Monday, March 19, 2012

Comics - First Impressions: Stan (the Man) might still have it...

I hope you'll all forgive me for shuffling the schedule around this week, but I had a busy weekend and am just now getting back into town (plus, the frames to my glasses broke, so I will need to spend a big chunk of Monday getting them replaced). So, rather than rush out with a shortened review of Comic Base, I'm going to give you a quick first impression of a new comic that just came out: Stan Lee's Mighty 7.

Yes, you heard right. That's "The" Stan Lee, releasing one of his first new titles in years. First of all, the basics:
  • This is a standard-format news stand comic
  • It is a six-issue mini-series
  • It is published bi-monthly.
  • It has a cover price of $2.99
  • There are three variant covers (I've got the issue pictured below)
  • 24 pages of story on slick paper
  • Although it says "Stan Lee Comics" on the cover, it is published by Archie Comics

Facing Down My Own Preconceptions
Now, although Archie comics has published a lot of superhero comics over the years (including the first patriotic hero, The Shield), they've been so focused on their humor books that they have never really done a good job with superheroes since the 1940s. This alone was enough to give me pause when I first heard about this comic... but it IS Stan Lee and I decided I would give it a chance, so I subscribed to it over at

The second thing I had to get past was the name: Mighty 7. It just sounds juvenile, as though it was the title of an early 1980s direct-to-syndication cartoon. A little bit of research quickly revealed that he wanted to call it "Super 7," but that name was already in use, so a quick reshuffle and these seven heroes are mighty, instead.

Then we hit the cover itself, and this is the hardest thing to get past. These heroes look like a retread of the Legion of Superheroes. And this makes me very worried that Stan, fearing that he might inadvertently rehash some of the material he created for Marvel, decided to raid his competitor's back catalog for ideas. Or maybe this is just something left over from the Stan Lee/DC Comics experiment a while back where he reimaged DC's classic heroes, Superman, Batman, and others? In any case, by this point I was more than a little bit worried about what I would be getting. 

The Comic Itself
The first issue of my subscription arrived today and I read it while winding down for the evening. I approached it with a few trepidations (as I described above), but an otherwise open mind and more than a little bit of curiosity. The cover is decidedly (and, might I say, almost refreshingly) old-school. A group of heroes battle some big, mechanized bad guy. How 1977 is that?  

But there were the heroes again, looking very much like a nice fanzine version of the Legion. At the top it looks like we've got Dawn Star and Colossal Boy, that girl in the middle looks a lot like Light Lass, and then there's the dead ringer for a suitless version of Wildfire. And how on earth could I miss the Bouncing Boy lookalike at the bottom? I mean, why on earth would anybody parody a hero who is, by his very existence, a parody of a superhero?

Still, I sat down and read it. You know what? If this had come out in 1977-1982, I think it would have had a decent chance, in spite of being an almost blatant Legion rip-off. That probably sounds harsher than I mean it to sound. This is a cool comic that really relishes its old-school vibe and classic artwork. Here's the basic plot:

Stan Lee is talking to Archie Comics about writing some new material for them. He's got some ideas for Betty & Veronica (there's a sketch for "Betty and Veronica in the Moshpit of Doom" -- oh, and we get a cool Millie the Model joke, too). Archie comics John Goldwater (looking very nice) tells Stan he was hoping he would bring him some new superhero ideas. Stan says he's written so many of them that he just doesn't know if he's got one left in him...
On a planet far away, a renegade Star Marshal named Blastok is about to kill a businessman who poisoned and killed hundreds of people just to improve sales of his water purifiers.  As I said above, he reminds me a lot of Wild Fire, but he's also got a little Timber Wolf vibe about him. He's stopped by two current Star Marshals -- his former friends and cadets, naturally -- named Asoara (she's the flying woman) and Vallor, who reminds me of a cross between Colossal Boy and Mon-El. The two Marshal's capture Blastok and throw him in a cell with five other criminals and then proceed to haul them back to their home planet. The five of them band together and use their powers to escape just when the ship jumps into hyperspace (which will cause a very quick fluctuation in the forcefield, so it's their one shot at getting out of this).
Meanwhile, back on earth, we get a quick cutaway to a scientific experiment that is trying to control earthquakes. A no-good scientist tampers with the controls and it blows up,  releasing the mysterious "P-Waves." At this same time, Stan Lee is musing over his future in the desert and decides that he is going to retire and stop writing superhero comics... and then something crashes into the desert near him...

This isn't my first inter-stellar rodeo, so it's obvious that the criminals destroyed the navigation system in the ship, the P-Waves drew them through hyperspace to earth, and Stan Lee will actually mentor these aliens on how to become "real" superheroes.  Okay, that last bit would be a stretch for me to figure out if it weren't for the fact that Stan explained this in a previous Bullpen Bulletins column... uh, errrr, that is to say, I read it in an interview and it's mentioned on his blog:

 So, aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, How was the play?
As I said above, I tried to keep an open mind and, for the most part, I kind of enjoyed this because it had such a nice old-school feeling to it. By that, I mean it reminds me a lot of the fun comics I read back in high school and my early college days.

I had to work to get past the feeling that this is a Legion copy... and for that matter, I also felt like it has similarities to Chris Claremont's Sovereign Seven (super-powered aliens arrive on earth and make do as heroes). But this was new work by Stan Lee (doesn't he look dapper in this portrait?), so I'm willing to give it a chance just to see if there is any of that old creative spark there.

Also, it should be mentioned that although Stan's name is on the cover (he is, after all, one of the greatest self-marketed writers since Mark Twain himself), he probably only came up with the idea and then passed it off to writers Tony Blake and Paul Jackson (who, I might mention, are actually better know for writing television shows, so that makes me wonder if my Saturday Morning deja vu might not be so out of place, after all). The artwork is by Alex Saviuk, inks by Bob Smith, and the very capable lettering by John Workman are nicely finished by the bright, exciting colors of Tom Smith.

BOTTOM LINE: If you're expecting to read the next great thing in comics, you should pass on this. If you're curious to read something new by one of the greats in the field, you might enjoy reading this just so you can say you were there when Stan sang his swan song. And finally, you should pick it up it you're tired of cynical, gritty modern comics and would like, for at least 22 pages, to go back in time and read something  that feels like a recently discovered series from the heydey of 1970s and 1980s comic book storytelling.

See you back here Wednesday when I try to get back on schedule!

No comments:

Post a Comment