4 out of 5
Al Ewing is a funny dude. I think this has been well established by now. And I’ll source his 2000 AD roots as being why he’s able to avoid the more typical quippy style of humor Marvel’s mags tend to favor, but perhaps more importantly: Al Ewing is also a good writer. Humor abilities alone wouldn’t be responsible for the way he’s blown up at The House of Ideas – though it certainly helps – so the fact that he’s been able to marry that to solid story and character development makes him a standout. Being able to isolate the “serious” / serious sides of any given Ewing plot and still have them be interesting makes the jokes a total bonus.
That said, balance between those two sides can be tricky, and not every book nails that. That’s the main knock on this annual, for example, which is 99% jokes, and then a softballed concluding page. The concluding page isn’t necessarily poorly dialogued, but Ewing lets his main joke – pairing a doofy, musclebeached, Inifinity-gemmed Prince of Power with the elder, more mature, currently Guardians of the Galaxy member-Hercules for a bar brawl – go on for too long and sprawl out to parody too far to reign it back in effectively with some sober final words.
Prior to that, though, the blonde He-Man riff version of PoP gets to give us his background via flashback, and Ewing stuffs it with a lot of hilarious gym-bro jokes – fully funnied up by greatly timed visuals from artist Flaviano, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, and letterer Cory Petit – and then goes full-on with Skeletor gags. I’ve always found Al’s humor to work best when he has a central dunderhead as a focal point – think Zombo – and so this general setup works wonders.
In the Infinite Fury backup, Jed MacKay and Juan Ferreyra repeat some of the page-bending they did in the previous annual, but it’s not just a repeat – visually, these backups started to hit a high-mark early on, and Ferreyra has kept it at that level – and we get a really intriguing narrative hook to keep the story moving along as well.