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Mara #4 – Review

MARA #4

By: Brian Wood (writer), Ming Doyle (art), Jordie Bellaire (colors) and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: Professional volleyball may be no place for a super-being, but the military is happy to have Mara.

Review (with minor SPOILERS): This issue doesn’t have much zap to it.  After three issues chronicling the downfall of Mara Prince from “Super-Star Volleyball Icon” to “Horrible Cheater!”, this was the issue to show how the military really doesn’t care about fighting fair.  It was a predictable place for the comic to go, but the execution is off and it results in a story that doesn’t ask any interesting questions or cause any passions to be aroused.
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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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A+X #4 – Review

A+X #4

By: Kaare Andrews, Jason Latour (Writers), Kaare Andrews, David López (Artists), Lee Loughridge, Jim Charalampiois (Colorists), Alvard López (Inker), Clayton Cowles (Letterer) 

The Review: I think it’s safe to say that nobody expected A+X to be quite this good. A quick look at the reviews for the last three issues show that nearly every major comic review website (ours included) has been mighty impressed with the consistently high levels of quality and effort found in each episode. In an era of ‘event fatigue’ and dubious reboots, this series’ amiable modus operandi is refreshing: one X-Man teamed with one Avenger. Them’s the rules, and aside from that anything goes.

This issue could be said to embody that freewheeling spirit more than any other so far; it’s leaking crazy like a broken faucet in Arkham Asylum. Ready the sedatives and wheel out the gurney, this patient ain’t going down without a fight:
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Ultimate Comics Ultimates #20 – Review

By: Sam Humphries (Writer), Scot Eaton (Artist), Rick Magyar w/Andrew Hennessey & Dave Meikis (Inkers), Matt Milla w/Andy Troy (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review: If Jeph Loeb hadn’t irrevocably depleted my levels of Ultimate-based rage with the debacle that was Ultimates 3/Ultimatum, I’m pretty sure I’d be tearing this comic to bits with my teeth right now. As it stands, I’ve grown used to the Ultimates occasionally being neglected by Marvel’s quality control department like it was a red-headed stepchild and, as such, Sam Humphries’ run has elicited little more than a ‘meh’ from me most months. This month however, something in me snapped; we Ultimate fans deserve better than this.

Okay, so let’s start with possibly the biggest problem: the art. Since the wonderful Esad Ribic hit the ‘Eject’ button, departing Ultimate Comics Ultimates alongside Jonathan Hickman, the title has largely taken on an uneasy Boy’s Own look which felt totally at odds with the mature themes it was seeking to explore. It’s been difficult to take the Civil War-vibe and political posturing seriously with everything looking so bright, puffy and rounded, and that sense of disparity lingers here like a bad smell. For me, this is one of those Marvel titles which requires its art style to have one foot firmly rooted in the grimy, gritty ‘real’ to be truly effective. Bryan Hitch, Carlos Pacheco, Leinil Yu – who I feel have produced some of most definitive treatments of the Ultimates – all had a knack of conveying that sense of widescreen action that is so key to Mark Millar’s original blueprint. Scott Eaton’s work, much like Luke Ross’ before it, just feels too squeaky clean and fails to imbue enough drama into the scenes of volatile Hydra rebellion which lie at the heart of Humphries’ story.

As for Humphries, he’s certainly trying his best to make things interesting. There’s a double-agent plot, Hydra member melodrama, a shadowy organisation bent on unleashing a team of anti-Ultimates and Thor and Susan Storm investigating the secrets and whereabouts of the Infinity Gems/Gauntlet. That’s a hell of a lot of ground to cover in 20 pages and inevitably some of the spinning plates were destined to take a tumble. Frustratingly, what I found the most interesting element of all was the Thor and Susan Storm vignette, but with space at such a premium 2 pages is all Humphries could afford that story this month – the same is true of the “shadowy organisation” bit.
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Fantastic Four #2 – Review

FANTASTIC FOUR #2

By: Matt Fraction (Writer), Mark Bagley (Artist), Mark Farmer & Mark Morales (Inker), Paul Mounts with Wil Quintana (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review: I made a point in my FF #1 review that, though I felt the comic itself was excellent, I was concerned that its potential audience may be put off by the fact that it seemed like you had to be reading Fantastic Four as well to really get the most of it. I certainly didn’t expect for things to be the other way round, but somehow that’s what we’ve got; if you’ve not read FF #1 or been keeping up with all things Marvel NOW on the Interwebs, Fantastic Four #2 may leave you feeling like you’ve missed something.

First, a recap. Fantastic Four #1 established the premise for the series: Reed, Sue, Ben, Johnny, Franklin and Valeria are set to take a year-long vacation through time and space, ostensibly to spend some quality time together as a family but secretly so that Reed can find a cure for the cancer he’s found to be working its way through his body. However, not wanting to leave the Earth undefended for the four minutes (Earth-time) that they’ll be away, a temporary team had to be put together to take their place, with each member of the group choosing their respective replacements. Take a skip over to FF #1 and you’ll see that team get put together.
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FF #1 Review

FF #1

By: Matt Fraction (Writer), Michael Allred (Artist), Laura Allred (Color Artist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review: Despite its creative pedigree, I still worry about the levels of commercial success this book will find. The Future Foundation is so intrinsically linked to its ‘big brother’ title The Fantastic Four that I guess a lot of people may feel that if you’re not buying the latter, there’s little point in buying the former. After all, this series was originally born out of necessity; Jonathan Hickman had too much story to fit into his Fantastic Four title alone, and now that Matt Fraction has taken over the franchise the same is true. With Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben heading off into Space for (‘relatively’ speaking) a year, someone needed to take their place keeping watch over Earth. This relaunch follows the team formed for that purpose. Their first challenge? Proving that they’ve got what it takes to hold your interest and to make this series a standalone essential.
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A+X #2 Review

A+X #2

By: Chris Bachalo, Peter David (Writer), Chris Bachalo, Mike Del Mundo (Artist), Tim Townsend (Inker), Chris Bachalo (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review: It may come as a surprise that this series – which could so easily have been treated as a last ditch cash grab trading off any residual Avengers vs. X-Men hype – is actually proving pretty indispensable. It’s not so much that the stories contained within will have any lasting ramifications for the heroes they feature, but more that they offer some high-grade levity amidst a stack of comics otherwise geared towards the long game. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with FF #1 this week and was once again left utterly impressed by Thor: God of Thunder, but it’s also nice to have something stand-alone to read that asks for nothing more than the opportunity to brighten up my afternoon. I might have gone in not expecting much, but instead I’ve come up against creative teams that have other ideas. They want to ‘wow’ me for 10 minutes; to get in, drop some popping candy in my brain, and get out. And I’m always open to that.
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