Saturday, 20 November 2010

Comic Musing: Brian Reed's Ms. Marvel

I was gonna save my first proper post for a toy review, but since my internet is determined to prevent me getting pics online, that'll have to wait.  So instead, I'd like to talk comics, specifically about a recently-deceased series that, for a little while, embodied everything I want from a mainstream Marvel book:  Brian Reed's Ms. Marvel.

This is what happened last time Iron Man asked Carol to "make him a sammich".

I can't honestly remember what drew me to pick up a Ms. Marvel TB in the first place; I think it was her appearances in both the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance game, and in Avengers Disassembled.  What I remember most fondly about that particular series was that, after the insane Scarlet Witch had brought the Avengers to their knees, wrecking the mansion and causing the deaths of the Vision, Jack of Hearts and Ant-Man before finally being stopped, we found the remaining core Avengers sat around a dining table in the mansion's ruin and what do they say?  "Oh, I forgive Wanda.  She was under a lot of stress.  She never really meant to hurt us."

"WTF," I thought as I read those dialogue balloons, "she killed three of you, drove She-Hulk bonkers and threw an alien battleship at you in an attempt to finish the job.  THESE ARE NOT THE ACTIONS OF SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T WANT TO HURT YOU!"  And it was with no little sense of delight that I found one of the Avengers challenging that view (albeit less forcefully than I did), so of course I was interested to find out more about this blondie-with-the-crap-costume.  This was back during her latter 'Warbird' phase where she had pointless body armour and covered up her thighs.  If my legs were that nice, I wouldn't cover 'em up...

So I looked, and found 'Best of the Best', the first TPB of Ms. Marvel volume 2.  And it started off with an interesting hook, acknowledging that the title character isn't exactly an A-lister among superheroes, and using that as Carol's motivation going forwards.  The dialogue was sharp and witty without being overly punctuated a la Brian 'One Word Per Bubble' Bendis, and the art by Roberto de la Torre, whilst not amazing, was dynamic and colourful, and brought out character nuances through facial expressions in a great way.  Certainly, the Civil War-based cliffhanger was enough to get me anticipating the second collection...although asking "Whose side is she on?" would've been more effective if Ms. M had actually shown some conflicting thoughts over the issue in other series, instead of sticking to Tony Stark like a conjoined twin for the duration of Mark Millar's overhyped and largely-nonsensical event.

Even with that particular saga casting an unwelcome shadow over proceedings, though, Reed managed to keep Ms. Marvel on track, giving Carol an apprentice (AranĂ¡) at a time when her work was getting less about noble heroics and more about dirty deals and making the best of a bad situation; introducing the token love interest actually proved engaging thanks to Carol also getting closer to Simon 'Wonder Man' Williams at the same time; Rogue turned up, purely to appease the old-school fanboys; and the formation of Operation Lightning Storm, Carol's pseudo-SHIELD spy team, gave the story a different feel to the usual superhero "let's just hang around until some bad stuff happens" antics, not to mention adding more memorable backup cast.  How Reed managed to take a post-Nextwave Aaron Stack and stick him in a 'real' Marvel book without change, I'll never know, but I'm damn glad he did.  Also, there were explosions.  A ton of explosions.

And then, the cracks started to show.

Stuff like this was the beginning of the end for the series.
Still a pretty cool cover, mind.

As Marvel started to pile on event after event, running from World War Hulk to Secret Invasion to Dark Reign, it seemed that Reed started to lose track of his own subplots.  The 'Ascension' formula, apparently some sort of super-soldier serum that could make a man indestructible, served as the catalyst for a six-issue arc where Carol somehow lost her powers (how was never explained properly, but it involved her being affected by a freaky blue alien terminator - hey, it's comics, this shit happens every other Wednesday) and went back to basics for a sort-of espionage thriller, which was...alright, I guess, but it just wasn't as much fun as it was before, and when I'm not dealing with some uber-serious 'graphic novel' sort of comic, I expect there to be fun.  And then they killed off Carol Danvers...and replaced her with her Dark Avengers substitute.  Dr. Karla Sofen, aka Moonstone, aka the Reader-Repellant.

What the hell are you doing there?  If I wanted to read a Moonstone book, Marvel execs,
 I'd have bought one that says FUCKING MOONSTONE on the cover.

I don't think I'm the only one who found Karla's bitchiness tiresome; hell, given the uninspired issues he turned out, it looks like Reed shared my opinion on her.  Which begs the question, why was he writing about her in the first place?  When Marvel wanted someone to do a Daken Akihiro (sp?) series based on his role as the Dark Avengers version of Wolverine, they started a whole new book for him (called, not surprisingly, Dark Wolverine).  Was there any reason the same couldn't have happened here?  And while I'm complaining, why kill off Carol in issue 37?  It didn't feel like it was part of the plan all along, and since there was no acknowledgement of her disappearing for several weeks/months in any other Dark Reign book, it felt irrelevant.  And of course, she only stayed dead for about four issues, thereby making Karla's tenure as the sole Ms. Marvel seem even more irrelevant.

I wish I could say at this point that, once the series was back where it belonged, with the focus on the revived Carol (whose resurrection involved her being split into two bodies, one with a fake name, and a bunch of baby MODOK variants that could alter reality with their thoughts, or...some shit), things got better.  They didn't.  Irreparable harm had been caused, and it seems that the readership must've given up, 'cause Marvel ordered the series cancelled at issue 50.  Reed rushed to come up with a meaningful coda, involving a clone of Captain Mar-Vell and old-school Ms. M enemy Mystique, but it didn't feel epic, it didn't tie up anything, and it left Carol with no real resolution or obvious path going forwards.

This is a pretty regular occurrence for me; almost every time I get invested in a comic series, it somehow stumbles just when it's really hitting its prime.  With Ms. Marvel, for a time, it was near-perfect.  A confident fusion of tone, meshing old-school bold 'KABOOM!' heroics with a modern edge; a talented writer who knew what he was doing; a lead character with actual depth, quirks and flaws (and easy on the eyes to boot); and a succession of gifted artists with a great eye for spectacle and intimacy, barely a duffer amongst them (AndrĂ© Coelho's work on issue 27 notwithstanding).

Plus, Greg Horn's cheesecake covers were a joy to behold.
Super-catfights FTW.

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, for the first 30 issues or so.  Now I'm just left with the memories, the pile of TPBs in my room, and a mountain of unanswered questions.  Where did Ascension come from?  Why were the baby MODOKS so attached to Carol?  Where did Agent Sum go?  Doesn't anyone care that the Storyteller kid got away?  Aaaaaarrgh.

Next time, some toys, hopefully.

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