Marvel Succeeds With Heroic Age, Plus Heralds Comments

The Heroic Age

I’m stunned to say this, but as I look over the last few weeks of comics, I don’t think I’ve read a Heroic Age book that I didn’t like. There’s some really solid superhero storytelling going on, whether it’s Pepper deciding to be Rescue again in Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man #27 or the touching Nomad backup by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon in Captain America, or the awesome Impossible Man story in Fantastic Four #580 by Jonathan Hickman and Neil Edwards. That one foregrounds the kids, which I enjoyed. Franklin and Leech (is he a cast member now? I always liked him) take Johnny to the toy store run by Arcade (uh oh!) while super-smart Valeria (yay!) is attending genius school with other exotic Marvel universe youngsters. About the only complaint I had was that I didn’t know what Franklin’s powers were, and I wasn’t told, either. (Although I did remember when he was younger and a part of Power Pack for a little bit. That was cute.)

Anyway, the Heroic Age is a big success with me, to the point of seeking out the bannered covers and giving them a flip-through. These are the kind of superhero books I want to read, ones where interesting characters with nifty abilities fight for justice in the modern world. I’m still coming to terms with Bendis’ wordy quirks with writing the Avengers, especially when characters flat-out tell us their personalities, who they are, and what they do, but Immonen art on New Avengers makes up for a lot.

Thunderbolts, Jeff Parker’s take on Suicide Squad, is better for me because I love the idea of a mis-matched group that includes some of the old team members with weird new choices, most obviously Man-Thing. If you want to do anti-heroes, I’d much prefer you do something like this, prisoners with the potential to reform, with varying levels of sincerity, than darken the heroes. Kev Walker’s art can be a bit lacking, especially with backgrounds and sometimes panel flow, but I’m glad to see Luke Cage get a leadership role.

The younger team books are even more my speed. Avengers Academy reads a lot like early X-Men, with a group of kids with immense power banding together because they’re considered unstable and a risk. If they can keep the angst and action in balance, I’ll keep reading.

I started Young Allies feeling like I needed a tour guide, what with all the good team characters and the Bastards of Evil. Thankfully, there are some bios at the back with short histories and where else to find the cast’s adventures — a very nice touch. Unfortunately, Arana’s doesn’t answer a key question about her, when and how she lost her powers, instead trying to get us to buy four issues of Spider-Man to find out.

Now if I could only get the same thing for the bad guys. Lots of action so far in this series; I look forward to things slowing down a little so I can get a sense of the characters’ personalities and individual motivations. The setup — one of the villains kills himself in a nuclear explosion and takes a bunch of people with him — allows for lots of chatter about big-picture concepts like “how should heroes react?” but I prefer the smaller-scale everyday stuff. Still, it’s a power-packed launch that should find lots of fans.

Heralds #1-5

Writer: Kathryn Immonen
Artists: Tonci Zonjic and James Harren
$2.99 US each

I love seeing “gals together” stories, and this bunch — Emma Frost, She-Hulk, Monica Rambeau, Valkyrie, Hellcat — have a wide range of stories and personalities to play off each other well. The story’s a bit of a mess, though, and slight for the total price. I don’t think one of the key characters, a green-haired woman who runs SWORD, is even introduced in the first issue, even though she has to be there to get the plot going. You’ll also enjoy it much more if you already know who Nova (Frankie Raye) is, since the whole series refers to previous stories with her and fixing her status quo. So I ignored the superhero fighty bits and just enjoyed the female interaction and occasional sparkling bits of dialogue that had nothing to do with the battle. Especially Valkyrie’s funny bits of acting like the ancient Norse warrior she is.

In just one scene in this book, Emma celebrating her birthday with Scott in Paris, Immonen tells me more about the character than last month’s entire spotlight issue. And I didn’t have to see her butt hanging out of her costume, either.

27 Responses to “Marvel Succeeds With Heroic Age, Plus Heralds Comments”

  1. Caroline Says:

    Glad you’re digging these! There’s a lot of cool stuff here, esp. Thunderbolts and the new “young” titles. I’m getting a big kick out of ‘Hawkeye & Mockingbird’ too.

  2. Johanna Says:

    That’s still on my reading stack. I had hoped to get to them by now, but time and all…

  3. Torsten Adair Says:

    I kicked my Marvel habit back when the X-Men jumped into the Siege Perilous, so I’m choosy with my Marvel comics now.

    I did pick up both teen titles, and they look decent enough for a future read in trade. Not as good as the Adventures stuff, but that’s okay.

    Impossible Man?! Ah yeah… always worthy! If you haven’t yet, go pick up the Fantastic Four Annual. A solid done-in-one story with a cool premise and a very intriguing dangling plot line.

    Also, it’s sorta-kinda a Marvel Adventures title… “Thor: The Might Avenger” by Robert Langridge. Good self-contained series.

  4. Richard J. Marcej Says:

    I’m a fan of Parker’s writing and of the Suicide Squad title, so Thunderbolts sounds like a book I’d like.
    -but, I’m unfamiliar with Kev Walker’s work and your description sounds like I’ll have to give it a pass.

    With the top price’s that Marvel and DC are charging these days for monthly books, I need top, professional work to make me part with my cash. A solid script alone wont do it, I need a competent/quality visual storyteller as well.

  5. James Schee Says:

    As I said over on KC’s blog about burnout, I go through lots of transitions when it comes to what I’m interested in comics wise. Right now Marvel has most of my attention, because they are doing so many things that just really hits what I’m looking for.

    Adventure/spy stuff with Captain America and Secret Avengers by Brubaker.

    Couple adventurers in Hawkeye and Mockingbird.

    Young people finding their place in the world in their various young heroes comics.

    The last bit is what I’m enjoying most. Marvel seems to get how to do young superheroes right, not making them appendages of older characters. Or aging them so fast that they lose what makes them interesting in the first place. (Hi Tim Drake Robin)

  6. Johanna Says:

    Torsten, I think I’ll look for that FF Annual just to see how you have a done-in-one with a cool dangling plot line. :) Langridge is doing Thor? I’ll look for that too.

    Richard, excellent point. High prices raise high expectations.

    James, true. I’ve always enjoyed teen superheroes most, because they combine the idealism of the young with all those over-the-top emotional reactions. I expect better of the adults, so they’re less fun to read.

  7. Chris Says:

    Marvel is getting most of my money these days, too, even though I was a DC fanboy first and foremost once. I think the reason is pretty simple: great writing. Brubaker, Abnett & Lanning, Hickman and Fraction are all just knocking it out of the park. Also, if you dig young heroes, I think you’d really enjoy Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy (if you haven’t already picked it up). It’s extremely well-done: smart characterization and a surprise twist on the “old generation brings up the new” trope.

  8. Johanna Says:

    I did mention Avengers Academy above, but not very obviously, and I am looking forward to seeing more of it.

  9. Mitchell Craig Says:

    Heralds has been one of the nicest surprises from Marvel in some time; I like pulling out random issues and head for the character interplay. And Fantastic Four #580 was also enjoyable (I was gobsmacked with the Impossible Man in this issue), and I have been impressed with the current issues of Thunderbolts (Walker’s art reminds me of Mignola’s, especially the angular look of the characters).

  10. Jim Perreault Says:

    I agree ; I am suprised at how many of the Marvel titles I am liking. It’s getting hard to choose between them.

    While I like Matt Fraction’s take on Ironman, I eventually dropped the book because the stories were too drawn out. I thought that the “Dark Reign” story (I’m blanking on the title at the moment), could have been told in half the amount issues. By the end of it, I had lost interest.

    I third the recommondation of FF. It is currently my favorite Marvel book.

    On AVengers, I think Bendis’ plots are fantastic. But his scripting always pulls me right out of the story. So it’s hard for me to read any of his books long term.

    So what is the current status of Frankie Ray? Her death in Silver Surfer years ago was very poorly done.

  11. Johanna Says:

    If I understood that part of Heralds (I may not have), she took over another girl’s body and returned. But I hope someone more up on the previous story checks me.

  12. comicfan Says:

    I despise every single heroic age comic. every time i see the banner its a sign of another comic I am not reading. They are trite pointless “fake happy” stories about how the world is now magically fixed because good ol cap is back to make everything find.

    They literally disgust me and now I am simply waiting for the new comics to fail, Moon Knight and Atlas are already gone and I doubt Young Allies and Hawk-eye and Mockingbird will last much longer either being neither are selling more than 25K a month which means their dead in the water.

    But beyond the idiotic stories, the outright disablism of introducing a character whose super power is being autistic(finesse in AC). Its the sheer and utterly artifical sense of optimism that is prevading the comics.

    I am not saying that comics need to be grim and gritty, but I do believe that for a comic line to be basing itself on the idea that the world is a better place then it was a year ago then it needs to show that through strong organic narrative. Not a quick event to wipe away the previous storyline then just have the new comics say EVERYTHING IS GREAT NOW. it makes me feel used as a reader for having invested in all those previous stories.

    Because I have pretty much dropped Marvel and now just read DC as I really like how Brightest day has a strong narrative arc that rewards investment and is not just a slap of shiny paint. In fact some of the current Brightest Day stories have been extremely dark (such as the return of black manta in the first issue)

    I feel this shows a willingness to go beyond perceived expectations of the story and the narrative grow.

  13. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for illustrating that there’s no one type of comic fan, and the books I despise may be someone else’s cup of tea (and vice versa). (I don’t understand why you felt the need to come tell those of us talking about comics we enjoy how wrong we are, but I guess that’s the internet.) I like optimistic comics, which is why I’ve switched my comic buying dollar from DC to Marvel. You seem to have a lot more faith that DC’s Brightest Day is going to mean something than I do. I feel sorry that you’re going to be just as disappointed with DC as you now are with Marvel, since none of these stories are ultimately going to mean anything.

  14. comicfan Says:

    1. if you don’t want people crashing your echo chamber than have make your message boards a members only system.

    2. I do not hate optimism, optimism is the core of the superhero concept. I dislike the current run of marvel comics because it is essentially abusing optimism as a marketing ploy which makes me feel that the comics come off as hollow and pointless.

    I do not believe that Brightest Day will “mean” something, but I do believe that story is at the moment better written the the heroic age stories in that the stories a united behind a narrative focus.

    As an education professor(currently getting my PHD at SU go orange!) I feel that narrative is important, and that the emotional impact of the story should flow from the narrative itself. A story should not be happy simply because the writer says its happy and therefore makes the characters happy. There needs to be a deeper emotional context than “because the writer says so”.

  15. Johanna Says:

    Oh, I could shut you down if I wanted, that wasn’t the point. I was more curious about what would motivate someone to come piss on the parade when people are talking about something they enjoy. There are plenty of ways to praise what you like or even to contrast the two without being so … vehement about it.

    But then, I clearly don’t understand much about your point of view, since you’re calling classic heroism “hollow and pointless” while praising the ever-more-cynical DC event books for their storytelling and deep emotional context, which I see them lacking entirely. So, you know, horse races.

  16. comicfan Says:

    it is not classic heroism, it is artificial and forced. They are only happy because the writer says they are happy. They is no real emotion behind the stories, and that makes them hollow.

    I am upset because I know there is no real emotion behind the heroic age as concept, it was a pure marketing ploy to bring in new readers, and its not even working with the only high selling heroic age comics being the 4 avengers books themselves(even thunderbolts took a hit).

    So in the end I feel I can be a bit vehement when a dozen books a i used to enjoy decide to shoot themselves in the foot in the hopes of making more money.

  17. Johanna Says:

    Just because you think it seems forced doesn’t mean it reads that way to others, especially those new readers who are starting with these titles and specials.

    If it is the case that these books aren’t selling very well — not disbelieving you, just that I haven’t seen any sales figures myself — it wouldn’t surprise me, since the taste of those still buying comics in the direct market is generally awful. :) The top-selling books are generally nasty, cynical ones. And I can sympathize with no longer being able to read comics you used to enjoy. That’s what DC did to the books I used to follow, in making them more appealing to readers like you.

  18. comicfan Says:

    I really don’t see that much cynicism in the DC line. The JLI is back and Booster Gold has a great Ongoing. There is a new Birds of Prey with Gail Simone and the Green Lantern line of comics are filled with classic heroism and good characters.

    I don’t read the DC comics now because I think their darker, I just feel that they are rewarding the reader with a stronger narrative.

    Also don’t blame people like me for comics you don’t like, I like happy comics, one of my favorite comics of all time is Supergirl:Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade. I do want more fun and happy comics on the store shelves and I want everyone to enjoy them. I just think beyond those comics having an upbeat tone, they should also be good.

  19. Johanna Says:

    Again, our views dissent. What you see as “stronger narrative”, I read as “impenetrable continuity” and “navel-gazing” and “repulsive events”. I’ve been reading JL: Generation Lost, and while it’s better than most of DC’s other books right now, I still don’t care for the way it’s obsessed with reminding us how Wonder Woman murdered Max Lord, an out-of-character, unnecessary event.

    Strange you should pick that particular all-ages title to mention. It’s one of the few recently that’s misfired for me, for similar reasons to what I mention above. But then, you must be new here, if you think that I’ll praise a comic that isn’t any good for other reasons. :)

  20. James Schee Says:

    I know I don’t look at the titles I’ve read as forced optimism. There are still bad things happening in those stories, but it seems like the heroes are trying their best to make things better.

    While in the DC books that I wasn’t enjoying, it seemed the DC heroes were just there to try and clean up the mess. (and at times just made them worse)

    Not to say there aren’t a few DC books that aren’t fairly good. Levitz’s Legion of Super-Heroes and Adventure Comics work so far has been very enjoyable to me. Yet those, like the Marvel books, had a positive feeling coming from the characters as well.

  21. Jim Perreault Says:

    Comicfan wrote:

    > it is not classic heroism, it is artificial and forced. They are only happy because the writer says they are happy. They is no real emotion behind the stories, and that makes them hollow.

    Comments like that make me think that you have not read a single one of the books (or at least not many of them). There’s a lot of deep characterization in many of the books. And not all the characters are very happy.

    > I really like how Brightest day has a strong narrative arc that rewards investment

    Now that I feel is a valid criticism. It denotes the fundamental difference between “Brightest Day” and “Heroic Age.” Brightest Day (at least the series itself and its tie-ins) is a story. While “Heroic Age” is, as you state, a marketing campaign that highlights an overall theme. But most of the books with that banner have not changed much. [Agents of ]Atlas, Avengers, Iron man, Thunderbolts, and Fantastic Four are pretty much the same books that they have been. For some of them there has been a change in tone, but I think the real changes have mainly been some cast shake ups.

    Do you care to be a bit more specific about what books you have dropped as a result of the “Heroic Age” branding?

  22. Jim Perreault Says:

    Johanna wrote:

    > I still don’t care for the way it’s obsessed with reminding us how Wonder Woman murdered Max Lord, an out-of-character, unnecessary event.

    I disagree, I thought that issue (and most of Rucka’s run) was very good and very much in character. It showed how, when push came to shove and faced with no other option, Diana was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for a friend.

    However, I very much agree with you that constantly harping on it and obsessing over it is annoying. It both undermines the original story and make for terrible new ones. IMO.

  23. Johanna Says:

    I think there’s always another option in a superhero universe. But I’m glad we can agree that we don’t need to keep seeing it.

  24. comicfan Says:

    I dropped all of the comics with the heroic age brand, which includes the four avengers titles, Atlas, Moon Knight, Young Allies, Captain America, and Iron Man.

    I have read the books, I didn’t like them so I am not reading them as I feel the books are not as good as their were previously. I personally Believe Iron Man has gone down hill since Fraction decided amnesia is a respectable plot device.

    Much of the current Heroic Age line of comics feels and reads similar to Heroes Reborn from ten years. Now if you are person who enjoyed Heroes Reborn and like the current run I will respect that, as really all Heroic age is a soft reboot on the their franchise. However I found Heroes Reborn a weak run ten years ago and I feel the same issues cropping up in Heroic age.

    I still pick up Fantastic Four and find it very entertaining.

  25. Jim Perreault Says:

    Thanks for the reply comicfan. That clears things up quite a bit for me.

    I am a bit surprised about some of the books on your list, but I’d rather talk about your comment on reboots.

    I’ve been regularly reading comics since the early 80s, and reboots are something I’ve seen time and time again. They are a bit cyclical, as the follow irregular shake-ups and new directions. There is always a desire to “return” a character to the way you’ve liked them in the past.

    So at DC we are seeing things like the return of Supergirl and Barry Allen, of the Paul Levitz Legion, Of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corp. Superman has been transformed into the world of the movies, and Green Arrow has cycled very quickly through his “hard luck heroes” days and now is back to the Grell era, albeit much more bloodthirsty than Grell ever had him. Wonderwomen, thankfully for a short period of time, was even transformed into the Linda Carter show. In short, DC has returned to the pre-Crisis era, although a very much darkened version of it.

    And over at Marvel we are seeing things like the return of Hawkeye and Mockingbird, the New Mutants, a more classic take on the Avengers, and Spiderman no longer being married. “One more day” was actually the second try at getting rid of the marriage and returning Peter to his bachelor days; the “Clone Wars” was the first, much less successful attempt.

    I’ve begun resigned to such cycles. As to whether one prefers Marvel or DC’s current efforts depends a lot on personal preferences.

    I don’t like the fact that Peter is no longer married or that Clint is Hawkeye and no longer Ronin. So I’m not reading those books. I much prefer when writers build on the past, and not ignore it.

    But I do feel that “Dark Reign” had run its course, and feel Marvel deserves credit for ending a popular storyline at a natural point and starting a new one.

  26. comicfan Says:

    I feel Dark Reign could have been ended a bit more elegantly than what was accomplished in the siege mini in that if you take that story and try to read it on its own it just doesn’t hold up as an fun read. Perhaps a full crossover involving the four avengers comics would have allowed the characters a bit more breathing room.
    I also regret Bendis removing Loki from the board after 3 years of work to make the character a popular antagonist again.

    I agree DC is also in a period of transition into a pre-crisis, which can be clearly seen with the strong push for Aquaman and The Flash as in Brightest day.

    I don’t think DC is any better or less guilty than Marvel at doing reboots. however I do feel that in the specific issue of this current Reboot period, marvel is not doing a good job of keeping long term-fans like me happy while they focus on bringing in new readers.

    As you say marvel has tried multiple times to break up Peter and MJ and Hawkeye is(if you remove the fictional history of character) really just a pet project of whichever writer gets him as the character has never been able maintain ongoing series since his creation.

    I feel that reboots are becoming less essential in the comics industry, especially with the launch of all-ages lines and the new Astonishing lines(and the DC equivalents) their is no real reason to constantly reset the entire comic universe every 5-10 years. It just creates another false barrier between the reader and their enjoyment.

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