January 6, 2011

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Astounding Wolf-Man Vol 1

Written by Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by Jason Howard
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A man is mauled in a tragic accident that changes his life forever, as he discovers that he's been transformed into a wolf-man. With great power comes great responsibility, of course, but there are so many dangers and unknown issues that our hero fails as much as he wins. Can an alliance with a vampire whose undead head is in the right place help him, or will everything fall apart around him? Find out in the adventures of the Astounding Wolf-Man!

I have to admit, this is a comic that would have had zero appeal to me if it wasn't written by Robert Kirkman. I generally don't think new superhero comics are all that interesting, because they tend to either try too hard to avoid the cliches of the past 50 years or they end up falling into so many of them that the results are mediocre.

Even a good writer like Kirkman has to work hard to try and rise above what has come before over and over again, and he almost doesn't make it here. This comic starts off incredibly slowly, with the setup of the origin and the wolf-man's initial inability to control himself being standard fare that isn't anything new. Even the first few "shocking" twists aren't all that surprising, as we learn that Hampton is going to have trouble keeping his life together and that his vampire friend is not all that he claimed. Pretty standard stuff, there, even if some of the characters we meet along the sidelines are more original than you'd expect for cameo appearances. (I thought Mighty Maid was particularly good in this regard.)

Then things start to ratchet up a notch or two, in fine Kirman form. The ally has several secrets I wasn't expecting, at least one of which will lead to real problems for the Wolf-Man in his personal life and the other is certainly set up to cause issues for him as a not-caped crusader. They're inventive and creative and show just why Kirkman is so popular as a script writer. He's always willing to do terrible things to his characters, which makes his creator-owned work so good, and even his standard superhero stuff exciting, even if you know the biggest names won't suffer at his hands (though I bet he still tries anyway at editorial meetings).

The trouble I had with this one, though, is that it takes way too long to get to the good parts. I know plot lines need time to build, but I feel like we could have gotten to the good stuff faster. I wonder how many people kept on going in single issue form after the first few issues were paced so ploddingly and with such familiar tropes. I certainly want to see what's happening to Hampton and his world, but not enough to go racing the store to find volume two, and that's a real problem.

My other main issue is that for a man who complains about comics not being written for kids, there sure is a lot of violence here. Heads are severed, bodies are chopped up, and there's blood everywhere in the action scenes. It's all a bit over the top for my taste, as it takes away from the story and makes the comic more like a slasher flick. Howard does a good job of drawing the carnage, but I question its need to be there so much in the first place. Kirkman says this is a superhero comic, so why not focus the action on superheroes? Then again, I guess blood and gore are standard fare, when DC has plans to publish a book entirely about a corpse of aliens who spit blood at their opponents. *shrug*

Overall, I liked some of the twists and turns of Astounding Wolf-Man, but it's only for fans of Kirkman and is not must-reading for anyone else. I'd like to know where he goes with the story, but not enough to spend much money on the answer. The concept is a nice idea, but it only just crosses the bar of being more of the same, and since I'm a pickier reader this year, I don't see a need to keep going. You might want to take a look if you find this one cheap, and see if it works better for you.