Open Mike Night: Morbius #1 and New Avengers #1

We got two new Marvel Now! books on the agenda this week: Morbius and New Avengers.

Morbius #1

Written by: Joe Keatinge
Art by: Richard Elson
Colored by: Antonio Fabela
Lettered by: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $2.99

Mike Maillaro: One thing that immediately jumped out at me about this comic was the presentation! The stark black pages with the white captions really caught my eye and definitely sold me on this book. They also used the white on black for the letters page, which was a nice touch.

One thing that bugged me was that I thought Morbius was drawn a little too young looking. Even though the letters page promises that “this isn’t your normal teenage vampire book” they sure tried to draw Morbius as looking far younger than I would have expected…

Mike Weaver: He’s a vampire, I can forgive him looking young. Right now is the era of the teeny vampire in Hollywood and on bookshelves, so massaging your character towards that visually is probably a good marketing decision. I liked the layout too, the first pages had that great recap of who he is and what he can do in order to bring in any new readers, and done in a mildly snarky way that entertains as well as informs. That’s always a trick, introducing your character well enough that new readers get the basics but not so thoroughly that people who know him will be bored by the focused totality of his vampiric power.

Not a lot of people talk about the coloring in a comic book, but I’m going to segue into that here for a moment because this book is a great example of how coloring can make a book great. Black and white is pretty easy to work with. But in here, there’s some panels that are black and white with the muted red of Spider-Man’s outfit and the blood that Morbius is drinking. That red really pops out to you.

Similarly, most of this book is done in pretty somber tones so a panel featuring a brightly lit neon-encrusted deli draws your eye right to it. This deli is only important insomuch as it shows there are still some open businesses here in the dingy surroundings, but they’re few and far between. Contrast the way that the opening Manhattan sequence has greenery and sunlight, and Brownsville is perpetually dark and brooding. Great way to set the tone through color alone.

Maillaro: Good catch on the coloring, I knew there was something real unique about the visuals of this book, but couldn’t quite my finger on it. One thing that the creative team did really well here (Joe Keatinge and Richard Elson) was that they created a solid mood. The characters all have distinctive looks to them, and along with the buildings, you immediately understand who these characters are and what they are all about.

Going along with the snarky attitude, I loved the sense of humor of this book. “Actually night three was fine” made me laugh far more than it should have because it came out of no where. The book seems like it could be dark, but they kept tight control over the dialouge and narration to keep it light and very fun to read. That is something that New Avengers could definitely have learned from…but more on that later.

I actually didn’t think I knew the writer and artist on this book, but Joe Keatinge has been writing Image’s Glory, which is a terrific comic! Another book that does a nice job balancing dark themes with funny moments. I just hope we don’t get a lot of creepy sex scenes featuring characters no one wants to see naked in this one…

Weaver: This book had humor that highlighted the main dark tone rather than subverting it, and night three is a fantastic example of that. Some of the dialogue between the eager new mugger and his trainer is pretty funny too. It’s hard to hit that balance of breaking out a few punchlines while still selling the overall ambiance, but it’s done well here.

These guys aren’t big names yet, but they could be one day. I will admit to some reluctance about cracking this comic open simply because vampire everything is so done to death right now. I’m a fan of the genre, but I feel it’s become rather oversaturated. I was afraid this was going to be derivative of any number of vampire stories, but it somehow managed to put itself firmly in the vampire genre while still having its own distinct voice.

I’m reminded of something that gets said about Spider-Man and Daredevil with some frequency, and with James Robinson’s Starman too. The setting is very much a character in this book. I like that a lot. Morbius’ Brownsville is definitely fleshed out and we sense its presence throughout the pages. And this is just the first issue.

You’re teasing New Avengers, and you know what, as I read these back to back, I definitely had some sense of things that New Avengers could learn from this book. But I agree, let’s wrap up Morbius before we move on to that. If we’re going out of fives, I’m giving this a 4.5 overall. The coloring was top notch, the art was good, the dialogue was done well, and wow, what a way to introduce your series and main characters.

Also, special story shout-out to making good use of time shifts…we enter in mid-action because opening a book in action is a good way to sell people who are just taking a look at it in the shop, get a clean transition to backstory leading to the action, and a few very well paced parenthetical statements about further backstory. We always know when we are and why, which is something that New Av…dang it, more on that later.

Maillaro: I also liked the quick glimpses into Morbius’s origins and his time before being THE LIVING VAMPIRE. I actually don’t think I had read many Morbius stories…I did have an issue of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man as a kid with Morbius, and Slott featured him in two issues of Amazing Spider-Man, but that’s about it…

Marvel Now! has had a lot of solid first issues so far, and Morbius definitely deserves to be mentioned among them. 4.5/5 is a perfect score for this book. Really well written and drawn, creates a perfect mood, and teased that this comic is going to be different from any other vampire or “superhero” book out there.

New Avengers #1

Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Penciled by: Steve Epting
Inked by: Rick Magyar with Steve Epting
Colored by: Frank D’Armata
Lettered by: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $3.99

Weaver: Moving on to New Avengers, I have to say that this isn’t necessarily a bad comic, but…

We start out with a couple of intro flashbacks, mostly notably from back around Civil War when the Illuminati idea was first floated in the Marvel Universe, highlighting that Black Panther didn’t want a part of it back then. Obviously we know that this comic is going to be Illuminati focused, so we’re shown this to let us know how desperate the Panther is going to be by the end of the issue. What happens after this is…kind of a mess. We have Wakandans that are apparently on some kind of high tech treasure hunt with the reward being kind of vague until T’Challa shows up to tell them that they’re being selected to colonize a new planet. This ends up not working out so well when what appears to be an alternate Earth shows up in the sky and gates over to interact with (read “kill”) the Wakandans for vague Galactus-type reasons. The bad guys helpfully inform Black Panther that they’re here to take out the Earth, and he’s convinced enough of their seriousness that he calls together the old Illuminati despite his misgivings.

While the basic concepts of this story aren’t necessarily bad, this issue seems to be trying to do too much at various points. The jungle is almost too detailed, and there were many moments when I honestly had no idea what I was expected to take from a particular panel or piece of dialogue. The creative team worked very hard on establishing the Wakandan space program people, perhaps to make us feel some sympathy when they died, but all I really felt was “What a waste of development” because once things started happening, they happened fast. There was also too long of a sequence establishing that the adversaries spoke a different language which turned out to be ancient Sumerian. T’Challa seems to not really know what he’s doing for the first contact sequences, and his citizens are much more undisciplined than you’d think your future space program would be. I kept hoping for a simpler story to start with, and kept drawing parallels to how Morbius made this work.

Maillaro: I always hear how great a writer that Hickman is and end up getting myself overly hyped over his books, and feeling like I am missing something that everyone else is loving. I do admire the enormous scale of the stories he is trying to create, but at the same time, I also think that in trying to create these epic sagas, that he misses out on all the fun and characterization moments the best comic stories have.

I loved that Black Panther was the main character, and seeing the Wakandan space program was pretty cool, but it really never felt like any of this was within my reach as a reader. It all felt above my head, and I just couldn’t bring myself to build any real connection to the story. I felt the same way when I tried to read his FF and his first two issues of Avengers.

The villain of this book just had no real hook to me. I hate characters that seem determined to destroy the world for some nebulous reason. I like a villain you can build a strong emotional connection with. Honestly, I am not sure if the villains even had names or any distinguishing features, none of it really stuck with me after reading it. As opposed to Morbius, where even a clever little line like “on the third night, nothing happened” stuck with me long after reading it.

One thing I did think was very clever was referring to Namor as “the devil himself.” During Avengers Vs X-Men, Namor laid waste to Wakanda, so this was a very nice touch.

Weaver: I felt much the same way. I like Black Panther, I was really revved up for this. But there were only brief moments where it was relatable at all. When Black Panther tells a member of the space program that he has the shared consciousness of one of his ancestors, that was a great character moment. I liked that. And then a little later, when the dying would-be astronaut tells him “I can see the stars,” that was a very good line too. But the hit/miss ratio here was very low, especially compared to Morbius which had at least a dozen moments of that level or better and with none of the overwhelming plot steamroller.

I don’t really like decompression, but I think this story may have worked better as two issues rather than one. As it stands, Black Panther seems to be rushing into the arms of a group of people that he very clearly stated he didn’t want to be a part of. He has very little information, has done minimal recon, and as a king, he has lost plenty of his people over the decades…this event, while tragic, did not seem to be “press the red button” level. The villains do have some naming, the main speaking part refers to herself as a Black Swan, but really, you could sub in Galactus or Annihilation Wave and have pretty much the same story. I don’t like the implications that they’re reality hoppers either, since that’s always a big red flag for me in a comic story. I hope issue 2 slows itself down a little bit and finds its footing, because this was a bit of a mess where you could see promise in it, but it just didn’t grab you.

One more thing. Did you notice how it began with a timestamp to say the events featuring the Wakanda Space Program were slightly in the past? Was there any point to that? I don’t feel that was at all relevant at any point.

Maillaro: I think it was just so they could start with Reed Richards cryptic remarks, “Everyone is doing to die, and I accept it” before showing what was going on. I typically love a nice cryptic opening, but I actually thought the cryptic ending here was a lot more compelling. Hickman’s most popular work is Fantastic Four (and he did some cool things with a group of multidimensional Reed Richards), so I expect that is why Reed started the comic.

One real major issue I had with this book is that it never felt like a real accessible first issue. You only get vague hints who any of these characters are (same problem I had with Avengers 1 actually). I always think that a first issue should be written in a way that if it is someone’s first comic, they won’t feel overwhelmed or like they are left out of some insider information. I still have no idea what Black Panther meant by “This is not Nekropolis, child. To the living, I am simply the Black Panther.”

Weaver: I can answer that one mostly…a necropolis is a city of the dead, and this issue seems to have some focus on Wakandan death rites, at least to get you a little curious about them. There’s at least four mentions of death and the Wakandan spiritual beliefs.

I agree with you, and again, here’s where Morbius succeeded…they took a few pages to say, “This is who Michael Morbius is and what he can do” without interrupting the flow. This issue very much relied on you knowing at least a bit about Black Panther and the other Illuminati. Especially since none of them are even really mentioned by name. This story went from zero to sixty real fast, and I really don’t think that’s what a first issue should do. Especially when you recognize that there’s almost always a huge sales spike on #1 issues. This is your chance to grab people. I don’t feel like I was grabbed, I feel more like I just went through a sloppy version of a power bomb and I’m trying to figure out whether I’m hurt or not.

So overall, I’m going to give this a 2/5, with a warning to not make this the first comic you ever read. Because even those of us who have been reading since the 70’s are lost in here.

Maillaro: I know what a necropolis is,he doesn’t say a necropolis, he says “King of Necropolis” (which I read with a capital N).

I do want to comment on the art before I give a score. I have liked Steve Epting’s work for a long time. To me, he really hit his peak with the absolutely gorgeous El Cazador for Crossgen. He seems to have a great rapport with Hickman who he worked with on FF. I loved some of more fantastic elements of this book, so for that reason alone, I am willing to give it a slightly higher score of a 3/5.

I really do miss when first issues were always oversized….it seems like for 4 bucks, they could have given us 48 pages here…

Weaver: It does mention that he’s in the Wakandan Necropolis later when the guy is dead, though, so I think that’s the intention.

Alright, I did like the art…mostly. It got a little too busy sometimes, although that is an overall problem with the issue. I didn’t feel the villains had a particularly unique look. However, the stone that they activate at the beginning and the death scene both were simply beautiful. I’m still sticking with a 2, although I will acknowledge that the art did its best to try to elevate the score.

Maillaro: Ah, got it now, thanks! Hmmm…I am afraid to say that I think we’re talked out on these two books..

Weaver: Yeah, there’s no internets breaking in half in either of these. I do want to plug Morbius just a bit more, though, because I thought it was an excellently put together comic, and that’s not what anyone (me especially) would expect going in.

Maillaro: I think that characters like Morbius always benefit from these massive relaunches. I know that I would just about never have read a Animal Man or Swamp Thing comic if it wasn’t for the New 52. Morbius is just quirky enough that with the right marketing and attention, I think it can build up a strong audience pretty quickly.

Weaver: There’s plenty of characters that benefit creatively from these types of relaunches, but that doesn’t always translate into sales. I remember a conversation we had a while ago about good secondary characters who should never have gotten their own title, but yet every now and then, someone wants to try it. Cloak and Dagger, notably. What’s your view, is Morbius good enough to carry a series?

Maillaro: A lot of that depends on how you define a successful book. No, I don’t Morbius (or any book) that starts now will ever hit 700 issues like Amazing Spider-Man did. Hell, I would be surprised if any book launched now even reaches 200 issues. But I do think that if the quality of this book stays up and Marvel makes an effort to market it, then it could have a strong 25 issue run. Before now, I would have said Hawkeye could carry a book, but his series continues to be a fan favorite, critical darling, and solid sales performer.

Weaver: A long time ago, I interviewed Fabian Nicieza about a Hawkeye ongoing he was starting, and one of my questions was about how Hawkeye rejoining the Avengers would impact his series. His response was that unless Clint lost an arm or something in Avengers, it wouldn’t impact his series at all. A few months later…”Not like this!”

I guess what I’m saying here is that Hawkeye is actually a pretty good example. There were so many attempts at giving him a solo title historically, and some of them were really good attempts. And yet, it took an awful lot of going to that well before it struck paydirt of any sort. Look at how many titles have needed to be reshuffled in DC’s new 52, and again, some of those were good titles, to say nothing of things like Spider-Girl or Captain Marvel that consistently drew praise but struggled with cancellation throughout their runs. Ultimately, I think Morbius is doomed to die a pretty quick death. He’s not a character that people tend to have a built in attraction for, and he’s not quite Goth enough to draw in the majority of the horror comic fans. It’s a shame because it’s a great series, but I can’t imagine this lasting out the year. Morbius also is going to exist at least partially on the whim of the Spider-writers, much like that ill-fated Hawkeye series I mentioned, and that could be rough in the longterm.

Maillaro: Such a pessimist….well, okay, realist in this case…

Weaver: Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be proved wrong on this one. Especially if they keep this creative team. But with my luck, it’s going to be canceled for a Jubilee solo title or something.

Thanks again, it’s a pleasure as always. Next week we’re going to hit up Superior Spider-Man and…well, I’ll let you intro the other book because I can’t even think about it without groaning.

Maillaro: Hey, that is totally your fault. You agreed to do any book I suggested. That is what laziness gets you! Next week, we will be taking on the most absurd concept for a comic I can ever think of! Mars Attacks KISS! Wonder how many readers we will lose for Nexus with that one…

Weaver: Readers? How about columnists? I’m not typically a fan of Mars Attacks!, KISS, or cross-genre team-ups. Then again, I thought I would hate Morbius, so…

Alright, until next week!

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