Sword Master #1 & Aero #1 // Review
Marvel is a global brand these days, with movies making literally dump trucks worth of money around the planet. One of the more lucrative markets for Marvel has proven to be the land of China, with the country providing over $600 million of the mind-boggling almost $2.8 billion dollar box office blitz for Avengers: Endgame. However, comic characters coming from China have been few and far between. Almost all made by creators who were white men coming from an anti-Communist viewpoint back in the Cold War, or are more recent creations made from an American perspective. But what if someone asked what Chinese creators who live in China wanted?
Marvel is launching two books that have done just that. Aero launched earlier this month, while Sword Master hits stands this week. Interestingly, Marvel has hedged their bets with these new characters. Not only are both Sword Master and Aero fresh from appearing in War of the Realms tie-in books, but each issue is larger than normal with tales from both Chinese and American creative teams. Does this pay off? It’s time to see.
Aero’s first story, Protector of the City, is written by Zhou Leifen, with translation by Greg Pak. Keng provides the art for the tale. The second story, Aero & Wave, is written by Greg Pak. Pop Mhan provides the art but is colored by Federico Blee. Joe Caramagna letters both tales.
Zhou Leifen’s writing seems to be excellent, though it is hard to tell if Greg Pak had an influence on it in the translation. The narration by Lei Ling (Aero herself) is beautiful as she describes the enemy she battles and introspective on her normal life. The book is bizarrely sparse with other characters, though, only introducing Aero and her boyfriend, Zou Yu. It is only the first chapter, so there is plenty of time to introduce more, but it feels weird.
Aero’s main tale is breathtakingly beautiful. While using a decidedly different style from the modern Marvel style, Keng makes the setting of Marvel’s Shanghai look like the most wonderful city in the planet. High aerial shots with wonderful detailing in the backgrounds make for some pin-up worthy pages. The action is also great, with a giant monster fight that opens up the story.
The backup story is set after War of the Realms, with Aero leaving a celebration of victory for the local hero team Triumph Divison. She comes across fellow hero Wave, who has just been fired for assisting Aero in fighting the forces of evil.
Greg Pak has a great handle on these characters, and Aero does feel like an older incarnation of her main story incarnation. However, the writing loses a lot of the simple beauty from Leifen’s writing. It is, however, great to have an origin story for fellow hero Wave, and one that breaks free from the traditional origins found in Marvel.
Pop Mhan was a great choice for this story, with some excellent overall art and fantastic acting found on the characters. It is more of a traditional style and does feel jarring after reading the Chinese-created story. However, a nice side-effect is that all the characters can be told apart facially as well as through costuming (though it is depressing to have to write that in this day and age).
The main story in Sword Master, Sword in the Tomb, was written by Shuizhu with art by Gunji. Greg Pak is credited with translation and adaptation of the language. The second tale, Sword Master & Shiang-Chi, was also written by Greg Pak. Ario Anindito joins with the art, while Rachelle Rosenberg provides the colors. Travis Lanham letters the whole book, however.
Sword in the Tomb is an interesting story. Despite seeing Sword Master before, this is his origin story. Having been left a mysterious blade by his father, Lin Lie finds himself having bizarre nightmares of fighting massive monsters. Only his father can hope to provide answers, but he has long since vanished.
It’s hard to separate Shuizhu’s writing from Greg Pak’s translation, of course, but the comic does have a different flair from his normal writing. Lin Lie is a far cry from the Peter Parker archetype that Marvel uses, more of a troublemaker and delinquent. However, the setup for the story is actually well-executed, and Lin has a solid character voice for someone recently created.
The art is utterly amazing in the first story. Gunji has done some incredible work as a one-person team, with incredibly detailed monsters and people that still keep an Eastern flair that is often unfamiliar with the Marvel brand. Even minor characters wind up looking distinct and unique, with a lot of personality crammed into every page. The art was also done in the Western style, reading left to right, likely to help casual readers grasp the comic easier. This is a beautiful comic, and each page oozes both style and grace that some Marvel comics only dream of having.
The backup story is an excellent concept, using an established character to train the newer one. After attempting to hunt down his father in New York City after the War of the Realms, Shiang-Chi steps in to prevent the Sword Master from harming a bystander. However, some of the underworlds in New York have designs on that magic sword he’s swinging about.
This is a more traditional Marvel story from Greg Pak. Characterization is consistent with the previous appearances, but being written by one of his creators only helps. The story is fun, with some serious undertones of the always-implied mantra of Marvel: With great power, there must come great responsibility. There’s a lot of good potential here, but it feels strange to have a story that skips after the origin tale. This also has the side-effect of undermining some of the tension of the first story, to be honest.
Art is serviceable in the second story. While still great in a lot of aspects, Ario Anindito’s pencils and inks just pale in comparison to the presentation from Gunji. More traditionally “house Marvel,” it feels similarly expressive as Gunji makes their art, but the execution feels more western animation.
This is a rather interesting experiment from Marvel and one that’s been a long time in coming. It’s great to see new talent from other countries work on a Marvel canonical book, and not turn out to be a future EiC pretending to be from Japan. Time will tell if Sword Master and Aero stick around outside of Greg Pak’s corner of the Marvel Universe. However, it’s a great setup for some drastically different comics in a superhero universe.