Well, maybe not quite, but I’m now definitely a fan of Jeff Parker. I got the next issue of Spider-Man Magazine for my son, and Parker had another story in it; this one an Avengers tale. Not sure exactly what title it’s reprinted from, or how this fits in continuity — it seems to be a recent iteration of the team (Cap, Iron Man, Giant-Girl, Spiderman, Storm, Hulk, Wolverine), but it’s clearly for kids. Could it be Ultimate Avengers or something like that? I just don’t follow this stuff closely enough anymore…

In any case, the point is that this is just way, way better written than I’ve grown to expect from my mainstream titles. Parker’s dialogue is crisp and witty, and he’s got an idiosyncratically charming sense of pacing. Basically, there’s very little in the way of traditional suspense or cliff-hangers; villains and heroes all chat with each other, and, instead of panicked melodrama you get crisis which unfold with a friendly leisure. In the initial sequence, for instance, the heroes fly to a prison to stop a jailbreak by the Abomination, whom they defeat with anticlimactic ease — the cheerful warden’s threat to have them stay for lunch generates more real worry than the battle itself. (Also, they keep referring to the Abomination by his real name (Emil, I believe) which is just exceedingly cute.) Later, the Avengers are captured by a consortium of super-villains, and there’s a long discussion between Ultron, the Leader, et. al., about what they should do with the heroes — if we take out Storm’s brains will her powers still work? They eventually all decide that, even if the other heroes might be useful, Spider-Man is really completely useless. Spidey himself takes this conclusion in remarkably good stride. Eventually, of course, the villains end up bickering and the heroes escape — all except Wolverine, who has to get the others to free him after the baddies have all been disposed of (a pretty darn funny conclusion if you’ve read any of those old Claremont X-Men where it’s always the super-tough, super-male Wolverine who resists and breaks free to save the day.)

I mean, I’m not claiming that this is a staggering work of genius or anything. But it is smart and winning, and it manages the neat trick of creating a story that’s appealing to both kids and adults — and which relies on comics history, but seems like it would be quite accessible to new readers. The banter, the goofiness, and the relaxed nuttiness remind me a little of Ranma 1/2 or other manga, actually. Even the art isn’t that bad –it’s not good, or anything, but it’s clear and not offensively ugly. Basically, this just doesn’t give off the whiff of decadence that you get from Frank Miller, or all those horrible crossover titles, or even from Grant Morrison’s efforts to revive a sense of nostalgic wonder. Marvel’s to be commended for finding this guy and giving him a platform. I hope he’s around for a good long while.