Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa Sized Roadblock

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, if you do are not familar with the name, is probably best known (in the world of comics at least - outside of comics, he is best known for being a playwright) as the man hired to replace Mark Waid on Fantastic Four, only to have Marvel reverse their decision, but instead create a NEW Fantastic Four title for him. At the time, I did not think that he had made the transition to comics that well. He clearly had interesting IDEAS, but I do not think he did a good job at transferring those ideas into sequential art. Eventually (and I think, like most writers moving from one medium to another, it really just takes some time), he corrected this, and became, I felt, one of the best mainstream superhero writers in the business. One could say that is just damning with faint praise, and there probably IS something to be said for that, but suffice to say that I felt that he was a talented comic book writer. Today marked the release of TWO of his comics - the latest issue of Marvel Knights: 4 (now renamed just 4) and his first issue as writer of Marvel Knights: Spider-Man (now renamed The Sensational Spider-Man). Sadly for me, with this, his highest profile day in comics, I think that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa hit a roadblock with both titles.

On Four, I think that he has almost the exact opposite problem from when he began writing the book, which is that Aguirre-Sacasa has mastered the style needed to write a comic book, but his ideas have slimmed down. It is interesting to note that, when he was announced as the new Fantastic Four writer, part of the deal was that he was going to be the "accessible" writer. As time progressed on his comic, though, his book became geekier and geekier. However, I think that he used it as a plus. His work was fresh and new, while still managing to work in the complex continuity that the Fantastic Four has built up over 40 years. He did the good idea of using the good stuff (or stuff he thinks is good) and not using the bad. I was exceptionally impressed with his use of the Time Variance Authority. He used it very well in a recent time-travel storyline.

This current storyline, though, I think he has reached too far. I thought that the Salem's Seven were dorky when Doug Moench was writing the book (and Bill Sienkiewicz was drawing it...can you imagine a weirder match on FF today? But at the time, it was fairly typical, as Bill was definitely in the "Do not look different" mindset with his pencils), and they really have not improved any since the early 80s. Meanwhile, a good deal of the interest in this story REVOLVES around any interest we may have in the Salem's Seven and their father, Nicholas Scratch. Aguirre-Sacasa obviously digs these characters, as I believe he's even said in an interview that, with this storyline, he's been able to "bring back some of my favorite classic characters from the FF mythos," but I do not think that he has transferred that love to the page. Instead, he seems to have fallen victim to the ol' "I like these characters, so everyone else must, too" trap that a lot of writers are prone to use (I find that this happens the most with classic Jack Kirby characters).

The storyline has reached three parts, and I do not think that Aguirre-Sacasa has used his players well, at all, really. For instance, he has Doctor Strange guest-star, but except for a few panels in this issue, Strange doesn't actually DO anything. I get that, often, when writers guest-star Strange, they often make the title character seem like a guest-star in their own book (*cough*JMS*cough*), but Aguirre-Sacasa should be a good enough writer to AVOID that happening. Instead, we get an over-extended look at some 80s characters who, if we were not already invested in, we would certainly not BECOME invested in them based on this issue.

Arrist Valentine De Landro basically gets out of Aguirre-Sacasa's way, and just lets him tell the story, which I think is a good thing, as the last thing this story needed was poor art as well. In any event, to break this issue down for you, if you enjoyed Moench and Sienkiewicz's Fantastic Four run, you might like this issue. Everyone else? I think you'd be disappointed.

The Sensational Spider-Man #23, though, is a whole other story. Four at least was a well-structured tale - I do not think I can say the same for the Spider-Man issue. However, a good deal of that may result from the just awful Angel Medina artwork in this comic. I do not dislike Angel Medina as an artist. He has done some good work in the past, but what I think this issue suffers from greatly is Medina being brought upon the book as some sort of "star" artist, as Medina appears to have been given WIDE discretion in how to illustrate this tale, and pretty much every decision he makes is wrong, so I do not know if you can begrudge Aguirre-Sacasa that much. Every time a scene calls for subtlety, Medina cannot even come close to pulling it off. For instance, have you ever seen someone dramatically bend down to pick up something from the floor? Well, in this comic you will see that. You will also see characters strike poses impossible anywhere outside of Bart Sears' wildest dreams.

So, with a good artist, this might have been a decent enough story, but even then, I think this would be a fairly pedestrian story. If you have ever had the misfortune to read the first storyline in Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man, you can basically skip this comic. It is told better than Torment (as, well, it is the difference between McFarlane and Aguirre-Sacasa), but close enough to really make it not worth your time. I was really hoping that Aguirre-Sacasa could bring this Spider-Man title UP to the level that I think Aguirre-Sacasa is capable of, but sadly, it seems to have brought him down to the level I expect from Spider-Man comics, which is treading water in drudgery.

However, I do not think you can fake the talent Aguirre-Sacasa has shown so far in his comic book career. Therefore, I will continue (until proven otherwise) to believe that Aguirre-Sacasa is still on his road to being one of the big names in mainstream comics...I just think he has hit a roadblock on the way.

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Blogger Marionette said...

So have DC now trademarked the number 4? Are we going to see little TM signs next to it?

2/09/2006 04:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Scott said...

I had been a big fan of Aguirre-Sacasa's 4 as it was clearly the best FF book out there. The other FF books haven't improved, but 4 has gone downhill. I haven't read this issue yet, but the two-part Impossible Man story where he wrote himself into story -- and as the hero -- marked the "jump the shark" moment for me.

2/09/2006 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger --Greg Hatcher said...

Speaking of things only ten people know and the fannish OCD need to footnote things, which I just was as it happens, I am compelled to point out that Salem's Seven date back to the 70's, not the 80's... the George Perez years. That is to say, if they're the same bunch that debuted in that Agatha Harkness origin story; I haven't read the new one so I can't actually tell you. But that's where the name came from.

... Yeah, I know. I can't help myself. It's a disease. Pity me.

2/09/2006 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Joe Brown said...

I don'r know, I maintain high hopes for his new spider-man series. I think the flatering beginning of this book has more to do with the editorially (and JMS) mandated depiction of spidey's animal foes going apeshit. Isn't all of this tied into the Other and the return of JMS's animal-avatar mumbo-jumbo? I just bought this yesterday, hoping that Aguirre-Sacasa could pull the spider-franchise out of the tail-spin it's been in over the last six months, but I may have to wait until he's allowed to do his own thing.

And as for (MK)4? It has its ups and downs (yeah, Impossible Man was awful), but I'm going to stay optimistic. Aguirre-Sacasa has a wonderful gift for the mystery and granduer hidden in the FF's mythos.

Here's hoping it all gets better.

2/09/2006 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I'm right there with you, all who have hope that Aguirre-Sacasa can pull out of this tail spin. He is clearly quite talented, let's just hope he uses his talent better.

2/09/2006 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

You're absolutely right, Greg, I should have specified that I meant the last time someone actually used the Salem's Seven in a story was Moench and Sienkiewicz (unless some other writer has that I am unaware of, which is perfectly believable, seeing as how Marvel has SO many titles over the years).

2/09/2006 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous carla said...

I feel bad 'cause the man's obviously doing a good job somewhere to continue his employment and your praise is very well thought out, but for someone who always picks up just the *wrong* issue of Aguirre-Sacasa's work... I ca tell you now fomr the layman's perspective he looks really hack.

I want you to be right, man. I'll read Sensational Spidey #2 and see if they can't hit Medina with the subtlety stick hard enough for the story to be readable.

2/09/2006 10:52:00 PM  
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