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Avengers #6 – Review

AVENGERS #6

By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Adam Kubert (art), Frank Martin (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story:  Just who is the new Captain Universe and what forboding message does she have for the Marvel Universe?

The Review:  First, the good news:  the art is very much improved from Kubert’s first issue.  Last issue, I wasn’t sure how much of the improvement was REALLY owing to Kubert’s efforts and how much of it was only thanks to the switch in colorists, given how wonderful Frank Martin’s work always is.  This month, there can be no doubt: Kubert has tightened up his pencils.  Things no longer looked at all rushed, giving us the “high-budget,” polished, top-shelf work we usually expect from Kubert.  This makes him a good fit for a book like this: I’m so used to seeing Kubert draw big event comics that at this point, my brain is basically conditioned into thinking “this is important!” when seeing his work.  Basically, I think we can put his rushed performance on Avengers #4 in the rear-view mirror now; this is the Kubert you were probably expecting.

Sadly, while the artwork is improved, I’m not really sure that I can say the same for the script.  Hickman gives us another issue largely focused on one of his new Avengers, which remains a good plan of action for the series.  The problem is that, unlike Smasher last month, this new Captain Universe just….isn’t very interesting.  Much like last month, her origin is pretty by the books but unlike last month, we don’t have a strong, sympathetic character with which to prop that up.  Stricken with a happy dose of amnesia, Tamara Devoux is simply too much of a blank slate to carry the issue on her own.  As for her the Captain Universe sentience inhabiting her body, it’s really more of a walking, talking portent more than a real, sympathetic character.
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Uncanny X-Men #1 – Review

UNCANNY X-MEN #1

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey (inks), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story:  An inside man approaches Maria Hill with an offer to help take down Scott Summers.

The Review:  One of the concerns I had about this book going in was the way it would differentiate itself from All-New X-Men.  Yes, I realize it wouldn’t feature the time traveling teens, but Cyclops and his gang have appeared quite a bit in that book such that having them star in this one seemed to be some serious overlap.  Thankfully, Bendis quickly dispels this concern.  It’s not so much that Cyclops team are front and center, which they are, but rather that the tone of the book has been subtly altered.  While part of it may be due to Bachalo’s artwork, with its muddy colors and its lack of distinct, clean lines (as opposed to Immonen and Marquez on All-New), the big reason for this is the subtle change in tone.  The book feels more shadowy, more “underground,” and a touch more edgy.  The humour isn’t there and the soap opera of All-New is shifted into something that’s a little closer to twisty, spy-thriller dramatics.  All-New is the above-ground, flagship story.  Uncanny is what happens beneath and on the revolutionary fringes that Cyclops and his team currently occupy.
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Avengers #5 – Review

AVENGERS #5

By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Adam Kubert (art), Frank Martin (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story:  Get to know the new Smasher.

The Review:  I noted last week that Hickman’s Avengers was moving in a stronger, more character-focused direction, delivering a stronger script as a result; I’m happy to report that he continues in that direction, delving even more deeply into the background of one of the new recruits, this time a young farm-girl turned cosmic super-hero.

This is really the first issue of Hickman’s run that I can honestly say has something that’s been utterly lacking thus far: heart.  Our new Smasher is relatable and likable, with Hickman managing to trace her ascendancy from a girl who’d seemingly given up on her potential for more pressing concerns right up to her adventures in space and promotion by Gladiator, he of the mohawk and purple skin.  The result is a character arc that, while compressed, also feels uplifting and optimistic, emphasizing the power of the individual and his/her potential for greatness, much like any good superhero comic does.  This was really the first issue of Hickman’s that actually felt human, which is vital, as Hickman’s first arc, while it had its strengths, often felt cold, losing its emotional core in favor of all that epic scale.  As such, this closer focus on a more grounded character was well needed.  The relationship between Daring/Smasher and her grandfather was also a nice touch which led to a line repeated throughout the comic that harkened back to the running theme of Hickman’s Fantastic Four: the importance of never self-limiting and always pushing the boundaries.
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Punisher: War Zone #4 – Review

PUNISHER: WAR ZONE #4

By: Greg Rucka (writer), Carmine di Giandomenico (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story:  The Punisher makes his move to break out Cole-Alves, but are the Avengers one step ahead?

The Good:  This was one of those rare Greg Rucka Big Two comics that reminded me of his days on Queen and Country.  This is purely due to the heavy emphasis on subterfuge, bait and switch, and constant twists that pull the reader along as one party is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the other, each side trying to plan for all eventualities.  The result is an intricate cat and mouse game between Steve Rogers and the Punisher, one that closes with a pretty badassed conclusion.  The reader is always left guessing who is onto whom and who is ahead of whom, leading to a winding, engaging read.

Better still, with the issue largely focused on a prison transport of Rachel Cole-Alves, there is a really thick atmosphere of tension in the issue.  The Avengers, and we readers, all know that Frank is going to strike, we simply don’t know when or how.  But we know it’s inevitable.  What’s left is an issue where we, and the characters, almost jump at shadows, waiting for the axe to fall.  This only makes Frank’s bait-and-switch routine all the more entertaining, as it plays with our expectations to maximum effect.  That air of tension is something that Rucka has done so well throughout his Punisher run, so it’s good seeing him fall back to his strengths here.  Better still, as his plan is unveiled, that tension also once again shows Frank to be a cerebral predator.
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Avengers #4 – Review

AVENGERS #4

By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Adam Kubert (art), Frank D’Armata (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story:  The Avengers race to a newly discovered sixth impact zone from the Garden’s recent mayhem.  The problem is that this one’s in the Savage Land and everyone’s favourite bee-keeper scientists may have gotten there first.

The Review:  Hickman’s Avengers so far has been solid and refreshing, but I’m still waiting for it to fully live up to its potential.  With the start of its second arc, this feels like one step forward but also perhaps one step back (so yeah, thankfully, not two steps back).  The heartening thing is that the back-tread has nothing to do with Hickman.

Instead, it’s Kubert that’s at fault here.  Don’t get me wrong, the artwork here isn’t bad.  I mean, it’s Adam Kubert, how bad could it be?  The problem is that, particularly compared to Jerome Opena’s hyper-detailed, hyper-polished artwork, Kubert’s work feels forgettable and bland.  Part of this may be due to Kubert’s simply being a more conventional artist than Opena, but the real problem is also that this simply isn’t Kubert’s best work.  It feels rougher than usual, perhaps even a little rushed.  Hell, the first few pages, the prologue of the issue, are particularly messy.  Frank D’Armata’s colors don’t particularly help as well, lacking the vibrance and energy needed to carry the day, opting instead to, much like Kubert’s work, not go any farther than merely getting the job done.  Regardless, there’s a pretty big gap between Kubert’s work here and Kubert’s recent work on Avengers vs. X-Men.  The result is a book that while visually functional, is also surprisingly uninspiring for its bulk, with the exception of Hyperion’s origin, which is admittedly nicely rendered.
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Uncanny Avengers #3 – Review

UNCANNY AVENGERS #3

By: Rick Remender (story), John Cassaday (art), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story:  The Red Skull whips NYC into a mutant hunting frenzy with the Uncanny Avengers caught in the middle.

The Review:  I imagine that this is going to be an incredibly divisive issue.  Remender takes some big stylistic risks that leave this one firmly entrenched in “love it or hate it” grounds.  The difficulty for me reviewing this is that, while I myself fell into the positive side of the equation, I can very much understand the argument from the other side.

The reason for all of this is that Remender has chosen to write this issue in a thoroughly retro, nostalgia-driven manner, filled with expository narration and a LOT of words on the page.  While I’m often put off by that sort of thing, I actually found myself enjoying it this time around.  I had a lot of fun visiting the past, if you will, with Remender seemingly bringing a writing style from decades past, polishing it off, and putting it in a thoroughly modern setting with slick, polished art to match.  Sure, that style is verbose, melodramatic, and maybe even a little bit cheesy, but that’s all part of the fun!  That melodramatic narration lends the book an escapist, soap opera feel, making the book’s universe feel especially comic booky and its characters iconic and larger than life.  It also elevates the stakes and the story into something grander and more timeless.
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FF #3 – Review

FF #3

By: Matt Fraction (story), Michael Allred (art), Laura Allred (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: The mysterious visitor from beyond the veil turns out to be more familiar than thought, telling tales of a horrifying (and pretty ludicrous) villain.  Also, the Yancy Street Gang strikes!

The Review:  I had high expectations for this book and as such, I ‘d be lying if I didn’t say that the first issue disappointed me a bit insofar as nothing much seemed to happen.  Then, last month, it started to click.  Now, with the third issue, I think this might stand along Hawkeye as among the very best books Marvel is currently publishing.

The reason for this is one word: fun.  That is really the best and perhaps only word I can use to describe this issue.  It’s off-kilter, it’s genuinely funny, it has a team with great chemistry, it’s thoroughly mad-cap, it’s human, and it’s clear that the creative team is having a great time putting it all together, which really shines through in their work.
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