It’s safe to say the comics industry has been struggling over the past few years. Sales are down, turmoil brews in the form of a cornucopia of controversies, characters are being replaced and storylines are intersecting to the point of incomprehensibility. Marvel has been the tip of the spear here and the fallout has been deafening. I have not been a fan of Marvel’s comics for a while now (not since the mid-aughts), as I think their storytelling abilities have been on a pretty steady decline as their writing staff was steadily replaced over a period of about ten years, leaving only a handful of cynical veterans behind.
Despite their more recent failings as a comic book company (with mainline books selling well-below 30k in units shipped), Marvel has shown consistent resilience in their movie brand. Even the weakest of Marvel Studios’ films often have moments of enjoyment and the focus seems so far to have less about weaving together a complex universe and more about being fun adventure movies; Which I suppose is all a movie fan can really ask of them. So, in preparation for the hotly-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War, I decided to give their tie-in comic “Prelude” a read.
Prelude is a combination of three things: A lead-in from the end of movie “Captain America: Civil War”, a tie-in to the upcoming “Black Panther” flick, and lastly a way to connect these two movies to the impending galactic struggle against Thanos in the titular 2018 Summer blockbuster. The story opens with Cap and Stark’s confrontation at the end of the movie “Civil War” and sloppily leads into Cap’s rescue of his allies from a Hydra prison. Then bounces haplessly to an over-long, boring exposition scene about Bucky as told by a Wakandan doctor that goes on for roughly seven pages! Lastly we get more flopping around to Cap-and-company busting up a terrorist arms deal selling Chitari weapons. If you didn’t gather it from my hastily-thrown-together synopsis, this book is a hot mess!
The sequential art is all over the place. It switches between dull, mannequin-esque posing to rough, sloppy sequential action scenes. Things happen quickly from panel to panel and it is often difficult to tell just what is going on without a second or even third look. The seemingly-random series of events is merely a rush to force all of the plots of these films together while trying to introduce us to the Wakandan scientist Shuri, who is simultaneously the most boring and most unlikable character in the issue, due to her long monologing and sheer, abrasive arrogance (or should I say “the writer’s arrogance?”).
As for the art: It’s bad. It looks like roughs used for storyboarding; not print-ready art. The often-fanart levels of ugliness on display is unsurprising given Marvel’s present state, but seeing it come together like this in a comic that is meant to tie into the superior Cinematic Universe just makes it stand out even more. This is the crux of this book’s problem, too. I have a feeling the very existence of Prelude may only prove to intensify the apparent rift in competency between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Comics’ publishing arm. The contrast on display is glaring with art that varies in quality from page to page to visual storytelling that is occasionally confusing. The writing is a bundle of exposition clumsily written into page-filling dialogue balloons as if to reassure us that these are the words of the characters we are reading and not an anonymous fanboy’s drunk IMDB plot synopsis.
So much is wrong with this obvious cash-in, and I definitely can’t give it a recommendation. This is the comic book equivalent of a movie trailer. It’s slashed to bits, vague, clunky, and I cannot foresee anyone reading it and finding it enhancing their enjoyment of the upcoming movies in any real way. This is just shelf-bait hoping to grab disgruntled comics fans who are more excited about the upcoming movies than they are about anything pouring out of Marvel’s presses these days.
UPDATE – 2/16/2018:
Less than a month after writing this review, I forgot I had even read this book. So, there’s that.
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