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Journey Into Mystery #630 – Review

By: Kieron Gillen (writer), Richard Elson (artist), Jessica Kholinne of IFS (colors), John Denning (assistant editor), Lauren Sankovitch (editor)

The Story: As the great battle event Fear Itself played across the Marvel Universe, Volstagg seemed to be MIA. Where was he? This issue tells us and gives a bit of emotional perspective on the Fear Itself event from a couple of key participants.

The Review: This issue is half buddy picture (Loki and Volstagg) and half Asgardian Uncle Buck (Volstagg) played by John Candy at his best. Heimdall opens the book saying “Asgard’s greatest weapon, the missing Destroyer, is brought back by its thieves.” Who would do that? Enter Loki and Volstagg, playing the classic fat-guy/skinny-guy dynamic with the secrets they both have to hide after the death of Thor and the end of Fear Itself. The amount of personality in the writing and in the art between these two is awesome. Loki is a natural scene stealer (aren’t most trickster gods?) and his efforts to get Volstagg out of a hole are heroically comic. And streetwise, affable Volstagg gets to be the responsible one of the two and deliver some great emotional moments that readers need to ease out of the Fear Itself event. However powerful that first scene, it is Volstagg’s homecoming which ends up stealing the heart of the issue, with what he tells his children, his wife and himself about what has happened. Multiple reveals. Multiple emotional hits for the reader. Multiple moments of growth for different characters. Good story-telling

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Fear Itself #7 – Review

By: Matt Fraction (writer), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger & Dexter Vines (inks), Laura Martin, Justin Ponsor & Matt Milla (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Lauren Sankovitch (assistant editor) & Tom Brevoort (editor)

The Story: It all ends here with the Serpent taking on the Avengers.

Five Things: 

1. TGIO!  Or Thank Goodness It’s Over!  This was a crappy event because this story just wasn’t robust enough to warrant it’s line-wide treatment.  It didn’t need to take 7 issues to complete over 6 months and it didn’t need ~100 tie-in issues.  The only thing keeping me from being angry at how much of my money went into this event is that I’ve already taken most of the issues to Goodwill.  There were a few high points (The Deep, Hulk v. Dracula, Jeff Parker’s tie-ins on Hulk and Thunderbolts), but mostly this was really unremarkable stuff (and Parker was just making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear).  Part of it is that this gets graded on a curve.  When you tell us the story is an “event”, more is expected.  If this had been a crossover between Invincible Iron Man, Mighty Thor and Avengers (2 issues each) it would have been much better.

2. Really choppy storytelling.  There was a lot of unnecessary bouncing between scenes in this issue and it wasn’t always entirely clear when the switches were taking place.  It just wasn’t clear where this Thor/Serpent battle was taking place relative to the bigger scrum between the Avengers and the Worthy.  Heck, I wasn’t sure who was fighting with the Serpent for most of the issue (“Is that Thor?”).  It was like everyone was in a hurry for this to be over.

3. Death = “Meh…”  Isn’t it amazing that an event that…… SPOILER……  kills both Captain America (or at least a Captain America) and Thor would be a “meh?”  How does that happen?  Well, it happens because death is no big deal in comics any more.  Comic fans are long conditioned that superhero deaths are temporary, but they’ve rarely felt more temporary than they do right now.  All of these characters have been dead before and Marvel is rarely letting them stay dead for any length of time.  The whole point of these folks dying is to see how the universe exists without them, but when you (a) tell all of your stories in a decompressed fashion and (b) bring the dead folks back in a year, we only get to see one 6-issue story before Marvel starts teasing the “return” of the characters.  How can I miss you when you won’t go away?
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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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Avengers #17 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), John Romita, Jr. (pencils), Klaus Janson (inks), Paul Mounts (colors), Cory Petit (letters), Lauren Sankovitch (associate editor) & Tom Brevoort (editor)

The Story: During Fear Itself, the Avengers battle Skade in the wreckage of Avenger’s Tower.

What’s Good: What I’m liking best about these Avenger’s Fear Itself issues is how momentous the battles feel.  I’ll have some other thoughts on this video commentary/documentary-style storytelling technique that Bendis is doing down below, but it does make for a dramatic turn to the comic.  Rather than just jumble up all the action in a big, frenetic scene, Bendis keeps pulling us in and out of the action.  These documentary scenes with the characters talking to the camera about what happened next function a lot like a comma in a sentence or a paragraph break and allow the action to have more impact.  For example, first we see Skade standing there with her hammer with power emanating off her.  Ohhhhh!  Ahhhhh!  And then we cut away to hear how the Avengers felt at the moment.  It is a nice pause for dramatic effect and the battle feel bigger when we rejoin the live action in a few panels.  Anything that adds dramatic peaks and troughs to a comic is a good thing.

And, the Romita/Janson/Mounts team is really doing a nice job with the art.  Even when I look at some of the actual figures and think, “Why do I enjoy this art so much with this blocky style?” I’ll look at what a great storyteller Romita is.  Like these little scenes showing the Avengers lined up on a rooftop and gawking at the action.  It’s just something about the scene composition, the tightness of the shot and the way they’re standing that sells the fact that these superheroes are freaked out and a little unsure of themselves.  A lot of artists would overdo this scene and have all the heroes poised to lunge into action, but this approach is more effective.  The coloring is awesome too.  Paul Mounts really makes this feel like a warzone crackling with supernatural energy and explosions.  Bravo!
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Uncanny X-Men #543 – Review

By: Kieron Gillen (writer), Greg Land (pencils), Jay Leisten (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters), Jordan D. White (assistant editor), Daniel Ketchum (associate editor) & Nick Lowe (editor)

The Story: Fear Itself-bedazzled Juggernaut battles the new champion of Cyttorak.

What’s Good: It was kinda fun to watch Colossus beat down Juggernaut.  There’s gotta be a lot of penned-up frustration in the big Russian from all the beatings he’s endured from Juggernaut’s fists.  Even Greg Land did a pretty nice job of capturing these two behemoths smashing the crap outta each other.  That’s really the one cool thing that happened in this issue and it was cool enough to make up for a lot of the other stuff that was annoying.
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Fear Itself #6 – Review

By: Matt Fraction (writer), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger (inks), Laura Martin (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Lauren Sankovitch (assistant editor) & Tom Brevoort (editor)

The Story: The finish line is in sight as the Avengers rally to take on the Serpent and his minions.

What’s good: Well, at this point, we have to look for silver linings because this “event” hasn’t been very good.  Not atrocious, mind you….but not worthy of having 80+ associated titles and disrupting all the other Marvel ongoings.

But….there is one good thing about this issue and that is the anticipation of what’s next!  Something is going to happen here at the end.  It may not be something you like and it may not be an event where you’ve enjoyed the path to get there, but it will be a happening that impacts the Marvel Universe.  And, isn’t that the whole purpose of the line-wide event?  With mainstream superhero comics, the anticipation is usually better than the actual product anyway.

Thus ends the “search for the silver lining” part of the review.

The art is also pretty good.  It isn’t the best Immonen that we’ve ever seen, but even if he is a little rushed (or bored by the story, perhaps?), this is a very attractive comic book.  And you cannot beat Laura Martin colors.

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Quick-Hit Reviews – Week of August 31, 2011

Quick-Hits has been on “vacation” for awhile, but is back this week as there are a number of comics for which there wasn’t time to do a full review.  Most were pretty good…

Vescell #1 - I didn’t count the pages in this first issue from Image, but it felt like it was ~40 pages and took a long time to read.  And, it was a hell of a lot of fun.  The action revolves around an agent of the Vescell Corporation.  Vescell specializes if transferring the consciousness of a person into a new body, so it’s handy for wives looking to leave husbands, criminals on the run, etc., and this agent is charge of spiriting them away to Vescell’s labs unseen so they can begin their new lives.  That part was kinda cool, but also the fact that this agent has a HOT girlfriend who is stuck in some demon-realm, but can be channeled into the bodies of the living– that was neat too.  And the agent has a tinkerbell like fairy helper/partner who he shoots out of a gun at the bad guys.  Lots of R-rated sexual content too, if that’s your thing.  Very enjoyable.  Can’t wait for the next issue.  Grade: B+

Rocketeer Adventures #4 – Here’s a candidate for miniseries of the year!  This was another strong entry in this series featuring short Rockteer stories told and drawn by some of the best in the business.  This issue features (among others): Dave Gibbons, Tony Harris (wow!), John Arcudi, Brendan McCarthy & Ashley Wood.  These are great fun stories and I wish IDW would keep it rolling because I’ve loved every minute of it.  Grade: B+

The Vault #2 – I usually hate comics that read like movie pitches in comic form, but I don’t care. The Vault is fun stuff.  Even though I don’t think there is much original going on here, I really enjoyed this issue that featured a treasure hunting team that dug up something that should have been left in the ground.  Bad things are happening how!  If you’ve enjoyed Mummy movies or The Thing from Another World, you’ll probably get a kick out of this comic.  And, it’s only 3 issues, so there isn’t much to stop you.  Grade: B

Skull Kickers #10 - This series is just flat fun.  I think we might have learned the names of our dwarf and his hulking buddy, but given who gave us the names, I’m not sure they can be trusted.  The plot in this cycle has to do with our duo running afoul of a bunch of nasty pixies in the best swords and sandals fashion.  The high-point in this issue was when the dwarf got shot with an arrow and is bleeding all over the place (the sounds effects say, “Squirt, Squirt, Squirt”) and he urges his companion to plug the wound with a dead squirrel.  If that sounds like your kind of humor, you should read Skull Kickers.  I really like the art by Edwin Huang too.  Grade: B

Fear Itself: The Deep #3 – Boy have these Fear Itself tie-in series sucked!  But, The Deep has been a bright spot.  This isn’t a groundbreaking issue that changes the universe or anything, but it is well written by Cullen Bunn and nicely drawn by Lee Garbett.  It features characters who I enjoy like Lyra, the Savage She-Hulk and Loa (from the X-Men), but also manages to redeem a few characters I don’t usually like (Dr. Strange, Namor & Silver Surfer) as they battle the Fear Itselfed minions of Attuma.  As I said, most of the Fear Itself miniseries have been shit, but this is worth buying. Grade: B

Last Mortal #4 - This wasn’t bad, but it does warrant a big “meh.”  I guess the black and white art was kinda catchy, but there was never anything about the story that captured or held my interest as we came to the conclusion of this series.  The young loser who can’t die is on a mission to get answers and retribution for the death of his loser buddy.  I think I just don’t want to read stories about losers, perhaps?  Main characters need to be a little more likable than this kid because I just can’t root for a protagonist who is such a waste of skin.   Grade: C

Epoch #1 - Your enjoyment of this is going to depend largely on how much you groove on stories of Biblical angels and demons walking among us.  I really don’t care for that type of story, so it just came off as really pretentious seeing this cop who is realizing that he has powers that he wasn’t previously aware of and that his father, Gabriel (hint, hint), might not be quite the old douchebag he’d thought.  If you like angels and demons, you might like this, but I probably should have read the solicitation text more closely.  Even the art didn’t quite click with me.  It looked like it kinda wanted to be Capullo-like, and I love Capullo, but this just left me cold.  Grade: C-

- Dean Stell

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