I’m not sure about anyone else out there, but I’ve always found myself drawn to certain characters in comics and repelled by others based on nothing more than their designs. I’ve read very few Creeper comics, but can say that he’s absolutely one of my favorite characters based solely on design and aesthetics. As a kid coming up in comics fandom in the 90s, I saw a lot of darker themed characters that I did not want anything to do with. One of those characters was Venom. Back then, the large-tongued symbiote muscle man was the king of of the edgy miniseries and I was admittedly a bit nervous about his whole deal (which, as a die-hard DC fan, I only really knew about from looking at covers and reading Wizard). The great thing about being a human, though, is that we can grow past our early thoughts and evolve into new people who are ready, willing and able to read Venom comics (that’s what evolution’s all about, right?).
Uncanny X-Men/Steve Rogers Super-Soldier: Escape From The Negative Zone
Written by James Asmus, drawn by Nick Bradshaw, Ibraim Roberson & Max Fiumara
Collects Uncanny X-Men Annual #3, Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier Annual #1 & Namor: The First Mutant Annual #1
Escape From The Negative Zone is one of those books I wasn’t super interested in, but I had set up a Swap with someone when it turned out they forgot about trading one of the books I wanted. I scanned the list, saw that this starred a post-Reborn Captain America and thought it might be a fun read. And, luckily, that’s exactly what it is.
I don’t believe I’ve ever read one of Asmus’ comics before, but I thought he did a great job combining superheroes I’m (mostly) familiar with, a situation that’s fun (them trapped in an alternate dimension) and even some prison-escape elements. Basically, Cyclops, Hope, Dr. Nemesis and Namor get accidentally teleported to the Negative Zone where they run afoul of Blastaar. Blastaar wants to kill Reed Richards and asks for him to come to the NZ, but Steve Rogers goes instead. The five of them then need to work together (well, four because Namor’s going crazy without water) to get home as their previous mode of exit changes.
I also like that this is the kind of story you can enjoy without knowing much about the characters. It’s not the kind of story where you get a lot of background — I still know next to nothing about Nemesis or Hope — but you get a good feel for the characters. You might not know what Steve Rogers’ deal is, but you know from the way he’s written what kind of guy he is, same for the other characters. Dynamics and attitudes are shown instead of told in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned. All that combined with a fun story that never slows down until the end and you’ve got a really fun comic.
Oh and the art is bonkers-good. I don’t believe I’ve read comics by Bradshaw, Roberson or Fiumara before, but I definitely want to moving forward. Bradshaw looks kind of like Art Adams in the amount of detail he puts in but a little cartoonier. I definitely want to see more of his stuff. Roberson is a different matter all together, his figures are big and bold and everything looks painted, sort of like a far less digital Ariel Olivetti. Then you’ve got Fiumara who’s something else altogether, kind of a cross between Jae Lee and Skottie Young with style in spades. I’m not always a fan of a collection with so many different artists, but I loved this one, specifically because these guys are so good.
My only complaint about the collection is that it’s pretty pricey. Mind you, I didn’t actually purchase this book, I traded for it, but somebody out there is. I appreciate that it’s a hardcover and in the deluxe format, but $20 for a book whose comics would have cost you $12 total is a bit rough. Still, the larger size really shows off that rad art and story, plus they went with a white color for the cover which really stuck out to me for some reason.
The complete opposite of EFTNZ, I was actually really looking forward to checking out Rick Remender’s run on Venom. He’s a guy whose work I’m slowly catching up on, but has a real talent for coming up with rad concepts that are sometimes a little too awesome for Big Two comic readers (I’m thinking specifically of Frankencastle). However, I was left a little flat after reading this collection.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept behind this book, it’s that the government has captured the (a?) symbiote suit and, by using drugs and whatnot, have essentially turned it into living armor for a soldier. In this case the soldier is familiar to Spider-Man fans as Flash Thompson, a vet who lost his legs in service for his country and now uses the suit to take on bad guys while trying to keep control of the suit and not get addicted to it.
My biggest problem with this book is that it seems to have been printed funny. I kept having trouble focusing on Tony Moore’s art in the first issue which was bothersome because I think he’s great. I’m not sure if the lines didn’t come out right or if something was just the slightest bit off, but the whole book had a kind of fuzzy quality to it that I had trouble pinning down. Making matters worse, it’s not a consistent problem throughout the book. I’d be squinting and trying to focus, turn the page and then get treated to some crisp art, but it would be something less than dynamic like two characters talking.
I had a few story problems as well, but I think that’s because I don’t read Amazing Spider-Man or have a deep knowledge of Flash Thompson. For instance, I assumed the Betty that Flash is dating was Betty Brant, but her last name wasn’t actually said until something like the third issue. There’s also a point later on in the book where Thompson says something about his boss being blind, which there was something that came out of nowhere for me. I even went back and looked at his other appearances and saw no indication of him being blind, though it could have been mentioned in the dialog and I missed it.
Aside from those problems, though, this is a really fun idea. One of my favorite What If?! stories has Punisher getting his quite-gloved hands on the Venom symbiote. There’s a lot of that idea here, but instead of Thompson mentally defeating the symbiote, Flash is constantly in fear or losing control, something that I’m not very interested in. That’s your basic werewolf premise and something that’s all over the place in comics. I also could not help but wonder if this idea would have been better serviced as a creator-owned comic. I know it wouldn’t have had the fan wow factor, the pedigree or — I assume — the financial benefits, but I wonder if Remender’s the kind of creator who might wind up working much better outside the set constraints of a shared universe like Robert Kirkman does. But, like I said, it was a fun story that I’m sure Spidey fans dug, it just wasn’t the kind of thing that really got me excited.