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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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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


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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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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