Shiny Shelf

Team-up round-up

By Mark Clapham on 02 June 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

One week, three comics teaming up various high (and low) profile characters.

First up is this week’s big ‘event’ title, House of M #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel. This eight-part mini-series is ostensibly a crossover between ‘Astonishing X-Men’ and ‘New Avengers’. This being the modern Marvel Comics, where narrative niceties are regularly shot down by deadline problems and a desire to shift as many #1 issues as possible, ‘House’ seems to be set after the currently running stories in both titles.

(For those keeping count of this stuff, Professor X and Kitty seem to be referring to the end of ‘Dangerous’ while the Sentry is already an Avenger, when in the main book he hasn’t joined yet. Of course, the very set-up of ‘New Avengers’ follows on from the events of ‘Secret War’, which hasn’t finished yet. I’m fairly sure Marvel will very soon print the resurrection of a character before they’ve actually died. Please, no-one tell me if this has already happened.)

Leaving aside matters of basic coherency in what is supposed to be an ongoing story, what’s the first issue like? In short, your average ‘widescreen’ comic – snappy dialogue, lavish artwork and a story that doesn’t really kick off until the last couple of pages. There’s a decent dilemma at the heart of this story, and Bendis always gives good Spidey, but this is essentially Magneto family soap, and as such of limited appeal. Especially if, like myself and other loyal ‘New X-Men’ readers, you balk at the profound stupidity of the ‘it wasn’t the real Magneto’ plot twist Claremont has dumped on us.

This is, of course, a Bendis comic and therefore impossible to judge by a mere 22 pages. Nonetheless he and Coipel deserve some kind of applause for the imagery used – the issue starts with a baby being born, and ends with the universe being reborn via a giant glowing… well, what else would anything be born from?

Over in Superman/Batman #20, the latest blows are thrown in a teeth-grindingly dull slanging match that has consumed the last few years of comics. For those not in the know: once upon a time there was a popular comic called ‘The Authority’, a violent pastiche of the Justice League published by DC’s Wildstorm imprint. It was quite fun, at the time, deconstructing superhero archetypes and having them drink, take drugs, have a lot of (often gay) sex and ripping the spines out of their enemies. Mark Millar had a controversial run on the book, which started well but descended into gibberish, and ended up being heavily re-edited for reasons of post 9/11 good taste. Meanwhile, back in the DC Universe, Joe Kelly created Authority-clones the Elite so that Superman could show that he was better, and not an old fogey after all.

Millar took his ball away, and recreated the Avengers as the Authority-esque ‘The Ultimates’ for Marvel’s Ultimate universe. ‘The Ultimates’ was a big success, with lovely art by Bryan Hitch and turgid, shock-driven stories about alien Nazi corporate desk-jockey invaders and how Captain America doesn’t like the French. Meanwhile, the Authority staggered from relaunch to relaunch, and in spite of the efforts of Ed Brubaker, it seems their days of high sales were done for good.

So, to recap ‘The Ultimates’ is just ‘The Authority’ with Marvel characters, the whole idea has been done to death and the validity of this violent deconstruction of superheroism has already been dismissed in a mainstream DC book.

So why, exactly, do we need the Maximums, a thinly disguised version of the Ultimates for Superman and Batman to beat up on? Isn’t this joke, in its many variations and retaliations, getting incredibly old now?

Nonetheless, here it is and we have to live with it. It seems to be another alternative reality story, which following on so close from ‘Absolute Power’ seems a bit much. It also features Bizarro, who was heavily overused by Jeph Loeb back when he was writing ‘Superman’ and whose reappearance here is less than welcome.

On the plus side, Ed McGuiness is back at the penciller’s table, so the whole issue looks authentically, deliciously lovely. Shame the script, which is presumably supposed to be in some way satirical, isn’t remotely funny.

Nevertheless, this is one sour pill that’s coated in some very nice candy. Best to swallow it down and hope the story goes somewhere more interesting soon. It would be a shame to see one of DC’s top books go so off the boil.

Leaving aside big movie-level characters like Magneto and Batman, we have Marvel Team-Up #9, which may feature Daredevil on the cover but also has time for Luke Cage, Black Cat, Sunfire and even Sleepwalker. Unlike the other two books this week, ‘MTU’ isn’t an ‘event’ title, and with middling sales and the worrying announcement that penciller Scott Kolins is being airlifted out of the title soon (presumably to a higher selling gig), one suspects that writer Robert Kirkman’s fun tour around the penthouses and (lets face it) gutters of the Marvel universe won’t be going on for much longer.

It’s a shame. This is the most solidly entertaining of the titles in this column, right down to the repeated recap midway through the book. Not a huge amount happens – Daredevil fights a new Stiltman (a prospect which is treated with exactly the kind of deadpan humour it deserves), Luke Cage joins in before rushing to join his wife, and Sleepwalker completely fails to do anything worthwhile in an amusingly light manner.

Kolins’ art may not be as intricate as Coipel’s or as roundly appealing as McGuiness’, but he has a clear, open line and a good eye for character and action. Not so sure about his version of Foggy Nelson, who looks a bit too conventional for my tastes, but you can’t have everything. Kirkman’s script is almost pure froth (the main ‘Master of the Ring’ storyline is literally going on in the background, while the ongoing Titannus arc only appears on the first and last couple of pages), but it’s funny stuff.

‘Marvel Team-Up’ may not be big news, it may not feature the biggest characters, most aggressive publicity stunts or largest explosions, but it’s witty, exciting and most of all entertaining. Of the three titles here, this is the only one which offers a really entertaining twenty two pages for your money – it’s a shame that in the current marketplace that doesn’t count for as much as it should.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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