Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 15

This week, we're getting two one shots from Secret Wars. Dan Grote lets us in on Howard the Human, and I dig into Secret Love...

Howard the Human
Story: Skottie Young
Art: Jim Mahfood and Justin Stewart

Who’s the hairless ape now?

Whether duck or human, Howard remains trapped in a world he never made. For the purposes of Secret Wars, he’s the only human in New Quack City, a domain full of anthropomorphic animals. The Lizard runs the local bar, the Vulture is a gangster surrounded by chicken henchmen, the Black Cat looks like something out of an anime furry video, Daredevil is a mouse, the Kingpin is a gorilla, the Hand are monkeys and the police are dogs (which incidentally makes me nostalgic for that issue of Hawkeye where Clint, Wolverine and Spider-Man discuss the show “Dog Cops”).

Writer Skottie Young (Rocket Raccoon, Giant Size Little Marvels: A vs. X) gives us, in the Vulture’s own words, a “Raymond Chandler novel of the day” in which Howard has to solve the case of a dead possum while keeping his various enemies off his back, ultimately by playing them all off each other. As a one-off, the story works perfectly. Young knows what he’s going for, tells the story efficiently and it neither feels rushed nor overstays its welcome. Jim Mahfood’s art adds to the heightened surrealism of New Quack City, turning Marvel’s favorite mallard into a triangle-faced, bushy-mustached, big-haired blond P.I. (Come to think of it, he kind of looks like Wade after his face gets healed in Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars).

In the end though, more than a closed case, more than the money he owes all over town, all Howard wants is an egg. Some bacon would be nice, too. Living in a city of animals forces one to adopt a vegan diet, so when one of the Vulture’s crew lays an egg out of surprise (who doesn’t love a classic cartoon bit?), Howard loses all sense but still comes out on top.

Done-in-one storytelling sometimes feels like a lost art, and no one who complains that Secret Wars is too sprawling and continuity-dense would be wrong. But if you’re looking for an accessible, light read amid all the sturm und drang, this is a good’un.

Secret Wars: Secret Love
Creator credits listed with each story

I think I've mentioned my love for anthologies before, but in case I haven't, or haven't lately: I love anthologies, both in comic and short story form. There's something for everyone, and it's a great way to stumble across new writers/characters you've never encountered before (I'm currently reading a short story collection from Moonstone Books called Sex, Lies, and Private Eyes as my between novel cleanser, that includes a Maze Agency short by Mike W. Barr and a Silencers short by Fred Van Lente, as well as a bunch of others, some of which I've really enjoyed). So, after seeing some good buzz on this, I picked it up and found myself pleasantly surprised at the consistently high quality across the board on the stories:

Guilty Pleasure
Story & Art: Michael Fiffe

Set in the Inferno domain of Battleworld (new issue of Inferno came out this week as well, by the way, and was enjoyable. Mr. Sinister!), this story features Karen Page, who is unsure if her husband, Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil, is being faithful. Seeing Matt out fighting Typhoid Mary, the reason for one of Matt and Karen's numerous break-ups in the 616 (the code for the regular Marvel universe), the reader could easily be swayed to Karen's point of view. But as she follows Matt out into the night, we see there's more to this than meets the eye. A decent enough story, the art on this story is what really grabbed me; Michael Fiffe draws some great demons.

Fan of a Fan
Story & Art: Felipe Smith

Between Dan and I, we've written quite a bit about current Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, and her series. I am much less familiar with the current Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes. In all fairness, Ghost Rider is probably the Marvel horror hero I'm least familiar with; the character never did much for me. That didn't matter much , as Felipe Smith does a good job of establishing Robbie and his supporting cast, as well and Kamala and Bruno, her BFF, who are working at the concession stand at the big arena that I would assume the current Ghost Racers mini-series takes place. The cover of the issue features Kamala and Robbie, and I'm happy to say the cover has nothing to do with the story. It's fun, light, and very true to character.

Misty and Danny Forever
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Gurihiru

Here's the highlight of this book. I've written plenty of reviews of Jeremy Whitley's work (heck, just yesterday I wrote up something about the new issue of his Raven: The Pirate Princess), but this is the first thing I've read by him outside his creator owned work. And it's really good. Heck, I'll say it's great. I like Danny Rand and Misty Knight, but have never read either character religiously. This story, set in Manhattan on Battleworld, sees a married Danny and Misty trying to go out for a night and recapture the spark they had before they got married; they feel like something's missing. We get cameos by Misty's partner Colleen Wing, plus Danny's old pal Luke Cage and his family, Jessica Jones and baby Dani, as well as Danny and Misty's daughter, a character created for here, as far as I know. The story has a dinosaur fight and kung fu movies, but what I really love is it's a great portrait of a marriage. It's a beautiful portrait of remembering why you loved someone in the first place, and why that person, for all the ups and downs, is THE person for you. Add in the charming art of Gurihiru, best known for Marvel's all ages Power Pack minis from the early 00s and the Dark Horse continuation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and you have a perfect little short story that makes me want to track down more stories of Danny and Misty together.

Squirrel Girl Wins a Date with Thor
Story: Marguerite Bennett
Art: Kris Anka

The title on this one pretty much says it all. Set on, I believe, Arcadia, the realm of A-Force, Squirrel Girl goes out on a date with Thor Odinson. It's a night of dancing and hijnks, and right in line with Squirrel Girl's portrayal in her ongoing. Kris Anka draws some great crowd scenes, filled with lots of Marvel cameos, and gives is a chariot drawn by giant squirrels, which is the perfect cap to this story.

Happy Ant-Iversary
Story & Art: Katie Cook

Set on Earth 0.616, where the Avengers are all bugs, this story follows the Wasp as she is lead on a trail by notes and clues left by Ant-Ant (that's the only logical name for a Hank Pym ant, right?). We see all sorts of Avengers bugs, including Black Widow as a real Black Widow, which leads to a couple great gags. Light on words, cartoonist Katie Cook uses the pictures to tell most of the story, which serves beautifully. I love Cook's Gronk, and actually have a framed piece by her on my mantle, so it was nice to see her heartwarming little story round out this solid collection of Marvel love stories.

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