Marvel Heartbreakers (one-shot, 2010) – Various

2 out of 5

Mmhmm. Only a decade ago, a woman-centric Marvel issue looks quite different. And maybe I shouldn’t look at this as woman-centric, and just as a romance comic (given the title, and its release during Valentine’s), except there’s a quote on the back from Heathers – “You know what I want? Cool guys like you out of my life,” – and the four featured stories kinda sorta center around some Marvel B-listy femmes, so… yeah. I think this is what Girl Power looked like, not too long ago, which means 3 out of 4 of our stories are written by men, 3 out of 4 of them wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test, and even the one story written by a woman can’t help but actually sideline the chicks and focus on a male star. But all that judgment aside… it’s also just not the best collection of stories.

Kathryn Immonen and artist Elena Casagrande open things up with ‘A Chemical Romance:’ Peter Parker freaking out as he witnesses Gwen Stacy and MJ both stalking towards him down the high school hallways; he escapes into the airducts. There’s nary a lick of relationship stuff here, at least, but, as mentioned, the rest of our story is essentially Peter-centric, as he witnesses a science experiment gone awry and intervenes. Casagrande’s art is expressive, and colored really well by Nathan Fairbairn, but Immonen feels like she’s being forced to write this thing, squeezing out ill-timed jokes and not settling on a tone that’s silly enough or comedic enough. A clunky start.

Rick Spears and James Callahan team up Boom-Boom and Elsa Bloodstone for a completely faceless entry that reads like two dudes writing Strong Women! Elsa and Boom-Boom ain’t got time for boring boyfriends, y’all. Spears can be funny, and turns in some good yuks, and Callahan has a great style that bends around a sort of naturalism with stretch and squish cartoonishness, but all of the featured characters could be swapped out with anyone – highlighting the problem with these DC / Marvel holiday one-offs, in which it’s all work-for-hire, and you just scrabble to do something that fits your theme, and then plug whichever heroes are allotted to you into it.

Jim McCann and artist David Lopez send Beast and Dazzler on a date of sorts, in an epilogue to whatever must’ve been going on in X-Men at the time. This reads well enough – with the sort of soapiness I associate with X-Men – and I love Lopez’s art, which has a sense of space, and tactility, but (yes, all of these descriptions have a “but”) because this seems so tightly tied to some story continuity, it’s uninteresting to those of us who haven’t / weren’t reading along.

Lastly, Snowbird battles… something. Karl Bollers flowery prose is, on the one hand, a little too flowery – it doesn’t really give us an easy character or hook to sink in to within its few pages – but on the other hand, he’s the only writer here that tried to do something a little off the beaten path, with Snowbird questioning her gods as to the point of her existence, which is then filtered through the battle that follows. However, Harvey Tolibao’s art – while pretty, and detailed – doesn’t provide enough eye direction, cluttering the pages with linework, then flattened out by overly digital, “glowy” colors from Emily Warren. The result, along with the somewhat unfocused narrative, are pages of too much text and crowded artwork.