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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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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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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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Mighty Thor #1 – Review


by Matt Fraction (writer), Oliver Coipel (pencils), Mark Morales (inks), Laura Martin, Justin Ponsor, & Peter Steigerwald (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: Thor and Sif go on a dangerous mission to the heart of the broken World Tree while Silver Surfer searches for a new target for his master’s hunger.

The Review:  In this first issue, Matt Fraction gives us several things that Thor fans will most likely enjoy, things that have been lacking from the series for some time, certainly more than a year.

First off is Fraction’s heavy inclusion of the Marvel cosmic.  The Silver Surfer and Galactus get a healthy chunk of attention this month.  It’s well-written stuff that shows that Fraction has a solid grasp of writing the Surfer, reflecting his burden and the gravity and entrapment of his endless quest.  More than that though, these scenes continue the dose of the cosmic that has been the strongest point of Fraction’s run on Thor thus far.  However, unlike in his previous arc, the use of recognized Marvel cosmic characters like the Silver Surfer make it even more palpable than the brand new World Eaters.

And hey, Sif actually plays a fairly substantial role this month.  Despite being resurrected and, presumably, in a relationship with Thor, Sif has been almost completely absent for so long that I was expecting to start seeing her on Broxton milk cartons.  While her dialogue is fairly run-of-the-mill, Fraction’s use of her was exciting in and of itself, particularly since it seems to hint at a long-term commitment to the character and her place in the series as a major member of the cast.

Fraction also does fantastic work with Loki.  His mixture of childish glee and old-beyond-his-years determination and insistence on helping make for a charming character that you can’t help but like.
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Journey Into Mystery #622 – Review

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

 

The Story: Loki goes on a quest to discover the secret behind his elder self’s demise.

The Review: This is quite possibly the best work of Kieron Gillen’s career, or at the very least, it’s among that work.  Regardless, this should be star-making work and I will seriously lose faith in comic-reading humanity if that isn’t the case.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s get into the nitty gritty.

What truly makes this issue special is the excellent use Kieron Gillen makes of the new child Loki.  By putting Loki on a magic-infused, fantasy genre quest, he gives off an epic feel that gives off a hint of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels and their ilk.  The one special kid who goes on a heroic, epic quest.  It’s an awesome formula, and Gillen’s putting it to use in the Marvel Universe is nothing short of magical and absolutely unlike anything Marvel’s doing right now but also a fantastic and fresh use of the fantasy Thor corner of that universe that makes the very most of the tools at hand.  It also makes kid Loki more likable than ever.

And that’s crucial too; Gillen writes the hell out of kid Loki.  It’s impossible not to absolutely adore him.  Gillen keeps Loki indisputably a kid, but one who’s hyper intelligent with a mind that’s ever active.  This makes for a character that’s easy to root for and wonderful to read, one with motivations and ambitions that are compelling.  It also leads to some real laugh out loud moments, particularly when it comes to Loki’s eagerness to explore Midgard (including the internet forums!), completely opposite to his Asgardian brethren.
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Thor #621 – Review


by Matt Fraction (writer), Pasqual Ferry & Salvador Larroca (art), Matt Hollingsworth & Ulises Arreola (colors), and John Workman (letters)

The Story: The Blood Legion battles the World Eaters for all the marbles.

The Review: I’m really pretty torn over this comic.  As a huge fan of Thor, there were things that really worked and things that simply did not, and they’re all big things.

On the one hand, I really do tip my hat to Matt Fraction when it comes to the sheer scale of this comic.  Seeing the massive Asgardian Blood Legion golem battling a horde of World Eaters is awesome on so many levels.   Seeing it attempting to attack the world tree as reality itself threatens to come asunder…it’s really, really massive stuff.  In this respect, that tells me that Fraction gets Thor.  The size alone of what he writes is enough to attest to that.  The panicked citizens of Broxton, the hellish environment, the number of bodies involved in the fight itself, Odin and Uthana Thoth’s battle of wills, and the victory celebration at the end all suggest epic stuff.

The problem, though, is Fraction’s pacing.  Many have criticized Thor and Invincible Iron Man for the slow pacing, but I was fine with it.  What I’m not fine with, is how Fraction built everything up for so long and that neatly ties everything up in these 22 pages.  The conclusion, and the fight itself, relegated as they are to just about one issue, ends up feeling rushed and far too easy.  It’s as though Fraction suddenly woke up and realized he only had one issue to wrap everything up and went nuts as a result.  Hell, nobody even really fights Uthana himself.
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Thor #620 – Review


by Matt Fraction (writer), Pasqual Ferry (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and John Workman (letters)

The Story: Odin summons some very powerful forces in his defense against the World Eaters.

The Review: After a rocky issue last month, Thor comes back this issue with all guns blazing, leading to a much more enjoyable experience overall.

That said, it doesn’t necessarily look that way for the first few pages.  Thor #620 is one of those issues that’s a little hard to get into at first.  What I mean is that it’s one of those comics where it feels like you missed something between issues.  When the comic starts, Odin is yelling amidst a field of bodies and there’s little indication as to what’s going on or how this situation arose.  Frankly, when the focus shifted away to Broxton, I had to double-check to make sure that the comic didn’t start in media res.  It’s a little frustrating, as it essentially feels like I missed at least half an issue somewhere.

Once things get going though and the reader settles in, the book becomes a rocking good time.  Suffice it to say, this issue is very, very heavy on the smiting.  Giant monsters abound and bodies go flying all over the place.  In other words, it gives Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth a chance to really cut loose.  Ferry’s action scenes are stupendous in size and scope and altogether very exciting, while Hollingsworth paints the whole comic in brilliant shades of red to go along with the raining blood, leading to a downright hellish looking warzone.  Ferry’s Odin also looks fantastic, as do his big creatures.

I think Odin fans will also have a lot to like this month.  For most of the issue, the All-Father comes across as a complete badass and Matt Fraction puts him to very good use having just brought him back.  Almost every page with Odin on it is one that’ll have you saying “hell yeah!”  He’s a great character, hardened, violent, and perpetually pissed off.
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Thor #619 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Pasqual Ferry (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and John Workman (letters)

The Story: Odin is greeted by a returned Loki and we learn some interesting facts about the World Tree courtesy of old One Eye before Balder and Tyr go on the attack.

What’s Good: I’ve been going on and on about Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth’s respective work on this series and this is just as gorgeous as ever.   Big, lush artwork with smooth layouts is mixed with awesome, fantasy-perfect colors.  The characters look iconic and heroic and the environments are a perfect mixture of craggy fantasy and cosmic sci-fi.  The fight scenes are no less awesome, basically ending up as a dramatic explosion of violence.  I also continue to enjoy Ferry’s Odin, who is positively jacked.

With Fraction’s writing, I quite enjoyed his use of Odin.  The character reacts to his resurrection much as we thought he would, and his treatment of Loki was fun to read as was Loki’s subsequent reaction; it reflects well on Loki’s new form.  Odin also adds a new/old dynamic to the series: someone who can curse out Thor.  More than that though, because he’s able to come down on Thor, Fraction is able to use Odin to point out a bizarre habit of Thor’s lately: resurrecting anybody and everybody.  Fraction does a good job of showing how this is isolating Thor, and, more than that, I loved Odin’s bringing up the point that Thor simply must have trouble-makers about.  It highlights a very interesting character flaw that I hope is explored later.

Beyond Fraction’s Odin, I continue to enjoy child Loki, who really returns the character to his “trickster” essence.  It boils the character down a bit, but also shows a side of the god that is not only fresh, but makes perfect sense.  Thoth and his goons are similarly fun to read, let alone look at.  I continue to love the retro-sci-fi vibe they bring to the book.
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Thor #617 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Pasqual Ferry (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and John Workman (letters)

The Story: Thor awakens the resurrected Loki and Dr. Eric Solvang finally finds someone to listen to him as Uthana Thoth continues to expand his dominion.

What’s Good: In all honesty, if you’ve liked Matt Fraction’s first two issues of Thor, you’re going to like this one for pretty much all of the same reasons as the quality remains utterly consistent.  It’s still the epic, quirky mix of fantasy and old school sci-fi that’s had me raving over the last couple of months.

Beyond that though, this issue introduces an elephant into the room: a resurrected Loki.  I’ll admit, while I was curious, I was also a bit miffed; Loki’s death was a big event at the end of Siege and was examined nicely by Kieron Gillen, and he’s already being brought back from the dead?  It seemed hasty.

Well, I was wrong to doubt Matt Fraction, as this is far from simply bringing Loki back.  The Loki Fraction introduces is essentially a new character to the series.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but what Fraction does here is utterly ingenious, essentially making an old character completely new and fresh both in personality and what he stands for.  There’s huge potential here.  Furthermore, Loki’s human alter-ego, a child street hustler in Paris, is an absolute delight to read in all his carnie goodness.

I also was surprised by how well Tony Stark functioned in this book.  It’s a character Fraction knows very well, but one that also works very well as a middle-man between the quantum cosmologist Eric Solvang and the Asgardians.  He’s basically a big name Marvel Universe figure who serves as a bridge between these two very disparate genres who both occupy that same universe.  It’s well-done by Fraction.

Art-wise, Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth deliver another knockout, even in an issue that’s a bit more restrained, focusing more on everyday environments.  The work is still brimming with character, both comic booky and incredibly polished.  Art-wise, there’s nothing not to like here and I really loved Ferry’s goblins, who made the last page funnier than it should have been.
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Thor #615 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Pasqual Ferry (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and John Workman (letters)

The Story: A new age for Thor and Asgard begins, as an ominous threat fills Asgard’s void and rages across the metaverse.

What’s Good: Thor fans can breathe a sigh of relief; Matt Fraction arrives and his first issue is a great one.

While it’s difficult to make sweeping judgments after only one issue, I think that it’s fairly clear that Fraction has a very good understanding of the characters and how to use them.  Thor is appropriately brooding and stoic; his bittersweet feelings about Loki, summarized this month in a kind of informal quasi-eulogy, are a highlight of the issue and are very well written and minimalist enough so as to be affecting.

Yet, Fraction also seems aware of the character’s potential as a comedic straight man.  Fraction shows himself to have an incredibly strong handle of the Thor/Donald Blake connection and dynamic.  I had forgotten what a joy this element of the series can be, what with Blake having been absent for some time.  The chemistry between the two is light-hearted and very funny, with Blake even serving as an unlikely adviser.  A couple of his comments on Thor’s behavior even border on making the comic feel amusingly self-aware.  And I’m not even getting started on Fraction’s Volstagg, who can make even the most otherwise boring scenes funny.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of this first issue, however, is what it does generically, mixing sci-fi and high fantasy.  The issue feels like several things elegantly melded together that should be utterly disparate, but somehow come together to form a kind of fresh, sleek, and completely distinct whole.  You have scenes of blue-skinned evils battling sword-wielding demonic barbarians on a snowy plain transitioning to a discussion of “quantum cosmology.”  It sounds utterly insane, and perhaps it is, but it gives the book a unique life and tone that make it unlike anything else out there.
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Thor #612 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writer), Doug Braithwaite (pencils), John Rauch & Andy Troy (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: Thor and Tyr rush to the rescue as the Disir lay siege to Hela.

What’s Good: In heading to hell to battle zombie valkyrie, Kieron Gillen’s Thor has managed to regain its identity, distancing itself from Siege and giving a story and atmosphere directly opposite to the big event storytelling of earlier this year.  The result is a comic that is entirely unique from anything else currently being released by Marvel and, for a book like Thor, that’s a very, very good thing.  It’s a natural move for Thor to fully indulge itself as a book based in mythology.  Having a sword and sorcery adventure in hell just feels right, offering a fantasy yarn in a medium often more influenced by science fiction.

While I love the tone and the setting, what sets this issue far above last month’s is the character-work.  Take the Disir, for example.  Gillen has already made them into a credible threat and continues to do the same this month, fashioning them as Asgardian bogeymen who are nigh-on invulnerable.  What makes them more compelling, however, is that this month Gillen makes one among their number, Gondul, not only lack confidence but actually be fearful of Thor, constantly predicting the failure of the Disir’s plans and their inevitable doom.  This added a refreshing layer to villains that would otherwise risk becoming the typical, cackling, overconfident sort.
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Thor #609 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writer), Billy Tan, Batt, & Rich Elson (art), Christina Strain & June Chung (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: Loki faces the consequences, Kelda stands and fights, and Volstagg picks himself up.

What’s Good: With Thor not being present this month, several supporting characters pick up the slack.

Kelda, a character I’ve enjoyed since JMS introduced her, still strikes a sympathetic portrait.  Her defending Bill’s parents was touching and it was nice to see them come together.  Of course, it’s always a blast just to see Kelda kick some ass.  She’s one of those characters’ whose potential we’ve never been sure of and I’m glad to see her in a more empowered position this month.

Having a similar “fist-pump” moment this month is Balder, who reminds the world why his name is “Balder the Bright.”  Gillen does his best to make Balder personify the Heroic Age.   When he lights himself up to rally the troops and owns the Hood in a Matrix-like fashion, it’s all kinds of awesome.  Balder has bumbled around quite a bit and it’s nice to see him take up position as the quintessential hero.
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Thor #606 – Review

by Kieron Guillen (writer), Billy Tan (pencils & inks), Batt (inks), John Raunch & Paul Mounts (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: Thor battles the Doom-controlled Destroyer and Balder ventures into the Latverian dictator’s secret lab.

What’s Good: Guillen has done such a fantastic job in writing a comic so seamlessly linked to Straczynski’s work, if it wasn’t for the name on the cover, it feels like JMS himself actually penned it.  Given that this issue is meant to conclude  JMS’ run and tie up the loose ends, that’s a pretty big compliment.  It feels like an organic point of closure for the series and serves its purpose as a gesture to Thor’s re-integration into the larger stories of the Marvel universe.

Everything feels perfectly paced; I wasn’t left feeling that any of the major players had been brushed over or used merely as means to an end, nor did any scenes, narrative components, or subplots feel stretched or rushed.  Each conflict is more or less resolved in good, if expected, form and there really aren’t any needlessly dangling moments or deus ex machina troubles.

Guillen’s also proven that he can write some damned good bad guys.  Though a little more restrained this month, he continues to write a fantastic Dr. Doom.  Guillen has the balance of inferiority complex and arrogance down perfectly, without letting one overpower the other.  Doom never feels overpowered, nor does he feel like a whiny weakling.  He’s Doom.  Pure and simple.  Even when seemingly outdone, the issue also ends with a bit of a cliffhanger that is the specific kind of awesome that only Doom can deliver.

Loki is also as volatile and inconsistent as ever under Guillen’s hand.  At one moment, he’s working in complete cooperation with his fellow Asgardians, being a team player without being sycophantic.  Then, on the turn of a dime, he’s back to his plotting as one of the Marvel Universe’s key unsavory figures.  This night-and-day approach by Guillen is the perfect method for portraying the deceptive trickster’s nature.

Meanwhile, Balder has perhaps his most sobering moment and decision since Thor’s exile.  Guilt-ridden and increasingly conscious of the weight of the crown and, interestingly, his legacy, Balder is more intriguing a character than ever.  Guillen actually made Balder, a character I’ve at times found rather mediocre, compelling.

Finally, though I can’t remember being much of a fan of Billy Tan’s, his work on this arc has been nothing but stellar, and that remains here.  His action scenes are bombastic and loud, as befits an Asgardian comic and his Destroyer looks fantastic.
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