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Avengers Undercover #9 – Review

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

The Story: See what happens when you don’t have an Akbar to shout out “It’s a TRAP!”?

The Review: Interestingly, the cover of this issue does not feature any of the regular cast of Avengers Undercover. It’s still a dramatic and energetic picture, but it’s a telling sign how things have really shifted in this series, how the stakes have been raised, and how there are all kinds of wheels within wheels that the regular cast simply hasn’t seen.

And yet, the story does not abandon them. It’s still really about the young heroes of Avengers Academy/Arena/Etc., even with all the larger plots and machinations flying around them. This creates some tension and empathy for our characters, although it also contributes to a very rushed feeling as well. Some momentum is fine, and as a reader maybe even preferable, but here there are times when I wish the various story beats deserved a bit more room to breathe.   

This issue’s “point of view” is from Anachronism. There’s no ambiguity about that question, unlike the previous issue. There’s a panel with only him and a caption saying “This is me.” OK, gotcha.  And yet, this trick of using characters’ captions as a narrative frame worked for other issues, and it gets dropped here pretty quickly. The scenes are shifting to too many other characters and the plot is being driven so hard that it’s not longer a defining feature of the book. And then, suddenly, an omniscient narrator’s caption is telling me Cammi is breaking the fourth wall in order to shush me? That’s a bit too sudden a stylistic shift and ruins what could be a more effective cliffhanger.

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Daredevil #7 – Review

By: Mark Waid (story) Javier Rodriguez (art), Alvaro Lopez (inks)

The Story: It’s a jungle out there. Daredevil and confusion everywhere.

The Review: I tend to dread it when writers—specifically comic book writers and superhero writers especially—bring in political dimensions to their stories. Politics are an impenetrable morass of complications and the higher up you go, the worse it becomes. Once you get to the international stage, forget it; you need to be committed to understanding this stuff 24/7 before you can truly understand it. Superhero writers invariably oversimplify things and it almost always reflects poorly on the story.

Not even a great like Waid is immune. I confess I’m not up to speed on Wakandan politics, this being the side-effect of not being a total Marvel devotee. But I really don’t understand why, if Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, it would need to outsource its research to the U.S. at all. Even setting that aside, the plan to extradite the three protesting nun who didn’t actually expose Wakanda’s doings strikes me as overly complicated. Shuri justifies herself thusly, “Those women risked embarrassing Wakanda. If I declare that to be a crime, then it is.” She’s the Queen of Hearts in full-body black spandex.

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All-New X-Factor #12

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

Peter David’s name has become firmly associated with key characters of the Marvel Universe, and most specifically the characters of X-Factor. He is credited with creating many of the definitive takes on them, and most specifically that of Quicksilver. This issue promises to be one of them.

It hearkens back to another of those early definitive takes, almost 25 years ago, in X-Factor volume 1 #72, 1991, in which the US government-sponsored version of X-Factor held a press conference to introduce their team to the public. Here, the corporate-sponsored version of X-Factor does the same. Knowing this gives the issue a bit of resonance, but there’s enough character building and genuine pathos that even if you are unaware of the parallels, you get a satisfying reading experience.

Quicksilver is arguably the star player here, as his development takes both the beginning and end scenes of the book. The former perhaps foreshadows more conflict to come, but the ending offers him a chance to rest in the moment, perhaps incongruously for a speedster character, and to receive affirmation from a surprising source, his daughter. This fits in line with what X-Factor is really giving us right now– themes revolving around the question of what it really means to be a hero, as well as around the question of what “family” is all about.

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Magneto #8 – Review

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

The Story: That is no country for old men…

The Review: While Magneto’s first ongoing series has been rather impressive, it can sometimes feels more like a series of monologues than a running plot. This issue actually proves both an example of and an exception to this trend. While the issue is still focused around Magneto’s inner monologue, the story makes good on the promises of last month, beginning to build a larger story out of these individual adventures.

Cullen Bunn begins to introduce some fascinating shades of grey. It’s always fun to watch Magneto hand out some righteous fury, but this month he isn’t dealing with the same monsters as he found in Hong Kong. There’s something undeniably petty about these criminals, they’re not sharks, they’re the remoras on the belly.

There’s something inherently appealing, or perhaps enjoyably unappealing, about the dynamic that develops, the terrorist legend facing down a small fish who thinks he’s the new wave. Unfortunately, as much as the dialogue carries you along, there are moments where it feels like our antagonist is only stupid enough to bully the world’s baddest mutant because Bunn wants a clear reason for Magneto to simmer or angst.
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Mighty Avengers #13 – Review

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

The Story: Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! By their powers combined, they are DEATHWALKER PRIME!  Go, Deathwalker! 

The Review: I’m so glad that Larroca has taken over as an artist, so that I have a new artist to critique. And as much as I was a huge fan of Larroca during the 90s/00s (and I WAS), I have really come to the opposite view nowadays and I remain disappointed in how his artistic style has evolved. I remember him delivering bold, dramatic scenes, but now I only see bland, dull ones.

Take the first panel of the first page. Molina’s pose is 90 degrees to Marvel’s, but she is “supposed” to be looking straight at him. Her hand is floating somehow, looking like it’s poking directly out of her breast. The dialogue suggests she is making a innuendo, but she’s looking/gesturing completely at odds to the statement. (Perhaps Molina’s superpower is to have oddly shaped hands, because each panel on page one displays strange anatomy?) At least Marvel is looking in the direction that matches the innuendo, but his expression is more pleased at the comment than taken back/embarrassed as his speech indicates. And the characters are not integrated into the background, which has a different vanishing point to the way the characters stand as well as having its own Escher-like perspective for each floor. Notice how the line weight for the characters is exactly the same as for the background, meaning there’s no visual distinction and making them appear flat and indistinct, except for shadows which are huge swaths of black areas that have no consistent light source. This falls on the color artist, who has to fill big areas of negative space with subtle gradients and use a light source that incongruously tries to lay 3D color on extremely flatly designed layouts.

And that’s the first panel on the first page. Suffice to say, these problems of little-to-no rendering, large areas of empty space, oddly placed perspectives, and ill-shaped anatomy continue throughout the book. I’ll be a bit gracious to point out a few places that I think really work, like various panels of Blade’s fight against the were-scorpions, and Kaluu’s sequence of progressive close-ups (which also works because of the scripting and the more deliberate use of glows by the color artist.)

The story continues the epic of the Deathwalkers and reunion of the “first” Might Avengers, but now we get more interaction with the current team, who actually have more to say, finally. (Except maybe for the silent White Tiger.) It’s still largely set-up, however, with most pages being exposition of things we more or less already know, but it does allow for Blade to show off his power. The big show down, unfortunately, is just a two-page spread of ten panels, in order that the Big Bads can combine into an Even Bigger Bad.

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Elektra #5 – Review

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

The Story: An assassin-versus-assassin battle in which no one dies? Blasphemy!

The Review: Have I become addicted to the decompressed style? Much as I complain about stories that seem to drag on and on just because arcs are expected to be certain lengths nowadays, I can’t help feeling as if Elektra is moving too fast at certain points. The problem is that Blackman spends a good long time building up the suspense, only to puncture it in an instant, rather than letting it defuse tantalizingly. He hasn’t quite mastered the art of using twists to amp the tension even more.

Perfect example: the battle between Elektra and Cape Crow. We’ve had four issues painting him as this master assassin, someone who can even throw Elektra off her game. But like many of the battles we’ve seen in this series, their match feels rather short, and Elektra really only spends a few panels in actual danger. I don’t protest the way things play out; it’s just that we’re not much on tenterhooks about it.
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Captain Marvel #6 – Review

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

The Story: Captain Marvel does her best to be the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

The Review: FINALLY! It took me six months, but I finally got everything I wanted from a Captain Marvel book. (Well, aside from getting rid of the mohawk helmet, but that’s a rant for another time.)

For too long, I’d read the book and always have a “but.” You know, as in “I like these characters, but…” or “this is going in a good direction, but…” or “Captain Marvel looks like she’s gearing up for action, but…”  This is the sixth issue of the ongoing storyline, and it is jam-packed with pay-off. All those buts are gone because we get answers to questions, resolutions actually happen, and we see characters actually DO things, including many pages of Captain Marvel in space battle against a fleet of starships.

The plot is nicely wrapped up since the various mysteries are finally out of the way and we can focus on the denouement. Our villain is exposed to be unequivocally villainous, which helps to give the plot (and our characters) a target, literally and narratively. Everyone gets a chance to shine, including the leader, Eleanides, who returns to being defiant and savvy.

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