Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dark Reign: The List (comics)

Writers: Brian Bendis, Jason Aaron, Greg Pak, Rick Remender and numerous others
Artists: John Romita Jr., Alan Davis, Adam Kubert and too many others to count
Collects: Dark Reign: The List - Avengers, Daredevil, X-Men, Punisher, Secret Warriors, Hulk, Wolverine, Amazing Spider-Man

Hoo boy. This book. There are so many problems with doing something like this. Let's you and me talk about why.

Essentially seven or eight one shots with an over-arching narrative, the conceit is that Norman Osborn is making a list. He's checking it twice. He doesn't really care who's been naughty or nice. He's just gonna shoot you in the face. Or more likely have you shot by someone else, since he employs a bunch of murderers as a team of Avengers.

I'm not really going to get into the individual quality of each one shot; as you'd expect, some are better than others and this really isn't the point of the exercise. There are about three different ways you can try and run something like this. The first option is to have the overarching storyline take precedence; this is the approach that would have actually necessitated a collection like this. The other way is to be light on the connective tissue and have each writer treat it as an extra chapter of whatever ongoing they presumably work on. The final option is to try and do both; this route very rarely works out, becoming a jack of all trades, but master of none.

This book takes the second approach, which results in a scattershot group of one shots that barely connect.

Talked up as an important part of the overall Dark Reign status quo, they try to tie everything together with the overall plot of Osborns list. It doesn't necessarily work, because only about three chapters actually involve the list itself or Norman actively going after his target. Each issue does involve him, but as mentioned earlier they're all basically extra chapters of different books across the Marvel line. Different vibes and tones follow, with the overall series not feeling like a cohesive whole. There are a few important scenes to affect the status quo, but it doesn't really work as it's own story, which is a big, big problem.

Since what we're left with here are extra tales of the given character or team, we're left with about what you'd expect for most of them. Quite a few of them involve the ongoing events of a given book, which means that divorced from said context they mean little. Why is Norman pissed at Namor? Who knows, but he's damn sure going to throw a hungry monster at him. What's Osborns beef with the Punisher? You might be able to take a guess, but if you haven't read the events of his ongoing at the time, you won't have the concrete answer. Why the hell is Hulk not the Hulk? Same deal.

In short, most of the one shots assume familiarity with the ongoing events at the time. The hope is to get your readers hooked and want to read those books. But without a given context, what we get is going to mean little to most of the people who read it. Even with people who are reading several of the given ongoings, few of them will have been invested in all of them.

Worse still, the entire exercise - and even this collection - is unnecessary. While we could have been in for an interesting story if Osborns downfall came from the fallout of the last one shot, Spider-Mans, it's ultimately inconsequential. The Siege event would come soon after, which led to Osborns downfall in a way that had nothing to do with the events portrayed here. Sure, Peter damn sure screwed up Osborns PR, but things would have come to the same conclusion with or without him. Which leaves the appeal to the writing and art, which are both admittedly pretty great.

As for the collection itself, as you can guess, each individual one-shot is also collected in the collections of the associated book. They fit in much better there and the events are separate enough that removing them from the rest doesn't hurt them. So, with the one shots all available elsewhere and the overall story remarkably flimsy... the point of this collection is what again? Aside from the obvious goal of a little extra money coming in from the sales of this too.

Really pointless volume overall.

The Score: 5 out of 10

Let me be very, very clear here; this score is for this volume as a whole. As a separate entity, this collection fails to be worth the time or money in every way. Many of the individual one shots themselves, however, are very good; several well written and several very, very well drawn by some of comics best. But you're better off reading them in the associated collections. There's absolutely no point in wasting the money on this thing. It means absolutely nothing if you're not already reading the given comics; and if you are, that means buying this volume would have you paying for the same comics twice.

By all means, skip this; you'll get them when you get around to the volumes of the ongoings they're collected in.

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