Thursday, 21 September 2017

Heroes for Hire Vol. 3

This is a post that has been six years in the making, but this weekend just gone, with my infant son's nap affording me a nice 3 hour window, I decided it would be a good time to read the entire Abnett and Lanning run on Heroes for Hire.

A little backstory. This series came out from the Daredevil 'Shadowland' event and, because I was interested by the premise and creative team, I picked up the first three issues. However, Heroes for Hire, just didn't do it for me and by that third issue I'd dropped the series, picking up the remainder in back issue boxes and off of eBay. Despite having the whole run, however, I've never read the series in its entirety.

That is until now of course because I'm in the process of clearing out and selling off some of my comic book collection and this is one series which is up for the chop. However, before I do that (or, rather, in order to make that final decision), I thought I'd actually go through the whole run.

So, to the topic at hand. Abnett and Lanning's Heroes for Hire is pretty much as the title suggests; heroes of the Marvel universe are hire to complete jobs a la the A-Team. However, this volume differs in the tried and tested approach as it sees Misty Knight fronting the new Heroes for Hire with a little help from top Mercenary Paladin. Throughout this run Knight is 'control', the omnipresent voice who request a rotating cast of heroes every issue or two to complete missions on her behalf. The only problems is, while Misty may think she's 'control' she isn't 'in control', as a unknown figure appears to be pulling the strings, using Heroes for Hire to their own end.

Now, as I had said previously, I had problems with this series originally and my problem was that, while it delivered it's promise of a rotating selection of characters, I had expected more of a done-in-one format, essentially a series of one-shots showing off different missions. What I wasn't expecting was the larger arc involving villains pulling the strings.

However, time and hindsight are wonderful things because now, after the reading the entire run in full, I found Abnett and Lanning's Heroes for Hire to be a lot more enjoyable than I did upon it's original release. Once again, the opening three issues were a tough hump to get over as, for the second time, I had issue getting invested into the whole 'who really control's Heroes for Hire?' idea which certainly became the main crux by issues 4 and 5. However, once I got past this (about the end of issue 5) and the reveal of the bigger bad, I actually found myself a lot more interested.

That said, the main draw for me WAS the heroes who would appear and I've got to admit I did find this a joy second time round, especially as I got into the latter issues. This Heroes for Hire contained a number of (at the time) B and C list heroes (if you can call them that), some of whom have moved up in the world since then, but there were certainly some standouts for me that made me wonder if I've been focusing on the right books over the years.

These characters included Moon Knight and Silver Sable, who was absolutely bad ass consistently through the series (I've got to get the former's Ellis/Shavley run), The Shroud, who I read in Daredevil but I found much more interesting while partnered with Elektra, Gargoyle (who I've never heard off until now), Stingray, who has a brief cameo in the last issue but looks so cool I wish I'd paid him more attention, and, of course, Paladin, who was a seriously interesting character and has me tempted to recheck him out in Thunderbolts (he was in there I think?).

Of course, what helps me find all these characters impressive was the art, which I thought was pretty damn solid throughout. Main artist Brad Walker gives a really gorgeous house style amongst his issues, something I think is equally matched by Robert Atkins and even Tim Seeley when he's pre-Grayson on their issues. The only falter I could see amongst the drawing talent was Kyle Hotz, who pencilled amongst the Fear Itself arc with a style which really threw me as it looked so rough compared to the others. That said, as I read I thought it suited the rather chaotic story surrounding that tie-in and by the end, I did find myself enjoying it just as mush as the others.

In fact, I've got to admit that the Heroes for Hire Fear Itself tie-in was really good, to the point that I was stunned. I had expected something which felt shoe-horned (because it's an event tie-in) and, while it was, Abnett and Lanning managed to chisel out a pretty nice story which fit nicely into both the event and their own arc.

Looking back, I think that the reason I dismissed Heroes for Hire was because it wasn't what I was expecting, as I figured it would be more high brow given it came from the guys who brought us Annihilation and restarted Marvel Cosmic. That said, after giving this run a second chance, I'm glad I gave Heroes for Hire the second chance I think it deserved. This run is a fun read with some great art and showcases some awesome visuals of heroes I might never have given a second thought to.

In fact, because of that last point, I'm pretty tempted to keep the series for now and putting something else up for the chop.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Locke & Key Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows

The final trade of my recent week's holiday (though, I say recent but in reality it's been something like six weeks) was volume three of Locke and Key; Crown of Shadows.

This was because Locke and Key series had so far been nothing short of phenomenal in my eyes and, therefore, it made sense to read another instalment in order to round off a pretty great reading week.

This arc saw the Locke kids continue to get used to their new lives and the secrets of their home as the mysterious Dodge made moves to acquire all the keys of the house. However, when his in the shadows efforts to find the black key don't give him the success he hopes for, Dodge makes moves to acquire the titular Crown of Shadows. With this he creates himself a shadowy army in order to capture Tyler, Kinsey and Bode and find what he is looking for, a plan which takes some unforeseen turns, leading to an all out punch up with a larger than life Tyler.

Locke & Key Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows
With this volume, Lock and a key once again knocked it out of the park for me, being yet another part of this truly fantastic story. I am absolutely flawed with this book which feels like something which contains so many different genres, from young adult to horror to mystery, but all perfectly merged into one. What I love about this series has to be a couple of things, the first being how incredibly interesting all the characters are, especially each of the Locke kids, but also the vile, love to hate 'Dodge' who comes across as the perfect villain.

The other thing I love is just how well the story is written in general, while the whole idea is completely bizarre and unusual, it just feels completely grounded and relatable, so it doesn't feel too detached from real life. I'm not sure I can put fully into words just why this series is so great, but Joe Hill has something so compelling and special here that I now see how so many people have praised, either directly or indirectly, to me.

The same can be said for the art as Gabriel Rodriguez's style is just sublime. Again, I thought this looked very grounded but a little different, with it looking more predominantly like a young adult type style and being very easy on the eye. But also, Rodriguez showed me a real awesome imagination which he obviously employs as well as some real nice homage's, in this volume being the shadow creatures and, specifically, Bode's Peter Pan-esque shadow, which I had to do a double take on when I saw it.

In truth, I could probably ramble on about this book and this series on and on, not really making much sense to anyone but me. However, this wouldn't change the fact that this has been a fantastic read since the first page of the first volume and, again, a fantastic read for this volume specifically. As with the comics I've read this week, I'll happily get the remaining volumes for each series, but this might just be the one which takes precedence when spare funds are available.

And, with that, my holiday reading is over and so back I go to finding scraps of time to read the odd comic in. However, this was a lot of fun and makes me a little more amenable towards holidays in the future.

I'll just have to get more reading material ready before then.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Limited series over ongoing comics

Recently I've been going about searching through my comic book collection to see what comics continue to be relevant to me after 15 years and what comics no longer match to how my tastes have changed over that time.

(to digress slightly, this is a good practice which I recommend. Not only do you read books that you probably haven't read since you got them, however long that may be, but it also you to not let your collection overwhelm you. but anyway back to it....)

Although I've only just started doing this, I've found a few series which no longer float my boat (or, in one case, make ponder why I bought it in the first place) as well as one or two which I'd forgotten were really quite good despite thinking otherwise.

Now though, I've come back across the first seven volumes of the Walking Dead.

With the Walking Dead, although I recall enjoying the first couple of trades and even convincing my now wife to read the first one, I know that I've not read the last couple. I have also realised that while I had planned to catch up on this series in trade fashion, I haven't actually bought/been gifted any instalment of this series in at least three years.

After pondering on these revelations it has occurred to me that, in all honesty, I don't really care about this series (insert gap here for all those who think I'm crazy now to speak)!

Now this is a single series and there are many out there and with any of them you can't please all the people all the time (or whatever that quote is), but in thinking on whether to sell these trades I have begun to wonder; are ongoing comic series really for me?

At present, my pull list has taken a real battering and so I only have one comic left which is Lazarus. Before that, however, I had eight titles which I picked up, of which almost all of them could be called an ongoing. But what is an ongoing really? I'd have said anything which had an end in sight was not an ongoing and, therefore, Lazarus and Black Science, both of which I know the writer's have endgames in mind, would actually be limited series, with Black Magick no doubt running by similar rules.

This would mean, after removal of the 'actual' limited series, Star Trek Mirror Broken chief among them, I would be left to two titles which would be consider 'true' ongoing titles, the superhero titles.

How does this relate to the Walking Dead? Well, Walking Dead is currently at issue 171 which is not much by Superhero comic standards I'd grant you. However, this is a comic which, to my knowledge, has no specific or discernible ending planned at any point by it's writer. Because of this, I'd say it's fair to call Walking Dead a true ongoing.

Anyway, to my point. I've come to realise that in my old age I have become a lot more partial towards the limited series and stories which consist of a beginning, middle and end. A lot of people may argue that 'life doesn't end' and this is true (it's also false because we all have to go some time) but then none of the genres found in an ongoing comic are actually real life but instead fiction.

I'm realising I like my fiction to tell a single story, with a protagonist who is taking on a single specific goal. Lazarus will be roughly 70 issues long by the time it is complete (by my calculations) and while it will be a long series once it ends, at least it will end. Daredevil, on the other hand, will be at 600 issues come 2018 and I doubt we'll see the man without fear hang up his horns any time soon.

I have a lot of limited stories in my collection, some of which are longer than others. Who is Jake Ellis?, Snapshot, Punk Rock Jesus, X-Men: Magneto - Testament, all of these are five to six issues and guarantee me a resolution to the story. On the other hand, Irredeemable and The Massive are also in my collection and, while they are closer to thirty to forty issues, at least they too provide some kind of finality to them.

With ongoings like the Walking Dead (which I feel I'm starting to be unfair to but, hey, in for a penny) they just go on and on, often times (and this is less Walking Dead) with little to no character evolution or growth, meaning no change. Because of this fifteen years of Daredevil and the like can feel a little apathetic and dull.

I've rambled on for a bit here and I'm not sure if I have a point to it. I guess what this all says to me is that I should just sell my Walking Dead trades. If I find myself wanting to read them again then it's my tough luck, but I haven't even thought about them in a long while so why leave them to gather dust.

As for ongoing comics in general, I'm pondering that maybe I give them a wider berth than I would have previously. That's not to say they are bad and if you love comics which last a thousand issues then fair play to you. For me though, I'm no longer sure I have the patience, time or space to invest so much into one comic, especially when (like now) my ability to buy multiple series is severely limited and while it's easier than before to jump on or off a book (usually with the change in creative team), it's still something I think I'd like to take a break from.

Of course, with only one semi-ongoing title at this moment, that might be easier said than done.