Friday, 15 March 2013

Atoll Comics Round 8 (and 6!)

Or Changes to My Top-Ten Comics

Due to poverty and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be super-selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

In Atoll Comics Round 6 I decided to pit The Indestructible Hulk and FF head-to-head in a trial basis to see which one would get incorporated into my top-ten reading list. Trouble is, I really enjoyed both comics immensely and still haven't quite decided which one I like best. But in a twist ending, I have decided that I like both titles more than one of my current top ten comics. So without further preamble:

I will be adding both The Indestructible Hulk AND FF and dropping Uncanny Avengers.

Why Indestructible Hulk? Essentially because it's a Hulk book that's good. I've always had trouble with the Hulk when he isn't in an ensemble because he feels a tad one-note. (I mean, it's a good note, but Hulk Smash only gets a narrative so far on its own.) The central hook of the comic: Banner is trying to maximise the good he can do as Banner while offering the Hulk as a weapon for SHIELD is brilliant.  I am also pretty excited about the Banner centric world Waid and Yu are building: I am genuinely interested in learning more about the supporting cast and Banner and where all of this part of the story is going. The only reason this comic hasn't completely grabbed me is that the super fascinating Banner narrative keeps getting tossed aside for the Hulk to go smash something unrelated to this developing storyline. I'm not entirely sure this isn't intentionally a meta-commentary on what it's like to be Banner. It might also just be a practical story logistic thing that allows Waid and Yu to slowly build up and develop the main story of the series while still dishing out big scoops of Hulk smashing. Hopefully as the series progresses The Indestructible Hulk can add some drama to the smashing, but for the moment I am on board.

Why FF? This is a series that is finally delivering what it promised. A comic with Matt Fraction and Mike Allred should be, at least in theory, something I very much want to read. But balanced against this is the fact that I really like walking away from long, finished feeling comic runs: I feel like Hickman's Fantastic Four and FF are reading experiences that need to be savoured. So, despite the incredible creative team I was a bit hesitant to jump into this new FF. But now that it has some time to establish itself and grow into its identity, well, I needn't have worried. This comic is completely its own glorious, weird, funny comic that is completely distinct from the high concept Science Fiction opera of the previous iteration of the FF. It took a while to get there, but the most recent issues: where Thing mask wearing Yancy Street hoodlums accost Ms. Thing and where the Moloid kids try to ruin a date between She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot are just so wacky and off-beat and great. If this is the comic FF is going to be going forward, I'm fully on board for the duration.

Why not Uncanny Avengers? I still think Uncanny Avengers is a pretty great comic: mixing X-men and Avengers is a great idea and the execution of art and writing is top notch. It's without a doubt a very good comic. Then why am I dropping it? Well, part of it is competition with other Avengers books. In a world where I am reading only ten comics I don't really need to read three similar team books with overlapping casts. When contrasted against fun, punchy, and continuity light Avengers Assemble (Kelly Sue DeConnick) and serious, elaborate, and high concept Avengers (Jonathan Hickman), Uncanny Avengers suffers a bit by being, compared to these polar extremes, middle of the road. It's not as fun as Avengers Assemble and not as high stakes and thinky as Avengers... it's somewhere in between. And in a limited reading list, something that doesn't stand out is at a disadvantage. Another issue I have with Uncanny Avengers is that it just. Keeps. Getting. WEIRDER. After a very balanced first issue Uncanny Avengers nailed the accelerator to the floor and just starting throwing crazier and crazier action at the reader without leaving any space to breath or sort out what was happening. And the cliffhanger at the end of the first story arch promises to be EVEN CRAZIER YET!! I understand that this kind of all-action-all-the-time style of writing is popular with some people, but the fact is I really like the quiet character driven moments in comics. Without these moments comics are just so much fighting, which, at least for me, lacks the dramatic weight of conflicts rooted in character or thematic context. (That said, I don't think this is a flaw in the book so much as it's just not being written for me... the fact that I can choose between Crazy Action Avengers, Fun Character-driven Avengers, and Elaborately-Plotted Expansive Avengers is probably a strength of Marvel's current lineup: there are different things for different folks.) So basically, I am dropping this book because, while it is very good, it's just not quiet what I like in comics. 

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