The Steel Cage 4.07.04

Hello fight fans, and welcome back to the Steel Cage, where two 411 reviewers make like Rocky and Drago, except we’ve got a Brit instead of a Russian.

Speaking of that Brit, the incomparable Iain Burnside picked up the win in our inaugural bout last week, with his pick of Transformers: Generation One #3, over Chris Delloiacono and Invincible #9. Thanks to Chris for participating and I’m sure he’ll be back after hitting the meat locker and pounding on cow carcasses for a bit.

Enough gab, we’ve got a new match all set for you, let’s get to it!

Introducing first, the challenger…hailing from parts unknown…he’s quieter than Snake-Eyes, manlier thank Duke, and prettier than Scarlett…representingG.I. Joe #1, produced by Devil’s Due Studio…“The Italian Stallion” Mike “Skitch” Maillaro!!!

I always thought the idea for Marvel’s Ultimate line was a great one. What better way to bring in new comic readers than starting over from scratch? Unfortunately, except for Ultimate Spider-Man, I always found the execution to be pretty poor. Instead of creating new stories, they are just rehashing the old stuff with a forced modern spin. Giving characters earrings, hit dialogue, and running around naked isn’t an improvement, it’s bastardization. So, when I heard they were re-launching one of my favorite comics in an “Ultimate” format, I was hesitant and excited at the same time. Thankfully, Devil’s Due seems determined to stay true to these characters, but at the same time, they are providing readers with a whole new experience.

G.I. Joe Reloaded sets up Cobra as a terrorist group formed by a disenfranchised former American soldier. Cobra Commander manages to quickly worm his group deep into the American government and military. In order to counteract this threat, a young soldier codenamed Hawk forms a group outside the normal channels who can operate freely enough to take down Cobra without causing a public panic. G.I. Joe Reloaded was pure action from beginning to end. By setting up this series in the two Reborn specials (both of which were written by Paul Jenkins, who happens to be writing my opposing book this week), it allowed John Ney Rieber to jump right in with a hard-hitting story full of feints and counter-feints by Cobra and the Joes. You end up with a lot of questions about these characters, especially in regards to the mysterious Snake Eyes, who seems to be playing on his own side. By the end, you can’t help but be excited to find out what will happen next. While there are a lot of plot threads going on to bring readers back, at the same time, you really feel like you are getting your money’s worth with a complete and self-contained first issue here.

On top of the fast-paced storytelling, G.I. Joe Reloaded also features some great art by Eddy Barrows and Javier Saltares. My biggest complaint about the old G.I. Joe comics was that the art was inconsistent, but Devil’s Due has not made that mistake. Beautifully painted covers and interior artists who can really keep up with the fast-paced storytelling really make this one perfectly drawn comic.

This series brings things back to basics, and at the same time, it breathes fresh new life into these characters. It doesn’t look like they will be repeating the same old stories while putting a “hip,” modern spin on them like Ultimate Marvel does. They didn’t just throw an earring on Hawk and have him start talking like he grew up in the hood. Instead, in order to give this book a more realistic feel, they deal with modern issues like terrorism, modern computerized weaponry, and biological threats. Even with all the action, it refuses to dumb things down, which makes for a much more enjoyable story. G.I. Joe Reloaded really feels true to Larry Hama’s terrific work on the old Marvel G.I. Joe series, but at the same time, there was a fresh perspective here that really helped make this book by far the best comic I read this week. This book is ideal for old G.I. Joe fans or new readers alike, and it reminded me exactly why I fell in love with G.I. Joe in the first place. I will be following this series very carefully! YO JOE!

And his opponent…from the hills of Edinburgh, Scotland…the man who still insists that Getafix could whoop Gandalf’s wrinkled ass…the reigning and defending champion of the Cage…representing Spectacular Spider-Man #12, produced by Marvel Comics…Iain “Say Chowder” Burnside!!!

Given that Avengers/JLA #4 is quite possibly the most anticipated comic book ever, it might seem a little odd that neither of us are bothering to choose it as our pick of the week. Personally, I don’t feel qualified to pass judgment on it. Similarly to what I said on my href=>Tran sformers Energon #21 review (cheap plug!), I don’t really care for books that require the reader to have a PhD in the subject in order to fully enjoy it. Besides, the story was shite. Spectacular Spider-Man #12, however, manages the delicate balancing act of appealing to both the newbies and the long-term fans and actually being, ya know, good. Then again, you probably already knew that if you’ve read my href=>revi
ew (cheaper plug!) so it’s all good.

What? I’m expected to write more? For the love of… But I have food to eat and women to love!

Well… food to eat…

Okay, okay, I’m going to go get drunk and pass out with a copy of Freddy vs. Jason, ya happy?

Sigh… bloody hell…

Alright, so, yeah, Spidey rules. We all know that. Sure, Fantastic Four came first but it was the web-slinger that became everybody’s favourite neighbourhood comic book character. There’s something inexplicably cool about those webs and that costume that has enthralled children of all generations since Amazing Fantasy #15 first hit the newsstands back in the day. Peter Parker, the little nerd that could, struck a chord with his target demographic before the term demographic was even coined. In fact, it was probably coined whilst people were playing catch-up with Stan Lee and tried to figure out just why this geeky kid who loved his dear old aunt and couldn’t get a girl was selling so many comics. I wish I could fully explain the magic myself. People have been trying for years to no avail. Unfortunately this has not only caused a hideous number of lame rip-offs to come our way, it also led to Marvel themselves trying to second-guess the character. Face facts, for all the fancy artwork provided by Frank Miller, Todd McFarlane, et. al. throughout the years, there have been next to no comic books worthy of the Spider-Man name since someone decided that black was a rather slimming colour on him. It went downhill from there, bottomed out when we had the Vince Russo quality “It’s a CLONE!” ending to every second book in the mid-90s, and was only rescued by the construction of an alternate universe. The Bendis Universe. After that, well, things weren’t so bad. Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man went down well with the critics but it still didn’t truly feel like Spider-Man. There was far too much mystic crap going on, way too many appearances by Dr. Strange, the dialogue didn’t sit well for the characters, and there was a whole lot of nothing going on. Nah, you were best off checking out this little beauty from Paul Jenkins.

You see, Spectacular Spider-Man revels in having nothing of great importance going on. Jenkins is not trying to alter the very fabric of the Marvel Universe or peel away the characters to their very core. He isn’t interested in re-imagining, re-inventing, re-visiting or re-telling. He just wants to take a guided tour through the rogues gallery, have some old school meaningless fun with them and dress it up in some new-school dialogue and contemporary settings. After arcs dealing with Venom and Doc Ock, it’s time for The Lizard to step into the spotlight. Well, actually, he’s stepped onto the spotlight, smashed it up, ate it with a nice lager and then crapped it all over the spotlight-operator. He then ate with a vanilla milkshake and crapped all over the original spotlight-manufacturers. You see, this is quite simply the best representation of The Lizard that there has been in years, perhaps ever. Jenkins’ tradition of stepping into the shoes of each and every one of his characters really comes to the forte here. Every single shot of Curt Connors screams one of two things – either a deep-rooted pain Johnny Cash would’ve struggled to capture in song, or a sinister menace to send shivers down the spine of the readers – and these are excellently laid out and alternated by Jenkins throughout the book until the inevitable release of the monster sends us tumbling into Shit Creek Factor 7. For once, we actually have a genuine reason to believe that Connors would not only succumb to his monstrous side, but that he would welcome it and even stay there if he could. I don’t want to go into all the details of his spectacular fall from grace but suffice it to say he is one sorry sight at the start of this issue.

It is terrific writing from Jenkins alright, and it doesn’t end there. All the elements that once made Spidey-books a permanent fixture on the have-to rather than obliged-to read piles are here and present. J. Jonah Jameson makes an appearance, finding out two vital pieces of information that are clearly going to be misinterpreted in the worst possible manner for Parker, and of course he gets to belittle someone in a rather impressive manner… and smart too, for a change. Spider-Man’s cop buddy from the previous arcs makes a welcome return. Sure, he’s little more than a Jim Gordon wannabe at this point in time but it allows for some funny exchanges with our hero about the merits of local pastrami stores. Yes, the humour is here. And it is actual humour. You will snigger a handful of times whilst reading this book, just as you will be moved by the pathos contained within. Jenkins has found that fine line and has been sprinting along it for twelve issues now. I can’t say if this has been the case for the title’s predecessor, Peter Parker, but I am certainly going to go back and check the trades now.

And the artwork! How can I not mention the artwork? Must be quick as my woman is awaiting… err, my beer is getting warm… whatever… SHUT UP!!! Ahem… anyway, the ever-controversial Humberto Ramos is no longer with the title. That will be cause for celebration and commiseration for an equal number of people I am sure. His replacement, Daimon Scott, certainly does a terrific job. The vaguely manga style is still here (Mangamerica, as I call it) but it is not as erratic as Ramos’ version used to be. As mentioned above, he perfectly captures Curt Connors state, and The Lizard himself has rarely looked more terrifying. The memorable scene for me was Spidey using his webbing to remove a manhole cover as he swung down it from the street above. A fairly simple concept but trickier than it sounds to show. Two big fat thumbs up to Scott for that one, and for creating a Spider-Man book that flows as smoothly and as sweetly as any animated series that came before it. All in all, this books deserves your attention. It is vastly superior to Amazing Spider-Man, which continues to tread water. For anybody after a classic Spider-Man thrill, with all the trademark emotions within, hop on board.

Besides, how can you not love a comic when Mary Jane gets all bent out of shape at another woman checking out Peter’s butt?

There you have it, now head on over to the poll on the bottom right hand corner of the main page to vote (remember, e-mail votes will not be counted).