The Comic Book Club: Soldier Zero and Vertigo Resurrected

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Graeme McMillan, Evan Narcisse and Mike Williams discuss Soldier Zero #1 and the Vertigo Resurrected anthology.

DOUGLAS: Soldier Zero: well, that’s not the greatest hand Paul Cornell and Javier Pina were dealt. This would have been a perfectly acceptable Marvel comic in 1974: a decently executed first-issue-of-a-superhero-comic/origin story that’s basically a rewrite of Green Lantern’s origin, with a touch of Blue Beetle (actually, I think the “alien” typeface might be the same one that turned up in the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle–or maybe it’s Kryptonian). But there have been so many of those dropped on the pile over the past 35 years that I need a really big reason to care about it, and Stan Lee’s signature is not it.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: “Strange Tales II” and “Knight and Squire”)

Beyond being a little weirded out that Lee gets his name on the cover twice, despite not actually writing the story inside, I’m generally bummed that two out of every three people in comics seem to be working on a “Stan Lee” project with which Lee’s got minimal involvement. Lee did some very, very important things for comics between 1960 and 1972, and I suspect he’s still got his gift of pushing certain collaborators to extend themselves (have y’all been reading that backup strip he’s been writing in Amazing Spider-Man? Marcos Martin is doing incredible work over there). But he’s basically running on name recognition rather than what he’s been doing for the past few decades; every time I see his signature I think of Gusteau from Ratatouille.

This issue reads like Cornell is much more invested in Stewart Trautmann than in the dude in red and white armor. Which is fine–except that it gives me no reason to be interested in the armored dude. It’s an interstellar war. Another interstellar war. I am so tired of interstellar wars I can’t even tell you.

EVAN: Yeah, this one reminded me of the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle character, too. And that’s a problem. If there’s one thing that a comic with the words “Stan Lee” all over it shouldn’t be, it’s derivative. I started thinking that this would be a great comic for a tween/teenage kid, but the caveat is that said kid couldn’t have heard of Green Lantern or Blue Beetle or Nova or Ben 10 or… You get the point. Aside from the character’s wacky-looking armor and the paralyzed civilian thing, this reads as by-the-numbers. Which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just doesn’t have enough mojo to break the surface and stand out as something different.

I’m sick of writers doing the whole broken-sentence, naturalistic dialogue thing. It’s risen in popularity since Bendis became a superstar but, in the wrong hands, it’s terrible. I hate to say it, but Cornell’s hands are the wrong ones here. The stop and start doesn’t flow well. It’s like a lurching cab ride. You don’t need characters to sound like they do in real life. It’s just weird to read this from Cornell, who hasn’t done it in Action or in Knight and Squire.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: Thor #615)

But the real reason I wanted to read this one was, of course, because of Stan Lee. Just before NYCC, I randomly ran into Stan and a few of his handlers in the street. Shook his hand and told him I was a fan. His grip was strong, he seemed alert and attentive. But the question I couldn’t shake was: Why is Stan still doing all of this?

Is he broke? Can he not stay away? Is his filter broken, so that he can’t discern the moments to make a lasting mark in his latter-day work from the people who just want him to rubber-stamp stuff? I think back to that Just Imagine stuff with DC, which, while it wasn’t great, felt like Stan The Man. Or one of Stan’s personas. Soldier Zero doesn’t have that crazy Stan vibrancy.

I’ve never been able to shake the great anecdote from an old Matt Fraction column at CBR. It’s in the first graf, and ever since I read it, I’ve been left to wonder if the superhero business can’t let go of Stan or vice versa. It makes me wince a bit to think that Stan can’t or won’t be an eminence grise to the comics industry, like Joe Kubert and Jerry Robinson have kind of become.

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