August 16, 2014

The Further Adventures of U.S. 1, Part 3


The Sensational She-Hulk #44 "Cognito"

Our last issue brought up mention of the Asparagus People, and when I vaguely recalled them being a thing from Byrne and Chris Claremont's time on X-Men, Al Lobama commented that they were the inhabitants of the world Dark Phoenix destroyed. Byrne goes a few steps further, not only recounting Dark Phoenix and what she did, but going all the way back to Avengers #4, where Captain America first woke up, found the Avengers turned into stone statues, and encountered an Asparagus Person (actual name, the D'Bari) who'd been stranded on Earth for thousands of years, and whose green sprout head and petrification ray gun formed the basis for the Medusa myth.

Recapping all of this takes up a whopping 9 pages of the comic, the last of which is just She-Hulk again expositing over a series of cheesecake poses because Byrne got tired of drawing flashback, then points out that 9 pages have just been burned through so they don't have as much story they need to fill.

I'm getting tired of Byrne openly waggling his laziness at us and brushing it off as a gag.

But hey! After all this time we finally get some U.S. 1 action! As our heroes race off to the world where Taryn and Razorback were captured, U.S. reveals they've got a smokey on their tail as, with Retread helping at the radar, they swoop about the void of the cosmos until they shake him. Only to look forward and see they're running into a space block of multiple ships.

They've been snagged by the Skrull, who strip everyone to their underwear (yep), hit on Jennifer despite her "smooth chin", and find it very amusing that our heroes have come to rescue people from the very planet the Skrull are here to wipe out. They agree to give Jennifer a bit of time, though, teleporting her down to the D'Bari world, where she allows herself to be captured and is brought to the same cell Taryn and Razorback are held in. Jennifer thinks it'll be a snap for someone of her strength to escape, but when she pounces at the metal bars, she's thrown back by a powerful energy field.

Taryn says there is no escape, and it's only a matter of time before they share the same fate as the prisoner in the next cell over: Rocket Raccoon, who's been frozen as a stone statue!

It's a shame it took the issue as long to get going as it did, because once the story finally kicks in, it's really fun stuff. U.S. and Retread get a great action scene, the banter between Jennifer and the Skrull is great, stripping everyone to their underwear isn't played as cheesecake as you'd expect (a few points back to Byrne for the confident Louise), and things take a nice twist on the planet below with a surprise Rocket guest appearance. It's a good one. And while there are some inking issue, with messy, sketchy lines, or a few bits that look unfinished and rushed, his art is still crisply framed and blocked, with great figure work and a magnificent full page closeup reveal of the Skrull captain.

The Sensational She-Hulk #45

Oh look, Byrne is trying to hide his laziness again by having the first ELEVEN PAGES of the book be 2/3 size pinups of She-Hulk, with two tiny panels per page eeking out bits of story. He even concocts a caption dialogue of editor Renee Witterstaeter chewing him out for this, wherein mention is made of other creators getting away with pinup pages, but again Byrne isn't actually adding any commentary to things, he's just doing it while writing "I'm doing this" on the page.

Anyway, we learn that Taryn and Razorback were on a haul in the Coal Nebula when they picked up a distress signal in the Dandesh system. Going down to investigate (their ship, Big Pig III, has a landing craft called Li'l Porker), they found Rocket Raccoon being chased by the D'Bari populace. He was eventually zapped and turned to stone, and when the two tried to interfere, they found themselves imprisoned.

Back in the present, Razorback is suddenly zapped into stone as the D'Bari from that Avengers issue way back gloat outside their cell, pissed at humanity for Dark Phoenix's crime of wiping out their homeworld. When he leaves, our remaining heroes learn the neighbor in the cell to their other side is an Ovoid, a race of extremely trustworthy beings who once politely gave Doctor Doom the ability to swap minds with Reed Richards (recounting one of Byrne's FF issues). Jennifer has a plan.

Up on the Skrull ship, the Captain is a little peeved they haven't heard back from the surface, threatening Retread by bouncing him in the air (sidenote: everyone is still in their underwear - Retread is boxers, U.S. is briefs). Louise clutches her head in pain before suddenly popping into the buff physique of She-Hulk, while, back on the planet, She-Hulk is suddenly in the plump form of Louise. Seems they swapped more than just minds!

This is another swing back to the "not working" end of the spectrum for me. There's lazy padding, with the pinups and flashback recaps, and even the story overall feels rushed and tired. There's no actually story to Taryn and Razorback arriving on the planet; they just show up, see something, and are captured, with no reason given as to why they weren't just petrified on the spot as well. The Ovoid just happens to be there. The D'Bari just zaps Razorback for no reason, then leaves for no reason, and it takes Taryn multiple pages before she gets to have the reaction of fearing he's dead. The twist at the end is amusing, but still builds on troubling aspects of how Byrne has been portraying Louise through much of what I've read. And to top it off, the art is pretty sub par this issue. I was honestly surprised to see this was actually by Byrne as the layouts and framings are stiff and flat, and the inking is so rushed at times it looks like a Vince Colletta tracing.

I'm more confused than anything else by this one. But at least we got to see Ulysses Solomon Archer standing proud in his blue tighties.

The Sensational She-Hulk #46 "Oops!"


Replaying the last few pages of the last ish, albeit from the surface POV, we learn the Ovoid used telekinesis to rewire aspects of Jennifer's brain. When she tries activating the mindswap and collapses, they learn he mistakenly thought she was a Skrull contacting a Skrull instead of a human contacting human, and the gamma radiation in her blood is a whole 'nother can of worms! Jennifer and Louise don't even end up switching minds at all, merely physiques.

On the ship, that's enough (along with Louise now being able to bench a half ton suit of Skrull mech armor) to convince everybody there's trouble on the surface, so our heroes suit up and teleport down, and while the Skrull start annihilating everybody, track their friends to the prison. Louise makes short work of the guards, but when she goes after the main D'Bari and his petrification gun, he sets it to overload in three minutes. The Skrull jump out, abandoning our heroes, and as all they have available is the cramped Ovoid ship, Taryn is punched out by Louise as they're forced to leave the stone figures of Razorback and Rocket behind.

They race away as fast as they can before the gun goes off, sending a wave of petrification over the entire world, even engulfing the Skrull ship, which crumbles to dust due to the velocity at which it was flying. Once the dust settles, our heroes do a final pass over the now frozen world, only to learn the ray also de-petrified what was already petrified, as a flesh-and-blood Razorback and Rocket wave at them.

Once everyone is reunited, we learn these weren't even the D'Bari at all, but the Carbon Copy People from some old comic I know I read but thank god they don't take three pages to recap. In fact, them having a similar modus operandi was the very reason the Skrull were tasked with wiping them out. Anyway, the Ovoid has some bad news for Jennifer: the swap she's made with Louise is permanent! Oh noes!

Overall, a much better issue, and a rollicking fun one at that. There's good humor, some nice moments of Louise playing the superhero, Jennifer's borrowed body is never played for laughs, and there's a good series of twists up until the very end. Even the revelation of the Carbon Copy People, while unnecessary, is a much preferable way to pad out an extra page to Byrne's usual schtick, so I'll go with it. Even the art is back to usual Byrne standards, leaving me even more confused about what the hell happened in the last issue.

Shame they couldn't do more with U.S. 1, though. We get a nice action shot as he's charging into battle, and then he's just kinda there in the background. Taryn gets some nice drama moments buoyed by the pleasant ending, though I don't know that socking her unconscious was necessary.

We're skipping issue #47, as it was a fill in by Simon Furman, Rik Levins, and Keith Williams, and has no ties to this U.S. 1 storyline.

The Sensational She-Hulk #48 "Uh-Oh"

Not much to add here, either. Taryn, Razorback, and the Ovoid bring Jennifer and Louise back to Earth, but not even Reed Richards is able to figure out how to flip their bodies. There's a cute action scene where Louise-Hulk and Thing tag team an off screen villain always referred to with "[insert here]" jokes, and then Reed realizes the reason the women haven't flipped back is because Louise isn't ready to lose her She-Hulk physique.

It's a fun issue, building on the characters and their current plight nicely. We get some Wyatt Wingfoot in there, the lazy over-abundance of flashbacks is made up for by Byrne drawing the FF in their classic Jack Kirby style while recounting an early issue. As for the U.S. 1 crew, other than a couple panels of Taryn in the beginning, it seems we're done with them for now.

And yep, also checked out ish #49 (Louise swaps back when she learns her boyfriend - Jennifer's dad - misses her the way she was) and all our U.S. 1 character have exited from the spotlight of Byrne's odd, but not unwelcome, choice to dig them back up.


Tony Williams said...

- Thanks to the Rocket Raccoon cameo, the value of 'The Sensational She-Hulk #44 "Cognito"' has shot up a whopping %1,000 since August 1st :p.

- Digging the flowing locks on Retread. He's almost a rock star now. Sure, he's the bass player... maybe even the roadie, but it's the roadie of a really popular band and he gets his pick of the leftover groupies.

- I still can't quite figure out why Byrne looked down the Marvel bench and decided to put U.S. Archer back in the game, but despite my mixed...okay, maybe not so mixed...feelings about the series, there's something gratifying about him being more than just a one-and-done wonder.

Great job on these write-ups. I'm going to submit your name to Congress and see if I can't get you a medal of some sort.

NoelCT said...

Thanks. :)

Byrne's got a thing for digging up obscure characters and seeing what fun he can have with them, as we've also seen here with Razorback, Spragg the Living Hill, the Blonde Phantom, the Asparagus People, etc. Even She-Hulk was such a character when he brought her into his Fantastic Four run.