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Ghost Rider #1 – Review

by Rob Williams (writer), Matthew Clark (pencils), Sean Parsons (inks), Robert Schwagner (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: A new Ghost Rider rides into Dayton, Ohio to confront Sin.

What’s Good:  There are definitely some good ideas, here.   While I’m sure Blaze and Ketch enthusiasts won’t be wild about it, I love the fact that Williams and Marvel and trying to do something completely different in giving us a female Ghost Rider.  It’s a dramatic move and, honestly, who doesn’t love kick-ass female characters?  More than that, though, is the fact that from the little we know of her, this character, “Alejandra,” seems to be a kind of warrior, trained by some underground cult/sect.  It’s a total 180 from the rock star or country badass type we’ve gotten before, and there’s an unexpected proficiency and confidence on Alejandra’s part.  Frankly, this sudden shift is enough to get me to want to check out the next issue.  There’s tons of potential and I’d really like to get to know Alejandra.

Then there’s the cliffhanger, which is a really, really great one and a fantastic development.  Suffice it to say, depowered or not, Blaze will have a big part in this comic and the character who shows up on the final page is one that always brings the fun to any comic, particularly one like this.
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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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Invincible Iron Man #505 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (art), Frank D’Armata (colors, and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: “Paris is a nightmare.  It’s…it’s biblical, Pep.”

The Review:  A lot of comic readers resent event tie-in issues.  I think a large part of this often-merited resentment has to do with the fact that they often derail a writer from telling the stories he/she was telling up to that point.  The end result is a bunch of issues that often come at an awkwardly timed moment and feel like a multi-month digression.  The fact that with this issue, Matt Fraction manages to acknowledge and, in some respects, even resolve past plot elements is cause for goodwill from Invincible Iron Man readers and also leads to a comic experience that feels more natural and organic.

The haunting locale of Paris is a bit more in the background this month; while it’s still very hauntingly and noticeably empty, it’s firmly in the backseat to all the giant-sized action.  For what it’s worth, this is Iron Man-styled action that readers expect from an Iron Man book.  That is, Iron Man battling big, powerful foes and taking a whole bunch of punishment.  It’s a lot of fun to read and Salvador Larroca acquits himself quite well.

The real treat, however, comes in a surprise appearance by a character from earlier issues in Fraction’s run.  It’s no throwaway cameo either.  Rather, it’s a highly entertaining shocker and one that ultimately ties up something of a lose end that Fraction’s left behind.  It’s a wonderful moment, as Fraction ends up giving us an event tie-in issue that doesn’t just throw his main cast into the environs of Fear Itself, but also the series itself with some its past baggage.  You’d think more writers would understand this:  a series tie-in is meant to bring a series into an event, not just a few characters.  Ultimately, this was really cool.
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Avengers #14 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), John Romita Jr. (pencils), Klaus Janson (inks), Dean White (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: “The Red Hulk…proved himself an Avenger.”

The Review:  As far as issue structure goes, this is a bit of a weird one.  We start out with the same talking heads format that found such success last month, then we end up with a near wordless action scene.  Bendis seems to be attempting to flirt with both of these formats, and it feels a little haphazard.

Which is a shame, because taken on their own merits, both sides are pretty solid.  The talking heads continues to bring an intimacy and humanity to the superhero community, which serve to highlight the gravity and devastation of the events of Fear Itself.  The action scenes are pretty damned awesome as well, as you’d expect a Thing-on-Steroids vs. Red Hulk battle to be.  More than that, Bendis manages to convey Red Hulk’s heroism through his actions alone and there is emotion attached to a battle that is, by and large, a regular old megapowered throwdown.

A major event of destruction happens this issue as well.  I can’t say much more than that, but suffice it to say that I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, Romita’s grand artwork and Bendis’ tone sells this particular catastrophe well in both its scale and importance.  It again hammers home just how bad things are right now amidst the madness of Fear Itself.  On the other hand, it also feels kind of familiar.  Granted, this exact event hasn’t happened before to my knowledge, but we’ve come pretty close before and seen similar things happen.

I was also not a fan of “evil Ben’s” dialogue.  Bendis seems to, for reasons unknown, set Ben apart from most of the rest of his Worthy brethren.  He doesn’t speak that incomprehensible Asgardian monster language and, in fact, not only does he speak only English, he speaks colloquially.  In other words, he’s just evil Ben, which is a bit lame and completely at odds with what other writers have been doing, including Matt Fraction himself.
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Fear Itself: Deadpool #1 – Review

By: Christopher Hastings (writer), Bong Dazo (pencils), Joe Pimentel (inks), Matt Milla (colors), Simon Bowland (letters), Jordan D. White (editor)

The Story: Mercenaries make money in any crisis, so why should Fear Itself be any different?  And what would happen if Deadpool were one of The Worthy?

The Review: Deadpool makes a great home for all those silly, tongue-in-cheek concepts that come boiling out of their creative summits that could never see the light of day in a “serious” Marvel comic book.  Nothing in a Deadpool comic book is every going to matter in the bigger scheme of things, but that’s okay because the reader knows that going in.
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Journey into Mystery #624 – Review

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

The Story: “Have fun!  Don’t get killed!  I’ll be back soon!”

The Review:  It’s one thing for a series to be capable of putting out awesome issues, but it’s another thing entirely for it to be consistent, and now, in it’s third issue, that’s exactly what Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery is proving itself to be.  Nothing that made the first issue so fresh and generally fantastic has been lost and, in fact, most of what I praised the last two issues for can be applied just as aptly to this month’s work.

Once again, the heart and soul of this series is kid Loki, upon whom Gillen anchors the issue with a near unwavering focus.  That’s a good idea given that kid Loki remains an absolutely charming character who also proves to be one of a kind.  Loki’s voice is incredibly unique; writers often are guilty of writing kids unrealistically, making them too smart-mouthed, witty, or otherwise super-capable.  With Kid Loki, Gillen gets the rare opportunity to get away with this and, in fact, profit from it.  Kid Loki has the innocence and excitement of any child protagonist of a fantasy yarn, but he also has the roguish intelligence and humor of the god of mischief.  Indeed, there’s a constant sense that Loki’s gears are constantly turning and that intellectually, everyone else is two steps behind him.  He’s a bloody smart kid and it’s impossible not to love him for it.  He’s also still capable of creating laughs, particular with the chemistry he shares with his grumpy and generally evil Hel-Wolf companion.

Gillen also gets the chance to write Mephisto again, which he did so wonderfully in his run on Thor.  The big red dude is perfectly slimy and devious and seeing he and Loki chat is a real treat, one that I could’ve read for pages upon pages.  It’s fantastic stuff.  Better still is how kid Loki manages to play Mephisto and Hela off one another, using these two mega-powers as, essentially, pawns.  It’s great fun to read.
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Fear Itself: Spider-Man #2 – Review

By: Chris Yost (writer), Mike McKone (art), Jeromy Cox (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters), Ellie Pyle (assistant editor) & Stephen Wacker (editor)

The Story: Spider-Man tries to help in a NYC gripped by fear.

What’s Good: After reviewing the first issue of this event tie-in, I think I said that I was out.  Silly rabbit!  I’m way to compulsive for that!

For what it’s worth, I’m glad I stuck around.  If you’re “all in” on Fear Itself, this is going to be a worthwhile read because it captures the street-level terror raging through NYC as the civilians go nuts and chaos ensues.  In doing this, it is giving us extra flavoring that we aren’t getting in Fear Itself-proper which has focused much more on folks getting hammers, smashing stuff and ripping off of bionic arms.

There are lots of good little moments in this issue as we see Spidey trying to help people in spite of the fear that is creeping into him, but the best moment is when he confronts Jonah Jameson in the Mayor’s office.  Their whole interaction and relationship could be summed up when Spidey asks, “Jonah… Aren’t you scared?” and Jonah proceeds to tell Spidey about his inner source of strength (his brave son) and inspires Spidey to get back out there and help.  I do love these little moments when Spidey and Jonah can find common ground in their love of NYC.

McKone’s art is mostly solid.  He does a great job with the story telling and while his Spidey gets a little wonky in places (skinny and with a big head), I’d say the art is an overall positive.
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Herc #4 – Review

By: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente (writers), Neil Edwards (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker), Jesus Aburtov (colorist)

The Story: What?  No pitchforks and torches?

The Review: When it comes to solo heroics, writers usually take the trend of letting their hero baby-step his way long steadily bigger and greater trials before pitting him against the conflict of his life.  It makes sense; no point in tossing the rookie into the deep end of the ocean before he learns to doggy-paddle.  But Hercules is already a pro at this biz (a former god of it, in fact), so it doesn’t seem out of the question to throw a major challenge right off the get-go.

But experienced as he is, his new mortality has set him back to square one.  In his glory days, a few Raft escapees and Kyknos, son of Ares, would have been a walk in the park; now, he can literally be felled by a little girl (granted, she stabbed him in the back with a pair of clipping shears).  It doesn’t stop there, though.  Pak-Van Lente also drop in Hecate, witch goddess, and a whole NYC borough of mobbing civilians, a challenge worthy of a god he now faces as a mortal.

As you can tell, this issue has a lot of problems going against our favorite mensch, so such so to the point you’re left just as bewildered as he is.  Remarkably, Pak-Van Lente manage to give each set of conflicts some time to develop, especially where it concerns the growing disarray of Brooklyn.  We get some humorous scenes of neighborly confrontations gone out of control (“I know you’ve been laughing at us.  Ever since the bedbugs!”), but also some moments of genuine horror, like a pack of mauling dogs threatening children after ravaging their elderly owner.

Even though the descent into chaos seems universal, Rhea remains the only one seemingly unaffected aside from Helene and the Warhawks, devotees of Ares.  Her apparent immunity to the growing paranoia warrants investigating, especially since she’s so quickly become Herc’s lady-friend and loyal supporter, yet remains largely a mysterious, if well-read, figure.  But now that she’s a captive of the Warhawks, there’s plenty of incentive to dive deeper into her history.

In the meantime, Herc gets left largely on his own, one vulnerable man with some fancy weapons against an entire city gone to heck.  His only ally: Griffin, the Raft prisoner gone feral, thanks to a magical twist that probably should’ve been shown to us, since I, for one, already forgot about that character since last issue.
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Fear Itself #3 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Stuart Immonen (penciller), Wade von Grawbadger (inker), Laura Martin & Larry Molinar (colorists), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

The Story: A major Marvel hero dies at the hands of Skadi/Sin, the final member of the Worthy is chosen, and Thor tries to escape prison and rush to Midgard’s aid.

The Review:  I’ve really been enjoying Fear Itself thus far, but I’ve been pretty honest in saying that the sub-text and tone of the story was often more interesting than the hammer-laden story itself.  I’ve really loved that inclusion of desperation and anxiety that has made the book feel relevant, current, and a surprisingly smart read.

So yeah, cue my disappointment when Fraction basically forgets about that sub-text altogether this month, instead focusing on the Worthy stomping about with their hammers and a crapload of action scenes.  It’s not a bad comic in itself, but certainly a letdown given what we’ve been getting, as the book immediately becomes less nuanced and a whole lot simpler.  It’s dangerously close to going from being a book that’s a reflection of the times, to being “just another” superhero comic event.

There’s a lot of fighting, yes, but things also seem to move slowly.  Thor’s inevitable escape from Asgard seems a little more long-winded than it needed to be, for example.  In other cases, pre-event hype hurts the book: the identity of the last member of the Worthy, crowned this month, has been known for quite some time now.  I mean, even the book’s cover more or less gives it away.

On the other hand, there are definitely things to like about the issue.  The ending, for example, is very well plotted and sequenced and delivers the “shit just got real” effect that was clearly intended, particularly given the deceased characters’ identity and his/her last words.  Things definitely feel a lot more dangerous and the superhero community, and the world itself, continues to look vulnerable and truly in danger, not an easy feat in superhero comics.   While some might have predicted it, the death is nonetheless one that’ll hit home for a lot of readers, as it should.

The end result is one that shows much of what the last page of last month’s issue told.  That is, it emphasizes the powerlessness of the Marvel Universe’s heroes in the face of this threat.  From the Hulk running rampant and tossing Betty around, to the major Marvel characters who die and transform to join the Worthy, to a pitiful last stand late in the issue, the point is driven home.
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Iron Man 2.0 #5 – Review

by Nick Spencer (writer), Ariel Olivetti (artist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer)

The Story: Iron Fist, War Machine, and the Immortal Weapons are summoned to the Eighth City, where another hammer has fallen.

The Review:  Is there any Marvel title suffering more of an identity crisis?  After last month’s debacle, an out-of-nowhere Fear Itself tie-in only serves to gum up the works further.

But really, while it makes us take an utterly ill-timed detour from the current Palmer Addley arc, which still had yet to really go anywhere, I don’t think Fear Itself is to blame for this rather strange comic.  Rather, it’s Nick Spencer’s bizarre idea to focus this issue entirely on the world of Iron Fist and the Immortal Weapons.  Indeed, while we see Rand, much of this book is spent in the Eighth City with new bad guy Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.  Meanwhile, poor Rhodey isn’t in this comic for more than a couple of pages, his presence feeling completely unnecessary and done out of obligation.

It’s hard not to be angry with Spencer here.  People who purchased this book wanted a War Machine comic, not an Iron Fist book.  Many readers probably aren’t even familiar with the canceled Iron Fist comic.  How hard would it have been for Spencer to write a serviceable Fear Itself Rhodey comic?  I mean, he’s even in DC during the Blitzkrieg.  But no, instead, he’s whisked off as an afterthought to a mystical kung-fu story.

And really, it’s hard to even tell the nature of that story, since this entire issue is completely set-up.  The story barely gets off the starting blocks here.  We see the hammer land in the Eighth City, Wukong beats down a few demons, and Iron Fist and War Machine get teleported.  Outside of a single page montage, we don’t see the Immortal Weapons at all.  There’s really nothing here to get attached to.  Danny and Rhodey also spend so little time together, that we don’t even get any real character interaction between the two.
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Secret Avengers #13 – Review

by Nick Spencer (writer), Scot Eaton (penciller), Jaime Mendoza & Rick Ketcham (inkers), Frank D’Armata (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer)

The Story: Beast infiltrates congress in the midst of the blitzkrieg as he attempts to rescue an old friend.

The Review: Event tie-in issues are often a rough job.  It’s always a struggle for the writer to manage to tell a good, self-inclusive story while also paying attention to, and advancing the interests of, the story of another comic.  It’s a difficult task, but judging from this issue, Nick Spencer is completely up for it.

Taken as a part of a Fear Itself, Spencer does a really good job of encapsulating everything that is meant to make Fear Itself feel relevant in 2011.  It fully captures the feel of a desperate America, down on its luck and struggling against massive odds and, well, fear and anxiety.  There’s a constant, nerve-racking climate to the book and a real anxiety to it all that goes beyond the giant Nazi robots shooting up Congress.  Spencer manages to make the story feel very real on an emotional level while also making the absolute most of his Capitol Hill setting.  Things are very “in the present,” and when Spencer has congressman Lenny Gary call for solidarity and courage and has him draw on American’s history, it feels powerful instead of cheesy and can be linked as easily to those robots as to current social issues and anxieties.
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Herc #3 – Review

By: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente (writers), Neil Edwards (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker), Jesus Aburtov (colorist)

The Story: None of you guys are holding, right?  She’ll get seriously mad if you’re holding.

The Review: Sometimes crossover events can really hijack a title, forcing the storyline into a direction it never had any intention of following, or at least one that doesn’t suit the title’s tone or interests (e.g., Brightest Day and Birds of Prey).  Other times, the crossover can be so superfluous, it makes you wonder why they even bother to drag the title into it in the first place.

Anyone who’s worried having the Fear Itself brand stamped onto this issue means distracting spillover for a fledgling title that’s barely got its own story going yet, have no fear.  The one direct connection to Marvel’s summer Big Thing involves a breakout on the Raft (of less scale than the one that launched The New Avengers).  Other than that, the issue’s left to its own devices—evidence of the often pointlessly invasive nature of these big events, I suppose.

Pak-Van Lente continue building on the complications from previous issues; though the plight of Hercules’ followers remains a foreboding mystery, Kingpin’s foretelling about Herc’s newfound public support plays out to a tee.  His popularity quickly builds to a fever pitch, which he handles with characteristic breeziness (“Snuffles will taste my steel.  Next!”) despite the predictably selfish concerns he faces (“First, you gotta get the socialists.”).
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Invincible Iron Man #504 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (art), Frank D’Armata (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: After hiring a new chief of security, Tony Stark flies to Paris’ rescue, only to find a city of stone.

The Review:  I know a lot of people ragged on Invincible Iron Man during the “building a car” arc.  I liked it, but seemed in the definite minority.  I hope issues like this turn the tide back in Matt Fraction’s favor.  Certainly, if all, or even most, of the Fear Itself tie-ins are this good, Marvel readers have a very good summer ahead of them.

As you might’ve heard in solicitations and such, Tony heads to Paris to find a city, and its inhabitants, turned to stone.  It’s here that Fraction does his best work this month, while also encapsulating much of what Fear Itself is in terms of tone and atmosphere.  The feeling of Tony in a city of statues is truly haunting, almost too desolate to carry tinges of horror genre that such a situation might otherwise give off.  When Tony is struck by the enormity of it all, so are we.  It’s hard to fathom just how many people are dead, turned to stone, and Fraction boggles the mind here with all that death and devastation.

More than that though, Fraction and Larroca do a good job of conveying a city that’s silent.  Better still is that the plot ends up turning into one of the Worthy tracking down and beating down Tony in this ghost town.  The result is almost a “minotaur in the labyrinth” scenario, with Tony being hunted in a city of the dead.  It’s chilling stuff, with the last page hammering that home.  Amidst so much death, Tony seems tiny and powerless, which is something that’s worked well in Fear Itself thus far.  Truly, the Worthy have wreaked a situation  whose scope is horrifying.   The sheer size of the situation, a Paris turned to stone, makes for a powerful comic.
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Avengers #13 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (script), Chris Bachalo (art & colors), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, & Wayne Faucher (inks), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story:  The Avengers recount the early days of Fear Itself.

The Review:  This is a very difficult issue to review.  Quite frankly, if you don’t like Brian Bendis, particularly Bendis on an Avengers title, stay the hell away.  I don’t care how much you love the franchise, this sort of issue is one that sure to make people get out the torches and pitchforks.

Honestly, it’s not because Bendis noodles with continuity or flubs characters’ voices or whatever.  Rather, it’s because this is a very Bendis-y issue that’s almost entirely composed of talking heads.  This is the more indie-minded Bendis, as evidenced by the fact that this issue uses interlocking monologues on pages with a large number of small panels, a technique that’ll be very familiar to anyone who has ever read Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers.  Essentially, this doesn’t feel at all like your standard Marvel superhero fair, it’s just a whole lot of dialogue, there’s next to no plot development or real set narrative, and there’s absolutely zero action.

Yet, because I am a confirmed fan of Mr. Bendis, I, for one, enjoyed it, as I expect many of his fans will, even those more keen on his creator owned work than his superhero stuff.  It’s dialogue heavy and feels genuinely more human and it’s unique as far as Marvel comics go.  The dialogue feels quippy, but in a natural way that feels fluid and quick as opposed to forced.  It puts a relatable, human face on the trauma of Fear Itself and the nature and burden of being an Avenger in the face of such calamity.  Without action, and really without much else to look at but the characters’ faces, you’re really forced to take in the events and the characters on an intimate and personal level.  The result is a cast that has a charming kind of vulnerability, a big group of Avengers that feel like people above all else.
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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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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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Fear Itself: Spider-Man #1 – Review

By: Chris Yost (writer), Mike McKone (artist), Jeromy Cox (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters), Ellie Pyle (assistant editor) & Stephen Wacker (senior editor)

The Story: As fear grips NYC, Spider-Man tries to maintain order.

What’s Good: In Fear Itself #2, we saw how “fear” is sweeping the globe and causing mass pandemonium.  Even though I can tell I’m not going to be spending a lot of time extolling the virtues of this issue, it is generally a good one just because it drives home the plot point of street-level panic in NYC: The people are afraid and threatening to beat the snot out of some poor Iranian cab driver and Spidey has to save the guy.  Then he has to save a guy ready to throw himself out of a 30th floor window who is afraid to live anymore, etc., etc.  Hey people: FEAR ITSELF!!!!!

It all plays on the age-old sense of responsibility that Spidey has where he wants to keep everyone safe and can’t.  It also plays with the notion that while he’s worrying about all of these strangers, he’s not tending to his own loved ones and spends much of the issue trying to get a hold of Aunt May on the cell phone.

Mike McKone’s art tells the story very effectively.  He’s really a very solid artist who usually isn’t trying to show off too much.  He has a really clean line and doesn’t embellish just for the sake of embellishment.
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Fear Itself #2 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: The Worthy are chosen and the world breaks into chaos.

The Review:  You know, it bodes well for an event when the second issue builds upon the first and is, in fact, possibly even better.  It’s all too common for series to have a slam-bang first issue, only to follow it up with water-treading and a loss of direction.  That’s not the case here.  In fact, Fraction’s focus is even tighter this time out and what we get is things getting taken up a level.  Events are bigger, the comic gets a little louder, and the tension gets higher.  Shit hits the fan this month more than the last, while promising even more in the issues to come.  In other words, it’s great pacing all around.

Also, Fraction takes what could be a boring issue structure (focusing on each character as he/she picks up a hammer and is transformed) and uses it to his advantage; jumping from Worthy to Worthy allows Fraction to emphasize the global impact of this event, making the story feel far more expansive.  This is paired with a truly excellent use of textboxes, which carry little snatches of panicked newscasts.  It leads to a sense of desperation and pandemonium, enhanced by the fact that we’re only getting fragments of broadcasts and not anything comprehensive.  Hence, a sense of chaos is created, helping to legitimize the threat of the Serpent and the Worthy.

In focusing on the Worthy, outside of the opening scene in Asgard (probably the only mediocre portion of the issue), Fraction makes the Avengers and the superheroes in general nothing more than a background presence.  Hence, when he has the newscasts, the world, crying out for the Avengers, or Steve Rogers calling for his comrades to no avail, it feels all the  more powerful.  The superhero community, reduced to such a minor presence amidst Fraction’s chaos of globetrotting and panicked fragmented newscasts, seems suddenly impotent.
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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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Fear Itself #1 – Review


by Matt Fraction (writing), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Sin awakens an ancient power, Odin is happy about Thor and Tony’s plan to rebuild Asgard on Earth, and the Avengers try to find their place in a disillusioned and divided America.

The Review: In judging a comic book event, I often find myself seeking the balance between status quo and actual narrative.  What I mean by this is that weaker, or downright crappy, events often feel less like an actual story, and means to move the Marvel or DC Universe from point A to point B.

At the very least, Fear Itself #1 promises an event that avoids this pitfall.  It certainly isn’t a mere vehicle for simple status quo change;  Fear Itself presents itself as pure story, one that’s big and with a large cast, certainly, but a story nonetheless, not a mere marketing ploy or editorial shuffle, which makes it feel honest and more engaging.  Furthermore, in keeping it to one clear, concise story avoids the chaos that can result from such a large cast and setting.

Beyond that, there’s a definite sense of relevance to this comic.  It truly feels like a comic event that could only be written in 2010-2011.  In factoring current events and the climate of America into the comic, Fraction puts the “sort of real world” element of the Marvel Universe to good use, while also making a comic that feel a bit more real and important despite hammer wielding gods.  But this also reflects the other way around; much as Fraction uses superheroes to reflect on the social climate of our world, he also does the opposite as well.  There’s a sense of powerlessness in Fraction’s portrayal of the Avengers, faced with enemies like social issues, recession, and political tension, things that superheroes aren’t necessarily built for and certainly can’t be combated like a Dr. Doom or Galactus.  It’s a nice reflection on the nature, and limitations, of superheroes that make the story feel special.  They’re faced with things that they understand, but can’t really do much about, and end up left to wonder at the nature of their place in America.

With all of this in mind, Fraction tells a simple superhero comic book story that has both heart and sincerity.  That carries through to his writing of the actual plot as well; the tension and animosity between Thor and Odin is both violent and real.  It’s the sort of thing I wish we’d seen in his last couple of issues of Thor, solid character-work that it is.  The divide between the two has never been clearer, and Fraction does particularly good work on the rueful, frustrated, and hopeless Odin.
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Fear Itself: Book of the Skull #1- Review


by Ed Brubaker (writer), Scot Eaton (pencils), Mark Morales (inks), Sunny Gho (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Sin seeks an ancient weapon from her father’s past.

The Review: I’m often a bit wary when it comes to “prologue” issues.  Will I get a solid comic and a sign of things to come, or will I get a cash-in/extended advertisement?  Thankfully, Ed Brubaker’s Book of the Skull is entirely the former.

The script that Brubaker turns in for this one is rock solid.  While it’s largely Brubaker doing something he excels at (an old school, WWII Invaders story), it also sees him stepping outside the box, dabbling in a storyline that has occult elements.  The combination of Nazis and paranormal summoning almost feels Mike Mignola-esque.  The combination also makes the read a comfortable one, due it being a familiar Brubaker setting, but not boring or overly safe.

Tone-wise, Brubaker absolutely nails all of his characters’ voices, with each getting their moment.  Bucky battling a giant monster is a piece of the comedic charm that works so well for the character.  Namor’s rage is similarly well-portrayed, and his reaction to the tragedy that befalls his fellow Atlanteans in this issue is eloquent and restrained in execution.  Then there’s the Red Skull.  I’ll admit that I’m a Herr Skull fan and, while he’s not been dead long, it was fantastic seeing him again.  His ruthless arrogance and cackling villain persona is always awesome.

Then there’s Sin, who Brubaker continues to carve out as a unique, compelling villain.  She brings that same arrogance and ambition that distinguished her father, but injects a good amount of rabid insanity that is all her own.  Brubaker has always excelled at internal monologues, as he’s always been able to get into his characters’ heads in gritty fashion.  Seeing him give Sin this treatment this month is a real treat, though its never verbose or overwritten.  Her interaction with Baron Zemo is also solid, and a really weird team-up, leading to a parting of ways that hints at cool stuff to come.
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