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Sunday Slugfest - Wonder Man #1

Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

"My Fair Super Hero"

Writer: Peter David
Artists: Andrew Currie (p), Drew Hennessy (i), Rob Schwager (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of the five issue Wonder Man limited series will appear in stores this Wednesday, December 13.





Average Rating:

Michael Bailey:
Michael Deeley:
Kelvin Green:
Luke Handley:
Shawn Hill:
Dave Wallace:

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.






Michael Bailey

Plot:After fighting a crazed “villain” named Ladykiller, Simon Williams accepts the challenge of turning the woman from insane killer into a respectable member of society.

Commentary: What I initially like about this book is that it is what most people would call “high concept” where you take two seemingly disparate concepts, bring them together into one story and be able to make the pitch in one sentence.

In this case it’s Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady if you prefer) with super-heroes.

There’s only one writer working in comics today who would be bold enough to propose such a series and talented enough to make it work. I’m not sure if Peter David actually pitched the series or if Marvel offered a Wonder Man story to him and this is what he made of it, but what I am sure of is that if this first issue is any indication, he will definitely make the concept work.

Since this is the first issue, most of it is spent on establishing the premise. This can sometimes be rather boring or slow, but this issue wasn’t. While the one action scene that occurred was well executed, it was the dialogue that made this introductory chapter work. From the almost somber narration at the beginning to the contemplative dialogue between Simon and Neal to Simon dealing with his attractive young fans to the amusing bit where the entire restaurant lapses into a debate about whether the word is super-hero or superhero, the writing was just excellent. I have long been of the belief that if there was a list of the top five writers who excel at dialogue, Peter David would be on it, and he didn’t let me down in this book.

(Not that Peter David is sitting at his keyboard thinking, “I can't let Michael Bailey down.” That would be silly, not to mention really freaking weird.)

The art was interesting. I’m not entirely sold on Currie and Hennessy’s style but at the same time I can’t find any fault with it either. My opinion on comic book art has gone through something of a metamorphosis, and I feel that as long as the art and the writing come together to make the reader think that it is the combination of the two that make a story special then you have a successful comic book. Currie and Hennessy may have given Simon Williams a jaw that would make Jerry Ordway circa 1987 jealous, but it works all the same time. The concept behind the story is itself kind of odd, so it makes sense that the art would follow suit. In my experience as a long time follower of Peter David’s writing, the humor is always balanced with tragedy, and I think the artists’ styles will be well suited for both.

In The End: So you have Wonder Man, Beast and Carol Danvers trying to turn a psycho into a productive member of society. Only good things can come from this cast and premise because whenever you put Hank and Simon in a room together, hilarity often ensues. I was also very pleased that Peter didn’t make this story “relevant” and have Neal want to produce a reality show instead of the documentary he proposed. I think this will allow the book to age well and still work five to ten years from now when hopefully the reality show genre will play itself out. Given the inspiration for this story, I don’t think things are going to end well for Simon or Ladykiller (who reminds me of the Crazy Eight character Peter created during his first stint on Incredible Hulk), but with the creative talent involved, I have every faith that it will be a solid and sometimes funny read.




Michael Deeley

In the far future, Simon “Wonder Man” Williams mourns the loss of his friends, enemies, and beliefs. He thinks back to “her”- a supervillain he tried to reform as part of a bet with a documentary filmmaker. The filmmaker challenges Simon’s belief that anyone, no matter what they’ve done, can be redeemed.

I’m not a big fan of Simon Williams. I don’t have anything against the guy; there just wasn’t much to him. Peter David gives him one very important character trait that hooked me right away: faith in people. Williams still mourns the Scarlet Witch’s descent into madness and wonders if he might have stopped it. He’s created a foundation to help people redeem themselves. He even feels sympathy for the villains he fights. That kind of empathy gives Simon the root for a developing personality and set of ethics, both of which can drive a series of introspective stories.

This is very much Simon’s Story. He narrates everything including his fight with Ladykiller. The narration tells us how Simon thinks strategically while providing exciting details pictures alone can’t convey. We’re left with several compelling questions: Who is this Ladykiller, and why did she want to kill that producer? Can Simon reform her violent ways? And why does the issue start in a future that’s turning into the world of 2099?

As fascinating as the story is, the art doesn’t rise to the standard. Andrew Currie’s pencils seem better suited to a humor comic than this personal struggle with occasional humor. Williams has the big chin and tiny head of Megaton Man. All the people look like caricatures of themselves. There’s too much exaggeration to take anything seriously. Drew Hennessey’s thick inks enhance this feeling. They two men make a great team, but they feel wrong for this story. Their art makes me feel like I should be laughing even when nothing funny is happening.

Existing fans of Wonder Man will love this comic. It’s a new, deeper take on a long-time character. Other readers will start liking him too. The art isn’t bad, per se, just not appropriate for this story.




Kelvin Green

Marvel really need to work on their promotion. I don’t keep as close an eye on US comics news as I once did, but even so, I’d never heard of this series, and even SBC Reviews Editor Keith “the Krusher” Dallas was surprised to receive the reviewer’s copy [EDITOR’S INTERRUPTION: Wow. I give a guy an advance preview of a Marvel comic book, and he throws me right under the bus. Thanks, Kelvin!]. Inevitably, this series will generate pitiful sales, and the upper management at Marvel will express surprise at its “baffling” failure, while churning out another sixteen Civil Bore tie-ins half as good as this, that will sell by the shedload. Gah.

(Speaking of which, Marvel, is this set pre-Civil Bore? Do you even know and/or care? Because this is nothing like Front Line’s government lackey version of Wonder Man...)

Wonder Man is an inherently problematic concept. He’s a generic flying strong guy, who does have some interesting personality quirks and a personal history full of potential, but both are tied so strongly to the Avengers, that a solo book taking him out of that context is bound to struggle. Peter David takes the character back to Hollywood here, hoping to wring something useful from that overused but underdeveloped aspect of Wonder Man’s backstory, and in doing so, turns in a fairly strong script, apart from a swathe of obvious dialogue used in setting up the premise and some screamingly bad prose here and there; I can’t quite believe that the line about someone shrieking “like something cavemen must have heard from the throats of beasts crouched in the jungle, just beyond the firelight” made it past even a Marvel editor. Still, on the whole it’s a breezy and witty script, a perfect fit for the slightly ludicrous Wonder Man, who can’t really do seriousness and angst (although the dystopian framing sequence steers dangerously close). Similarly, the apparent premise of this series, a superheroic Pygmalion, is a good, light-hearted fit for the character, while still allowing for an appropriate level of drama down the line. It’s certainly a much better approach than Wonder Man’s last sort-of-solo outing (It, the Living Colossus trashing movie sets, as I recall) in the desperately pointless Avengers Two).

Andrew Currie takes an exaggerated approach to the visuals, which in places borders on caricature, and while the super hero purists will probably hate it, it’s refreshing to see such a different style in use. The comic looks energetic and fun, closely matching the tone of David’s script, and as such, I don’t even mind that perhaps too much of the comic is spent on a fight scene, as it’s done with a great deal of style, vitality and humour. I’m not sure if Drew Hennessy’s rough, scratchy inks and Rob Schwager’s muted colours complement the essential quirkiness of Currie’s pencils, or slightly undermine them, as while the overall look is a good one, there’s an element of that overly sombre current Marvel house style creeping in. Perhaps I’m being too picky. It has been known to happen.

This comic benefits from a jaunty art style, a witty script, and a fun, compelling, premise, and I’m quite surprised to have enjoyed this so much. True, Peter David doesn’t do much to make Wonder Man himself any more interesting a character, but even so I’m keen to see what’s next.




Luke Handley:

I went into this book wanting to like it. I really did. I read the blurb for it in Marvel’s solicitations, and it sounded like it could be a fun little tale. Unfortunately it’s not. To be honest, I just don’t get it.

The plot here doesn’t go anywhere, which isn’t a good thing for a five issue miniseries. All it does it set up the premise that was already mentioned in the solicitation. Even the two guest stars that appear at the end were advertised in advance. There are no surprises to be had whatsoever. Though this obviously isn’t the biggest problem in the world, it doesn’t help matters any.

Bizarrely, the issue opens with a scene set in the future. How far? Doesn’t really matter as it’s just an excuse for Simon Williams (a.k.a. Wonder Man) to bemoan the state of the world, with no one helping anyone out of altruism anymore, and remember how much he misses his friends and how the last person he believed in was “her.” Why the writer thought this would be an interesting way to approach the story, I have no idea. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, just odd.

The “her” above refers to, I’m guessing, the new villain introduced here, Ladykiller. Is the name supposed to be funny? Or ironic because she’s not in fact much of a lady? Anyway, she’s got a lame name, and she’s a lame character. There is nothing in this fist issue to make me care one iota about what will become of her, and given that she’s to be the co-star of the book, that’s not good. Yeah, the whole point is that she’ll be “made over” and “herofied” by Wonder Man, but if there’s no reason to care in the first place, why bother reading? There are a couple of cheap gags thrown in with her over aggressive nature, but they’re also rather lame.

Speaking of the whole humour aspect, I guess this series is supposed to be part comedy. Unfortunately, it just seems to be trying too hard. The whole scene with everyone in the restaurant debating whether “superhero” is hyphenated or not was painful. There are other obvious attempts at trying to be funny, and overall it just doesn’t work. Or maybe I just have a crap sense of humour and most people will be rolling all over the floor with laughter whilst reading this.

The whole comedy angle is reinforced by the art provided by Andrew Currie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his work elsewhere so don’t know if this is his usual style or whether here he geared it more toward the humour angle. His characters all look like caricatures, and he seems to struggle a bit with the action poses. It’s not bad in itself and would probably work in a purely humour comic, but I find it an incredibly bad choice for a superhero book, even a supposedly funny one. I don’t get it, I’m afraid.

The writing throughout the issue comes across as incredibly pedestrian. The conversations between Wonder Man and his producer are…, well…, just bad, to be honest. You can see it all coming a mile away. And people in L.A. don’t know about the whole “Avengers Disassembled” fiasco? Okay, it’s on the other coast, but when “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” disband surely that news would somehow reach the media obsessed place that is Hollywood. And why would Simon tell this guy all about Wanda, her breakdown, her killing her team-mates, etc.? The way Neal reacts just shows us he’s a bit of an insensitive prick, not the kind of person you want to talk to about the love of your life going all homicidal on her friends.

So far I’ve avoided mentioning the writer by name because I’m having a really hard time believing that this was written by the same person who’s writing the excellent X-Factor; check out the Sunday Slugfest on this very site for some reviews of X-Factor #14 that hits stores next week, or just buy the issue. It’s pretty damn good! I know that everyone can come up with a bad story every now and again, but reading this after reading X-Factor #14… Are there two different Peter Davids working at Marvel? The excessive use of captions with Wonder Man explaining everything that is perfectly obvious on the page just makes a bad story worse. Ladykiller’s weapons are made of “anionic energy” that just happens to be what can hurt Wonder Man? And please, “anionic”? I know that when it comes to science in comics, you just have to suspend your disbelief but did anyone stop to think what anionic actually means? I’m guessing that the writer is in fact perfectly aware of all this, and it’s meant as humour. Who knows? Who cares?

Recently, I’ve been on a bit of a comics high. Nearly everything I’ve read has met or surpassed my expectations, and I’ve really enjoyed being able to write some nice and well deserved praise in my reviews. This book breaks that trend in a spectacular way. I had planned on picking up this series. Not anymore. But maybe I just don’t get it, and there are people out there who will love this. If you do, please let me know.




Shawn Hill

Comments: Yet another Wonder Man series, and another to latch on to his only interesting quality, his celebrity. The title of the series is the title of his new reality show. This one doesn’t go quite the route of a celeb-reality series and goof on Simon’s C-list status as an actor; instead, it takes the middle ground route for reality television: the makeover theme. This is better than the ruthless competition/backstabbing shows, but not quite as interesting as the “talented people make things” motif.

In fact, David explains the concept (hinted at by the title) in painstaking detail through dialogue, just in case his readers have never heard of Audrey Hepburn or the Pygmalion myth. The issue is very talky, bringing up other topics in rather awkward ways. I almost put the book down when Simon’s crass documentary-making friend Neal described Scarlet Witch as “evil” by nature (due of course to her parentage, the rationale that seemed to drive “Avengers Disassembled” as well). But then I realized Neal is being portrayed as a crass jerk, and the point of the Pygmalion plot is not destiny and doom based on class or race and genetics, but rather is in league with Simon’s thinking on the subject: “people can be born in the pits of hell … and still wind up on the side of the angels … provided they believe in themselves, and others believe in them. ”

That’s a hopeful message that was definitive of Scarlet Witch for most of her career. Until Bendis needed to make a lot of noise and revert her to villainy and insanity. It’s a direct challenge in philosophies that Neal (the former agent) aims at Simon (the former actor) when they meet up with a super-assassin named Ladykiller. Now, she’s little more than an X-23 clone thus far, but she has some power and skills, and gives Simon quite a scuffle before his far superior experience and connections win out. We’ll need to know more about her for this series to work, especially along the foregrounded makeover formula. So far all we’ve got for her motivations in targeting another agent for death is “because.”

Currie’s art is a somewhat odd choice for the series, but so far I’d say it’s working. His skills with exaggerated facial expressions underscore key moments of motivation for Simon and his supporting cast, emphasizing the shallow, blathering nature of Hollyweird types. But those expressive faces are on tiny bodies, giving things a cartoonish look that doesn’t really match up with the serious moments of David’s writing (and he can do drama and pathos as well as comedy). There’s also a curious framing sequence with a wizened future Simon in a world that doesn’t seem to have benefited from his hopeful attitude at all.

Which makes one think things may not turn out very well, and certainly he’s got nothing to work with in his subject, who’s expressed not the slightest intention to change her ways. But I like that David is at least bringing up two competing philosophies, as I’d thought nurture had been forgotten in the face of nature with all of Marvel’s deterministic adages about mutancy lately. David is bucking the trend here, and it may be worth seeing where he’s going.




Dave Wallace:

Where did this come from? The latest appearances I’ve seen from Wonder Man have him embroiled in Civil War, in support of the pro-registration crew. This first issue of a new Wonder Man miniseries seems to avoid all that though, telling a relatively straightforward and inconsequential story about the character in the modern day, but without all the complicated trappings of Marvel’s current event. Whatever the reasoning behind this new book, it at least gives Peter David a chance to get some more of his work on the shelves – which will be a cause for celebration for some, but not everyone. Personally, he’s not one of my favourite writers – he’s a bit too obvious and old-fashioned in his style to really grab me (but having never read his run on the Hulk, I get the feeling I might be missing out on his best work).

The book opens with a framing sequence set in the future, for no apparent reason other than to try and lend some dramatic weight to the main part of the story. It doesn’t work, as the tone of the book – both of the writing and exaggerated, caricatured artwork – is very light throughout. There are quite a few gags thrown in (some of which work, some don’t), but very little attempt to introduce the character of Wonder Man to new readers, or make his world accessible to anyone who’s never read about him before. Andrew Currie’s pencils aren’t really to my taste either, with so much emphasis on visual hyperbole (check out Wonder Man’s Buzz Lightyear jaw) that it’s difficult to take the book seriously on any level.

When David gets to the core of his story towards the end of this issue, the nature of the plot is as likely to elicit a groan as it is any real excitement: whilst the concept of a hero rehabilitating a villain is an interesting one, this looks like it’s going to be played more for laughs than anything else, as there’s no deep characterisation evident here which is going to make us really care about the outcome of Wonder Man’s task one way or another. David may compare his story to George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion in some of his dialogue, but (as the title suggests) the execution looks to be far closer to My Fair Lady.

Although there’s nothing horrific about the execution, this comic just doesn’t appeal to me. There’s nothing to make you really warm to Wonder Man, nothing particularly original about the story, and the art doesn’t grab me either. Wonder Man fans might enjoy this, but others may struggle to be really interested by it, and that’s a pretty thin recommendation considering the niche appeal of the character.



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