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Loki: Agent of Asgard #5 – Review

By: Al Ewing (story), Lee Garbett (art), Nolan Woodard (colors)

The Story: Loki finds himself and realizes he was better off lost.

The Review: For the purposes of discussion, let’s all agree that right now, Loki has one big secret: the murder of his younger self, the “crime that will not be forgiven.” True, he’s confessed it to his Young Avenger pals, but it’s a bit like dealing with your newfound atheism or homosexuality. You can proudly flaunt it to everyone else in the world, but as long as you keep it from your Bible-worshipping, you’ll always feel a little bit trapped.

Loki will be feeling especially so after this issue, now that he’s discovered the goblin-ish Loki scheming from the wings is not a manifestation of his past self, but his future. We’ve all known the real conflict in the series would come to this: the Loki trying to change versus the Loki who loves who he is. It bodes ill for the ultimate outcome of the battle that older Loki completely outmaneuvers younger Loki here. Able to freely traverse the past and see into the future, older Loki can shut down the younger’s plan of attack before he even conceives of it. It’s a foregone conclusion.
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Thor: God of Thunder #17 – Review

by Jason Aaron (Writer), Ron Garney, Emanuela Lupacchino (Artists), Ive Svorcina (Colorist)

The Story: Thor brings the pain to Malekith as the final fate of the league of realms and the dark elf criminal is revealed.

The Review: Not all titles are winners. There will always be an arc, a character or a certain addition to the story that readers will dislike or certainly not appreciate as much as the rest. Quality is not something consistent in most titles after all, nor is personal appreciation. We may love something, but there must be highs and lows in order for the better elements to be easier to perceive.

It is then, to my surprise, rather nice to see that while this arc might have begun in the most obvious of ways, with Malekith being presented just in the time for the movie, there was an actual direction to the story. While the general progression to this point had some good and bad parts, Jason Aaron does show that he can actually do something with some less-desirable elements in the book.

The first thing that Aaron manages to do is actually surprise readers, throwing twists after twists in this issue alone, providing for a great number of satisfactory scenes for those who had no idea of the actual direction the story could go for. With the story being rather straightforward before, the writer makes for a nice use of what had been set up earlier to provide for something rather inventive and expansive for the nine realms and its future in the Marvel universe.
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Thor: The Dark World – Movie Review

By: Too many to list—IMDB it.

The Story: Can we for once have a beautiful space phenomena without destroying the universe?

The Review: It’s a funny thing about gods.  As much as their tales fascinate us, they themselves tend to remain unrelatable, their actions frequently and bizarrely arbitrary.  Even those divinities accounted wise will act with extreme pettiness or foolishness on occasion.  That, more than anything else, reveals the human invention behind the great myths.  Even as the storytellers strive to grasp at ideas greater than themselves, they are limited by their own understanding.

That’s really the endearing thing about the Asgardians in the Thor films.  They’re so very, intensely noble, and they perceive so much of the ills that befall the universe and will eventually doom them, yet they often lack the ability to reflect upon themselves.  That was the crux of Thor’s struggle in his first movie, and here, while he possesses a greater measure of introspection than before, he remains unable to see beyond the contours of his heart—and that is exactly what makes him so accessible, despite his divinity, and so beloved as a hero.
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Journey Into Mystery #651 – Review

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #651

*100th review. Hurray!*

*Ahem.*

Kathryn Immonen (Writer), Pepe Laraz (Artist), Jordie Bellaire (Colorist)

The Story: During the night, one of Volstagg’s children wanders in Asgardia, meeting Fenris, the wolf of mythology. Hilarity and wonders ensues.

The Review: From what I can see of the Asgardian side of the Marvel universe, all is well. We get Kid Loki in Young Avengers, our main and most important character in Thor: God of Thunder and pretty much everyone else, yet mostly Sif in Journey Into Mystery. With such a large cast of possible character and a whole world full of mythology and possibility, would it ever be possible for Kathryn Immonen to take full advantage of such a rich mythology?
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Journey Into Mystery #649 – Review

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #649

By: Kathryn Immonen (Writer), Valerio Schiti (Artist), Jordie Bellaire (Colorist)

The Story: Sif and the berserkers are in New-York and they have to fight more monsters that are currently spreading on the whole planet. Fortunately, they are helped by the Superior Spider-Man and other heroes.

The Review: The more I look and read this title, the more I find this to be close to the antithesis of the previous tenure. Kieron Gillen’s story about Kid Loki had the flair of a Shakespearian drama mixed with humorous undertones, telling the tale of a god of mischief trying to change a nature he had close to no idea he ever had, a clean slate of sort. With Kathryn Immonen, this becomes a book where Sif is a victim of a berserker state of mind influenced by a spell, where she is becoming violent and impulsive, wishing to do battle with monsters and all the like.

The themes couldn’t be any more different, yet it is a great strength, with Immonen doing her own thing instead of mimicking what came before. She succeeds in creating a great female-lead book with cool action, great humor and some surprisingly funny moments, bringing it all in one swift stroke into a great title. To mix all of this together selflessly is very hard, yet she manages in Journey Into Mystery.
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The Fearless Defenders #1 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (Writer), Will Sliney (Artist), Veronica Gandini (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review:  It’s Ladies Night at the House of Ideas, which I guess is reason enough for a certain amount of celebration; mainstream comics are a bit of a sausage-fest after all.  So, when a book featuring two badass babes going all out to raise a ruckus pops up on the shelf, it is perhaps a debt owed by all red-blooded man-nerds to pick it up. All that ogling of Frank Cho’s libidinous artwork had to come at some kinda price, right fellas?

I jest, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth hidden amongst my pseudo-chauvinistic posturing. We often hear the case put forward in the comic book press that women, diverse ethnic groups and those of a non-hetero persuasion are much maligned when it comes to the world of capes and tights. This book tackles all three hot topics at once, and does so naturally and succinctly. Any move towards equality in the super-powered community deserves at least a respectful nod for trying to make right…but at the end of the day, the main thing we care about as readers is comics that tell a great story filled with engaging characters and dynamite visuals. On those terms I’m afraid this issue comes up a little short.

The basic premise is a good one. I love an Odd Couple pairing and Misty Knight and Valkyrie are nothing if not that. Teaming the “Badass private investigator,” with the “Last Shieldmaiden and defender of Asgardia” is a scenario ripe for terse, witty banter – two more opposing worlds it may be hard to find. It’s a set-up that was at the core of one of my favourite comic runs of the last few years, Greg Pak’s Incredible Herc, where street-smart, likeable techno-brat Amadeus Cho proved a perfect foil for the tragi-comic Greek God Hercules. There’s not a whole lot of interaction between Misty and Valk’ here but the combination certainly has a lot of potential.

The team-up itself takes a while to occur. The story begins with Misty in the middle of a mission from Archeologist Dr Annabelle Riggs to retrieve some stolen Asgardian artifacts from a band of mercenaries. The job gets messy when a villain (who I can only assume is Morgan le Fey) interrupts and makes off with most of the loot. Misty makes her way back to Dr Riggs at her dig site with the one artifact she was able to recover, though she could hardly have picked up a worse one – once activated this Asgardian ‘music box’ plays a tune that reanimates the dead. Zombies ensue, Valkyrie turns up to help Misty, and the book sets up its stall from there.
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Journey Into Mystery #648 – Review

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #648

By: Kathryn Immonen (Writer), Valerio Schiti (Artist), Jordie Bellaire (Colorist)

The Story: The still-berserk crazed Sif has to confront a giant robot and her desire for violence in the unknown realm her brother Heimdall has banished her to.

The Review: I was a fool. Absolutely unconvinced about the change of writer and lead character on this title, I could not even perceive the potential here. How could Kathryn Immonen make as good a title as Kierron Gillen did with Kid Loki by using Sif the warrior lady? It seems that in my foolhardiness, I could have missed out on a great title. Thankfully, I have been convinced by people in my LCS to try it out.

Thank god I did.

This may seem like some kind of hollow praise, but this title is really something out of the ordinary. It mixes funny moments, violence, badass quotes, mythology and plain silliness in such a way that it creates something unique, a title that is both funny, yet utterly full of awesome action. The script itself lends itself to it, as the fight between Sif and the berserker’s warriors is intense, well laid-out and just plain exciting. The next moment, we get some explanations and great dialogue between the three warriors and Sif that cements the fun and adventurous tone of the series and the issue. Kathryn Immone is having fun here and it shows with the tone she is setting here.
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Journey into Mystery #637 – Review

by Kieron Gillen, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (writers), Carmine di Giandomenico (art), Andy Troy (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: So what did Sigurd’s spell do?  Not that much…it just turned all the Asgardian gods into humans.

The Review:  What an utterly bizarre issue. Of course, that’s rather the point.  Through Sigurd’s spell, Gillen and DnA effectively turn the world topsy turvy and the surreal, dream-like atmosphere that results is certainly part of this issue’s appeal.  Also, there is a certain joy the writers take in finding appropriate human roles for the depowered gods (who seemingly have forgotten their godliness).  Loki is an avid pen-and-paper role player, always a player in the game of his devising.  Volstagg is a baker who eats all of his own products (except the healthy stuff).  Sif teaches an MMA class.  For the most part, it all makes sense, and seeing what role each god occupies is rather amusing.

A big problem, however, is the dialogue.  Gillen and DnA elect to have the gods speak colloquial English (though their dialogue still has that Asgardian lettering) to reflect their human status.  This is great in theory, but not so good in practice, as it means that the Asgardians no longer sound like themselves at all.  For instance, Thor’s talking like an average joe takes something away from the essence of the character.  I see where the writers were coming from, but in execution, it falls flat, as the characters, in losing their distinctive voices, essentially become entirely different people.

Worse still, while JIM rarely falls flat when it comes to humour, Loki’s narration just didn’t work for me here.  Gillen has the issue narrated as though it were a game of D&D in which Loki is the player character.  It feels strained and forced and ultimately distracts, showing far too much artifice on Gillen’s part.
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The Mighty Thor #10 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Pasqual Ferry (art), Frank D’Armata (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: Heimdall has suspicions about Tanarus, Surfer and Loki try to figure out what to do with Mjolnir, and Thor makes his bid for freedom.

The Review:  Last month, I touched upon how Matt Fraction is playing a dangerous game with Thor at the moment, in that he has so many disparate characters to touch upon in the space of 22 pages that the result can be a little messy.  Well, thankfully, he fairs a lot better this month in finding the appropriate balance.

One of the things that works well in this book is Fraction’s fusing the cosmic with the fantasy/mythological elements.  Everything Thor sailing through the cosmos to the presence of the Silver Surfer fits together neatly.  For instance, seeing Thor and his fellow forgotten gods attempt to break their bonds and battle a monster in space/god afterlife/whatever is a perfect example of this.  There’s the surreal quality of exploring what happens to gods after death, with the fact that, well, it’s a giant monster in what looks like space.  More than that though, it’s nice to see this plot actually move forward after two months in spent in neutral.

But what really gets this issue going is Asgardia and its politics.  The All-Mother remains an engaging addition to the cast, but Fraction has begun to really inject the book with a kind of political intrigue, what with Tanarus being a dick and ruffling feathers, Heimdall’s suspicions, and warnings of unknown assassins to the All-Mother.  The result is a broiling, addictive narrative environment.  As any fan of fantasy novels knows, political intrigue and machinations work wonders in a fantasy setting.  Fraction seems aware of that and the result is that Mighty Thor, this months, is beginning to offer a smarter, more substantial read.

It’s also worth mentioning that while Kieron Gillen is still my preferred Kid Loki writer, Kid Loki/Silver Surfer is a wonderful odd couple.  Their conversational dialogue is fun and their clumsy “team-up” is a nice spot of comic relief that still manages to remain integral to the plot.

Art-wise, Pasqual Ferry’s artwork remains charming, lush, and full of character.  Frank D’Armata has also adjusted his colors a little, to give the book a warmer hue as opposed to the glossy look he gives to Invincible Iron Man and….most everything else he colors.

If there’s one downside to this issue, it’s that there’s still not much of a reason to be overly invested in Karnilla or her plotting, or that of the trolls.  Fraction still has yet to develop that portion of his overall plot and as a result, there’s not much to grab onto with respect to the antagonists.

Tanarus is a similarly imbalanced and ill-defined character.  While in prior issues, he’s come across as a possibly sympathetic figure, this month, he’s pure jackass.  It’s hard, as a reader, to get a handle of the character.  There’s just something a bit amorphous about him and, despite the arc being named after him, I don’t feel like we’ve gotten to know him at all.

Conclusion:  A big improvement over last month and a solid experience overall.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans

 

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #6 – Review

By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Brandon Peterson and Esad Ribis (artists), John Rauch and Edgar Delgado (colors)

The Story: The Ultimates take a collective breath and say, “Oh, f#@&!”

The Review: Goodness, I really love the concept of the Ultimates. I really think it’s fascinating to watch these imperfect men and women try to live up to the impossible ideals they define themselves by; it’s equally fascinating to watch the world react to these super-people in such a realistic manner. Obviously, this was not the interpretation in Jeph Loeb era, but I choose to ignore that run. Besides, Jonathan Hickman has really returned this book to its philosophical roots, and I’m delighted.

This issue opens on a conversation between Nick Fury and the retired Steve Rogers, discussing all the disasters that have taken place in the last five issues. The outlook is grim. Someone has set off a nuclear bomb just off the coast of Uganda; Southeast Asia has been taken over by mutant supremacists; and Reed Richards has conquered 200 square miles of Europe, destroyed Asgard, and now commands forces that far surpass those of SHIELD and the entire US Military combined. In the face of this, Fury asks Rogers to return as Captain America. But here’s the interesting thing: he’s not asking Captain America the super-soldier, because—let’s face it—there’s not a hell of a lot even Captain America could do about this. Instead, Fury is asking for the help of Captain America the political symbol, to reassure the public and to support Fury’s plans. The conversation displays a great understanding of who these characters are, and what values drive them.

The conflict of realism versus idealism is the driving force of this issue. From Stark facing the superrich he suspects of nuking Uganda, to the Braddocks coping with Captain Britain’s catatonic state, to even Falcon confronting his former colleague Reed Richards, the characters are forced to reconcile the way they would like the world to be, and the way the world is. It’s a powerful theme, and well explored. However, because Hickman is taking his time to explore these themes, it also means this is the second issue in a row with everyone just sitting and talking about what has happened. I’m fine with that, given the enormity of what has passed, but characters need to start being active again soon.
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The Mighty Thor #9 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writing), Pasqual Ferry & Pepe Larraz (art), Frank D’Armata, Frank Martin, & Wil Quintana (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: Loki seeks the aid of Donald Blake and has a weird run-in with the Silver Surfer, Kelda begins to suspect the truth, and Asgardia begins the difficult task of governance.

The Review: It’s hard not to be sympathetic towards Matt Fraction with this issue.  Really, this book might as well be called “Asgard” instead of “the Mighty Thor,” because it’s really more of an ensemble book involving Marvel’s major Asgardian characters.  The result is a somewhat imbalanced and strangely paced book that tries to cover too many bases and too many sub-plots.  We go from Thor sailing through the cosmos, to Loki chatting with Donald Blake and the Surfer, to the All-Mother trying to hold Asgardia’s first caucus, to Kelda listening in on the machinations of Ulik and friends, to Ulik fighting alongside the Avengers.  Frankly, there are too many bases to cover here.  While they are all related to one another, that connection is pretty thin and thus far, these plots have yet to really impact one another.

As a result, the book is a bit scattered.  More than that, though, with some many things to cover, some characters/plots see significant progression that makes me want to read more (there’s a big development with Kid Loki’s quest this month that certainly kept me interested in the overall story), while other strands are ridiculously glacial.  For instance, it’s almost laughable that this month’s issue ends with almost exactly the same cliffhanger that last month’s issue ended with: Thor, sailing into the maw of the Demogorge.

All this being said, there are definitely some bright spots here, at least as far as character-work goes.  Kid Loki is as charming as ever.  His sense of humour is sure to get a laugh out of any reader and his interactions with Blake and the Surfer are really enjoyable to read.  Kid Loki, whether under Gillen or Fraction, is always a scene-stealer, and that’s no different here.  Frankly, he’s probably the best part of this issue.  The character simply breathes life into any and every page on which he appears.
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Journey into Mystery #632 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writing), Mitch Breitweiser (art), Bettie Breitweiser (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: Loki gets a very special present from Hela, courtesy of Garm.

The Review:  This was originally advertised as something of a Christmas issue, but ultimately, while Gillen delivers on that promise, we get something a little more subtle.  While there definitely is a nice message and a certain Christmas-y atmosphere, outside of an opening scene, it’s never overtly a Christmas issue.  Rather, it’s a charming one-shot that feels appropriate for the spirit of the season.

The first thing you’re going to notice about this book is the art.  It’s a pretty big departure from the look Doug Braithwaite established for the book and yet, it’s utterly gorgeous and totally appropriate in its own way.  Much like the Allreds, the Breitweiser husband/wife duo are perfect artistic compliments to one another.  They come together to bring you a book that feels, well, mysterious.  It’s a book that’s heavy on atmosphere and one really gets the feeling of a fantastical wintry wonderland.  And then there are the little puppies which are the core of the issue, and the Breitweisers do an absolutely adorable job on them, making them little bundles of malcontented fur.

And really, those puppies sum up this issue: completely and utterly charming and adorable.  This is a comic with a big heart, but one that also has mature sensibilities when it comes to its storytelling.  Loki, Leah, the puppies introduced in this issue, all of them are just so bloody lovable.

This helps Gillen in getting the reader to really become emotionally invested in the issue.  On the one hand, yes, the ending was predictable and yet, in spite of that, I was still crying out at “Loki, don’t do it!”  The fact that I was so desperate to get the ending I expected/wanted and that Gillen kept me on the hook throughout says quite a bit about this book.  When I finally got that ending, it was all too satisfying.

There are a lot of laughs to be had this month as well.  From Leah and Loki’s always wonderful relationship, to Volstagg’s honorary Christmas job, to the ridiculously murderous quips of Loki’s new pet puppy, you’re guaranteed to laugh out loud with this comic and all of the jokes are of the good-natured sort.
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The Mighty Thor #8 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Pasqual Ferry (art), Frank D’Armata (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Review:  This is one of those comics that I hate reviewing.
On the one hand, it’s a pretty good read.  It doesn’t do anything wrong, and does quite a bit right, but in order to manage this, it’s a book that plays it safe and keeps its ambitions lower than they should be.

I am, of course, referring to Tanarus.  All told, I like the character.  Fraction gives him a unique, brash, fun-loving demeanor that makes for a lively presence.  Better still, when Fraction reveals Tanarus’ true nature, he cuts a surprisingly sympathetic figure.  It’s hard to really go into without spoiling, but it looks like Fraction is building a story around a bad guy from a bad crowd learning to be something more, but still subject to the pull of those evil associates.  This lends itself to the creation of a character in a precarious position; moreover, we get a character whose been empowered and elevated but also entrapped.

Overall, though, Fraction gives us a comic that feels very….”Thor.”  There’s a heavy focus on Asgard, Asgardian politics, intrigue, and magic.  Already, I’m loving Loki’s position of being the only person to know that things aren’t quite right.  It makes an isolated character that no one trusts all the more isolated and powerless.

Fraction also brings back Kelda.  In so doing, he shows us the inevitable, wasted endpoint for the character.  It’s kind of weird seeing her suddenly in this state as we never really saw exactly how she got here, but it makes sense.  It’s nice to see Fraction bring her back in a significant way that is a logical next step for the character.
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Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #1

by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Esad Ribic (art), Dean White (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: Nick Fury finds himself complete overwhelmed by disasters all around.

What’s Good:  It’s not something I’d have expected out him in particular, but Jonathan Hickman fully nails the “blockbuster” feel of the Ultimates, and in doing so, hammers home just what makes it a distinctive read from the 616 Avengers books.  This is a high-octane book with a high budget feel and one that feels bleeding edge slick and modern.

Despite this, however, Hickman still adds the little touches that keep the book smart and remind you just who is writing the book.  We’ve got what looks to be an ultimate version of “the World” that is the sort of ominous, sleek science fiction that Hickman does so well.

That’s not to say that it’s all high-tech realism however, as one of the major storylines takes place in Asgard, as does possibly the book’s best scene.  Hickman’s portrayal of Thor and the Asgardians as friendly partiers who take disrespect very seriously is one that makes them immediately likable.

That said, Nick Fury is the star of the show this month, and Hickman manages to convey his current circumstances very well.  Hickman overwhelms the reader with disasters and narratives from every angle, which is exactly what Fury is going through.  As a result, we get a real appreciation for the global juggling act that is Nick Fury’s high-risk life.  It’s a taut, dynamic read.
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Journey into Mystery #626 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writer), Doug Braithwaite (pencils), Ulises Arreola & Andy Troy (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: Loki cuts a deal with the biggest, toughest demon in limbo before seeking the aid of a very shiny resident of Asgard.

What’s Good:  One thing I’ve really appreciated about Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery has been it’s pacing.  Each issue is a full experience, seeing Loki get himself into a scrape, cut a deal with a megapower or two, and achieve an objective.  Each issue then leaves us with a prelude for next month’s issue, showing where Loki’s going to be heading to next.  It’s a really great format that makes each issue comprehensive and satisfying, while also leaving the reader desperately wanting the next installment.  It’s a fine balance, and Gillen rides it well.

Meanwhile, Loki remains as endearing as ever as we once again watch his machinations unfold as he constantly seems one step ahead of the big boys of the Nine Realms.  Gillen makes it easy to see suggestions of how exactly Loki is manipulating the great powers he runs up against, Surtur in this case, yet that the big demon seems unaware of any foul play ends up forging a kind of link between Loki and the reader and makes us all the more attached.  Loki’s escape route was also a really nice touch of comedy and mischief.  Similarly, it’s just so easy to root for Loki as he runs from a vengeful Hel-Wolf or dodges giant demon swords, as the character manages to be crafty and lovable, but also vulnerable.  As witty and smart as Loki is, Gillen is aware of his physical fragility and how most readers will react to a kid in danger.

Meanwhile, Doug Braithwaite is as epic and generally awesome as ever and despite the extra colorist, there’s really not any noticeable difference from previous months.  I remain impressed at how Braithwaite is able to produce detailed, impressive work like this month after month without any delays.

Also, that ending…  Wow.  Just wow.  It’s as though Gillen sat back and thinks to himself each month “how can I make Kid Loki more awesome?”
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Fear Itself #5 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger (inks), Laura Martin & Milla Molinar (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Thor fights for his life against the Worthified Hulk and Thing, Cap grapples with Sin, and Tony Stark cuts a deal with Odin.

What’s Good:  Do you like big, explosive, set-piece action sequences?  Well, if you’re picking up a big summer event from either of the big two, somewhere deep inside you, the answer should be yes.  Fear Itself #5 is possibly the issue that most delivers on this front thus far.  The fights are big, exciting, and important.  At some level, seeing Thor rumble with Thing and Hulk is the sort of pure fun that superhero comics are made of, or at least have lodged deep in their core.  All the superhero punching leads to an energetic, fast-paced read.

Certainly, this is helped along by Stuart Immonen’s pencils and Laura Martin’s vibrant colors.  Immonen’s art is by its nature dynamic and quick-witted, which lends itself well to an issue like this.  Honestly, I think that Immonen may very well be the best thing about Fear Itself, thus far.  It’s great to seeing an artist of his particular style getting a spot on Marvel’s biggest stage and he’s really capitalized on the opportunity by being remarkably consistent from issue to issue.

There’s also a really cool moment involving the Serpent, what that really garners an “oh no you didn’t!” reaction.  The Serpent may not be the most developed baddie in many respects, but he’s certainly a legit one.
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The Mighty Thor #4 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Olivier Coipel (pencils), Mark Morales (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: The Asgardians go to war with Galactus, as the big purple guy takes on Odin in a battle of wills.  Also, Volstagg takes on the slavering hordes of Broxton.

What’s Good: If there’s one thing that comic books as a medium lends itself well to, it’s “awesomeness.”  By awesomeness, I don’t mean mere positive quality.  Rather, I’m referring to the jaw-droppingly ludicrous that can be described in no other way, things that are so massive that they beggar belief.

With issues like this, it seems that Matt Fraction is very in tune with this when it comes to his Mighty Thor comic.  I mean seriously, this month, we have Thor and the Warriors Three, dressed in space marine armor, battling the Silver Surfer, “cosmic demons,” and Galactus in freaking space.  The very fact that Fraction doesn’t do anything criminally wrong in his dialogue or storytelling pretty much means this issue is a win due to its concept alone.  The space battle is so massively epic that at some points, you’ve just gotta sit back and enjoy it.

A lot of this is also due to the efforts of Olivier Coipel.  I feel like I’m saying this every month, but this really is Coipel’s best outing thus far.  His Galactus is awesome, his actions sequences are mind-boggling in scale and speed, his characters are likable, and he even does really nifty work in altering his style a bit when depicting flashback sequences, shifting from bombastic space opera to dark fantasy mystery.

Fraction also finds space for other stuff as well, not satisfied with awesome space battling.  We get quality Volstagg comedy, full of the usual hot air and exaggerations that have made the big guy such an easy fan favorite.  There’s Kid Loki’s well-meaning scheming as well, and frankly, Kid Loki has been a winner of a character since his creation.  He also is a fantastic straight man next to Volstagg’s bluster.

I also really enjoyed Galactus and Odin’s mental struggle.  The flashbacks initiated in Odin’s mind were creepy and ominous, and the way Galactus took shape in the All-Father’s mind was pretty cool and subtle, while also giving the whole thing a tinge of horror comic goodness.
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Journey into Mystery #625 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writer), Doug Braithwaite (pencils), Ulises Arreola (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: With war in hell on the horizon, Loki brokers a deal with Mephisto and Hela.

What’s Good:  In case you didn’t know, Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery is among Marvel’s very best books.  It’s witty, charming, funny, dramatic, and epic, just like its lead character.  It’s also remarkably consistent in its quality and so, once again this month, we get a fantastic outing from Kid Loki and friends.  As ever, the little guy oozes charisma and carries the book with ease.  His machinations are a joy to watch, his jokes are consistently funny, and he’s all-around adorable and naturally likable.

This month in particular, it’s really good fun-seeing Loki play the mega-powers off one another, manipulating beings far beyond him in power to suit his ends.  He also does it with such grace and humour that it’s a joy to watch and the dialogue is eloquently written by far, far ever ever being dry.  Loki’s humour is also often edgy in its wit.  One line he delivers in particular to the Tongue of the Serpent really got a laugh out of me.  Gillen’s clearly quite a funny guy, and the humour isn’t just extended to Loki; Hel-Wolf’s grumpy, murderous demeanor is great and there’s a fantastic sight gag Gillen delivers near the end of the issue when Loki, Ikol, and Hel Wolf get beamed to a backyard in New Jersey.

Mephisto, Hela, and new character Leah are all excellently written.  I cannot stop heaping praise on Gillen’s dialogue, which carries this issue.  Mephisto is as slimy as ever (he even gives us the recap page!) and Leah’s playing the straight man to Loki makes me very happy to see her as an addition to the cast.
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Avengers Prime – Graphic Novel Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alan Davis (pencils), Mark Farmer (inks), Javier Rodriguez (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Steve Rogers, Iron Man, and Thor find themselves trapped in a strange, Asgardian realm and under attack from Hela.

The Review:  Sometimes you get a comic that is not at all what it was advertised as.  Judging from the preview of the first issue of Avengers Prime, as well as Marvel’s hype around the miniseries, you’d think you were getting a comic that was heavily reliant on the aftermath of Siege.  You’d also think that you were about to get a thrilling comic focused on Steve, Tony, and Thor yelling at each other about the events of the last ten years of Avengers continuity.

Oh, thank God that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Funnily enough though, for the first few pages, that’s exactly what you get.  And really, those first few pages are by far the weakest portion of the book.  Then out of nowhere, the comic entirely shifts and you end up getting a continuity light (Steve Rogers falling in love with an elf chick), high fantasy comic that is barrels of old school fun for everyone.

Of course, when you say “high fantasy,” Brian Bendis most likely isn’t the first writer that comes to mind.  In fact, he’s probably not the last one either.  However, Bendis actually acquits himself really well here.  There’s something about the new setting and genre that revitalizes Bendis’ work, giving freshness to it.  You don’t really get any of the usual Bendis foibles of mischaracterization and irritatingly repeated lines of dialogue.  Instead, you get a comic that’s all fantasy ass-kicking and when there are “moments” between the Big Three, they feel genuine and sincere, and certainly more than enough to put a smile on your face.
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Fear Itself #4 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: The Serpent shows a massive growth in power, and Thor returns to Midgard to make plans with some old friends.

What’s Good:  While I’ve been fairly positive about Fear Itself thus far, I really did feel that with this issue, the plot has really showed momentum.  I think a good part of this development has to do with the fact that over the last three issues, Fraction has really spent a lot of time scene-setting and creating the status-quo for this event.  He needed to show that our heroes had their backs well and truly up against the wall against massive odds.  Last month, Bucky Barnes’ death was truly the final nail in the “shit just got real” coffin, and the scene setting was complete.

So when we see Fury, Thor, Black Widow, Steve, and Iron Man talking tactics and plans, there’s a really satisfying and comforting sense of the story becoming better defined and moving forward.  It’s as though while we’ve seen that things are bad, it’s this month where we start to learn what the Avengers plan on doing about it.  Hence, there’s more story and character than big action and explosions.

But there certainly are big explosions.  Immonen’s art is gorgeous and characterful as ever (and includes a couple of really cool layout decisions), but he and Fraction really hit the big notes well.  Thor’s literal fall to Midgard, Steve’s being back in the Captain America uniform, the Serpent’s transformation, and the holocaust inflicted on the Atlanteans all really hit home and come across as truly large and epic in scale.  There aren’t just blips in the plot, they’re the big occurrences that are the bread and butter of a successful comic book event.

Then there’s Tony’s sacrifice to Odin, which is certainly a surprise and striking in its own way.
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The Mighty Thor #3 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Olivier Coipel (pencils), Mark Morales (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: Given an ultimatum, Thor rumbles with the Surfer.  Meanwhile, Volstagg finds himself unwanted in Broxton.

What’s Good: It always feels really good to get your money’s worth with a comic.  I definitely felt like I got a meaty book with Mighty Thor #3.  Despite having no more than the standard number of pages to work with, Matt Fraction covers quite a lot of ground this month.  While the plot progresses at your standard rate, a great deal happens and plenty of characters are visited.  There’s the big Surfer/Galactus plot, of course, but there’s also an amusing scene of kid Loki mischief, a subplot involving Volstagg and the residents of Broxton, and the lingering issue of Thor’s mysterious wound.  All of these elements are, for the most part, disparate which removes any sense of decompression and delivers a more rounded and comprehensive reading experience.

Many characters receive solid treatment.  Loki’s scene with a very naked Sif is admittedly a digression, but it’s a fun one that only continues to make kid Loki one of my favourite Marvel characters right now.  Volstagg is as humorous as ever and his exaggerations regarding the citizens of Broxton’s newfound hostility is a lot of fun, all the more because if ever there were deaf ears for those citizens to speak to, they’d be Volstagg’s.

As far as the main plot goes, I’m still really loving this Galactus/Asgardian clash, as it brings together the high fantasy of Thor with the cosmic in a way that continues to feel fun and fresh.  The fight between Thor and Surfer is awesome, if only due to the participants.  Best of all though, I really liked how Fraction hinges much of the plot on who between Odin and Galactus is less trustworthy.  That’s a major conundrum, to say the least, and one that has me looking forward to next issue.
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Fear Itself #3 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Stuart Immonen (penciller), Wade von Grawbadger (inker), Laura Martin & Larry Molinar (colorists), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

The Story: A major Marvel hero dies at the hands of Skadi/Sin, the final member of the Worthy is chosen, and Thor tries to escape prison and rush to Midgard’s aid.

The Review:  I’ve really been enjoying Fear Itself thus far, but I’ve been pretty honest in saying that the sub-text and tone of the story was often more interesting than the hammer-laden story itself.  I’ve really loved that inclusion of desperation and anxiety that has made the book feel relevant, current, and a surprisingly smart read.

So yeah, cue my disappointment when Fraction basically forgets about that sub-text altogether this month, instead focusing on the Worthy stomping about with their hammers and a crapload of action scenes.  It’s not a bad comic in itself, but certainly a letdown given what we’ve been getting, as the book immediately becomes less nuanced and a whole lot simpler.  It’s dangerously close to going from being a book that’s a reflection of the times, to being “just another” superhero comic event.

There’s a lot of fighting, yes, but things also seem to move slowly.  Thor’s inevitable escape from Asgard seems a little more long-winded than it needed to be, for example.  In other cases, pre-event hype hurts the book: the identity of the last member of the Worthy, crowned this month, has been known for quite some time now.  I mean, even the book’s cover more or less gives it away.

On the other hand, there are definitely things to like about the issue.  The ending, for example, is very well plotted and sequenced and delivers the “shit just got real” effect that was clearly intended, particularly given the deceased characters’ identity and his/her last words.  Things definitely feel a lot more dangerous and the superhero community, and the world itself, continues to look vulnerable and truly in danger, not an easy feat in superhero comics.   While some might have predicted it, the death is nonetheless one that’ll hit home for a lot of readers, as it should.

The end result is one that shows much of what the last page of last month’s issue told.  That is, it emphasizes the powerlessness of the Marvel Universe’s heroes in the face of this threat.  From the Hulk running rampant and tossing Betty around, to the major Marvel characters who die and transform to join the Worthy, to a pitiful last stand late in the issue, the point is driven home.
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Avengers #13 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (script), Chris Bachalo (art & colors), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, & Wayne Faucher (inks), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story:  The Avengers recount the early days of Fear Itself.

The Review:  This is a very difficult issue to review.  Quite frankly, if you don’t like Brian Bendis, particularly Bendis on an Avengers title, stay the hell away.  I don’t care how much you love the franchise, this sort of issue is one that sure to make people get out the torches and pitchforks.

Honestly, it’s not because Bendis noodles with continuity or flubs characters’ voices or whatever.  Rather, it’s because this is a very Bendis-y issue that’s almost entirely composed of talking heads.  This is the more indie-minded Bendis, as evidenced by the fact that this issue uses interlocking monologues on pages with a large number of small panels, a technique that’ll be very familiar to anyone who has ever read Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers.  Essentially, this doesn’t feel at all like your standard Marvel superhero fair, it’s just a whole lot of dialogue, there’s next to no plot development or real set narrative, and there’s absolutely zero action.

Yet, because I am a confirmed fan of Mr. Bendis, I, for one, enjoyed it, as I expect many of his fans will, even those more keen on his creator owned work than his superhero stuff.  It’s dialogue heavy and feels genuinely more human and it’s unique as far as Marvel comics go.  The dialogue feels quippy, but in a natural way that feels fluid and quick as opposed to forced.  It puts a relatable, human face on the trauma of Fear Itself and the nature and burden of being an Avenger in the face of such calamity.  Without action, and really without much else to look at but the characters’ faces, you’re really forced to take in the events and the characters on an intimate and personal level.  The result is a cast that has a charming kind of vulnerability, a big group of Avengers that feel like people above all else.
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Journey into Mystery #623 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (script), Doug Braithwaite (pencils), Ulises Arreola (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: Loki is faced with decisions as he begins his epic adventure.

The Review:  Well, I can now say that Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery certainly does not fall into “first issue syndrome.”  In other words, the second installment is still awesome.

Much of this is due to the fact that, perhaps even moreso this time around, Gillen really has his main character, kid Loki, all but completely carry the weight of this comic.  That can be a risky move, but thankfully, kid Loki has proven to be an awesome concept that Gillen is executing to perfection.  For starters, he’s absolutely adorable in a way that’s impossible to dislike.  He’s the sort of protagonist that one can’t help but love and root for and is a perfect mix of beyond-his-years wit and intelligence  and childish glee, innocence, and humour.  It’s a fascinating paradox for a child character to carry such a heavy burden while still being, most definitely, a kid at heart.  It also makes for great reading.

But it’s not just in the character-work that Gillen excels; his storytelling and issue structure is also top-notch.  Even portions of the issue that seem like a digression end up being thematically crucial.  For instance, this month, we get a really cool tale about how Loki challenged Thor into taming his fire-breathing goats.  It’s a neat story that doesn’t seem especially relevant until kid Loki tames a mount of his own.  While details from the flashback play a role in how Loki does this, more interesting is the manner in which Loki unconsciously follows the words of his older self to Thor in choosing a ridiculously hard beast to tame.  It’s a neat little narrative circle that is both elegant and subtle.

Gillen also continues to use the rest of the Asgardian cast to good effect.  His Thor remains an excellent big brother figure, a stalwart and unwavering heroic figure that merits Loki’s looking up to him.  Volstagg is similarly well-done; he’s funny and he’s most definitely still Volstagg, but he’s also not the one-note running joke of a character that he’s often reduced to.  In both protecting Loki and messing with him, it’s a relationship that’s quite fun to read.  There’s also a new character introduced in Hel Wolf who looks like he’ll have a wonderful dynamic with Loki as the disgruntled and unwilling ally.
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Thor – Movie Review (Second Opinion)

The Story: I’m not surprised Thor loves super-unhealthy, diner breakfast food— it’s awesome.

The Review: As a god, Thor’s not really threatened by much, and certainly not by the majority of villains in the Marvel universe.  Besides his loyalty to the Avengers, his connections to Earth lean more on divine fondness for the planet and its people as a whole, with few links to its non-superhero-related mortals—especially as his Donald Blake identity saw less use over time.

Straczynski brought back Thor’s human persona to prominence in his relaunch of Thor, so it’s fitting that in his and Protosevich’s screenplay, they try very hard to give the banished god a personal relationship with Earth.  But actually the time Thor spends exiled on the planet is pretty short—about a few days, film-time (which is about 20 minutes, screen-time).  It limits Thor’s exposure to modern mortality, and makes his intimacy with Jane Foster et al seem rushed/forced.

Helmsworth and Portman are both very likeable, and they definitely have a warm chemistry, but really, they only get several minutes-long scenes alone together, and the moments feel friendlier than romantic.  It’s disappointing Thor gets hauled out of the mortal realm so fast, because it feels like his human relationships have just barely begun.  Which is too bad, because they offer some of the funniest moments of the film (KOing Thor in various ways never gets old).

Aside from wearing a desert small-town outfit for, like, a day, and one funny cultural snafu where he smashes his mug (of coffee?  Hot chocolate?  Whatever it is, he really likes it.) on the floor of a diner, Thor doesn’t get a real mortal life experience.  His heroic actions at the film’s climax are more motivated by his innate nobility than a personal investment in Earth.  He would’ve done the same for any planet of innocents.
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