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Mighty Avengers #12 – Review

By: Al Ewing (Writer), Greg Land (Penciller), Jay Leisten (Inker), Matt Milla (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer), Greg Land & Frank D’Armata (Cover Artists)

The Story:

They’re Talismaniacs, and they’re zany to the max!
Their half-animals attack; the Avengers will fight back!
They’re Talismaniacs!

The Review: It’s actually a pretty short list for what makes a satisfying comicbook read for me, and this book checks (nearly) all the boxes, and with a big fat maker too boot. It rounds out the Marvel universe mythos, introduces some intriguing new characters, and sets the scene for a big throwdown.

Apparently, the name “Mighty Avengers” had some previous useage, even if it was born from a bit of a tongue-in-cheek banter among the band of brothers and sisters and bears (oh my!) in the 1970s. This gives us established characters (Blade, Kaluu), rounds out some others (Cage by way of his dad, Blue Marvel), and provides some new ones (Constance Molina, The Bear.) There’s also, of course, more time given to the Deathwalkers, nearly demigod-like in their elemental power, reliant on human sacrifices.

The Deathwalkers are established both by others talking about them, which does tend to be a bit tell-not-showy, and by the action sequence of the book, as the 70′s-MA don’t really fare that well against them. What I mean is that, while it helps set the stakes of our villains, it doesn’t really give them a way to interact much with the heroes or even with themselves, keeping them relatively in set-piece mode rather than truly rounded characters.

It’s a little better with The Bear, who has the automatic complexity of her dual nature, but doesn’t really do much except rely on the dichotomy. You know, because she sexy-sassy but also a Bear? Get it? This plays to the strength of Land’s art here, giving him the opportunity to use some glamour shots and then show her bestial form. But overall perhaps we loose the opportunity to really connect with her since there’s very little vulnerability or self-doubt to allow us to sympathize with her. And what’s with the dogs that featured so prominently in her appearance last issue? And where is she now in 2014? At least one of these questions may be a deliberate mystery from the author and the other likely an oversight.
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Magneto #7 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta & Javier Fernandez (artists), Jordie Bellaire & Dan Brown (color artists)

The Story: “Are you not entertained!?”

The Review: With the Marauders adequately dealt with, Magneto turns his attention to a series of mutant disappearances in Hong Kong.

As ever, Cullen Bunn’s narration is razor-sharp and highly engaging. While the character is too big for it to be a definitive version, Bunn owns Magneto’s voice. Magneto’s appeal exists as much in the imagined diction of Bunn’s intense monologues as in the more tangible elements of the series.

As for the plot, this is probably the best since issue #3. The scenario is simple enough in its construction to allow full attention to be paid to the underlying complexities and the action is plenty gripping on a visceral level.

One of the most refreshing and frustrating elements of an issue like this is Bunn’s comfort in showing us a sliver of man’s depravity. There’s no need for a complete treatise to be forced into twenty-two pages, but that doesn’t stop the story from showing us simple, true to life monsters. Bunn captures that quality of malice that leaves you asking why, but, of course, you already know the answer.

The art is split between the book’s two major art teams. It’s lovely to have Gabriel Hernandez Walta back again, if only for part of the book, not to mention Jordie Bellaire. Walta’s art is slightly less polished than usual, but it’s a minor quibble compared to the air of seedy power that he provides the issue. The care that Walta puts into Erik’s stubble, his musculature focuses the eye on the minute and the dirty, daring you to engage with the grime and corruption of the setting without crossing into the adolescent revelry that dooms many comics’ attempts to be ‘realistic’.

This issue also demonstrates Walta’s skill with body language, particularly in the shoulders. The fear in the promoter’s nervous precision or the ‘sick of this’ exhaustion in Magneto’s tensed stance or even just the way that Erik crouches over his coffee all add to this comic’s impressive ability to communicate information unconsciously.
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Elektra #4 – Review

By: W. Haden Blackman (story), Michael Del Mundo (art) Marco D’Alfonso (colors)

The Story: Which assassin will have the better family reunion?

The Review: If there’s someone who fits the definition of antihero, Elektra does. Her methods are unapologetically brutal, her objectives not always for the greater good. In times past, she’s even been outright villain, I believe. Therefore, it’s important, for those of us who want to continue enjoying this book without feeling bad about ourselves, that we get a solid sense of where her morals land, so we’re not just getting entertainment out of a killer satiating her killer’s instinct.*

Indeed, that could be Blackman’s very purpose in kicking off the series with an arc involving a whole bunch of assassins. They provide the comparative framework we need to understand how Elektra places on the scale between good and evil. Putting her side-by-side with Bloody Lips seems particularly useful because they have the common ground of deep family tragedies in their past. The more similar two things are, the more profound their differences.
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Uncanny X-Men #23 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Kris Anka (artist)

The Story:Alison and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

The Review: Last month Uncanny X-Men’s first arc came to a rather definitive end. We saw the resolution of the vast majority of the title’s plot threads including Mystique’s rule of Genosha, Dazzler’s imprisonment, Hijack’s dismissal, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s war with the New Xavier School, and the overarching Sentinel plot. Given this significantly cleared agenda, it’s not surprising to see an Original Sin banner proudly flown across the cover.

Event tie-ins are frequently frustrating issues, but for any readers considering waiting for the next “real” story arc to begin, Uncanny X-Men #23 is worth picking up. “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” is a thematic tie-in at best with not a single mention of the events of “Original Sin”. Even if it were connected to “Original Sin”, this is barely a part of the “Last Will” story. Despite the unambiguous cover, this issue has a clear purpose and that’s hooking readers and setting up the first slew of new conflicts for the book’s second ‘season’.

In this role, as something of a ‘soft pilot’, the book is pretty great. Bendis provides the much needed fallout from last issue’s events, rededicates himself to interpersonal drama, and introduces multiple new plot threads.

One of the best things that Bendis does in this issue is step back and give the title a dose of perspective. We’re all able to accept some pretty wacky things while still holding a comic to some standard of logic and realism, but Bendis has his cake and eats it too by reminding us just how crazy it all is. The results are humorous but make enough sense in the characters’ world no to distract from the story. While one example from She-Hulk has been getting a lot of attention, the best one comes in the opening pages as Bendis reminds us of what it means to be an ant among gods.
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Silver Surfer #4 – Review

By: Dan Slott (Writer), Michael Allred & Laura Allred (Artists)

The Story: Surfer, I have a feeling you’re not in Kansas anymore.

The Review: This issue begins a new story arc for the Silver Surfer and Dawn Greenwood, one that essentially tells a pretty straightforward tale of a family reunion but with enough humor and hints of mystery as to genuinely leave the reader guessing about what’s really going on.

The Greenwood family seems more extended than I remember, but with the characteristic “down-home” attitude that made Dawn such a contrasting figure to the Surfer’s “alien-ness.” I love the line about how some people don’t follow sports or politics, so why do we expect everyone in the Marvel universe to know about the superhero gossip? Still, in a very intriguing visual sequence, in one panel the entire family is present, and in the other, a repeated panel is presented as an empty haunted house. Whether these people exist at all is even in question, and if that’s true then it would suddenly cast the whole scene as quite tragic; the warmth and comfort from the Greenwood family is poignant and sincere.

That warmth and comfort is in distinct contrast from the absolute strangeness of the past four issues, even with the horror/suspense backdrop. For those expecting wall-to-wall off-the-walledness from Slott and Allred might be surprised how quaint these issues feel by comparison (even the Silver Surfer was surprised– shown by his mistake of Dawn’s twin as a shape-shifting alien) and especially with such good-natured and sweet humor coming from the family. This is helped by art, too. The clean line and graphic style is just as fitting for the simplicity of domestic life, which of course makes the incursion of ghosts/monsters so incongruously suspenseful. One touch that I’m noticing as becoming distinct is the use of textures and patterns in the coloring. The Sufer’s skin looks almost burnished with a dry brush effect, and several spacescape panels use dot matrices for a vibrant effect.

There’s another reunion in the making, of course, with Doctor Strange and (some version of) the Hulk making a subplot that mirrors the strangeness of the Greenwood household. This one falls more on the humor side of the spectrum despite the horror elements (the monsters are expressly “old-timey” Universal movie monsters,) and we expect these storylines to converge in with the Defenders reuniting. There’s one more factor in play, too, and that’s the trap captures the Surfer and serves as our cliffhanger. This makes what could be two fairly-typical mysteries suddenly not as straightforward as we might expect. The cliffhanger then is in how we anticipate all these fragments coming together.
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Ms. Marvel #6 – Review

By: G. Willow Wilson (writer), Jacob Wyatt (art), Ian Herring (color art)

The Story: She’s the best at what she does and what she does is squee.

The Review: Our little Ms. Marvel’s growing up so fast. It seems like just last month she was still in origins stories and all of a sudden she’s already having her first superhero team up!

With the Inventor still looking for her, Kamala is slowly coming into her own as a hero. It seems like our bird/brain villain’s shadow is everywhere in Jersey City and it immediately sets up a tense and interesting status quo for the series.

This issue confirms the identity of the Inventor hinted at last month and establishes him as a perfect foil to Kamala. One part Kingpin, one part Ultra-Humanite, the Inventor walks the same line between the comical and the competent as Kamala, though he leans towards the later. If this were any other comic, his appearance could easily have been a scene-stealer, but this is Ms. Marvel.

G. Willow Wilson continues to build upon the groundwork she’s laid with Kamala’s character. She’s much more confident as a hero and has more opportunities to demonstrate her intelligence and bravery. I particularly love one moment when Kamala shows off her knowledge of physics as she tries to figure out how best to use her powers and it’s all the better for the frantic, dorky way she implements the idea. Indeed, despite a significant upswing in her competence, Ms. Marvel is still the lovable, everyman character we met half a year ago and Wilson knows how to draw the humor from that as well as how to endear the character to her audience.

There’s a rule of writing that says that, if possible, you should put your character in the most extreme situations possible, the ones that most stridently reveal their character. For a fangirl like Kamala, pairing her with Wolverine is just such a situation. The very sight of him reduces comics’ most beloved new heroine to doge speak!
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All-New X-Factor #11 – Review

By: Peter David (Writer), Carmine Di Giandomenico (Artist), Lee Loughridge (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer), Kris Anka & Jared Fletcher (Cover Artist)

The Story: A lot of stuff happens, but let’s face it, it’s hard to get past just two words: Naked Gambit.

The Review: It’s the big finale of X-Factor’s latest brouhaha. As appropriate, it contains a lot of action, cool powers on display, and an epic explosion that leaves the focal character changed. On the other hand, some subplots are ignored, others are just implied, and a bit of deus ex machina surprises everyone.

The overall plot resolves Georgia’s situation, after a brief but climactic showdown between X-Factor and the forces of Momento Mori. There’s a bit more definition to the villain here, especially in terms of powers, but it’s still largely not a concern of the storytelling. He has some vague ability to “harness the power of the sun itself” or otherwise professes to be “a walking bomb.” In fact, he deliberately says “you have no idea what I’m capable of,” which is actually kind of a problem for the readers if you think about it. We *should* have *some* idea of what he’s capable of, shouldn’t we? We also learn that it’s more mystical in nature, once his wife reveals it was she who wanted the power, except she didn’t get it, so now she doesn’t want it, and thus she helps defeat him once and for all.

Because of the vague nature of the powers, the threat is alternatively real (we don’t know where it will go) and not real (it could have been essentially resolved in any number of ways making them narratively zero-sum.) The reveal of the wife being Actually Important is so out of left field as to be a fault to the story. The best you could say is that it’s a surprise, but there’s a whole host of reasons to say the opposite, which is why such forced plot devices aren’t usually seen outside of ancient Greek drama nowadays.
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She-Hulk #6 – Review

By: Charles Soule (story), Ron Wimberly (art)

The Story: Jen has her own demons to confront.

The Review: Exposition is a necessary evil in storytelling. Without it, stories lose context, substance, pretty much everything that gives the characters and action real meaning. At the same time, nothing slows down a story more. Part of the art of writing is doling out enough of exposition so the story doesn’t devolve into a mindless series of dramatic outbursts and car explosions, while pacing it so you don’t just bury your audience in background facts.

If a long streak of exposition is bad, it’s even worse when you’ve heard it all before. Comics have a particularly bad habit of doing this, I imagine for purposes of being accessible to the fabled new readers. It’s not a great justification; when you consider most comics tend to peak at their debut and gradually lose readers afterward, the repeated exposition seems more likely to annoy loyalists than inform the uninitiated, which is exactly what happens here. All that recapping about Jen’s blue file and the parties involved and the fact you’re not meant to say the plaintiff’s name out loud just seems redundant when the issue has a recap page to rely on.
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Daredevil #5 – Review

By: Mark Waid (story), Chris Samnee (art), Javier Rodriguez (colors)

The Story: When Daredevil isn’t enough to save the day, we need Foggy Nelson!

The Review: In the superhero world, much as in real life, it’s the lot of the supporting characters to be overshadowed, overlooked, marginalized by the heroes they support. The heroes can’t get along without them; how often do you see our costumed protagonists triumph thanks to the timely save or quick thinking of their faithful companions? Yet these brave men and women are rarely gratified by public admiration, even though they take relatively greater risks in involving themselves.

No one exemplifies this hapless lot better than Foggy, the very definition of everyman: average looks, flabby, intelligent, prone to fear and bravery in equal measure. As if he hasn’t already suffered enough as Matt’s best friend, now he faces the prospect of having to completely abandon his normal life for one as a hidden invalid. That’s a raw deal, any way you look at it.
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Captain Marvel #5 – Review

By: Kelly Sue DeConnick (Writer), David Lopez (Art), Lee Loughridge (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Carmagna (Letterer)

The Story: Eleanides never listens! She never lets Captain Marvel do anything! Fine, she’ll just go and do it herself.

The Review: This issue picks up directly after issue one, for some reason. The last four months were in fact flashback for the en media res decision to have Captain Marvel chase Tic through some kind of market place in #1. I’m not sure that if it also explains why she is holding the green MacGuffinite metal (a.k.a. vibranium) on page one, but we’ll take it as a given so the rest of the plot can continue, and thus we find out it’s the reason for the villain(s) interest in the planet of Torfa.

It’s also a good thing that Captain Marvel gathered together a ragtag bunch of misfits to be her sidekicks (you know, the ones helping create the cliffhanger last issue, striding forward into action?)– they help provide some background filler while they stand behind Captain Marvel as she engages in dialogue for 3/4 of the book. In fact, CM and her crew have come to report to Eleanides that they were out having an adventure that I swear we didn’t even get to see.

To be fair, the political conflict that tosses around our characters is nicely complex, with whole populations caught up in one no-win situation after another, and quite poignant individual responces. Unfortunately, some characters, like Eleanides, of whom I had an instant liking in her first appearance, suffers because of this, too. One minute she’s ordering evacuations, then not, or she’s refusing to listen, then she does, then she doesn’t, then she wants to rise up, then she surrenders. So much for my liking of her.
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Fantastic Four #7 – Review

By: James Robinson (Writer), Leonard Kirk (Penciller), Karl Kessel with Rich Magyar (Inker), Dean Haspiel and Nolan Woodard (Flashback Section Artists), Jesus Aburtov (Color Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Story: What the Thing didn’t know might just kill someone else.

The Review: There is again two distinct sections of this comic, the flashback and its fall-out, each with its very distinct artistic style. Last issue had some compartmentalization, too, and this one suffers from the same feeling, but to a lesser extent. While certainly a deliberate choice and something that enhances the story being told, the reading experience itself seems to suffer, as it does feel somewhat “slight” as a comic. This could be seen as only 18 pages of story, counting double-page spreads as one “page,” which is increasingly my experience when reading on a tablet. That’s 8 pages of flashback versus 10 pages of fall-out. The modern readers’ paradox– it makes for a dramatic and exciting story, but it makes for an unsatisfying and swallow reading experience.

What is interesting is that two parts, while containing vastly different art styles, are actually transitioned quite well. The flashback starts with bright colors, dynamic shapes and layouts, then descends into darkness and muted colors, complete with rain from automatic sprinklers. The present time continues the darkness and shadows, although the rain is not quite as prominent as last issue.

The “original sin” at play is Reed and Johnny’s cover-up of a failed attempt to “cure” the Thing. Now, the drama only works if, in fact, this cure actually WOULD have worked, and to be fair to Johnny, we only have Reed’s assurances that it will. Frankly, that’s the only thing we have every other time this is attempted, and those ended in failure every time, too. Still, if we assume that this really would have been the time it worked, it is a tragedy, but moreso because everyone really deals with it in their own exaggerated way, such as Reed’s ownership of the problem that masks his pomposity, and Johnny’s carefree attitude that enables his irresponsibility.
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Avengers Undercover #7 –

By: Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Kev Walker (Penciller), Jason Gorder (Inker), Jean Francois-Beaulieu (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Francesco Mattina (Cover Artist)

The Story: You can’t keep a bad man down, but you can keep a good man down for a little while at least.

The Review: Deaths and resurrections are an essential part of comicbook storytelling, as there can’t really be any higher stakes to play with. And play with the stakes it does. The consequences of Death Locket’s actions and Chase’s condition serve as a catalyst for some significant displays of emotion, and the last-page appearance of a truly surprising resurrection makes for one of the best cliffhangers in recent comics.

There’s very little direct action here, making yet another talky issue, despite a bit of super-power training in the beginning. But the best of Marvel comics have always featured characters stuck in the middle of “will they won’t they” tension, and here’s a comic full of them. Nico takes the focus in this issue, with her training serving as the opening and her moral dilemma to give into the horrors around her as the featured illustration of the conflict facing our heroes. It’s truly a tragedy (in the classical Greek sense of the word) to see Nico slip into darkness — whether it’s truly her own decision or as a victim of the forces around her. But the combination of situation, dialogue, and expressive art make this an engaging and effective, emotionally-resonant, story.
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Daredevil: Road Warrior #1 – Review

By: Mark Waid (story), Peter Krause (art), John Kalisz (colors)

The Story: If you can get in trouble in winter Milwaukee, you can get in trouble anywhere.

The Review: Because we all love to discuss writing technique on this site, let’s talk about first-person narrative. Frankly, outside pure prose fiction, the first-person very rarely works. As a delivery mechanism for exposition, it’s largely unnecessary in any medium with visuals, and as commentary, it’s mostly redundant and distracting if the dialogue and acting is good enough. The only reason you’d keep a first-person narrative in these cases is because the audience really, really wants to hear it.

As Waid proves with Matt Murdock, you can only get that if the narrator himself is just that charismatic. Matt’s internal voice is crafted with such natural, likable care and he blends humor and sensitivity in near perfect measure. Best of all, Waid uses it to capture things that the spoken word and visuals can’t, which is saying a lot when you consider how strong his dialogue and artistic collaborators are. The joy of Matt’s narration is he only grows richer in character rather than wearisome over time, and his personality always comes through even when he’s essentially just dropping essential information:

“[I]f I could see the things that come at me in this job the way sighted people see them…they’d probably stop calling me, ‘The Man Without Fear.’ Or even ‘Daredevil.’ They’d probably go with ‘Matt Murdock, the idiot who keeps picking fights in really dumb places.’”
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Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #4 – Review

By: Kaare Kyle Andrews (story & art)

The Story: Kung-fu foreplay is best foreplay.

The Review: When we first met Brenda, her slender blondness (and the fact that she wound up cuddled in Danny’s bed) made it natural for us to think of her as an entirely passing character. Lately, though, it’s clear that Andrews has bigger plans for her beyond a one night stand. I personally wonder if she’ll outgrow the journalist-girlfriend mold which so many other women have already defined: Linda Park, Vicki Vale, Iris West, and, of course, the mother of them all, Lois Lane.

If Andrews insists that she fulfill this somewhat stereotypical role, at least he makes her seem fairly competent doing it. Compared to the giggly fangirl of the debut issue, Brenda is much more perceptive and dedicated to her work here. As Danny recounts a sickeningly sweet memory of his father, Brenda comments a bit ambiguously, “You make him sound like a good man.”

Danny continues. “He was gentle and kind and warm…”

“But that’s not the truth.” It’s a good psychological read that makes it seem like Brenda will have a much stronger bond with Danny than you might think.
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Magneto #6 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (writer), Javier Fernandez (artist), Dan Brown (color artist)

The Story: The Marauders; or, The Modern Prometheus.

The Review: If you’re like me and have, at some point, sought a summary of the complicated mess that is X-Men continuity you’ve probably heard of the Marauders. The villains of the highly successful 1986 crossover “Mutant Massacre”, the Marauders name has long carried connotations of power and sheer black-hearted villainy. The group decimated the peaceful Morlocks, nearly killed Kitty Pryde, forced Colossus to kill before paralyzing him, and cost Angel his wings. The massacre of the Morlocks was long held up as one of the few long-lasting tragedies of the Marvel universe, before finally being eclipsed by bigger and more recent events like the destruction of Genosha or M-Day.

The Marauders have escaped true retribution thanks to their fairly unique ability to be cloned back to life by Mister Sinister, but Magneto’s decided to change that. What follows is a roaring rampage of death and destruction through the ranks of the Marauders that highlights just how vicious Magneto can be when properly motivated. As Bunn introduces a weapon so natural for Magneto that it’s almost shocking that it hasn’t become a staple of the character, Erik whispers, “I discovered how it could be used to slip past your defenses[…]the third time I killed you.”

Though we’ve been conditioned to only acknowledge the elements of violence actively considered by the story, it’s hard to overlook just how frightening Magneto is here. In one of the most interesting lines of the issue, Bunn affirms that there is no continuity between the different lives of the Marauders. While I’m personally fascinated by what changes and remains consistent between clones, this moment humanizes some of the worst that Marvel’s mutants have to offer and reminds us that each time Magneto catches up with them it is murder.

The way I describe it there, the issue sounds a bit like torture porn, and maybe it is. Nevertheless, while the book has more than earned the small parental advisory notice on its front cover Cullen Bunn does have a method to his madness. Bunn uses Magneto’s monologues to distract not only from the gruesome deeds his protagonist commits but from the dramatic arc he’s crafting throughout the issue.
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All-New X-Factor #10 – Review

By: Peter David (Writer), Carmine Di Giandomenico (Penciller), Lee Loughridge (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer), Kris Anko & Jared Fletcher (Cover Artists)

The Story:
Georgia has trouble leaving the mall.

The Review:
There’s more plot than subplot here, but what subplot does show up is pretty significant, as it creates the cliffhanger for next issue.

The main plot continues to ceneter on Little Miss MacGuffin, a.k.a. Georgia, who’s been captured by Momento Mori, her flight attempt, and X-Factor’s eventual rescue. It provides some needed exposition to clarify the characters’ relationships, and it also provides some pretty hilarious moments, such as a chase through a mall on Segway scooters. Which transform into laser-firing flying jets. Some characters get some good one-liners, too, such as Polaris’ “How about YOU don’t move?” that placed on the cover, and even Georgia’s “Sorry! Sorry! Hope I didn’t kill you!”

Otherwise, however, Georgia continues to be the weakest element of the book, which continues to be my main complaint of this story arc. Yes, she does take some agency in trying to escape, but it’s also simply a plot point and a logical move. She remains a complete cypher (no offense to Doug Ramsey) and doesn’t really serve any purpose but to draw out a months-long serial from what should be a very simple and really kind-of-cliché story premise.

Momento promises to be less cliché as villain, as he quite explicitly points out why he doesn’t chose, say, a volcano lair as a headquarters. (Moment of Meta– Unless going out of the way to point out why you are not cliché has become cliché in itself.) There’s also something funny about having a villain headquarters in a shopping mall, which includes the Mori Hotel (that translates into Death Hotel?) Interestingly, this positions him to be a natural antagonist to Serval Industries/X-Factor’s patron, with potential to comment on the commercial nature of villainy in the same way X-Factor might comment on the like for heroics. This potential isn’t realized, of course, but the possibility is there, perhaps as a set-up for future issues.
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Fantastic Four #6 – Review

By: James Robinson (Writer), Leonard Kirk (Penciller), Karl Kessel (Inker), Jesus Aburtov and Veronica Gandini (Color Artists), Dean Haspiel & Nolan Woodard (Flashback Artists), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Story:
Susan yells at the Avengers, the kids yell at Hammond, and Ben yells at Johnny.

The Review:
This issue is broken down into four distinct and linear chapters. The first is the Fantastic Four facing the Avengers (six pages), the Future Foundation facing Hammond (one page), the Thing facing against the Human Torch (three pages), and a flashback that details the memory of why Ben is confronting Johnny (six pages.) (Yes, this is counting double-page spreads as one page, which is kind of how things read nowadays on a tablet reader.)

Unfortunately, this kind of compartmentalization, exasperated by having the last compartment in an entirely different artistic style, fragments any kind of momentum for the story. This issue marks six months since the new relaunch, and it seems like the characters are still merely being pushed around, a long-form positioning so they can fit the kind of story Robinson wants to tell, which I hope will be soon. But let’s forgo a meta-textual critique and leave Robinson’s name out of it. Looking at the in-text narrative, it’s still apparent that all the forces coming down on the characters are coming from outside themselves. The FF’s troubles are coming from the courtroom (which is still not clear if that was a government action or civil suit, which nonetheless results in government action in-between panels), the Avengers are representing said courtroom’s interest, the Camp Hammond kids are complaining about things they overhear other people talking about as well as what other people will be doing to Dragon Man, and the Thing is reacting to a new memory given to him from the Original Sin crossover plot point, in which Reed and Johnny did something to him that we will have to wait until next issue to see.

Yes, there are some moments of clear characterization as these people react to what’s put upon them, most notably Invisible Woman with her cry of “won’t somebody think of the children” in a double-page spread of impressive display of power. But the ultimately what’s happening is that, for at least the second issue in a row, the Four are completely without agency in their own comic with no hint that this will be resolved soon.
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Ms. Marvel #5 – Review

By: G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (art), Ian Herring (color art)

The Story: Who knew that Marvel’s Jersey City was such a happenin’ place!?

The Review: As the opening arc winds down, Kamala Khan begins to stabilize her myth, literally and metaphorically, and takes her first steps into a larger world. And it really is Kamala you’re here for. While this issue gives us our first real taste of superhero action, it’s the human aspect that sets it apart. In fact, the action actually leaves something to be desired.

As an antagonist, Doyle is nothing all that special. He’s a simplistic threat, more of an obstacle, for Kamala. Appropriately, Kamala’s failures and eventual success are not exactly moments of brilliance for the genre. While these scenes are lacking in complexity, G. Willow Wilson continues to highlight Kamala’s powers in relevant and interesting ways. There’s something nostalgic about the attention Wilson pays Kamala’s gifts and the way that a single power is used in numerous ways, rather than the other way around. Kamala’s healing, in particular, seems to be a strong consideration for Wilson. Its presence not only helps clarify how Kamala will deal with the physical demands of superheroing but also gives the title a dose of reality, as many superheroes would simply display unusually rapid healing as part of the plot’s demands. It’s especially interesting because the rules Wilson establishes actually place some useful limits on the story. By showing us the hardships of Ms. Marvel’s powers Wilson dramatically increases our ability to connect with Kamala and encourages readers to consider consequences, an overlooked area of superheroics.

Wilson also brings back the supporting cast with a vengeance. Particularly as Batman proves that superheroes can get by purely on the strength of their hero and villains, the modern superhero comic places less and less emphasis on the secret identity and accompanying trials. Nonetheless, this is where Ms. Marvel really knocks it out of the park.

While it’s a shame that Nakia is absent this go around, Bruno’s mix of support and skepticism is calibrated just right to appeal to reality without grating. There’s still clear romantic tension between Bruno and Kamala, something that could be adorable or disappointing depending on how Wilson handles it, it’s nice to finally see Kamala opening her world up to a friend, listening as well as venting.
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Avengers Undercover #6 – Review

By: Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Timothy Green II (Penciller), Jason Gorder (Inker), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Francesco Mattina (Cover Artist)

Spoiler Alert: Red Level

The Story:
“Shooting people is so much FUN!” she says, until it’s not.

The Review:
That opening line actually provides a great opening sequence to this issue, which starts with Death Locket’s embrace of being among the Masters of Evil, and then ends with her trauma of having shot a friend in point-blank range. It brings the premise of the series into the forefront in order to show a very character-driven internal conflict and to see how it then plays out when the conflict gets personal.

The only thing that would make this a more perfect opening line is if it was reinforced by the art, which makes me think this is a missed opportunity. Look at the final shot/final panel of Death Locket, with her extreme close-up and distraught expression in a half-page splash. Then look at the first shot/first panel, which does feature an ecstatic expression but is barely an eighth of the page– meaning the dune buggies are more important than that opening line.

The art returns to Green and Gorder from Kev Walker’s previous issues. The first time that happened, there was a confusion of characters since they all shared the same cocktail dress/attire. Here, at least, that problem is removed since the characters are all in costume, and the issue really only focuses on three people in particular. However, there still remains some significant problems when depicting female anatomy, which really is a problem when this issue features Death Locket, a 16 year-old girl. Check out the page when Death Locket announces that she was “just getting the hang of this whole punching thing.” Her torso is so completely elongated. To be fair, other depictions are more competently rendered (see two pages previous where she transforms her metal hand into a mace), but the figure is still highly stylized. Perhaps it’s just that comic art in 2014 has different expectations, and what is displayed here is more of an aesthetic of twenty years ago.*
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Amazing Spider-Man #3 – Review

By: Dan Slott (Writer), Humberto Ramos (Penciller), Victor Olazaba (Inker), Edgar Delgado (Color Artist), Chris Eliopoulos (Letterer)

The Story:
In case you missed it the first fifteen times the Black Cat says it, she wants revenge on Spider-Man.

The Review:
The Black Cat moves from subplot to main plot as she directly engages Peter Parker/Spider-Man for the first time since her encounter with the Octopus version turned her life upside-down. As with any good Amazing Spider-Man issue, there’s much more than that going on, too, with other subplots percolating along and some pretty significant reflection on Spidey’s extended cast.

Also included is a makeover for the Cat, albeit a subtle one. Her “catsuit,” pun intended, is relatively unchanged, but she’s now sporting a fur-lined collar pinned by a cat’s-head brooch at the neck, yellow cat-eye designs on the front of her shoulders, and her usual white furry trim has been changed to black. Another addition is her wide metal, chain-linked belt, which doubles as a wicked looking barbed whip in battle. It’s a good example of trying to update the look while not reinterpreting it, but it falls short from being a perfect one, in particular due to those cat-eye shoulders. Thankfully, the way Ramos draws the cat, they are rarely seen, but if they are really that dismissible (or maybe, forgettable, and they just didn’t get drawn in) then maybe they shouldn’t be included in the redesign.

Ramos similarly is “okay” for the rest of the book, with a few more misses than hits. There are a couple of panels with Anna Maria where his layout choices are improved, but in general they continue to be more confused when dealing with her height relationship. One example that works well is when Anna Maria looks over her shoulder at Octavius’ old robot behind her. Other than that, there are some serious distortion of characters’ bodies and faces that are more distracting than effective. At least he never loses his characteristic dynamism in his art, which really helps to sell the chaotic battle between the Cat and Spider-Man.

What I’m still not sold on is the Black Cat’s reasons for her vendetta in the first place. Yes, I’ve read everything that led up to this, and yes, the Cat repeats her reasons many, many times in the course of the issue. But rather than clearing things up, it feels like the comic is trying out the old adage of “say it enough time and it becomes true.” This might be enough for newer fans to accept, but longer-time fans (like me) will be saying this is “writing out of character,” and I hope it doesn’t become the Cat’s new status quo. (That said, I will point out that it’s nice to have a character in this series fail to accept Spidey’s explanation of a brain switch so readily. He explains it as if saying “brain swap” is enough, and Black Cat literally shouts “I don’t care!”)
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Iron Patriot #4 – Review

By: Ales Kot (story), Garry Brown (art), Jim Charalampidis (colors)

The Story: James doesn’t need back-up; he’s got family.

The Review: Despite our villain’s (he doesn’t have a name yet; Kot merely refers to him as “The Villain”) assertion last issue that he wasn’t going to explain why he was doing any of this, I pressed on anyway. As a reader, if not a citizen, I believe I have a right to know why someone would inflict a series of senseless acts of terrorism across my fictionalized country. Frankly speaking, he better have a pretty good reason, or it’s just a shallow excuse for a story, otherwise.

At this point, it’s still impossible to tell if he has any justification for what he’s doing. Probably not, really. At best, he offers a choice overstatement (“The world only responds to force.”) as well as a few cheap cracks (“You think the men you work for are your friends? They are politicians.”) in lieu of an actual explanation of his motivations. You have to say this for the man, though: he’s got personality, even if it’s more irritating than threatening.
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Elektra #3 – Review

By: W. Haden Blackman (story), Michael Del Mundo (art) Marco D’Alfonso (colors)

The Story: Elektra experiences her own Poseidon Adventure.

The Review: Back when Blackman was working with J.H. Williams III on Batwoman, I often wondered how much he contributed to that series. I won’t lie; I had a lot of admiration for the writing on Batwoman, mostly for its great technique. In no other series did I feel like I had a deep understanding of all its characters, even the most incidental. It achieved this by consistently doing what few ongoing titles ever manage to do: push plot and character development at the same time.

At this point, I’m ready to conclude that particular aspect of Batwoman‘s success was probably due largely to Blackman. He’s accomplishing much of the same thing here, on Elektra, finding all kinds of ways to reveal something new about the characters in the middle of a scene, and using the gaps in between to fill in the characters’ lives even further. He does all this so seamlessly that you never notice howhe’s doing it; you’re just carried along by the ceaseless flow of the story, only realizing how much you’ve learned once you reach the end.
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Silver Surfer #3 – Review

By: Dan Slott (story), Michael Allred (art), Laura Allred (colors)

The Story: To save the universe, Silver Surfer calls upon the powers of Larry, Curly, and Moe.

The Review: I’ve never much liked characters who had too many powers at their disposal, and Marvel definitely has a big share of them. From a storytelling standpoint, these kinds of characters just make things harder for the writer. It’s pretty hard to devise serious challenges for people like the Phoenix, Thor, or the Hulk, and even when you do, the power levels are so high that the story risks spilling out over the top. Superpowers too easily become an all-purpose tool in a character’s belt.

Take Norrin and his Power Cosmic, whose deus ex machina qualities make it virtually indistinguishable from magic. In this issue alone, Norrin uses the Power Cosmic to disguise himself, shield Dawn from the freezing vacuum of space, distract all of the Impericon’s guardsmen, and keep the entire pleasure planet running long enough for all its denizens to escape. The sheer utility of his powers causes Dawn to remark, somewhat uncomfortably, “That’s very…convenient.”
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Daredevil #4 – Review

By: Mark Waid (story), Chris Samnee (art), Javier Rodriguez (colors)

The Story: Owlsley discovers a technology more wonderful than Google Glasses.

The Review: I suppose it can’t be helped, for a genre that sustains itself on the clash between hero and villain, that characters in superhero stories somehow always fall neatly on either side of the divide between good and evil. It’s rare to find characters who truly straddle that line. I’m not talking about your antiheroes, whose methods are questionable but whose moral alignment is rarely in question. I’m talking about characters who really don’t know where they stand.

As you may expect, it’s the most insecure people who usually land in this category, and Max definitely fits that profile. Besides the jealousy and resentment he has for Matt, the unexplained disappearance of his girlfriend keeps Max unhinged, willing to make deals with the devil—or, in this case, the Owl—just to bring a little more stability to his life. There’s no question he’s decent at heart; as predicted, he never intended to let Matt go down in flames. But it’s that willingness to compromise, to set his needs over the greater good, that takes him into gray territory.
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Uncanny X-Men #22 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils); Tim Townsend, Marc Deering, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, & Al Vey (inks); Chris Bachalo & Jose Villarrubia (colors)

The battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. comes to an end this week as Cyclops, Beast, Maria Hill, and even Magneto put aside their differences to combat the rouge heli-carriers. Everything comes together this issue as the huge cast of Uncanny X-Men finds its way into the climactic battle.

Bendis does do an impressive job of laying out the stakes. Particularly if you respect Logan’s dream for the Jean Grey School, the threat of annihilation is exceedingly real and present throughout the issue. Likewise, each victory for the X-Men, no matter how small, feels like reason to celebrate, thanks in no small part to the sheer amount of set up that’s led to these crucial moments. The whole affair is appropriately cataclysmic, but Bendis actually gets a couple of nice jokes and fist pumping moments in amongst the gloom. Despite the building feeling that this is the end, a sensation that is all the sweeter for its rarity on this series, Bendis’ plotting has some serious problems.

There’s no denying that this is something of an abrupt ending, and one that deals more in expectations than in actual content. The best example is probably our villain. After last month ended with Beast dramatically announcing that he knew who was behind this, you’d expect that the answer would be fairly forthcoming, but I assure you, you’ve got a bit longer to wait. Despite repeating his certainty on page 5 and again on page 13, Hank isn’t ready to reveal his findings to his fellow X-Men until halfway through page 14…off panel. The scene actually ends with Scott demanding “Who?! Who is it?, leading me to actually throw up my arms on a crowded subway and cry “oh come on.” In actuality it doesn’t take too much longer to learn the identity of the mastermind, but, like much of this series, it’s absurdly and painfully drawn out.

Worst of all, when we finally do meet our villain, it comes out of nowhere, lacks any attempt at motivation, and is largely without value for the title going forward. I respect Bendis as a writer too much to believe it, but it almost feels like he planned this arc without knowing who the villain was himself! More likely, the rushed and confusing resolution is the result of the upcoming “Original Sin” tie-ins. There may be any number of reasons why things turned out this way, but it doesn’t change how flimsy the ending comes across.

Luckily that apocalyptic tone I mentioned is beautifully realized by Chris Bachalo, who provides one of his strongest issues in recent memory. Bachalo starts with an unusually stark style that works wonderfully with the bright simplicity of the Canadian sky. The next scene introduces a little bit of grit into this style before it all breaks loose on the grounds of the Jean Grey School.
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