, again I just feel like a bunch of my time went down the drain. But Kirkman has a firm handle on snappy dialogue, and Hester and Parks are among my favorite artistic teams in comic books right now. Their simplified line art is somehow both distinctive and quintessentially 'comic book'-y. While I find the seemingly computer assisted coloring, by Bill Crabtree, a little overcomplicated for the style, the look is still bright, light-hearted and sunny, perfectly fitting the tone of the story.
A stark contrast in mood comes in writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction's Iron Fist story. A prequel to the new Immortal Iron Fist series, the story deals with Iron Fist's donning, and subsequent relinquishing, of the Daredevil mantle. The story is exciting, though somewhat heavy on the interior monologue, and David Aja's art is fantastic, dark and brooding without getting too gothic. Definitely, this is one of the highlights of the book.
The most successful story, on the other hand, comes from Mike Oeming's U.S. Agent tale. Not because it's particularly good, but because it's at least good enough to make me want to check out the new Omega Flight series, which is the closest I've ever come to reading Alpha Flight. In this story, U.S. Agent gets assigned to liaise with the Canadian government with their new Alpha Flight team, replacing the group that got killed by Brian Michael Bendis. He refuses, on the grounds that he's been educated by the American public school system and thinks Canadians all live in igloos and speak French. Somehow, a scuffle with the Purple Man convince U.S. Agent to change his mind, probably on the assumption that he'll get his own series. Oeming's script is fast-paced and upbeat, but Scott Kolins' art feels lazy, as usual. His work is like the Bizzaro-world version of Hester and Parks', simple and line-driven, but sloppy at the same time, like the drawings on the back of a cereal box, or a Bazooka Joe comic strip. Art aside, this story shows that Omega Flight might be a book to check out, if only to see how U.S. Agent deals with the igloos.
The final story, however, is the gem of the collection, as it heralds the return of Howard the Duck to the Marvel Universe. Written by Ty Templeton, it's the only story that's not an advertisement for a new series, which is a shame, because I'd love to see how Howard reacts to the rest of the Marvel cast of characters. In Non-Human Americans, Howard attempts to register as a super-powered individual, hoping to get a government salary to augment his cabby's wage. Predictably, this ends in tragedy, and though Templeton is no Steve Gerber, he has a reasonably good handle on the character, or at least as much as an all-ages title will allow him to. The art, by Roger Langridge, is a caricaturish cross between Al Hirschfeld and Sergio Aragones, and while it's not my favorite style, it's well done, and serves the story well.
Ultimately, this is a fun, but disposable book, dedicated more to hyping new titles than telling great stories. Still, like an hour and a half of the Cannes Advertising Festival, it's diverting and entertaining, but ultimately unfulfilling. Despite the level of talent, this book was conceived mainly as a product to be consumed as opposed to an artistic endeavor. And ultimately, when the book is done, I feel like I've just consumed a Twinkie, instead of a full course meal. Still, I like Twinkies, and I’m probably not alone.
Rating: 6 /10