Category Archives: Reviews – Marvel

Hexes and Hope

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0
“Prologue”
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis & Jason Aaron
Artist: Frank Cho
Colors: Jason Keith
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Cho (regular)/Stephanie Hans & Jim Cheung (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve given Marvel a hard time about the apparent premise (given the title) of this latest crossover event, and I don’t plan to on following the entire run of the central crossover title (or any of the spinoff titles and tie-ins). But I have to admit, I enjoy Frank Cho’s art on occasion, and I wanted to sound off on the book for a review. Now, I don’t usually go for the zero-issue gimmick that so many comics publishers have embraced in the past couple of decades, but given the subject matter in this prologue, I can see why Marvel opted for it this time around. This isn’t the first chapter in Avengers Vs. X-Men. Instead, it serves to introduce two key players that will, I assume, serve as catalysts for the “story.” The art is, as I expected, quite sharp and attractive, and I enjoyed the incorporation of some classic, cheesy (and ultimately inconsequential) villains into this leadup. But overall, the two stories didn’t really seem all that interesting, nor did they provide the strong inductions to the two heroines as was clearly intended.

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Bring On the Bad Guys

Supercrooks #1
Writers: Mark Millar & Nacho Vigalondo
Pencils: Leinil Yu
Inks: Gerry Alanguilan
Colors: Sunny Gho
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Leinil Yu (regular)/Dave Gibbons (variant)
Editor: Nicole Boose
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment/Icon imprint/Millarworld
Price: $2.99 US

The quickest way to describe this latest creator-owned, super-hero genre effort from writer Mark Millar is as Ocean’s 11 meets Wanted. The pace and tone of the writing make something abundantly clear: Millar is crafting comics designed for adaptation into other media, and specifically into movies. Supercrooks has a fairly simple premise at its core: why would the Penguin and Toyman continue to commit crimes in Gotham City and Metropolis and the like when they’re bound to attract the attention of the men who keep tossing them in jail? It’s a solid foundation for a story about super-villains, but then again, it’s a little obvious. Then again, subtlety hasn’t exactly been something in which Millar has been interested in recent years, opting instead for bombastic, in-your-face genre storytelling that boasts a broader appeal. The first issue of Supercrooks is a good comic book, but it’s also a little bit… ordinary despite its effort to do something a little different within a world of super-heroes and super-villains.

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Some Assembly Inquired

Avengers Assemble #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Bagley & Miki (regular)/Arthur Adams, Marc Silvestri, Khoi Pham & Mirco Pierfederici (variants)
Editors: Lauren Sankovitch & Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

One can’t say Marvel isn’t up front about its publishing decisions (or at least this particular one). The reason for this new Avengers title’s existence is emblazoned right across the top in a banner promoting the May 4 release of the Avengers movie. That Marvel would want a title that reflects the roster of the big-screen incarnation of the team makes perfect sense, though there’s no denying the arrangement of this lineup of the comic-book equivalents of the same characters feels more than a little forced (especially when it comes to the Hulk). Avengers Assemble definitely stands apart from writer Brian Michael Bendis’ other work on the franchise, as it’s far simpler in tone than most of his other Avengers stories. This is pretty basic super-hero genre stuff, feeling a bit like a throwback to a simpler time. Unfortunately, that means the plot comes off as rather generic. The story lacks any of kind of hook needed to make it feel special, to make it feel worthy of a newly launched title, newly assembled roster and its connection to what’s expected to be a blockbuster flick.

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Warp Driven

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #s 1-5
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist/Cover artist: Kaare Andrews
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Daniel Ketchum
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

There’s nothing quite like a bargain. For comics readers and collectors such as myself, finding an old box of forgotten comics at a flea market, priced to sell, is always a bit of a thrill, but flea markets aren’t the only backdrop for such an experience. A lot of comic shops offer great deals on comics to clear out stock that’s been sitting around for a while. So when I saw all five issues of this limited series marked at $5 for the bundle at my local shop, I grabbed it up. Despite my appreciation of the creators’ past work, I wasn’t interested enough in these characters to pay four bucks a shot for each issue, but five for the lot? That’s a bargain at thrice the price. I’m pleased I got a chance to peruse these pages, but I’m also pleased I didn’t do so at full price back when they were initially published. The story reads incredibly quickly, and as its foundation are both recent and obscure elements from Marvel continuity that would likely leave many newer readers scratching their heads.

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Not Seeing Red

Daredevil #6
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist/Cover artist: Marcos Martin
Colors: Muntsa Vicente
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $2.99 US

I wrote last week Invincible Iron Man might be the best super-hero title Marvel is publishing these days, but it’s difficult to bestow the title of Marvel’s best when one has an issue of Mark Waid and Marcos Martin’s Daredevil in front of you. It’s also the cream of the Marvel crop, but for completely different reasons than Iron Man. Whereas that title derives strength from its real-world political and economic elements, Daredevil is firmly entrenched in the wonder and kitsch of the Marvel Universe. Whereas Iron Man boasts photorealistic, detailed visuals, DD is more about style, simplicity and design. That’s not to say DD isn’t as sharp or inventive. Waid’s script is smart and compelling, and Martin’s innovative layouts and Ditko-esque figures are among the finest examples of comic art being published today. Another advantage to Daredevil (to which its armored-hero brother can’t lay claim) is it’s unfolding quietly in its own isolated corner of the Marvel Universe, untouched by events and sales-driven plotting.

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Mettle-urgy

Variant coverInvincible Iron Man #510
“Demon, Part 1: The Beast in Me”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Salvador Larroca (regular edition)/Mike Choi (variant)
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

Every time a new issue of Invincible Iron Man was released during the course of Marvel’s recent Fear Itself crossover event, I’d kick myself for failing to have the title removed from my pull list at the local comic shop. The crossover completely derailed the socio-economic spin writer Matt Fraction brought to the super-hero-genre subject matter. What was one of Marvel’s best titles (if not the best, period) was reduced to a series of vignettes from a bombastic but ultimately aimless event. From a creative standpoint, Iron Man went from being a tremendous success to a tremendous disappointment. This is the first issue post-Fear Itself, but with the “Shattered Heroes” branding and the ongoing presence of Fear Itself elements, I didn’t have high hopes; nevertheless, I figured I’d give the book one last chance give the plotlines are once again standing up on their own. I’m pleased I did.

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Point Less

Variant coverPoint One #1
Writers: Ed Brubaker, Jeph Loeb, David Lapham, Chris Yost, Fred van Lente, Matt Fraction & Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Javier Pulido, Ed McGuinness, Roberto De la Torre, Ryan Stegman, Salvador Larroca, Terry Dodson & Bryan Hitch
Inks: Javier Pulido, Dexter Vines, Roberto De la Torre, Michael Babinski, Salvador Larroca, Rachel Dodson & Paul Neary
Colors: Javier Rodriguez, Morry Hollowell, Lee Loughridge, Marte Gracia, Guru-eFX, Sonia Oback, Paul Mounts
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos, Comicraft & Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Adam Kubert (regular)/Nick Bradshaw (variant)
Editors: Lauren Sankovitch, Tom Brevoort, Jody Leheup, Stephen Wacker, Thomas Brennan & Alejandro Arbona
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $5.99 US

I haven’t been all that interested with Marvel’s product line as a whole as of late, as I’ve found too much of its output represents one long, drawn-out storyline with no end in sight. The first couple of issues of Fear Itself was what ultimately did it for me; there was no hint of plot. And since then, Marvel’s made it clear it’s creating product, not stories. With multiple spinoffs, Fear Itself seems to be the crossover that never ends. DC’s fresh start served as a much stronger hook for this particular super-hero comics reader. Still, there’s no denying Marvel has an impressive array of creative talent at its disposal, and it was that lineup that ultimately led me to second-guess my initial decision to avoid Marvel’s new “Point One” brand.

I should’ve stuck with my initial gut feeling.

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War Is Ellis

SA #17 variantSA #17Secret Avengers #s 17 & 18
“Beast Box” & “No Zone”
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Kev Walker (#17)/David Aja & Raul Allen (#18)
Colors: Frank Martin (#17)
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artist: John Cassaday
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US each

I stopped reading this series a few months ago. Despite my appreciation for previous writer Ed Brubaker’s work, I lost interest in the characters. But more importantly, I’ve lost interest generally in regular-sized comics priced at $3.99. I was lured back, though, and the reason can be summed up with two words: Warren Ellis. Every now and then, he revisits the super-hero genre that helped to establish him as one of the industry’s strongest writers (and beyond), and he almost always does something novel with the concepts. His recent brief stint on Secret Avengers hasn’t been an exception. The appeal here isn’t to sample Ellis’ take on Marvel’s various super-heroes. No, instead, they’re tools that allow him to explore science-fiction concepts that challenge the intellect and even send a couple of shivers up the reader’s spine. Adding to the experience is how Ellis has been teamed with some top artistic talent that are well matched to the subject matter of each individual story.

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And the Morales of the Story Is…

Ultimate Spider-Man v.2 #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Kaare Andrews (regular)/Sara Pichelli (variants)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $3.99 US

When the first issue of the original incarnation of this title debuted, a number of people complained the title character didn’t really make an appearance. In fact, while Peter Parker was the star from the start, Spider-Man, in full costume, didn’t really appear until several issues later, and some argued the pace of the storytelling was too slow. I didn’t agree, viewing Bendis’ plotting choices refreshing. He took his time so he could focus on character, so he could really delve into Peter and explore who he is. It worked incredibly well, and it wasn’t long before some were calling it decompressed storytelling. The term took on a negative connotation later on, as some seemed to adopt the method to lengthen shorter stories for the collected-edition treatment. Well, Bendis keeps things fairly slow with this new title and new Spider-Man as well, and just as it did the first time, it pays off. Bendis crafts a lead character that mirrors Peter Parker in many ways, but he differs in so many as well. Of course, the strength of the writing comes as no surprise to those of us who’ve been following Bendis’ journey on Ultimate Spider-Man for more than a decade. What might surprise is the work artist Sara Pichelli delivers along with Bendis’ script. Her bright, crisp and convincing linework exhibits a lot of personality.

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Death, Be Not Proud

Captain Marvel: The Death of Captain Marvel hardcover collected edition
Writers: Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart & Doug Moench
Pencils: Jim Starlin & Pat Broderick
Inks: Jack Abel, Bruce Patterson & Jim Starlin
Colors: Jim Starlin, Carl Gafford, Glynis Wein, Ben Sean & Steve Oliff
Letters: Tom Orzechowski, Elaine Heinl, Diana Alberts & James Novak
Editors: Roy Thomas, Roger Stern & Al Milgrom (original)/Mark D. Beazley (collection)
Cover artist: Jim Starlin
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $24.99 US

A couple of years after I started reading Marvel comics in the mid 1980s, I discovered its line of graphic novels, though today, they’d really been seen more as graphic novellas. They were squarebound, but about the size of a thin magazine. I think the first one I read was Revenge of the Living Monolith, and not long after, The Death of Groo. One of the best known of these graphic novellas was The Death of Captain Marvel, and while I wasn’t familiar with the character, the fact that it was about a hero’s struggle to come to grips with his approaching (and that it featured just about everyone in the Marvel Universe) appealed to me. I never ran across a copy though, so when I saw this reprint edition, collecting that novella and other material, on sale at a discount, I decided to check it out. What I discovered was that original graphic novella was as good as I thought it might be, but the supplementary material leading up to the character’s curtain call was confusing, contrived and somewhat disconnected from the real point of the book.

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O Beautiful, For Specious Skies

Captain America #1
“American Dreamers, Part 1”
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Pencils: Steve McNiven
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: McNiven & Morales (regular)/John Romita Sr. & Joe Sinnott/Neal Adams/Olivier Coipel (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $3.99 US

When it comes to repeated relaunches, DC has The Flash, and Marvel has Captain America. I’ve seen a couple of sites refer to this new series as Captain America v.5. The relaunch is a marketing strategy, but the bump it provides is usually so fleeting, it hardly seems worth the bother. After all, the big selling point here for comics fans isn’t the new #1, but the fact that longtime Cap writer Ed Brubaker is joined by popular artist Steve McNiven. McNiven really delivers here, offering up visuals that outshine his work on such recent projects as Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Nemesis and Amazing Spider-Man. As for the writing, while it’s clear Brubaker is comfortable with these characters, the plotting comes off a far too familiar.

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Funeral for a Friend

Ultimate Fallout #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Andy Lanning
Colors: Justin Ponsor & Laura Martin
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Bagley & Lanning (regular)/Marko Djurdjevic (variant)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $3.99 US

See, now this is why I loved Ultimate Spider-Man so much when it debuted a decade ago.

Make no mistake, this is essentially Ultimate Spider-Man #161, and it boasts the kind of character-driven, down-to-earth moments that made the series such a draw in the first place. This stands out as one of the best comics Bendis has written in a while. Sure, it boasts a few cliches, as the manner in which some of the characters mourn is predictable and familiar. But there’s some genuine emotion to be found here. Often, it’s been Bendis’ dialogue that really sold me on the characters, but here, he opts for quieter reactions. Sometimes, we’re left to guess what the characters are thinking, and at others, it’s painfully clear. I was also pleased to find some of the nicest Mark Bagley art I’ve seen in recent memory as well. He’s always been known more for his ability to convey action, but he excels in selling feeling in this issue with some thoroughly emotive but not exaggerated expressions.

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Last Exit to Riverdale

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #1
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist/Cover artist: Sean Phillips
Colors: Val Staples
Publisher: Marvel Comics/Icon imprint
Price: $3.50 US

You know those comics Archie published not too long ago in which the longtime publisher and its storytellers showed us what it would be like if Archie and the gang grew up and got married? Well, Ed Brubaker offers his much darker take on the concept here with a cast of characters that were clearly inspired by the close-knit group of teen friends from Riverdale. Archie doesn’t just grow up here, he grows the fuck up. It’s a great concept, but it was also a risky undertaking on the writer’s part. Such an experiment could easily go awry, with the reader seeing the juxtaposition of the harshness of the world of Criminal with the innocence of the Archies as being ludicrous. But he and artist Sean Phillips make it work, and it works incredibly well. While far from the most intense of the Criminal story arcs we’ve seen, this was perhaps the most amusing and the most grounded one we’ve seen thus far.

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Politics as Unusual

Secret Avengers #13
Writer: Nick Spencer
Pencils: Scot Eaton
Inks: Jaime Mendoza & Rick Ketcham
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Adi Granov (regular)/Lee Weeks (variant)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US

After reading this comic book, at first I couldn’t quite decide if I’d read one of the smartest Marvel publications so far this year or one of the corniest, most ham-fisted ones of 2011. There are a lot of things I enjoyed about Nick Spencer’s plot and script. The political elements, the over-the-top notion that saves the day, a couple of sharp turns of phrase and a believable connection between two characters despite the fact that one of them had only just been introduced all made me smile. But for every strength that Spencer’s writing brought to the book, there’s a flaw that detracted from the reading experience and took me out of the story. I was only planning on writing a capsule review (one of my Quick Critiques) of this comic book, but I found that as I got going, I had a lot more to say about it than I expected. As I sorted through the pros and cons that I perceived, I ultimately realized that no, this wasn’t one of Marvel’s strongest offerings of the year, but rather a strong foundation upon which a rickety house was built.

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The True North, Strange and Free

Alpha Flight #0.1
Writers: Greg Pak & Fred van Lente
Pencils: Ben Oliver
Inks: Dan Green
Colors: Frank Martin
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artist: Phil Jimenez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US

One might think it was solely my Canadian citizenship that drove me to purchase this introductory issue of a new Alpha Flight series, but one would be wrong. I’ve enjoyed the work of writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente in the past, and I’m always interested in what they have in mind with new projects. While I enjoyed their work on this project more than the first two issues of Herc, it still pales in comparison with their previous efforts on Incredible Hulk and Incredible Hercules. Don’t get me wrong… this comic book features some diverting, super-hero genre action, but it also feels rather generic and inconsequential.

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