Underground Reading: The Shadowers by Donald Hamilton
Buildup to CowCon

Graphic Novel Round-up: This is the noise that keeps me awake

Enough with the praise - there are enough 7's and 8's in the world. Here are five graphic novels that made my head ache - including the Worst Graphic Novel Ever.

Ultimate Fantastic Four: Frightful (Millar / Land): Also known as 'Ultimate Fantastic Four: Will it Blend?'. Millar deftfully poaches the key elements from the previous plot-lines (Doctor Doom! Zombies!), drops in a few more genre standards (Time travel! Lovecraftian Elder Gods! Body swapping!) and hits 'puree'. Although the resulting paste would be fodder for a dozen graphic novels, Millar crams it into a single, whirlwind adventure written for ferrets on speed. This disaster is especially jarring because of the lovely, deliberate pacing that had previously characterized the Ultimate Fantastic Four title.

Ultimate Fantastic Four: Comics for the Attention-Impaired!

Fury (MAX)(Ennis / Robertson): Dull work from everyone involved. Ennis first portrayed Nick Fury in his Steve Dillion-partnered Punisher and this is an uninspired spin-off. The gags are dull and plot is recycled. Even the patented ultraviolence and deliberately offensive dialogue feels watered-down and off-key. Not even worth it for the Ennis/Robertson completist - read The Boys instead. 

Ultimate X-Men: Magical(Kirkman / Raney): A mutant named Magic shows up. He can do anything. He wants to get laid. He gets found out. He disappears. He never shows up again. Added bonus: Nothing happens in the larger narrative. The result is not only spectacularly pedestrian reading, but also completely irrelevant to the series as a whole. Presumably this was just published to clear the (plot) decks before the next arc ('Cable'), but even with an annual added for filler, this volume is disturbingly slim.

Ultimates 2: Grand Theft America(Millar / Hitch): Largely, the Ultimate universe avoids Kirby-esque camp, in favor of a darker, modern style. Characters are deeper, more modern and more mature. Ultimates (1 and 2) was leading this charge - not just with Captain America, but with all the Avengers. They lived in a more 'real' world, facing more 'real' challenges - political, ethical and personal - as well as the traditional super-villain shenanigans. Almost (but not quite) Marvel's The Authority. Then, in the concluding volume of Ultimates 2, the series lazily reverts into old-school Marvel goofiness. The Axis of Evil makes their own Avengers! Super-bun-fight! NORSE MYTHS invade. What just happened? 

And, drumroll please, the Worst Graphic Novel Ever:

Exiles: Starting Over (Claremont / Henry): Exiles was one of my favorite titles of recent years - and probably one of the best X-titles ever. As the meta-X-Men, the Exiles bounded from alternate universe to alternate universe, solving different problems in each one. A great concept, and one that (in skilled hands) created stories that were often ethically-challenging, complicated, humorous and touching. The series was glued together by great characterization and an engrossing meta-narrative. The Claremont infusion seemed a perfect match - in theory - as he's the godfather of the X-Men and immensely fond of alternate universe hijinks.

Unfortunately, Claremont's also the godfather of bullshit marketing-driven-cross-overs. Claremont restored key series characters to life (OFF-SCREEN), retired others (OFF-SCREEN), plot-holed and reset the meta-narrative with two uber-cosmic, 4th-wall-breaking god figures (OFF-SCREEN and... Hey! You're not Grant Morrison!). He casually brushed aside every single piece of plot, character development and backstory that made the series great. And he did most of it in limited-edition spin-off series and other X-titles - the Exiles weren't even granted the dignity of being drowned in their own shit-heap.

Not only is this collection an abomination, but it actually devalues everything that preceded it.