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Uncanny X-Men #24 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Kris Anka (art)

The Story: As the X-Men worry about Xavier’s final bequests, the will reveals a dark secret…and a gift to Emma Frost.

The Review: Let’s get this out of the way. Last issue Brian Bendis ended part I of “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” by revealing that Scott Summers had to be present to read said will. I hope you’ll forgive me saying so so early in the review, but if you suspected that we wouldn’t actually see that reading in this issue, you were right. We actually end the second issue of this arc just about to hear Xavier’s final orders to his X-Men. That means that there are twenty pages between last issue’s cliffhanger and actually hearing the will. So now the question is, what does Bendis use those pages for?

The answer, for the most part, is character. It’s slightly cynical, but, as comics have grown shorter and more decompressed, the traditional recipe of a superhero story – discovery, character development, b-plot, and conflict – has become largely untenable. A quality action scene requires at least a few pages and those pages are in short supply.

If a battle sequence is a requirement for you, you’re really better off avoiding this issue. There is a fairly tame action sequence in the middle of the book, but it’s neither here nor there and probably the story’s least interesting moment. No, this issue is all about exploring the X-Men.

Bendis gives us another particularly good example of his trademark wordiness this week, but rather than drag on the issue, it energizes it. Bendis knows exactly what voice he wants to use for the characters he’s using, perhaps even better than he does for the usual cast of this series. Though they tend to run a bit on the casual-side, as Bendis’ dialogue often does, the immediacy that this brings the issue just grabs the reader. There’s an illusion of naturalism that goes a long way.
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Uncanny X-Men #22 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils); Tim Townsend, Marc Deering, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, & Al Vey (inks); Chris Bachalo & Jose Villarrubia (colors)

The battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. comes to an end this week as Cyclops, Beast, Maria Hill, and even Magneto put aside their differences to combat the rouge heli-carriers. Everything comes together this issue as the huge cast of Uncanny X-Men finds its way into the climactic battle.

Bendis does do an impressive job of laying out the stakes. Particularly if you respect Logan’s dream for the Jean Grey School, the threat of annihilation is exceedingly real and present throughout the issue. Likewise, each victory for the X-Men, no matter how small, feels like reason to celebrate, thanks in no small part to the sheer amount of set up that’s led to these crucial moments. The whole affair is appropriately cataclysmic, but Bendis actually gets a couple of nice jokes and fist pumping moments in amongst the gloom. Despite the building feeling that this is the end, a sensation that is all the sweeter for its rarity on this series, Bendis’ plotting has some serious problems.

There’s no denying that this is something of an abrupt ending, and one that deals more in expectations than in actual content. The best example is probably our villain. After last month ended with Beast dramatically announcing that he knew who was behind this, you’d expect that the answer would be fairly forthcoming, but I assure you, you’ve got a bit longer to wait. Despite repeating his certainty on page 5 and again on page 13, Hank isn’t ready to reveal his findings to his fellow X-Men until halfway through page 14…off panel. The scene actually ends with Scott demanding “Who?! Who is it?, leading me to actually throw up my arms on a crowded subway and cry “oh come on.” In actuality it doesn’t take too much longer to learn the identity of the mastermind, but, like much of this series, it’s absurdly and painfully drawn out.

Worst of all, when we finally do meet our villain, it comes out of nowhere, lacks any attempt at motivation, and is largely without value for the title going forward. I respect Bendis as a writer too much to believe it, but it almost feels like he planned this arc without knowing who the villain was himself! More likely, the rushed and confusing resolution is the result of the upcoming “Original Sin” tie-ins. There may be any number of reasons why things turned out this way, but it doesn’t change how flimsy the ending comes across.

Luckily that apocalyptic tone I mentioned is beautifully realized by Chris Bachalo, who provides one of his strongest issues in recent memory. Bachalo starts with an unusually stark style that works wonderfully with the bright simplicity of the Canadian sky. The next scene introduces a little bit of grit into this style before it all breaks loose on the grounds of the Jean Grey School.
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Hulk #3 – Review

By: Mark Waid (Writer), Mark Bagley (Penciller), Andrew Hennessy (Inker), Jason Keith (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer), Jerome Opena & Dean White (Cover Artists)

The Story:
For a visual summary, simply replace the Hulk on the cover with the Abomination.

The Review: Continuing from the last issue, the Hulk battles the Abomination, and the Avengers join in, allowing for Bagley to draw an extended, and very visceral and physical, fight scene. Nearly every panel of the fight is staged and rendered to provide POWER, and I use the all-caps very purposefully. One key moment– leaving one page with a 3/4-page panel of the Hulk leaping and rearing back with an oversized “SMASH!” balloon, then flipping (swiping?) to receive a full-page splash with the Abomination’s fist/arm full-on in the center. A visual escalation of the narrative of the battle.

Bodies twist, fists are balled, and everything is depicted as solid and massive, as appropriate. Unfortunately, the non-fight scene battles are often confusing and less effective. The shadowy agents of mystery supposedly disappear through the floor, but the figures are nearly completely seen, with no coloring or other visual clues to what’s going on. Moreover, Agent Hill’s eyes (and thus the readers’) are cast away from the page in the previous panel, failing to set us up for this “surprising” revelation. There’s also a few panels when the anatomy gets confusing, or misdrawn.

The story is just as much Maria Hill’s as it is Bruce Banner/Hulk’s. I never really get into too much plot summary when making a review, but I’ll indulge myself– Hill escapes capture thanks to magic, I mean, SHIELD technology that lets you do whatever you need to do at the moment. Apparently, Felix and his Bag of Tricks works with SHIELD R&D. The character representing the voice of reason last issue is told to run along, so Hill can provide exposition to something called “Base” that we never see, and she earns a glowing bracelet as a pickup. The Avengers show up, since it’s been, maybe, a minute or two since the Abomination started the battle, and they notice the Abomination has unconscious-looking eyes that mean someone is controlling him. We learn some hints about the Big Bad who “faced the Hulk on the very day he was born” so some continuity buff somewhere can make a connection unless this is yet another character to be retconned in to sunny New Mexico in 1962. Hill won’t answer Captain America about the Hulk, thereby giving him an answer unspoken, but does explain that somehow Hulk’s healing factor is both healing Banner’s brain and also preventing it from healing. The Abomination is also radiating radiation, so that Captain Marvel, who is supposedly in space right now, wonders what it’s doing to her. And Banner decides to sacrifice his healing brain, as diagnosed by the medical expertise of Maria Hill, and plunge again into battle as the Hulk. After all, he “never give[s] up,” but does, it seems, borrow other people’s shields when he needs them.
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Uncanny X-Men #21 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors); Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, & Al Vey (inks)

The Story: One of these days S.H.I.E.L.D. is just going to give up on helicarriers…but it is not this day.

The Review: After an intriguing but uneven showing last month, things are really heating up in Uncanny X-Men. While the premise of the New Xavier School actively going to war with S.H.I.E.L.D. is an exciting idea, Bendis’ story is playing out in a somewhat different fashion than expected. With Scott’s powers gone haywire and S.H.I.E.L.D. closing in, I think it’s fair to say that things are very much going wrong for Cyclops, however the trick of this issue is that he’s not alone in that.

There’s a rule of storytelling that says that if you can make things worse for your character you should. Certainly it’s hard to deny the potential for building narrative tension, but when you have to make things worse, it can actually get somewhat rote. Still, where many stories feel like the gods of their world hate the protagonist, Uncanny X-Men #21 is the sum of its people’s machinations, their fortunes rising and falling, building a web of fascinating intrigues. Bendis is playing with our expectations, throwing several wrenches into the works, and to great effect. The whole thing feels unexpected and organic.

The issue is also thankfully free of the padding that plagued previous installments. While one could certainly argue that we didn’t need an interlude on Madripoor, watching Mystique struggle on two fronts really sells this issue as an essential read and highlights the interplay of the characters’ differing principles and ideas about the place of mutants in society.
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Avengers # 28 – Review

by Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Salvador Larroca (Artist), Frank Martin with Anres Mossa (Color Artists).

The Story: Hulk Smash, Banner deduce.

The Review: Now this is what I’ve been waiting for! Hickman’s long form Avengers epic has been a frustrating beast at best, I’ve wanted to like it so badly but have often been frustrated by how disparate all of the elements Hickman and his horde of superstar artists have introduced thus far are. I recall being curious but ultimately disinterested during Hickman’s first year on the Fantastic Four title only to be blown away by FF and the confluence of all the seemingly standalone stories that the writer had been crafting. And so it is that I’ve been following Avengers, New Avengers and now Avengers World,  waiting patiently to see how the puzzle pieces fit together.

With issue #28 it seems as though two mysteries are revealed, one to the reader and another to Bruce Banner who’s unravelling of the continued existence of the Illuminati provides the meat of this issue. I’ve often thought of the Avengers as a very epic but ultimately cold book, devoid of much characterisation or humanity but this issue goes a long way to reversing that paradigm by focusing on the conversation between Tony Stark and a Bruce Banner who repeatedly injects himself with tranquillisers in order to keep his monstrous alter-ego at bay. The tension that builds through these scenes is palatable and riveting, bravo to Hickman and Larroca.

The other reveal shows us exactly what the Map-makers are and how they come to be, further marrying the narrative of Avengers to New Avengers and finally giving readers an answer to help orientate themselves within the deluge of mysteries that Hickman has heaped upon us so far in this run. If this issue is an indicator of what to expect from the third act of Hickman’s Avengers saga then I’m cautiously optimistic about what comes next. That last page reveal/cliffhanger should have readers on the edge of their seat like a good episode of 24 or Breaking Bad it’s such a cinematic, ominous can’t-wait-for-the-next-issue reveal.
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Hulk #2 – Review

By: Mark Waid (Writer), Mark Bagley (Penciller), Andrew Hennessy (Inker), Jason Keith (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer)

The Story: In this corner, weighing in at 980 pounds, the Abomination. In this corner, Hulk. Somewhere in the middle? Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Review: I was cautiously optimistic after reading the previous issue, as I noticed a certain trope of suspense/horror genre was being used to a good effect: namely, the sidelining of the “monster” to focus on the *effect* of the monster on characters and setting. By the second issue, this sidelining of the monster remains, but gone is the effect. And without it, there is no explicit tone of mystery to maintain a level of distinction for this book.

To be clear, there is still a mystery as the core plot of the book, but there is no overt tone/atmosphere to it. S.H.I.E.L.D. is protecting (and to some extent coddling) a brain damaged Bruce Banner/Hulk, even though the Mysterious Organization of Mystery has found him and sends a newly-reconstituted Abomination after him. However, the cliffhanger suggests the M.O.M. really has it out for S.H.I.E.L.D. instead.

Other things are missing from last issue as well, including the woman who was a key player for the villains. Also? There’s not much time to really explore things– you certainly can’t call this comic “decompressed.” Before the fight with Abomination, we learn it took S.H.I.E.L.D. a month to infiltrate a town pretty extensively, we see some token the affection for Bruce by his new caretakers, some foreshadowing of Bruce’s transformation, and Maria Hill’s arrival and reveal. I am all for non-decompressed stories, but we’re missing out on some big implications. I don’t necessarily care for Bruce’s caretakers or really much for the town in general, and I don’t know why these characters, like Maria Hill, are doing what they’re doing. Sure, it’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and all, and they are protecting and serving, I guess, but there’s no sense that they really care about Bruce as a *person.* I feel that Maria Hill cares more about success at her job than truly ensuring peace for Bruce or protection for the town. Maybe it’s there in one panel as she apologizes for instigating the Hulk’s transformation, but this issue seems to care more for a breakneck pace of plot to the detriment of character, setting, tone.

One thing that’s not missing is the storytelling skills of Bagley and the art of Hennessy and Keith. Bagley’s Hulk, and Abomination for that matter, is as visceral and solid-looking as ever, and he brings a sense of power to the characters; the battle is genuinely fun to watch. There are some more attempts of verisimilitude in characters’ expressions, but this remains a bit of a weakness as Bagley usually portrays the characters in “grim” mode more than anything. Camera angles are deliberate, although some opportunities for more atmospheric drama are missed, such as when the Reverend gets his mysterious phone call in the beginning– this is a key plot point that could have been emphasized in the illustration. Also, I’m not a fan of Bagley’s depiction of Bruce, as the sharp cross-hatching creates a gaunt and weathered look even though it “reads” like it wants to be presented as something soft and rounded.
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E20 – Review

By: Paul Zbyszewski & DJ Doyle (story)

The Story: Ward and Skye attempt to work through their trust issues.

The Review: Okay, it’s official: I don’t care what happens to Ward. Other than an admiration for his godlike chin, which, honestly, will never die, it really doesn’t matter to me on which side of the moral coin he lands. If he comes back to the good guys, fine—we can spend half the second season with everyone as bitter and angry with him as they have been with Skye or May’s betrayals at other points of this show. If he stays bad, that’s fine with me, too; I wouldn’t mind seeing him dead or locked up.

I say all this because revealing Ward as Hydra hasn’t been the magic trick that suddenly made him interesting, as many of us hoped. His sob story about how Garrett saved him from his brother problems is right now still too abstract for us to justify his alliance with (as Skye accurately calls Hydra) a neo-Nazi group bent on ruining a lot of people’s lives for no reason other than their differences in ideology. He can repeatedly say that he owes Garrett all he wants; you’re not going to buy it, not until you see exactly how this rescue worked and probably not even then.
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Hulk #1 – Review

By: Mark Waid (Writer), Mark Bagley (Pencils), Andrew Hennessy (Inks), Jason Keith (Colors), VC’s Cory Petit (Letters), Jerome Opena w/ Dean White (Cover Artists)

The Story: Banner hurt. Shadowy People in Shadows make Doctor Guy poke Banner’s brain. Hulk smash! Now Banner dumb. Dumb Banner.

The Review: It’s always interesting when a Hulk-story doesn’t necessarily feature the Hulk (and/or Bruce Banner, if we need to differentiate.) The story instead must rely on its supporting cast, its antagonists, or other elements of its world-building. And really, when that happens it makes these kinds of Hulk-stories essentially monster-stories– in any given monster-story, the monster itself does not have to be the protagonist; only its implicit presence and horror need be felt to impact the characters, plot, tone, etc.

Mark Waid gives us this kind of monster-type story, with Banner/the Hulk essentially in the background for the majority of the issue. In the beginning, the narration boxes even suggest some things about “story” in the abstract, while setting up a surgeon who is only tangentially related to Banner’s past but is now caught up in the existential horror having the Hulk’s life in his hands. The boxes shift very dramatically to remind us that “this isn’t his story,” at which point the comic brings the Hulk more actively into the story. Even still, Banner/the Hulk is merely the object of the story, not its subject– as it’s Agents Hill and Coulson who arrive to track Banner down for the last-page cliffhanger. However, perhaps this page suggests that we will return very specifically to Banner-driven drama in subsequent issues. It’s equally likely that he will remain a kind of background character, and that would create a unique tone, actually, and would make me intrigued to continue reading the series if it does.
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Uncanny X-Men #20 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors); Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jon Holdredge, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, & Al Vey (inks)

The Story: Cyclops has declared war on S.H.I.E.L.D. and his opening gambit is a ballsy one indeed.

The Review: There are two ways to look at the war between the New Xavier School and S.H.I.E.L.D. On one hand the book has been building to this moment for twenty issues, on the other it took twenty issues to get here and we still have no assurance that things will be resolved any time soon. Both are valid and illustrate one of the key issues that Bendis has on this series, balancing the future and the present.

Many of this issue’s moments don’t make sense in themselves requiring further developments or the clarity of hindsight. Mystique’s continued plotting, for instance, can intrigue but really offers very little to a reader. This same pattern plays out again and again, whether in Hijack’s home or at the New Xavier School. At the same time, however, much of Bendis’ best writing doesn’t expand the scope of the story, but deepen it. Even in the same scene I just mentioned we find biting dialogue, like when Sabertooth asks how much longer Mystique will continue impersonating Dazzler and she responds, “Until Scott Summers is a party joke and S.H.I.E.L.D. is sold for parts. So I’m thinking until next Friday.”

Even if it doesn’t rank among his best, Bendis’ dialogue lives up to his lofty reputation. When it comes to engaging a reader in the moment, this issue really is quite spectacular. Brief scenes like Scott’s confrontation with an old teammate can feel very substantial. Admittedly that example is rather text-heavy but, while there is a bit of harried visual storytelling, there’s such tension in the dialogue that you might not be able to help getting sucked in. That’s a quality that Bendis has been shooting for for a long while, but it’s very much present in this final scene and the central confrontation of the issue.

It’s clear that Bendis saw Scott’s appearance on the helicarrier as the core of this chapter. Unfortunately a side effect is that most of the rest of the issue is a bit dull, but you can’t deny the power of this sequence. There’s perhaps a little too much time spend on Director Hill’s romantic preferences, but rarely has Scott’s cult of personality been clearer or Bendis’ grasp of his characters’ psychology more apparent.
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Uncanny X-Men #19 – Review

By:  Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils); Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Jaime Mendoza, Mark Irwin, and Victor Olozaba (inks); Chris Bachalo and Jose Villarrubia (colors)

The Story: We heard you like Sentinels so we put Sentinels in your Sentinels…

The Review: Back in August Uncanny X-Men received a slight boost when it featured a story about Cyclops facing off against a new breed of Sentinel. In the seven months that have passed, Uncanny has been growing and changing, largely for the better. Now that it’s time to pick up that thread, will it have the same oomph that it once did?

The answer is an ever charming sort-of. Bendis makes no attempt to hide that the past half a year of stories were a distraction. While the events of issue seventeen are mentioned, it’s clear that this series has been off track since the last Sentinel arc. The problem is that, for the most part, the filler was far better than anything that preceded it. So while it is intriguing to return to the mystery Sentinels again, there’s a sense of a backslide that I can’t deny is worrisome. It’s also strange since the event that took us off track, “Battle of the Atom”, ended with a dramatic reveal that S.H.I.E.L.D. has Sentinels, and different Sentinels at that.

Regardless, we’re diving back into Bendis’ main story. Summoned by a surge of mutant activity, the New Xavier X-Men find themselves lured into a trap. Bendis knows his collaborators and the creative team deliver a slick futuristic take on the X-Men. These aren’t the simple androids of the Mark I, and panels like a swarm of alien-looking mutant hunters spawning from the maw of a gigantic Sentinel are powerful and eerie. Likewise, a scene inside Cerebro is the stuff of science fiction, the kind that convinced us to buy sunglasses in middle school.

These new model Sentinels present a solid challenge for the team and Bendis’ answer serves to resolve the problem while significantly deepening the mysteries surrounding it. It’s a situation that is all the more fascinating for the removal of Hijack from the team, but the answer is pretty simple. Indeed, much of the issue seems designed to highlight Chris Bachalo’s contributions.
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Black Widow #4 – Review

by Nathan Edmondson (Writer), Phil Noto (Artist)

The Story: A strong and mad Russian monk against a Russian super spy. Fight!

The Review: Black Widow is probably one of the characters who received quite a lot of attentions and the most chances from Marvel. Appearing in the 60’s, during the rise of Marvel comics, she was heavily featured in many teams, from many iterations of the Avengers down to the Champions. Appearing in many titles as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, one of Daredevil’s old flame and through various versions, she has always been a staple of this universe in many ways, yet never in ways that felt as if she was ready for a big spotlight.

Cue the Avengers movie, with Scarlett Johansson playing her in ways that not only made her cool, but also as a true character with actual potential. Enamoured with her as she kicked Chitauri butt and manipulated the very god of lies and deceit on the silver screen, the potential to make her a bigger star was there. With Nathan Edmondson primed on her series and writing it quite adequately so far, the series if off to a brilliant start, yet can it stay the course and continue a quality streak, or will a specific issue bring it down a notch?

The unfortunate answer is found in this issue, as the fourth chapter in Natasha Romanov’s saga is a good deal weaker than the first three issues, due to a certain number of problems, the first of them being the actual plot.

Focusing on Natasha chasing down a certain criminal after a botched job that didn’t even began in the right way, there is a certain lack of buildup or progression that allows for the titular character to shine or actually be of importance. While the focus on Molot, the antagonist of this issue, and his actions is a sound approach to storytelling, it would make for a lot better issue if there was more to him than just his actions.
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Secret Avengers #16 – Review

by Nick Spencer, Ales Kot (Writers), Luke Ross (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story: Mockingbird gets her revenge as the weights of all the secrets may be too much for some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

The Review: Everyone have some preconceptions when it comes to finales. Whenever something conclude, many people hope to see a closure on the important themes, that each threads will get resolved and that there will be big moments that leave fans satisfied of the whole ride. Some books do deliver, some exceed expectations, yet some unfortunately comes short of greatness, which is always a tad regrettable for those who followed the whole thing.

This finale is, in its own ways, a strange beast as it manages to be all of those things, providing a certain sense of closure to the war against Andrew Forson, yet also goes out of its way to provide for some ending to other aspects that don’t all work.

One of the weirdest, yet strangely moving part is the one with Mentallo, one of the ministers of A.I.M. who was particularly depressed in this arc. While the few pages he received earlier never did seem especially important or relevant to the overall conflict shown, it was a certain showcase of a man hit by depression, by a cage of his own design and that wanted out. In this issue, both Kot and Spencer gives him a finale that is bizarre, but also utterly touching, with him doing plenty to help the only actual friend he had as well as setting himself free in a fashion that is creative, yet also true to the character.

A side that is also well played, yet in a way that feels a bit more true to the roots of the book is the one with the team and Maria Hill, with the secrets and the way the game is played being too much for many present in the heli-carrier. Opening with M.O.D.O.K and finishing with a term very familiar to fans of the series, those few pages encapsulate a lot of what Spencer and then Kot made work in this series. It’s a fitting ending to the current iteration of this team, with finishes on a panel focusing on Maria Hill, one of the better character of this series.
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Captain America #17 – Review

by Rick Remender (Writer), Nic Klein (Artist), Dean White (Colorist)

The Story: A groovy new villain called Dr. Mindbubble makes himself known, spelling insane doom for S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Review
: Introducing new elements has got to be hard. Presenting new characters, new concepts and making them stick for new readers must be ready, with plenty of them always ready to be cynical when approaching new things. Not all newer elements to large continuity are appreciated, with words like Midi-chlorians, Romulus and other such ”nice” ideas being conveniently forgotten by many.

However, it can be achieved if done right, with some of the ideas that Rick Remender injected in the larger Marvel continuity being particularly sound. What he brought to the character of Apocalypse, to Wolverine and to some older concepts like Deathlok and the four horsemen are really nice extrapolations combined with new interpretations that did give something exciting to read.

However, just because he did something particularly good once does not mean that he is infallible, with his run on Captain America being an example of this. While packed with some ideas that are decidedly not bad at all, there is a certain shyness in the presentation and elaboration of some of the implications that some concepts have. While it is a traditional storytelling technique to slowly reveal new elements as the story progress, it is never a good thing to make readers wait too long either when it comes to surprises.

In this issue, Remender finally presents readers the character of Dr. Mindbubble, a character that has been teased since his Uncanny X-Force run as a statue in the background. With a rather amazing concept behind his creation, that of injecting a super-soldier serum inside him along with LSD, this creates for a troubled, yet groovy types of villain that could prove to be interesting if handled right. However, while the personality of the villain proves to be a tiny bit fun, there are several problems that don’t exactly make him as good as he very well could be.
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Secret Avengers #15 – Review

by Nick Spencer, Ales Kot (Writers), Luke Ross (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story: Contracts are signed, extractions are done and the secrets in the pile of mysteries are revealed.

The Review: Everyone has its limits when it comes to patience. While not always the most impatient of man, I can sometime get anxious for things to actually reach their culminating point. In story, in cooking and in a lot of areas where anticipation is key, there is a fine line in the sand when it comes to getting the awaited results.

This is how my general appreciation of this series could be summarized, with plenty of things going on, situations being built yet the climax never came with each issues. To be able to set up a threat and build it to make it interesting takes skill, yet there is slow build and then there’s teasing, which this series has been on the verge of doing in this particular arc.

It seems, however, that it had been a stratagem on the part of Ales Kot and Nick Spencer, who goes all the way in this issue to deliver not only an exciting issue, but also plenty of twists and surprise to amplify the espionage and intrigue part of the series without sacrificing the action and particular identity of the book.
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Avengers #26 – Review

by Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Salvador Larroca (Artist), Frank Martin (Colorist)

The Story: Adaptoids versus fascist Avengers from another universe. Fight!

The Review: If there’s one thing that I really enjoy about super hero comics, it’s the inherent ability of writers to bring in multiples universes in their stories. While not a norm nowadays with every series, there is a certain tendency to bring out beings and concepts from alternatives universes and dimensions to the fold that bring out twists to familiar elements that always add a touch of nostalgia and innovation in fun ways. While this concept is not exclusive to capes comics, there is always a certain appeal to see how things might have deviated from the norm with but some simple actions or changes.

With Hickman playing with those very concepts presently in his big Avengers/New Avengers story, there is a lot with which he can advance his ongoing threads in interesting ways. Having dealt with the Marvel universe at large along with its cosmology in his previous big storyline, can he manage to build things up in ways that feel good enough to entice readers to go along with the slow build for the next biggest thing?

The writer, in his ways, does a lot of interesting things in this issue, yet stumbles in a few moments as well. Where he mostly succeed is when he plays with A.I.M. and the approach this organisation has with science. The balance between mad and super science is a sound one with their scientists, with Hickman showing he has some fun with them as he builds them up to become rather big in terms of antagonists in the larger Marvel universe. The adaptoids, their purpose and how A.I.M. tests them make for some rather intriguing threads that could become very interesting down the line.
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Secret Avengers #14 – Review

by Nick Spencer, Ales Kot (Writers), Butch Guice, Joe Rubinstein (Artists), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story: Mockingbird ”learns” a bit more about herself as the rest of the team are brought to their destination after being captured.

The Review
: It’s always rather sad to see something that you can personally admit that it’s smartly made, yet cannot really enjoy to its fullest. You may see the quality behind the work, yet some elements present are in the way of your personal enjoyment. It may be the characters, it may be the style, perhaps even the general tone of the whole thing, yet something doesn’t connect to allow you to make the most of the book.

It is unfortunately what this issue of Secret Avengers amounts to for me, on a personal level. I can certainly see what’s good about the issue, yet there is something that simply doesn’t make this issue as good as some of the previous ones for me.

Something that I can see that is rather ingenious is the way in which Ales Kot and Nick Spencer manage to mix a certain exploration of Andrew Forson through the brainwashing scenes with Mockingbird. Pushing forth the philosophy of the character through the learning process of the manipulated agent, the nihilistic views of Forson becomes rather intriguing, as some of the previous events and some of A.I.M.’s plans becomes that much more threatening in prospect.
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Avengers World #1 – Review

by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer (Writers), Stefano Caselli (Artist), Frank Martin (Colorist)

The Story: Problems arise in a lot of areas on Earth, as the collaboration between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers start now.

The Review: I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I first opened this issue. With this being a clear spin-off of the larger Avengers narrative of Jonathan Hickman, it’s a bit unclear what makes this book different. While it is detached from the structure that Hickman developed and it does try to connect with some of the A.I.M. threads that Nick Spencer has installed with his Secret Avengers run so far, there is a certain problem that doesn’t make the book what it could very well be.

That problem is a lack of a certain angle. It’s not particularly humorous, it’s not something that displays more character work or even something that tries to implement big new ideas. It might seem like a boring book, but it isn’t at all, despite this particular flaw.

One of the actual strength here is the use of the large roster, with both Spencer and Hickman using many characters aptly as the story is divided in multiple areas in the book. While Captain America and Bruce Banner are on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, many teams with characters like Hyperion, Smasher, Cannonball, Hawkeye and plenty more are put on display, with most of them actually contributing through their voice or action for the story. It’s not the entire team, but it is a bit different from the regular title in the respect that not all of them are window-dressing, which is nice.
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Secret Avengers #13 – Review

by Nick Spencer, Ales Kot (Writers), Butch Guice, Joe Rubinstein, Tom Palmer (Artists), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story: As things gets a bit more chaotic at A.I.M., Maria Hill and M.O.D.O.K. have a little chat.

The Review
: Not to sound too paranoid, but I think Marvel actually knew I was getting a bit bored with this series. The themes were presented well and some of the ideas were really nice, yet there never seemed to be a character I could follow in a way that made me anticipate the next issue. I like Maria Hill, sure, but characters like Marcus Johnson and Phil Coulson weren’t exactly the most interesting people to follow to begin with.

Then came in M.O.D.O.K., the character too crazy to actually exist, yet too awesome to not to be invented. While the character had been revitalized completely by Jeff Parker in his Red Hulk story in a manner that made him an actual threat, but also an interesting utilitarian figure as well. To say I really loved the character would be an understatement, but is his inclusion enough? Does the addition of this character to the general storyline actually adds anything to the book in terms of quality?

This issue, in ways, both works and doesn’t for a good number of reasons, making the issue a bit uneven in its quality. There are several great ideas at work here, but some of them aren’t focused on enough to make the issue better than it should be.

One of the bigger problems is the constant switch between scenes, which does not leave enough room to build up situations. In this issue, the spotlight jumps from M.O.D.O.K. and Maria Hill, to Taskmaster, Mockingbird, Mentallo and Marcus Johnson, with most of them not getting nearly enough panel time to have an actual impact on the readers. Their scenes do get the point across rather effectively, but a lot of these short spurts aren’t quite enough to provide greater emphasis on their roles or anything else.
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Secret Avengers #12 – Review

by Nick Spencer, Ales Kot (Writers), Butch Guice (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story
: As Mockingbird tries to fake her way through a presentation, some faction within A.I.M. wishes to make a deal with S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Review: I have to admit something right now: I don’t know how to feel about co-writers. Not only do I never really know who came up with which ideas, but it always seem to me that even though it might not show which pages or concepts were thrown by which. There were instances where it was a bit obvious, like with Brubaker and Fraction on Immortal Iron Fist or the extravaganza of talents that was 52, but in a title that plays to both writers strengths, it plays as a bit of a mystery. It makes it a bit hard to see where the strengths and weaknesses comes from which sources.

With the return to the main cast and the real storyline of the book, Nick Spencer brings along Ales Kot with him to write this issue, as the scribe of Zero (best known for his short stint on Suicide Squad) collaborates with him. Does the return to the conflict against A.I.M and the new co-writer makes this comic enjoyable, though?

It’s a case of hit and miss, really, as some of the best aspects of this run are on display here, with some new high and lows showing to spice things up.
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Wolverine and the X-Men #38 – Review

By: Jason Aaron (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist), Matt Milla (color artist)

The Story: Maria Hill proves she has no appreciation for anything awesome in comics, forcing Wolverine to turn to Carlos Danger.

The Review: I’ll say this for Jason Aaron, he’s very good at writing beginnings. And so, in the vein of Wolverine and the X-Men #1, this issue sets the stage for what seems to be the next and final season of this title.

This book is only twenty-pages long, but it feels massive. While some of that may be the psychological effect of having a preview attached to the back, it’s hard to deny that Aaron gets mileage out of this issue. Wolverine and his staff now know that S.H.I.E.L.D. has Sentinels and they are not pleased, but Maria Hill isn’t exactly pleased with their part in Battle of the Atom, either. While critics of Wolverine and the X-Men might point to the jokey tone of the series, not incorrectly, Aaron does a well above average job of channeling his trademark humor into the drama of the scene and, in fact, the entire issue.

Amid this backdrop, Broo takes a pair of new students on a tour of the Jean Grey School. It’s hardly the first time that Aaron has used this device, but it’s easily one of the best. The school definitely feels different since the last time we saw it. It feels like the start of a new semester. Honestly, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense when that would have happened, but it’s just what the book has needed.
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Secret Avengers #11 – Review

by Ed Brisson (Writer), Luke Ross (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story: A new inhuman has arrived on the scene! It’s a pity he’s hostile to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents though.

The Review
: The latest issue of this series was kind of a letdown, with a replacement writer trying to tie-in to the larger Infinity event. Bringing a new character with him, Ed Brisson had the unenviable task of trying to set up the biggest spy agency in this rather colossal event, tying many of its events into its narrative while telling a story. It was, however, a story in two parts, with this issue being the conclusion. Does he actually fares better this time around, though?

In some ways, Brisson does keep around some of the elements that he made work in the previous issue, with Sarah Garza still retaining her great approach at getting superpowers and being thrown in a situation of high stress. The way she sees things and how she tries her best, yet cannot seem to fathom how she should do things is something that shows good characterization.

Not all characters are written as well, though, with Phil Coulson coming of as rather boring with the low amount of dialogue he has and Marcus Johnson who comes off as a poor planner and a bit stiff in terms of characterization. The way Brisson handles Maria Hill is not half-bad, though, showing her more angry and stressed-out scene, which does help in setting the dire situation the world is in right now.
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Secret Avengers #10 – Review

by Ed Brisson (Writer), Luke Ross (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story
: There’s a new recruits for field work at S.H.I.E.L.D. and she’s one of the new inhumans. It’s a pity for her that Infinity is still going on…

The Review: It’s not necessarily the fairest or most positive thing to say, but there is a reason why most people hate even tie-ins. Shoehorning elements or characters important to the main book, stopping the natural narrative flow for elements that will be untouched further along and many more are possible reasons for the general dislike those issues receive. There are some rare cases where it can produce something of quality, like when Jason Aaron took on Black Panther during Secret Invasion, yet those are few and far between.

This is one of those issues, as regular writer Nick Spencer is replaced by Ed Brisson in order to show readers what S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing during Thanos invasion in Infinity. Set right after the terrigenesis, this shows how a young agent gets turned into an inhuman and then gets sent to the field right away. While this concept could actually give way for a satisfying story, this issue doesn’t really use it very well as it rushes along.
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E01 – Review

By: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen (story)

The Story: Introducing the heroes’ heroes.

The Review: Given the enormous popularity of the Marvel movies, you can be easily forgiven for getting inordinately excited about the prospect of a weekly TV series revolving around the Marvel universe.  Why should DC have all the fun?  But allow me to be the voice of cautious optimism.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be viewed as a colorful supplement to the Marvel cinematic canon, not a way to have a summer blockbuster come into your home every week.

Still, a smaller medium in no way puts a cap on the entertainment possibilities a show like this can have.  Only a lack of imagination can do that.  And although a pilot obviously doesn’t determine the fate and direction of a whole series, it’s still concerning when the first episode seems so dependent on predictable and safe television conventions and is riddled with some awkward bits of writing besides.  Agent Grant Ward’s explanation of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s purpose—to Agent Maria Hill,* of all people—captures both of these defects:
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Secret Avengers #9 – Review

by Nick Spencer (Writer), Butch Guice (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story: Daisy Johnson deals with the fact that she is no longer the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. , with some help from her friends.

The Review: Real-world politics is hard to do right in a super hero universe. In a setting where some people can bench-press Manhattan or fly to the moon, it can be difficult for a writer to make the shadowy and downright secret aspects of international terrorism and secret agencies count for something interesting and relevant. It’s certainly not an impossible task, mind you, but it does mean there is supposed to be a balance between the surrealistic and normalcy.

So far, Nick Spencer did a pretty good job at incorporating the super heroic to the conflict between S.H.I.E.L.D. and A.I.M. with the inclusion of several staples of the Marvel universe. However, this issue deals a bit more with the regular folks with a tale that is starring Daisy Johnson, the recently demoted director of the world’s premiere spy agency. With a focus less on the fantastical and on a character that hasn’t been seen very much since the beginning of the series, does this issue continue the quality streak established?

Curiously, it’s a bit of a hit-and-miss, as there are some particularly strong moments in this issue, yet there doesn’t seem to be much accomplished or any piece moving in a direction that seems particularly exciting for this issue alone.* It uses some of the previous concepts established in other titles smartly and it provides a lot of materials for future issues, yet on its own it’s not that exciting.
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Captain America #11 – Review

Rick Remender (Writer) Carlos Pacheco, Klaus Janson (Artists), Dean White (Colorist)

The Story: Returning to present-day America, both Steve and Jet needs to adjust themselves a bit after all these crazy sci-fi adventures.

The Review
: ”Bold new direction” are words that many readers are used to hear in the past few years. Whenever a new creative team, or at least a new writer comes in for the ride, those words, or at least synonyms, are pronounced, but aren’t always exactly respected in ways that actually live up to the ”bold” part of the statement.

Rick Remender, however, really went there as he picked up the title from Ed Brubaker, moving away from the espionage corner to something more akin to Jack Kirby: crazy sci-fi. The adventure of Steve Rogers in Dimension Z were a far cry to the political and world-war II inspired stories that preceded them, which did cement the fact that this was an actual new take on the character. However, now that the first mega-arc has concluded, where will Remender go with the character?

This issue do try to answer that question, giving a slower pace with more character moments in order to counteract the high-octane action and ideas that permeated the previous chapter. Remender takes a lot more time with Steve and Rogers, showing how they react to both old and new encounters with Steve being healed by Bruce Banner and Hank Pym, while Jet Black gets interrogated by Marcus Johnson. The weariness of Steve and the impetuous attitude of Jet comes off as natural to their characters, considering what they went through.
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