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Fantastic Four #4 – Review

By: James Robinson (Writer), Leonard Kirk (Penciller), Karl Kessel and Jay Leisten (Inkers), Jesus Arburtov (Color Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Story:
Firstly, the Frightful Four and Fantastic Four fight, in furious and four-color fullness; Subsequently, S.H.I.E.L.D. serves a summons for a civil suit.

The Review:
My criticism regarding issue #3 detailed its somewhat formless and needlessly multiple plot threads. Thankfully, that criticism is completely absent here, as the comic focuses on one central moment, a massive slugfest between two powerful teams, and its collateral damage, the most serious of which is S.H.I.E.L.D. threatening the Fantastic Four with a lawsuit.

And what a massive slugfest it is. This comic is full of spectacle, with several blows from villains and heroes, toppling buildings and civilian rescuing, and all the cracking energy, speed lines, smoke you’d need to create an intense, high-stakes tone with participation from all the players on both sides of the battle. One particularly effective moment is the choice of small panels to set up the page-turn reveal of the “second string” FF, complete with a dramatic panel and color palette change for emphasis. (Unfortunately, the size relationships among the characters in that panel ruin the dramatic moment, as more context or a more extreme camera angle might be needed to help Ant-Man’s giant-size “read” better.)

It’s more than just a good fight scene, as care is taken to render facial expressions and relationships, too. When the comic’s subplots show up here, it’s in context of the main storyline/battle, so whether it’s Johnny’s frustration or Sue’s desire to protect her family, or even the Wizard’s gloating or Bulldozer’s determination, the characterization flows through the action thanks to the artistic expression.
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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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Uncanny X-Men #1 – Review


By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey (inks), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story:  An inside man approaches Maria Hill with an offer to help take down Scott Summers.

The Review:  One of the concerns I had about this book going in was the way it would differentiate itself from All-New X-Men.  Yes, I realize it wouldn’t feature the time traveling teens, but Cyclops and his gang have appeared quite a bit in that book such that having them star in this one seemed to be some serious overlap.  Thankfully, Bendis quickly dispels this concern.  It’s not so much that Cyclops team are front and center, which they are, but rather that the tone of the book has been subtly altered.  While part of it may be due to Bachalo’s artwork, with its muddy colors and its lack of distinct, clean lines (as opposed to Immonen and Marquez on All-New), the big reason for this is the subtle change in tone.  The book feels more shadowy, more “underground,” and a touch more edgy.  The humour isn’t there and the soap opera of All-New is shifted into something that’s a little closer to twisty, spy-thriller dramatics.  All-New is the above-ground, flagship story.  Uncanny is what happens beneath and on the revolutionary fringes that Cyclops and his team currently occupy.
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Indestructible Hulk #2 – Review


By: Mark Waid (Writer), Leinil Francis Yu (Artist), Gerry Alanguilan (Inker), Sunny Gho (Colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (Letterer)

The Review: At one point in this issue Bruce Banner wryly remarks that “You wouldn’t like me when I’m happy.” Ah Brucey, nothing could be further from the truth – you seemed pretty content in #1 and I haven’t enjoyed a Hulk comic that much in years. Still, maybe he has a point, as Banner later goes on to show that even when he’s happy there’s a still a few scores that he feels can only be settled with his fists. To recap, happy or angry, the end result is still lots and lots of smashing. It’s the one inescapable element of the character that even the mighty Mark Waid seems unable to reconcile within Indestructible Hulk’s new direction; the beast has to come out, even if it makes zero sense to the story he’s trying to tell.
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Hawkeye #4 – Review

By: Matt Fraction (story), Javier Pulido (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story:  There’s a tape out there of Clint doing some very bad things for SHIELD and someone has put it up for auction.

The Review:  Matt Fraction is a pretty divisive writer among the online comics intelligentsia, particularly since Fear Itself.  He’s not at Bendis-levels yet, but he’s getting there.  Of course, the problem for those with a firm distaste for Fraction is that Hawkeye has been an excellent comic book.  So what to do?  After all, Matt Fraction can’t write a good Marvel comic!  The explanation was simple:  the book was only good thanks to David Aja’s efforts.  Everything that made this book a good one could be attributed to Aja.

Well, bad news folks; David Aja is out of the picture this month and you know what?  This book still rocks.
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Avengers #34 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (story), Brandon Peterson,  Mike Mayhew, Jim Cheung, Leinil Yu, Mark Morales, Mike Deodato, Olivier Coipel, Terry Dodson & Walter Simonson (art), Scott Hanna & Rachel Dodson (inks), Jason Keith, Laura Martin & Paul Mounts (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story:  The Avengers work to escape the microverse after one more big fight with centaur kingpin Lord Gouzar.

The Review:  I’m a big fan of Bendis and, as such, I’ve stuck with his Avengers books for a long, long time now.  Suffice it to say, it’s been a rocky road with highs and lows.  With that said, he’s done a lot for the franchise and so I really do wish I could give a glowing review for this giant-sized farewell issue.  I mean, the sheer amount of heart he puts into his lengthy farewell letter at the end of the issue makes me really want this issue to be a great one.  But it isn’t.

Quite honestly, it’s been pretty clear for a while now that Bendis perhaps overstayed his welcome on Avengers; ideas were being recycled, certain issues felt phoned in, and this issue really only evidences that fact.  Everything just feels so derivative and phoned in that it’s hard to believe much passion and effort went into its creation from Bendis.  Given how sincere his farewell letter was, you’d figure that he’d really try to blow us away with this issue, but perhaps he just doesn’t have it in him anymore.
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Indestructible Hulk #1 – Review

By: Mark Waid (Writer), Leinil Francis Yu (Artist), Gerry Alanguilan (Inker), Sunny Gho (Colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (Letterer)

The Review: By the fifth page of Indestructible Hulk #1 I was sold; sold on whichever weird locales Mark Waid wants to take me to and whichever artist he wants us to hitch a ride with. It was a subtle build-up to that point – a Banner talking head, probably the smallest panel in the whole issue with the focus falling on its first line of dialogue: “I’m incurable.” A Gamma-mutated monkey was wrenched from the character’s back in that moment my friends. No more Hulk vs. Banner! That concept’s been cut open, peeled apart and roughly stitched back together so many times that we’ve been desensitized to the vivisection. It’s one of many tried and tested themes (that have oftentimes dragged various Hulk titles into predictable patterns) which Waid ably sidesteps in the interests of rebranding the character as a major player in the Marvel universe, recognised as much for his brains as his brawn. And that’s all before the smashing even starts!
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