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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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Supercrooks #2 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer), Leinil Yu (artist), Nacho Vigalondo (co-plotter), Gerry Alanguilan (inker), Clayton Cowles (letters) and Sunny Gho (colors)

The Story: The super-villains get the team together to pull a big heist.

Recap/Review (with minor SPOILERS): This comic is pretty entertaining while also a good example of how “there are no new stories.”  You could look at this comic and say, “Sheesh…it’s just a heist story with superpowers.  That’s been done a billion times before!”  Or…you could appreciate that the story is well-paced and the dialogue is pretty well written and that the pictures are pretty.  It isn’t a new story, but the execution is pretty good.

This is your basic “getting the team together” issue.  Continuing the story from issue #1, an old supervillain needs to repay a huge gambling debt and enlists his former proteges to help him out.   Obviously, it wouldn’t be a very fun story if the heist to repay the debt was a 2-man job, so our central characters have to round up a bunch of other villains.  The other villains they round up fill some of the standard slots: weather control, regeneration, etc.  All of this is pretty standard stuff and it’s easy to see the movie pitch that this could lead to (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
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Supercrooks #1 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer), Leinil Yu (art), Nacho Vigalondo (co-plotter), Gerry Alanguilan (inks), Sunny Gho (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters)

A Few Things: 

1. One of Millar’s “movie properties.” – It seems like Millar has two styles for these Millarworld comics.  On one side, you have things like Kick-Ass or Wanted or Nemesis that may be good comics, but are chock full of material that will never be able to go into a movie because Millar is pushing the envelope with over-the-top story elements.  That isn’t to say that those properties can’t be made into movies, but they have to change a bit and lose some of their edginess.  Then on the other side, you have properties like Superior or Supercrooks.  In this case, you can absolutely see this being a movie right now.  Supercrooks contains zero of the material that will make you squirm in your chair: villains made out of evil feces, sisters artificially inseminated by their brother, raped teenage girls, etc.  None of that here.  Millar could just send this to a movie studio “as is” and begin production.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I’m not a big fan of seeing failed movie pitches getting turned into comics (because they usually failed for a reason), but I’ve got no problem with a creator keeping an eye on both markets, especially when one is WAY more lucrative than the other.

2. Crime + Superpowers. - With both this series and the recently finished Superior (by the same creative team), Millar has taken a very basic and time-tested story and poured superpowers over the top.  Superior was a take on a faustian bargain.  Supercrooks is just a crime/mob story that asks the question, why commit crimes in New York City when that’s where all the superheroes are?  But, mixed into that idea is a story of a guy who gets caught ripping off a casino and is told that if he cannot come up with a huge amount of money, he’ll be a dead man.  How many times have we seen that story before?  It’s Tony Soprano telling the hardware store owner to pay up!  Mind you, derivative story isn’t necessarily a bad thing!  How many people will go to see “The Hunger Games” this weekend or have already read the books?  THAT isn’t a new story; there are NO new stories.  What makes a story special is how well the creators execute on them!  And here, Millar puts in very strong work in this #1 issue.  It is well-written and well-paced; I like the criminal characters and want them to “win,” and more than anything I want to see what happens next.
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Superior #7 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer), Leinil Yu (pencils), Gerry Alanguilan (inks), Sunny Gho (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Nicole Boose (editor)

The Story: Will Simon/Superior make a deal with the devil to save Earth.

Four Things:

1. Has a popcorn-y summer movie feel. – I can totally see this being a summer movie and I’m sure Millar has either already signed with a producer or is hard at work securing such a deal.  That’s not a bad thing because this could be a lot of fun to see on the big screen.  The story is linear, doesn’t ask too much of the reader and has a happy ending.  This comic could be adapted without too much fuss.  Yay!

2. Great linework. – For me, the real star of this series has been the Yu/Alanguilan art team.  Even if the art is a much more realistic than I like, I can still appreciate what’s going on here.  The hard thing with realism is that you have to nail it and that takes special artists to not give us faces that fall apart when you stare at them for too long.  Yu and Alanguilan are up the challenge.  They also do a pretty good job of capturing the super-powered action, which is (again) hard for realistic artists to pull off (for the same reason a photograph almost never has the vitality of the real thing).  My only fear when I see a comic like this is that they’re inspiring other young artists….who are far less talented….to draw like them because this is NOT a style that looks good when it isn’t done well.
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Fantastic Four #600 – Review

By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ming Doyle, Leinil Francis Yu & Farel Dalrymple (line art), Paul Mounts, Andy Troy, Jordie Bellaire, Javier Tartaglia & Jose Villarrubia (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters), Lauren Sankovitch & Tom Brevoort (editor) 

The Story: Marvel gives their first family a 100-page, $7.99 extravaganza featuring lots of cosmic action and the return of a familiar face…

Five Things:  [SPOILER WARNING]

1. ________ is back!  I purposely omitted the name because it seems kinda douchey to give a SPOILER WARNING and then put Johnny Storm’s name in bold right below.  But, he’s back!  And, he’s back in a new and improved way after his time in the Negative Zone.  This is really no surprise and given the Marvel often brings characters back a month after they “die” (Bucky) it is probably a huge show of restraint that they let Johnny be presumed dead for ~9 whole months.  If you’re a Marvel hater, you could work up a lot of rage about the cheap ploy of killing someone (but not really) and then milking that death in press releases before the death, releasing a ploy-bagged issue on Tuesday and then having special issues honoring Johnny in the immediate aftermath.  But….I’m glad to have him back, especially in the way that Hickman handles his return.  Speaking of that……

2. We learn about _______’s experiences in the Negative Zone.  I mostly loved this section where we learned that Johnny wasn’t really dead.  He was just held captive by Annihilus and forced to fight in gladiator matches alongside some Universal Inhumans and where he has died multiple times only to be restored by that nasty Annihilus.  The whole thing was really nicely done.  It showed Johnny’s pain at being there, his unwillingness to give up, the fact that Annihilus has his number, etc.  Really good stuff.  The only quibble I have is that the story added 2 pages to the moments before Johnny’s “death” with him talking to Ben Grim through the closed portal.  The original “death” was soooo nicely done with Ben feeling grief stricken, Johnny being brave, etc., so this added scene just cheapened it.

3. Kree, Inhumans, Annihilus, other Inhumans…..  I have to admit that this part of the plot is getting away from me.  While I’m actually reading it, I think it’s cool, but then when I sit down to type a review a whole 6 hours later….I really can’t remember many of the details and that tells you the story is too complex because none of it is sticking.  I actually blame the artists for this.  Comics are a visual medium and none of the artists who’ve worked on FF the last few months have nailed a scene from this complex plot such that it’s burned into your brain.
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Superior #6 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer), Leinil Yu (pencils), Gerry Alanguilan (inks), Javier Tartaglia (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Nicole Boose (editor)

The Story: Now that we know the origin of the power that turned a little boy into Superior, we have to see what evil this Faustian bargain will bring.

Five things: 

1).  A well told story, even if it is a little predictable.  If you follow Mark Millar at all online, you see that most comments about him relate to the way he hypes his projects or how he often has movie deals lined up before the comic miniseries is finished.  It’s hard to imagine what’s so objectionable about a guy marketing his creator-owned material or a guy taking a movie studio’s money when they offer it to him (especially because I’m sure it puts money in the artists’ pockets too), but for some reason Millar’s behavior drives some fans to distraction.  That distraction is unfortunate because Millar really does write well.  There’s nothing too ground-breaking about the story in Superior, but the script is well-written and both this issue and series have hit all the appropriate dramatic beats at just the right time.  It’s easy to take professional story-telling for granted, but then you read a hot mess like Fear Itself and realize that this stuff is harder than it looks.

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Fear Itself: Hulk vs. Dracula #3 – Review

By: Victor Gischler (writer), Ryan Stegman (pencils), Mike Babinski & Rick Magyar (inks), Frank Martin & Antonio Fabela (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters), Jake Thomas (assistant editor) & Mark Paniccia (editor)

The Story: The Fear Itself version of the Hulk is running loose in Dracula’s countryside.  Will the vampires be able to stop him?

What’s Good: If you’ve been following Gischler’s vampire-related stories over the last year or so, you know that he’s been building a bit of a vampire mythology.  Instead of just having Dracula and a bunch of nameless vampire underlings, he’s created a web of political intrigue having to do with Dracula’s extended family and all these different breeds and sects of vampires.  Dracula is King of the Mountain, but he has to control and direct all of these forces and they’ve all got different skills and political goals.  This miniseries also introduced what is basically a vampire superhero team called the Forgiven.  The Forgiven have the customary blend of power sets and are a neat concept as they don’t have an allegiance to any of the vampire sects, so they should be free to leave vampire-land and have adventures with the rest of the Marvel Universe.  Hopefully we’ll be seeing Gischler or other creators telling more Forgiven stories in the near future.

In fact, the Forgiven is probably what puts this miniseries over the top.  Most of the Fear Itself tie-ins where just complete crap because the stories just ran in a circle.  Hulk vs. Dracula actually brought us something new and that is what we’re hoping for when we read superhero comics.  The only other mini that did anything “new” was The Deep, which kicked off the formation of the new Defenders team.  If you didn’t catch this miniseries in single issues, maybe you’ll get lucky and The Deep and Hulk v. Dracula will get paired up in a trade paperback without making you read some of the really bad miniseries.
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Kick-Ass 2 #4 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer/creator), John Romita, Jr. (breakdowns/creator), Tom Palmer (finishes), Dean White & Michael Kelleher (colors), Chris Eliopoulos & Clayton Cowles (letters) & Aubrey Sitterson (editor)

The Story: Following the wicked crimes from the previous issue, Red Mist and his crew to continue run amok.

Review: This was a tough comic to read for some reasons that I’ll get into in the spoiler section.  It’s hard to say that it’s “terrible” due to the content because Mark Millar isn’t trying to write Watchmen here, nor is he trying to make it superhero funtime like Amazing Spider-Man.  He’s trying to punch you in the guts and get a reaction.  And he understands that comic readers and consumers of popular culture have been exposed to so much, that we’re just immune to normal mayhem.  He’s writing this comic to get a rise out of people like me, who just kinda shrug off beheadings, damsels in distress and big bombs blowing up piles of civilians.  *Yawn* Seen it before… Bring me something new.

So from that standpoint, Millar and Romita are very successful with this series and this issue in particular.  But, that doesn’t mean it was a fun comic to read.  This comic is kind of a train wreck, where you can’t take your eyes away because you know that something else shocking is going to happen next and you kinda want to see what it is.

From a technical standpoint, this comic hums along.  In fact, that’s why the shocking scenes are so shocking; they’re so well done.  The dialog flows smoothly and the storytelling is just impeccable even if it is a little shocking to see Mr. Marvel – John Romita, Jr. – drawing this kind of screwed up content.
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Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt #2 – Review

By: Sean McKeever (writer), Mike Norton (art), Veronica Gandini (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Lauren Sankovitch (editor)

The Story: The young Initiative characters are still being pressed into action during Fear Itself and Thor Girl is asked to “take one for the team”.

What’s Good: Young heroes are hard to introduce partially because it’s hard to find good stuff for them to do.  During a “normal” time in the Marvel Universe, there are usually at least several major threats to the Earth/universe and the A-list heroes tackle those threats.  It’s a problem I’ve always had with characters like the New Mutants: If the threat is HUGE, it seems like something the X-Men-proper should handle, but if the threat is small, I don’t feel like I need to spend money to watch B-list heroes tackle B-list problems.  It’s a Catch 22.

Enter Fear Itself!  With a mega-event like FI, it makes all kinds of sense that the kiddie heroes and B-listers would get drafted into action out of necessity.  If escaped criminals from the Raft are rampaging in my town I’d want Thor to show up, but I’d rather have Frog-Man than nothing.  That’s basically the set up for Youth in Revolt.  As in the first issue, the mere presence of these kids drives home what a nasty situation FI is and we get to see some non-traditional heroes doing their best and being heroic.  In some ways, they’re almost more heroic because they aren’t as tough.  At one point, the kids end up in battle with a semi-major villain.  Thor or Red Hulk or Iron Man would just destroy the guy, but these kids are legitimately threatened by this villain and you can really respect their actions all the more because of it.  With any luck, one or two of these characters will be compelling enough that they might end up in some other Marvel books after FI.  Others (like Frogman) will go back on the shelf until the next event.
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Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt #1 – Review

By: Sean McKeever (writer), Mike Norton (art), Veronica Gandini (c0lors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Lauren Sankovitch (editor)

The Story: Even when you have THREE teams of Avengers, they can’t handle everything.  When FEAR ITSELF strikes on a global scale, the need arises to call in some C-listers to help out!

What’s Good: Even though I “liked but didn’t love” FEAR ITSELF #1 and #2, I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that my OCD nature will force me to read the entire event.  One of the big things FEAR ITSELF is pitching is that this is a global catastrophe, but that just didn’t sink in during those first couple issues.  Sure, there was action happening under the ocean and whatever rainforest Hulk was hanging out in when the hammer fell from the sky….and of course, TWO hammers fell in NYC.  But, everything still felt pretty contained as if folks living in Atlanta were still going about their daily lives, playing Farmville, grocery shopping, etc.

What made this issue kinda neat is that it really drove home the point that FEAR ITSELF is a big deal.  Anytime you’ve got Steve Rogers asking a batch of C-listers for help maintaining the order, you know events are dire indeed.  Maybe that sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t meant as such.  As comic readers we are desensitized to seeing Thor, Hulk, Cap, etc. facing off against global devastation because it happens almost monthly somewhere in the Marvel Universe.  But, what doesn’t happen every month is that the problem is so BIG that civilization needs the help of Prodigy, Gravity, Stunt-Master, Thor Girl, Ultragirl, Red Nine, Firestar, Komodo, Cloud 9 and a bunch of other folks from the Initiative days.
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Annihilators #3 – Review

By: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (writers), Tan Eng Huat (pencils), Victor Olazaba (inks), June Chung (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters), John Denning (assistant editor) & Bill Rosemann (editor)

Rocket-Raccoon story by: Abnett & Lanning (writers), Timothy Green, II (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Denning & Rosemann (editors)

The Story: We finally see the Dire Wraiths again as the Annihilators journey into Limbo itself.  Meanwhile, Rocket Raccoon is dealing with an odd conspiracy having to do with other intelligent animals and killer clowns.

What’s Good: The art is fairly good throughout.  The star is Green’s art in the Rocket Raccoon story which is very cartoony and where he is drawing all kinds of crazy stuff like killer clowns, a space walrus, a cyborg rabbit, a weasel who is Rocket’s old flame and even a raccoon skeleton (when Rocket goes through an X-Ray).  Green’s layouts are bold and imaginative and the coloring by Nathan Fairbairn pops off the page.  Definitely keep an eye out for Green in the future.

In the “main” Annihilators story, the art team of Tan Eng Huat and Victor Olazaba does a pretty nice job too.  It is a fairly hectic issue with the Annihilators battling the Wraith Queen before journeying into Limbo itself and they manage to keep the story very coherent.  This would have been a pretty easy issue for the artists to lose their handle on the story, but that never happened.

What’s Not So Good: I love me some 70′s and 80′s comics, so I don’t mind exposition, but this issue is very exposition heavy and it doesn’t help that it is double sized (20 pages for Annihilators & 22 pages for Rocket Raccoon).  Some people like to talk about how you “got your money’s worth” for the $4.99 price tag, but I’ve never considered the time required to read a comic to equal “value”; I’m more interested in whether I enjoyed the story and found it memorable.  Probably either one of these stories could have been exposition heavy, and it would have worked IF the other story was quick and jaunty.  But, with both are really drawn out and ponderous, it gets to be a little painful to read.  I tend to blame editorial for this, as I’m fairly sure the original plan was for these to both be separate miniseries before Marvel bolted them together into a single $4.99 miniseries.  It probably would have helped story pacing to lengthen/shorten one of these stories in previous issues such that ALL the exposition wasn’t in issue #3.
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Amazing Spider-Man Annual #38 – Review

By: John Layman (writer), Lee Garbett (pencils), Mark Pennington (inks), Fabio D’Auria (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters), Ellie Pyle (assistant editor), Alejandro Arbona (associate editor) & Stephen Wacker (editor)

The Story: It’s alternate universe time as Spidey (and Deadpool and Hulk) are sucked into an alternate universe.

What’s Good: This is just a fun alternate universe story with the basic premise being that our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man gets pulled into an alternate reality via an accident at his new job at Horizon Labs.  As with any alternate universe story, the fun lies in seeing what’s the same and what’s different as compared to our world.

We learn much of this through the eyes our Peter Parker as he is forced to fill in for his counterpart as The Spider.  The big difference we find is that The Spider is THE superhero of NYC and is beloved by everyone.  As good as Peter’s life is in our reality, he has in WAY better in this other world (including having the companionship of a people who are dead in our reality).  Hmm… Maybe he should just stay there???   Of course, there will end up being a few tiny little problems with this world and you’ll have to discover those yourself, but the plot twist at the end is pretty neat.

Not a whole lot of Deadpool and Hulk action in this issue.  Surely their stories will be front-and-center in their respective annuals.
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Annihilators #1 – Review

By: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (writers), Tan Eng Huat (pencils), Victor Olazaba (inks), June Chung (colors), Joe Caramanga (letters), John Denning (assistant editor) & Bill Rosemann (editor)

Rocket Raccoon/Groot by: Abnett & Lanning (writers), Timothy Green, II (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters), Rachel Pinnelas & Denning (assistant editors) & Rosemann (editor)

The Story: Quasar, Ronan, Gladiator, Beta Ray Bill, Silver Surfer & a Spaceknight (yes…a Spaceknight) team up to keep the Universe safe.  And….we catch up with everyone’s favorite spunky sentient Raccoon.

What’s Good: The mere premise of this book is kinda “Avengers in space”.  And it isn’t some weak team of heroes either.  Abnett & Lanning (DnA) have basically gathered together the most powerful cosmic beings in the Marvel U. on the premise that the Guardians of the Galaxy were a good concept, but simply not powerful enough to stop the truly massive threats.

There is a lot of “team’s first meeting” in this issue, but the real highlight for me is that one member of the Annihilators is an honest-to-goodness Galadorian Spaceknight.  Alas, it is not our favorite silvery Spaceknight hero from the early 1980′s: ROM.  ROM is still stuck in the trademark penalty box between Marvel and Parker Brothers, but the story of the Spaceknights and their mortal enemies, the Dire Wraiths, is a good one and worth exploring in the Marvel U.  Granted, Marvel has never completely abandoned the Spaceknight concept (there was a miniseries ~2000), but it is always good to have them back.

It was also a fun to catch up with Rocket Raccoon in a truly zany tale that shows Rocky in his post-Guardians phase pushing a mail-cart through a prairie dog warren of cubicles for some faceless cosmic corporation.  Sigh…he hates his job, it’s boring, his boss is a prick and then he get’s attacked by a very strange killer clown which causes him to want to track down his old buddy, Groot.  Fun abounds.

This is also a beefy issue.  So, we’re getting 38 pages of comics for your $4.99.

The art is very solid throughout.  Huat’s designs and layouts interpret the story very effectively and I really like Olazaba’s inks.  He shows a real commitment to shading with very fine lines and it gives the comics a very throwback feel.  Green’s art in the Rocket Raccoon story is much more comical and that not only fits the silly nature of the story, but it is usually a good choice with Rocky.  It is really hard to draw a “realistic” bipedal raccoon and not have it look like a monkey.
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Superior #4 – Review

 

By: Mark Millar (writer/creator), Leinil Yu (pencils/creator), Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz & Jeff Huet (inks), Sunny Gho & Javier Tartaglia (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Cory Levine (editor)

The Story: The cute reporter gets into the Superior game and the big bad villain is revealed (kinda).

What’s Good: I’ve enjoyed Superior and this is issue 4 out of 6, so it is naturally going to be a transitional issue.  If you understand that going in, you’ll be fine with the story as Millar and Yu are mostly moving the pieces around so that they can wrap up the story.  It is enlightening to see who and what the creators think are important.  There is a huge focus on the reporter, Maddie, who goes to great lengths to finally meet Superior.  But, I was a little surprised that our focus also drifted towards Simon/Superior’s parents and the actor who played Superior in the movies.  I honestly don’t know what role those folks are going to play, but I’m sure that Millar has something up his sleeve.

One very cool moment in this issue revolved around a role reversal between Simon/Superior and his buddy Chris.  If you remember back to the first issue of the series, Chris was the ONLY friend who stuck by Simon when he was wheelchair bound by disease and actively took up for Simon when the other kids teased him.  Here we get to see Simon/Superior return the favor when Chris runs into the neighborhood bullies.  One thing that I love about Simon/Superior is that he is super NICE.  Most stories where a young person gets power/fame/money have an obligatory portion of the story where they crap all over their friends and fall in with a bad crowd.  Sooooo glad that we aren’t forced to see that, but Millar is too good of a storyteller to go down that path.

And, the kinda shocking part of this issue happens right at the end when the space monkey shows back up.  Last issue there was an allusion that Simon may have unwittingly made a Faustian bargain to get his powers.  Here the monkey makes an offer to the head bully and it just reinforces that notion.  Of course, in true Millar fashion, he doesn’t beat around the bush by calling the source of power some vague “supreme evil” or anything like that.  He just goes for the “S”-word and in so doing will get his comic banned from Sunday School.  That’s kinda what I love about Millar: He is willing to push the envelope in his stories.  It doesn’t always work, but you don’t do new and exciting things by playing it safe.

The art is mostly a plus for me.  I love Yu’s layouts.  He always manages to put the viewer’s eye right where they need to be to appreciate that scene.  That’s really a gift that you appreciate when you see other comics doing it wrong.  Put this skill in the category of “harder than it looks” and “underappreciated”.  There are also huge kudos for the design of Superior himself.  I love that he’s drawn as a big, muscular dude who is wearing a uniform versus a nude man without genitals who just has a costume added by the colorist.  It’s also more work to do it that way because I’m sure that the rough layout had a basic human form onto which the costume is drawn.
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Wolverine & Jubilee #1 – Review

By: Kathryn Immonen (writer), Phil Noto (art), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Jeanine Schaefer (editor)

The Story: Jubilee is now a vampire.  How will the X-Men deal with her?

What’s Good: There are a lot of good things about this comic.  From a story standpoint, it has the feel of a story that “matters” to the character of Jubilee and (to a lesser extent) the other X-Men.  That’s no small thing in today’s era of highly disposable 6-issue story arcs that reference very little from the past and will be referenced by very few stories in the future.  Too often Big 2 superhero comics tell stories that are just chasing their own tails, so it is nice to see some real character changes and progression for someone like Jubilee as she and the X-Men struggle with how to manager her new status as a vampire.

I also really enjoy the dynamic that Wolverine has with any young female character because these situations allow him to showcase his fatherly (or at least avuncular) nature.  When Wolverine is alone or hanging out with the Avengers, he gets grumpy pretty fast, so I really treasure his relationships with Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Armor (who makes a rare appearance in this issue) and Jubilee.  He’s just more interesting as a character when his sensitive side is on display.

But, what is most interesting is Jubilee herself as she deals with the compulsions she feels now that she is a vampire.  It seems pretty clear that there is no “cure” for her condition, but this will allow all sorts of interesting stuff to be done with her as a character, especially as Marvel seems to be really dusting off the vampire corner of their publication history.  One thing I HOPE that Immonen explores is Jubilee’s new immortal nature.  A thing that makes Wolverine such an odd guy in the Marvel U is that he is basically immortal, so he’s going to outlive all of the current heroes.  Perhaps now that Jubilee is immortal too, Wolverine can at least have a pal?

Of course, no discussion of this comic would be complete without saying some nice things about Phil Noto’s art.  Noto is an accomplished painter and I honestly can’t tell if this art is painted or not.  I tend to think it is a mix of painted art and art that he has colored digitally, but he brings a painter’s perspective to all of his colors and linework.  You can really see this shine though (no pun intended) in a sunset scene.  Most colorists wouldn’t capture this scene as well as Noto does.  This painter’s sensibility also is on display in the women’s hair that is so subtly shaded and contoured.  Ironically, he can’t really show his stuff as much on Jubilee’s dark hair but Emma and Pixie look GREAT.  And, Noto also does some of the best eyes that you’re going to see in comics.  Really glad that Immonen wrote Emma into the script so that Noto could use his retro style to draw her so nicely.  There are pages in this comic that are just a feast for the eyes.
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Carnage #2 – Review

By: Zeb Wells (writer), Clayton Crain (art & colors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Stephen Wacker (editor)

The Story: We learn how the Carnage symbiote returned to Earth and what plans a nefarious corporation has for it.

What’s Good: Pretty fun story.  A SPOILER warning is probably in order….and….I like how Wells brings the Carnage symbiote back to Earth in the hands of a corporation that is planning on using the symbiote to create prostheses and super-powered suits.  It’s clever and doesn’t run over the top of any other story that Marvel is telling and even though it does star Spidey and Iron Man, it avoids major “I-can’t-buy-this” continuity problems by keeping the action in NYC.  Well done!

Wells even shows some knowledge of how corporations function with their legal agreements and how they protect their intellectual property.  I usually don’t like to drag my personal fan baggage into a review, but in this case it is worth pointing out that I LOVE this aspect of the story because it happens to be very close to my own professional career.  He’s got a few tidbits wrong (e.g. contracts are governed by state law, not federal law), but it is a gleeful personal delight to see a comic book delve into my boring workday and inject superheroes!  I only wish that I could run into Spider-Man during my next technology licensing deal, but I digress… :)

Clearly the end result of this story is going to be a new host for the Carnage symbiote.  We may be getting some answers to that in this issue, but I have a pretty strong feeling that we haven’t seen the final answer about who will be in the suit at the end of the day.

It is no surprise that Wells has a good grasp on writing Spider-Man since he was a member of the rotating group of Spidey-writers that only recently ended (writing the EXCELLENT Shed story arc, btw), but he also writes a very good Tony Stark who sounds just like the guy Bendis is writing over in Avengers.

Clayton Crain’s art is one-of-a-kind.  When you open a comic by Crain, you are not going to confuse it with anything else you might see.  I’ve been pretty hard on his art in the past, but I actually like most of his work in this issue.  He uses very dramatic layouts to frame the story and he is no slave to traditional, rectangular panels.  I also like how he has a very clear sense of where he wants your eyes to linger on a page.  He is just a very experienced and professional artist.  Even on a few of the panels that may not be to my personal taste, he is “going for it” and that’s something I always tip my hat to.
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Nemesis #4 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer/creator), Steve McNiven (art/creator), Dave McCaig (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Nick Lowe (editor)

The Story: The final confrontation between DC police chief Morrow and cop-killer Nemesis.

What’s Good: Ummm… it sets up nicely for a sequel?  It does finally let the reader in on what the story is/was, but it’s a little annoying to have the twist right at the end.

A lot of McNiven’s art is quite good.  I still really enjoy the character design of Nemesis himself.  We don’t see a lot of white in comic books and it is a really powerful color.  In a lot of ways, white reminds me of vibrant red hair that some artists put on female characters.  Colorist Val Staples was kinda enough to enlighten me that part of the reason why white (or red) is so powerful is that we just don’t see it in nature.  We see a lot of off-white, but very little WHITE, so it really catches our eyes when we see it.  Gotta wonder how he keeps it clean though.

What’s Not So Good: Honestly, this issue was a huge anti-climax.  Last issue had a hugely bloody scene where Nemesis just destroys a squad of corrections officers with his bare hands.  It may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but you read it and said, “Whoa!  They’re not pulling any punches!”  Then you saw that when Nemesis kidnapped cop Morrow’s teenage kids, he artificially inseminated his daughter with his son’s seed and said, “Double Whoa!  Really not pulling any punches!” [Note: Although you do know that Millar toyed at least briefly with the idea of having the daughter get pregnant the old fashioned way and decided that was too icky.]

So, it was a huge disappointment that this issue didn’t have anything anywhere nearly that daring.  Morrow is given a kind of Sophie’s Choice moment, but that plays out pretty predictably and isn’t as shocking as what happened last issue.  And, then, I just wasn’t happy with the ending at all.  I won’t spoil it, but after building up Nemesis as a really cool villian, the ending turns this entire series into a long #0 issue that is just prologue to a longer story.  There is promise for the future, but I feel a little used buying 4 issues to get to this point.
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Superior #3 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer/creator), Leinil Yu (penciler/creator), Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz & Jeff Huet (inkers), Sunny Gho & Javier Tartaglia (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters) & Cory Levine (editor)

The Story: Now that Simon Pooni has been transformed into Superior and kinda gotten a hold of his powers, it’s time for him to start getting into some heroic action.

What’s Good: This comic really has a big heart and I think it accurately depicts what would happen if a ~11 year old paraplegic boy suddenly did get super powers: He wouldn’t immediately just start proclaiming himself as Superior, puff out his chest and save the day while stopping to pose for the cameras.  He’d probably fix things and then hide from the resultant attention out of fear that he’d possibly done something wrong or that his parents would find out.  So, as we go though this issue, which is really an exploration of Simon’s coming to grips with his ability to save lives, it was a neat choice by Millar to not have it readily apparent how the space station was saved except for some blurry images on camera phones and the random eyewitness report.  I really enjoyed this approach much more than if Simon had posed at the scene of his heroic act and announced himself because it emphasizes that this is really a little boy in a superhero’s body.

Of course, this cannot simply be a comic about a little boy becoming a superhero…  There must be some conflict and drama!  For that we return to the mysterious Space Monkey who granted Simon’s wish to become Superior in the first place.  I don’t want to give away the very cool twist on the final page, but it looks like Simon might have gotten himself into a bigger situation than he originally bargained for.  Can’t wait to see how that shakes out.

The art in this issue is pretty strong.  One of the things I like about Yu’s pencils is that he draws Superior as a guy wearing a tight uniform as opposed to drawing a nude man who happens to get colored red later.  Superior still has bulgy muscles that show off anatomy, but he also has fabric bunching in all the right places.  Nice to see a little more realism in that regard that we usually do.  Yu also has a couple of scenes that allow him to just go crazy drawing architecture, space stations, submarines, etc.  Some of this looks like it might have been sampled from photos, but I don’t really care.  It is just nice to see an artist show commitment to excellent art extending beyond the main characters in the scene (although sometimes the “main character” is a submarine).  I’m unsure what Yu’s background is, but this is always something you see from artists who were trained as professional illustrators and it is sometimes missing in comics.
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X-Men #6 – Review

By: Victor Gischler (writer), Paco Medina (pencils), Juan Vlasco (inks), Marte Gracia (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters)  & Axel Alonso (editor)

The Story: An aftermath of sorts to the battle between the X-Men and the vampires.

What’s Good: Lots of good Cyclops stuff in this issue.  One of the biggest changes from the X-Men of my youth is the transformation of Cyclops from nerdy, goodie-two-shoes to a much more interesting character.  Of course, he didn’t make that transformation just in this story arc in X-Men, but it is clear the Gischler “gets” the new Cyclops and enjoys writing him.  In some ways, Cyclops is almost becoming like Batman in that he’s planned for everything and nowhere is that more apparent than in his showdown with Dracula towards the climax of this issue.

I also really like what Gischler has done with Jubilee.  If you pay attention to solicits of future issues, you know that there is going to be a Wolverine and Jubilee miniseries.  One of the sad things about Wolverine is that he is somewhat immortal and will outlive all his friends from the X-Men.  He’s always had a special relationship with Jubilee and now that she’s an immortal Vampire, perhaps he has a friend to hang out with.   Hopefully this will be explored in the miniseries.
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