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Thunderbolts Annual #1 – Review

by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker (Writers), Matteo Lolli (Artist), James Campbell (Colorist)

The Story: It seems that Dr. Strange has gone insane, making people happy whether they want to or not thanks to his spells. Thankfully, the Thunderbolts are here to kill the mood…

The Review: There always comes a time when a reader has to weight down on what’s more important as far as personal experiences go. Does consistency holds a bit more value than pure entertainment? It may seem like a silly question, yet with so many retcons or with some concepts being handled in hazardous ways, it can be somewhat problematic if someone knows he should enjoy something, yet cannot for things that may seem minor at best.

In a way, this annual feels a lot like that for me. The premise is absurdly fun, with some very entertaining scenes and choices put down by the creative team, yet they do so in a lot of ways without any regard to previous stories or to the detriment of previously established elements. Is the story worth the disregard to continuity or is the lack of consistency with previous books something that hold this annual back?

This issue simply cannot be reprimanded for lack of trying, though, as both Acker and Blacker inserts quite a lot in terms of ideas, both old and news. With scenes like Venom and Punisher going to Asgard, Elektra and Deadpool going to visit Bloodstone Manor as they want to collect magical artifacts, there is plenty of opportunity for shenanigans that wouldn’t always be connected with those characters in the first place.
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The Fearless Defenders #6 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (writer), Will Sliney (artist), Veronica Gandini (colorist)

The Story: Valkyrie kills the Marvel Universe.

The Review: Having largely dealt with the threat of the Doom Maidens, battle-mad eldritch-warped valkyries, Marvel’s new team of Defenders find themselves up against the wall when Brunnhilde, the heroine known as Valkyrie, becomes their commander. We get some teasing history on the Doom Maidens and how they came to be, as the new Valkyrie wipes the floor with half the heroines in the Marvel Universe.

If you’re looking for superhero action on a larger scale, this issue provides. Especially with a heroine playing the role of antagonist, it’s pretty amazing to see such powerhouses as Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel tossed around like rag dolls. The stakes are high, and the fighting brutal. Unfortunately, the fight is short, simple, and probably better on paper than…well, on paper. Though the battle between She-Hulk and Valkyrie is a high-point, this contest is simply too one-sided and hopeless to really get the blood pumping. But then, that’s not the point of this issue.

Indeed, though this issue features a regular battle royal, it isn’t about battle or rage, but a rejection of such things. I won’t say too much, but Cullen Bunn is absolutely clear that, to him, this issue is about the interpersonal relationships between these new Midgard Valkyrior.

Admirable as that is, the greatest problem with this issue is that it doesn’t dive deep enough. Both the banter during the fight and the pleas for peace that follow are fairly shallow. Worst of all, the climax of the story is unclear, leaving you unsure what happened until it is reported to you. The book appeals to pathos but doesn’t put enough heart into it to achieve the epic conclusion it’s reaching for.

The pacing is also interesting, off if not necessarily flawed. While I appreciate the greater focus on tone and the aftermath of battle, I’m not sure we need an entire page of Valkyrie climbing stairs. Likewise, the book’s many flashbacks and visions of the future are interesting, but a trifle unclear, which naturally begs the question of why so many were included in a book that could have so benefitted from a little more time to focus on fallout of this arc.

Will Sliney’s art is similarly mixed. Sliney provides attractive linework, but his inking feels a little heavy at times. Either way, it’s hard to fault an artist who is able to draw so many of Marvel’s leading ladies with such determination and strength.
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Secret Avengers #37 – Review

By Rick Remender (Writer), Matteo Scalera (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story: The Secret Avengers tells Captain America how their latest mission ended and how everything ended and who were the heroes and villains of this story.

The Review: Secret Avengers always had a tough time as a title, ever since its inception. When Ed Brubaker launched the title, we all had huge expectations about just what we’d find in the book, only for us to find that he was not as great at writing team books as he was writing about crime or espionage. Then after came Nick Spencer for the Fear Itself tie-ins, giving us some small stories about some of the more neglected team-members during the first twelve issues. Right after came Warren Ellis with a number of delightful one-shots for six issues, only to leave right after to let Rick Remender on the title.

The expectations were huge on the title. Not only was this the writer of Uncanny X-Force, the smash hit of the time, but he had Gabriel Hardman and some new team members. Taking some of the established points from Uncanny X-Force, most notably Father, Remender tried his best to continue the plot points inserted by other writers before him while making his own story along the way. While it is true it was nowhere near as good as the title that made Rick Remender reputation at Marvel, it is still noteworthy to say that Secret Avengers was still a good book worthy to follow months after months and this final issue is a testament to all of that.

Finishing Father’s story with the nano-mist infection and the rise of the Descendants, Rick Remender does so with panache, giving us plenty of actions with some of the more highlighted characters from his series, like Captain Britain, Hawkeye and Venom. Unfortunately, other characters like Black Widow, Beast and Valkyrie are close to inexistent here, which is a shame considering the fact that the three were part of the title from the very start. Still, what we do get here is fantastic action, with Captain Britain kicking all sort of mechanical gears, Venom resuming his fight with Black Ant and Hawkeye coming to grip with the hard decision of destroying the Descendants.

All of these scenes contribute to the tension, even though we do know they make out of it okay considering the very first scene of the comic. There are some very nervous scenes in the comics, especially with Hawkeye and his view of the critical decision he has to do. The way it is written and presented, it makes for a great scene, cementing it with the dialogue and the way the panels are zooming on the key elements. It seems that Rick Remender always has key elements in his mind, be it characters, specific actions or concepts, it makes his work seem very continuous and seamless. Right in this finale, he has placed at least three plot points that could be exploited in further series of his or in the entire Marvel universe. It makes me hope that his contributions will be seen in other titles or at least continued by other writers.
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The Fearless Defenders #1 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (Writer), Will Sliney (Artist), Veronica Gandini (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review:  It’s Ladies Night at the House of Ideas, which I guess is reason enough for a certain amount of celebration; mainstream comics are a bit of a sausage-fest after all.  So, when a book featuring two badass babes going all out to raise a ruckus pops up on the shelf, it is perhaps a debt owed by all red-blooded man-nerds to pick it up. All that ogling of Frank Cho’s libidinous artwork had to come at some kinda price, right fellas?

I jest, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth hidden amongst my pseudo-chauvinistic posturing. We often hear the case put forward in the comic book press that women, diverse ethnic groups and those of a non-hetero persuasion are much maligned when it comes to the world of capes and tights. This book tackles all three hot topics at once, and does so naturally and succinctly. Any move towards equality in the super-powered community deserves at least a respectful nod for trying to make right…but at the end of the day, the main thing we care about as readers is comics that tell a great story filled with engaging characters and dynamite visuals. On those terms I’m afraid this issue comes up a little short.

The basic premise is a good one. I love an Odd Couple pairing and Misty Knight and Valkyrie are nothing if not that. Teaming the “Badass private investigator,” with the “Last Shieldmaiden and defender of Asgardia” is a scenario ripe for terse, witty banter – two more opposing worlds it may be hard to find. It’s a set-up that was at the core of one of my favourite comic runs of the last few years, Greg Pak’s Incredible Herc, where street-smart, likeable techno-brat Amadeus Cho proved a perfect foil for the tragi-comic Greek God Hercules. There’s not a whole lot of interaction between Misty and Valk’ here but the combination certainly has a lot of potential.

The team-up itself takes a while to occur. The story begins with Misty in the middle of a mission from Archeologist Dr Annabelle Riggs to retrieve some stolen Asgardian artifacts from a band of mercenaries. The job gets messy when a villain (who I can only assume is Morgan le Fey) interrupts and makes off with most of the loot. Misty makes her way back to Dr Riggs at her dig site with the one artifact she was able to recover, though she could hardly have picked up a worse one – once activated this Asgardian ‘music box’ plays a tune that reanimates the dead. Zombies ensue, Valkyrie turns up to help Misty, and the book sets up its stall from there.
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Secret Avengers #31 – Review

By: Rick Remender (writer), Matteo Scalera (art), Matthew Wilson (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story:  Only Venom and Ant-Man stand in the way of the Abyss’ plan to infect the world.

The Review:  Comics like this are the worst to review.  I can honestly say that Secret Avengers #31 doesn’t do anything truly wrong.  The problem, however, is that it also did nothing to truly blow me away and, in many ways, just felt kind of “there.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint why I had this lackluster feeling about the issue but, honestly, that vague mediocrity has kind of attached itself to Remender’s Secret Avengers as a whole for me.  It’s a solid comic and yet, it could be so much  more than it is.  Looking at this issue specifically, I feel that perhaps it’s the fact that character-work seems to take a backseat in Secret Avengers, which is a pretty direct contrast to Remender’s other Marvel work.  It’s very much a plot-driven book and so, in some ways, it just feels like pieces being moved around on a board.  Take, for example, the Venom/Valkyrie relationship; it’s a solid idea and when Remender has given it page time, it shines…but it’s never really been given enough space to breathe and develop.
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Secret Avengers #30 – Review

By: Rick Remender (writer), Matteo Scalera (art), Matthew Wilson (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story:  The Secret Avengers chase Taskmaster through the streets of an underground super-villain haven.

The Review:  There’s A LOT of action in this issue.  In fact, a substantial amount of the issue is spent on a high-speed chase sequence.  As such, the book flies by and it certainly keeps you reading.  Remender does a fantastic job plotting the action, which always feels big and blisteringly fast, with Scalera delivering on every panel, delivering a strong sense of speed.  In this sense, it’s an exciting issue.   What makes the chase even enjoyable is that Scalera and Wilson are doing a fantastic job illustrating the setting of this issue.  This sprawling super-villain hang-out feels like what would happen to the Grid from Tron Legacy if the seedy denizens of Blade Runner had decided to make it their hang out.  It’s epic, glowing, gritty sci-fi excellence.  As a result, Scalera’s backgrounds are really fantastic and they add a great deal to the chase, serving to make a more immersive and less derivative experience, something that issues largely spent on action scenes often fall prey to.
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Secret Avengers #27 – Review

by Rick Remender (writer), Renato Guedes (art), Bettie Breitweiser & Matthew Wilson (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Mar-Vell, Noh-Varr, and Ms. Marvel deliver a beatdown on a Hala gone mad.

The Review: This is an issue where in many respects, the script plays second-fiddle to the art.  Much as was the case last month, Renato Guedes is cranking out some of the best work of his career here.  Seriously, this is miles above the work he put out on Wolverine not too long ago.  It’s clear that Guedes excels at drawing outlandish, alien, science fiction environments and narratives.  His work is incredibly detailed, almost uncomfortably so.  His work on Secret Avengers has felt almost as much a comic as some kind of European sci-fi artbook.  Bettie Breitweiser and Matthew Wilson really do a lot to enhance this feel, with a very unique palette that furthers the European aesthetic.  This is particularly impressive in the case of Breitweiser, who has clearly completely changed up her game for this series.

Unfortunately, unlike last month, this issue feels somewhat forgettable insofar as the plot.  I love the fact that Remender is telling a cosmic story, but I’m sort of non-plussed that we’re ultimately just getting yet another “mind control” story in a comic.  It always feels like an “out” when writers do this, a way to cheat by having heroes double-cross each other or do bad things, without having to deal with the consequences or ramifications, without Marvel actually having to commit to the swerve.  It leads to stories and characterization that doesn’t really have he significance that it would otherwise have.

As a result, when you see Ms. Marvel and Mar-Vell romancing and rekindling a flame and taking their relationship to a new level, should we really care?  What could be a significant moment for the two characters is undercut by the fact that it’s probably not for real and could very well just be part of their being mind controlled.
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The Avengers #26 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Walter Simonson (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Jason Keith (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Cap sends Thor and a team of Avengers to space on a suicide mission to head off the Phoenix.  However, all is not what it seems for Noh-Varr.

The Review:  Let’s be clear here: the big selling point on this issue is Simonson’s artwork.  I imagine that there will be a lot of readers who won’t enjoy his style.  Admittedly, it’s not the polished, photo-referenced stuff that’s become commonplace in comics these days, nor is it the labour intensive awesomeness that you’d get out of a Lee Bermejo or Alex Ross.  In fact, Simonson’s art is basically a throwback.  Really, though, that’s part of why it’s so much freaking fun.  It’s filled with gleeful nostalgia and it’s really dynamic, fast-paced stuff.  This is also reflected in Simonson’s layouts as well.  His work has a tremendous amount of energy and character to it and it really just breathes “comics” in its purest form.  Hanna and Keith do great work in supporting Simonson’s work as well: Hanna simply emphasizes the already present strengths to Simonson’s work while Keith matches Simonson’s energy with simple but vibrant colors.

It also helps that Bendis realizes that Simonson is the big selling point here; he essentially writes a script that offers plenty of time for Simonson to shine.  Obviously, this means we get to see a lot of Thor, which is great, especially for that priceless nostalgia.  More than that though, Simonson gets to draw the Avengers battling the Phoenix in space, which is so much grandiose fun to read and look at.

Unfortunately, while the art is a lot of fun, the script is a puzzling one in that I’m left wondering why this story had to be told.  The problem is that Bendis is basically telling the exact same story that Remender told last month in Secret Avengers.  Both books are focused on the same team, the same general story/conflict, in the same setting.  It’s a bizarre duplicate.  Of course, this also leads to problematic contradictions between the two – the Avengers rig  up a second device in a second attempt to contain the Phoenix (which never happened in Secret Avengers), while Mar-Vell, a big part of Remender’s version of the story, is not present (here, all the Kree double-crossing is left to Noh-Varr).  It’s stuff like this that really makes your brain  hurt.  Why are two creative teams telling the same story in two different books, at the same time?  And how can there be such glaring contradictions between the two?  How did editorial okay this?  I understand that they wanted to give Simonson a Thor story, but surely it didn’t have to step on Secret Avengers’ toes to this extent.
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Secret Avengers #26 – Review

By: Rick Remender (writer), Renato Guedes (art), Bettie Breitweiser & Matthew Wilson (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: A special team of Avengers head off into space in a desperate attempt to contain the Phoenix before it reaches Earth.

The Review:  It’s hard not to be skeptical going into this issue of Secret Avengers: it’s a tie-in issue and one that only features half the regular team, the other half of the roster being filled with guest stars (Thor, Ms. Marvel, etc).  This screams “derailment,” the fear that always looms when there’s a tie-in.  Worse still, regular artist Gabriel Hardman is nowhere to be found.

Yet, against all odds, this may very well be the best issue of Rick Remender’s run thus far.
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Secret Avengers #24 – Review

by Rick Remender (writer), Gabriel Hardman (art), Bettie Breitweiser (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: The Secret Avengers fight to survive in the Core.

The Review:  First thing you’re going to notice when you flip open this issue: this is a gorgeous comic book.  It can’t be said enough that Gabriel Hardman and Bettie Breitweiser are a match made in heaven.  They give the book a fantastic, pulp sci-fi feel that perfectly matches Remender’s outlandish story of underground cities and robot civilizations.  It makes the book feel otherworldly and heavily atmospheric.  Despite being a clearly modern comic, there’s a sense of nostalgia to this book that reflects the science fiction stories of a bygone era.  That said, the world that Hardman and Breitweiser gives us is one that’s dark, dangerous, and constantly threatening with a hint of the weird and the surreal.

And really, it’s a good thing Hardman and Breitweiser bring the goods, because so much of this issue is about atmosphere.  Remender gives us a comic that is as much about the underground city itself as its character.  It’s an issue where the Secret Avengers are constantly hunted and hopelessly trapped in this other world.  Remender, particularly given the ending of last month’s issue, gives us a script where the heroes really seem vulnerable and in a hopeless situation, constantly on the run.

Much as there’s a surreal edge to the artwork, the same can be said for Remender’s script.  It’s fantastic seeing some of the characters run into cybernetic versions of friends, mistaking them for people they knew.  It only makes this world Remender has created all the more threatening and, well, bizarre.  Along with the fact that they’re surrounded by enemies and constantly hunted through dark, dank underground streets, this element of some of the cyborgs looking like old friends only increases the psychological burden that the Core is placing on the Avengers.  There’s a constant vibe that the longer they spend down in this city, the more their  psyches begin to fray along the edges.
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Thunderbolts #167 – Review

By: Jeff Parker (writer), Declan Shalvey (artist), Frank Martin (colorist)

The Story: What a waste of a perfectly good prostitute.

The Review: Ever since both Herc and S.H.I.E.L.D. dropped off my radar, I’ve been scoping around for other Marvel titles to check out and cover.  A couple of you made suggestions, which I appreciate, but most of them turned out to be minis that were already part-way through their run, so those didn’t seem like the best long-term choices.  What I really wanted to find was that great Marvel middleweight—not one of the pop sellers, but an enjoyable title in its own way.

And since I’ve had a hankering for a quality antihero title since the end of Secret Six (which I miss more and more with each passing day, by the way), the Thunderbolts seemed like a natural fit.  Reading through this issue makes it clear this dubious band of individuals don’t have quite the edginess Gail Simone’s smart writing brought to the Six, but the T-bolts have a lively, engaging group dynamic all their own.

For one thing, you have far more than six people bouncing off each other.  All told, you have almost twice that number of members on the team, each with a very distinctive power set, design, and personality.  You’ve got the daughter of Satan, a slightly disturbed psychologist, a half-Asgardian, half-Troll, several geniuses with varying degrees of amorality, and Mr. Hyde.  And that’s before you get to the heroic alignments of the characters, some of whom really seem to be in this for the nobility, and others who can’t care less.

Obviously, with Luke Cage and Brunnhilde (I know she goes by Valkyrie, but her Asgardian name is a lot more fun to say, don’t you think?) around, you have your true-blue heroes, but the rest of the T-bolts are a little harder to pin down.  I’ll say this, though: none of them show as much of an inclination to kill as the most principled of the Secret Six.  Troll expresses remorse (“No…!  Not mean to…”) when she slays the Iceni curse-keeper in this issue, and even Boomerang holds off killing the woman trying to suck his soul until told he’s fated to do so.

As for the plot at hand, time-traveling hijinks are always fun when there are no universe or reality-threatening stakes to them.  Parker seems to be having fun picking and choosing the various periods to send the team, though he makes some fairly obvious choices (here, we go from Industrial Revolution England to Arthurian legend).  But so long as he keeps bringing the creative twists—as it turns out, it’s Jack the Ripper’s victims who are the murderers here—there’s no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy the ride.

Shalvey goes for a simple, sketchy style in the same tradition of Cliff Chiang, but his lines are even thinner and he seems more interested in dynamic movement than drama.  But that works; unlike the Greek tragedy going on over in Wonder Woman, this title is all about action from beginning to end, so Shalvey’s lean, kinetic art (along with some interesting paneling choices, like Satana’s “fiery” recounting of the Iceni legend) fits very well.

Conclusion: Entertaining throughout, Thunderbolts lacks much in the way of depth or complexity, but it delivers a satisfying read nonetheless.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - “A proper room instead o’ the alley?  Fancy!”  I shudder to think of the undoubtedly countless people forced to do the nasty in a pre-Industrial England alley.  Those people can’t be alive now.  As it happens, they aren’t.  So let that be a lesson to you: do it in a room!

- “Never thought my job would require arranging trysts as a pimp.”  None of us ever do.  And I’m a document controller by day, so…

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Secret Avengers #10 – Review

by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato & Will Conrad (art), Rain Beredo (colors), and Dave Lanphear (letters)

The Story: Steve Rogers and his Secret Avengers rush to save Shiang-Chi and halt Zheng Zu’s plans for resurrection.

The Review:  Secret Avengers #10 is one of those difficult issues to review in that while it does nothing wrong, it also doesn’t do anything terribly right.

There’s nothing really emotionally powerful, compelling, or witty about this issue.  Frankly, there’s also not a lot here that you’ve not seen before.  It’s ultimately just a giant action scene resolving exactly as you most likely thought it would.  In this sense, it may even be accused of being phoned in a bit.

But once you lower your expectations and realize that you’re getting your average superhero comic, there is stuff to like here.  For starters, the art by Mike Deodato and Will Conrad is very, very strong and truly one of Deodato’s better outings.  The action is superb, feeling incredibly fast and fluid.  Movements are smooth and dynamic and the fights are acrobatic, all-encompassing, and quite a lot of fun.

Valkyrie fans will also get a real kick out of this issue, as she goes one on one with John Steele.  The resulting fight is a real “hell yeah” where Valkyrie is concerned and shows her for the badass that she really is.  She’s a character that doesn’t often get the love she deserves, so this was pretty awesome.  It also showed some interesting development in Steve Rogers’ place as team leader; unlike last time in his dealings with Steele, Rogers delegates a fight that he has a personal stake in, letting Valkyrie take Steele instead, what with her being more capable of handling the super-soldier than Rogers himself.  It’s a point that’s dwelt on a bit by Brubaker towards issue’s end, and it shows a maturity to Rogers’ character that is probably the smartest part of the issue.
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Secret Avengers #8 – Review

by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato (art), and Rain Beredo (colors)

The Story: The Secret Avengers try to defend Hong Kong against Shang-Chi’s father and his rampaging hordes while Max Fury and John Steele set up an ambush.

What’s Good: While it’s  not quite as awesome as the past few issues, rest assured that Secret Avengers remains a very good title in this, its second arc.  Essentially, some of the pulpy kung-fu goodness gets toned down a bit this month, but that only makes it an issue that’s clearly an easy one for Brubaker to write; it feels quite a bit like his Captain America in tone, at times.

Part of the reason for this is the Shadow Council.  Since the comic returned to Earth, Brubaker has done a fantastic job with these guys.  They’re a pulpy secret society, but this month they also come across as the kind of covert commando operation that Brubaker writes so well.  It makes them fun to read and ominous, yet highly capable bad guys.  Steele and Max Fury also make for compelling and very dangerous adversaries.  Their presence and their actions make this month’s issue into something of a spy book, and I quite enjoyed it.  This makes for a book that’s fast, but also one involving scheming, planning, ambushes, and diversions.

The real star this month though is Mike Deodato, who puts out excellent work this month as Brubaker allows him to go wild.  The action scenes are nothing short of incredible and the layouts and splashes are expertly done.  Everything is fluid and dynamic, and really, really cool.  Put in Deodato’s always polished look, and you’ve got a very nice looking comic.
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Secret Avengers #7 – Review

by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato (art), and Rain Beredo (colors)

The Story: Steve Rogers and friends fight to protect Shang Chi while the Prince of Orphans and Valkyrie journey to Fu Manchu’s tomb.

What’s Good: With Secret Avengers #7, Ed Brubaker proves that Secret Avengers’ massive upshot in quality as of #5 is here to stay.  As I said with last month’s issue, this is what we were expecting from an Ed Brubaker covert ops Avengers book, not bland trips to Mars.  This sudden turn is nothing short of brilliant, particularly in that it brings together everything that Brubaker does so well.

First off, you’ve got your pulp, specifically the kung fu breed that’ll really wet the appetites of fans of Brubaker’s Iron Fist run.  From the bad guy (Fu Manchu) to the sheer amount of awesome kung fu fighting, parts of this issue feel like kooky fun from a bygone era, updated in 2010, and that’s exactly the sort of thing that we’ve been getting for years from quality Brubaker comics, particularly Iron Fist and Incognito.  All told, the martial arts base of this arc continues to be absolutely wonderful.

But it’s not just that; Brubaker also lives up to the conspiratorial, shadowy, covert ops part of the equation, something that was also somewhat lacking in the first arc.  This feels like a Steve Rogers spy book at times, with great mysterious enemies that can only just barely be fathomed.   The Shadow Council is as foreboding as ever, and seeing Thorndrake secretly worshipping some Cthulian statue was delicious.  Better still is the emphasis on Rogers’ keeping the teams activities a secret, something that hasn’t really been broached since the first issue.

I’ve complained last month about the continued lack of team dynamic.  Brubaker, on the one hand, is slowly making it clear that this isn’t a conventional Avengers team; really, it’s closer to “Steve Rogers and friends.”  Regardless, we still get subtle character moments this month of the sort we’ve been lacking for some time.  Ant-Man’s youthful eagerness and consequent sloppiness and Rogers’ tactful encouragement of him were high points, while the Prince of Orphans’ team-up with Valkyrie led to a really neat dynamic that was also all kinds of badass.

All told, this was just the sort of issue that, thematically, brought everything together.  Much like the team-up of Fu Manchu and the Shadow Countil, this issue was a wonderful balancing and mixing of retro pulpiness and shadowy conspiracies that led to the comic I’ve always hoped Secret Avengers would be.
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Secret Avengers #6 – Review

by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato (art), Rain Beredo (colors), and Dave Lanphear (letters)

The Story: Steve Rogers and co. look to halt the resurrection of Shang-Chi’s father.

What’s Good: I’m happy to report that the sudden upsurge in quality with last month’s issue continues in a big way this month, with this new story-arc really playing to Ed Brubaker’s strengths.  Finally, Secret Avengers truly feels like a Brubaker comic.  Were the series to have started out like this, I never would have felt disappointed by it.

Secret Avengers #6, and this whole arc by the looks of it, is Ed Brubaker through and through, doing what he does best.  There’s that wacky pulp element that’s present in all of his work; the ninjas, kung fu, and major presence of Shang-Chi and his father, Fu Manchu, make sure of this.  This is that wonderful sort of retro comic goodness that Brubaker does so well.

Moreover, Secret Avengers finally lives up to its mission statement.  The book actually is starting to feel like a real black-ops superhero team, something which all the Mars stuff didn’t allow for.  There’s a wonderful sequence where Steve narrates by outlining a plan, while said plan plays out on the page.  Better still, this plan features breaking into a museum exhibit in a skyscraper, including the mandatory elevator shaft rappelling scene.  It’s incredibly slick and feels like a superhero heist film.

Then there’s the involvement of the Shadow Council, the masked bad guy, the sudden ambushes, the scheming bad guys, and the digging for mysterious artifacts.  All of it leads to an excellent cloak and dagger feel.  The comic ends up being a blend of modern superhero, 70s pulp, and Indiana Jones styled adventure.  There’s just so much to like here.  It’s a beautiful mix of enjoyable elements, all of which Brubaker excels at.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Mike Deodato continues to truck out excellent work.  Things are dark, as they should be, and the bad guys are foreboding but pulpy.
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Secret Avengers #4 – Review

By Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato (artist), Rain Beredo (colorist)

The Story: In the conclusion to “Secret Histories”, Commander Rogers hijacks the Nova Force in order to take out Richard Ryder, while Sharon Carter and Ant-Man make a disturbing discovery about one of the Shadow Council’s agents.

The Good: To its credit, this issue of “Secret Avengers” was a huge improvement over the previous three. It was a delight to see Deodato’s art firing on all cylinders here, and the intensity of the fight between Rogers and Ryder was so furious that I practically feel the heat from the impact of their collisions. That kind of raw energy is what I like to see in my Avengers comics and this issue certainly delivers the goods! The mystery of the Shadow Council, while not necessarily clarified, is at least hinted at enough that I’m seriously tempted to pick up next month’s issue if only to learn more about what the hell Fury has been up to lately. I was also pleasantly surprised with Ant-Man’s run in the spotlight this month; I really admired his intrepid efforts against the Shadow Council’s suicide bombers, and I suspect that watching his journey as he learns to become a hero under the tutelage of living legends will have the potential to to be a hugely satisfying storyline in the months to come.

The Not So Good: Despite being a lot more entertaining than previous issues, I don’t know, this comic isn’t quite doing it for me. More to the point, I didn’t find this inaugural storyline to be quite entertaining enough for me to continue wanting to spend four bucks a month on it. This issue, for example, amounted to little more than an extended fight scene between Rogers and Ryder which, while expertly rendered, still amounted to precious little story. I was hoping to see much more espionage out of this team of hand picked heroes, but instead got more superhero slugfests–and yes, I realize that sounds slightly hypocritical when I just got done praising Deodato’s ability to render the smackdown with epic efficiency, but that’s okay because from the get go this was a book that was marketed as walking the fine line between espionage and classic Avengers action; thus far though it’s been all action and not enough covert asskicking, and I’m disappointed that this balance wasn’t reached more effectively. In a world where the Heroic Age is in full swing and heroes are more abundant, prominent, and….heroish than ever, Rogers’s team of commandos aren’t Secret as much as they are obscure and inconsequential…especially when you consider how other, arguably far more superior heroes are out there *also* saving the universe in the excellent “Thanos Imperative” storyline currently running. As a paying reader, I wanted to see these heroes stalking the shadows of some nameless metropolis, pursuing Rogers’s agenda with ruthless efficiency, not running around Mars beating down faceless, nameless stormtroopers while Rogers fights for a Macguffin that inevitably is far less threatening or interesting than it’s made out to be. For my tastes, this storyline was a weird, anticlimatic way to begin the series and seemed to go against Brubaker’s descriptions which had far more potential, although it’s entirely possible this potential has yet to be tapped. Additionally, I continued to be slightly disappointed with Deodato’s art, which seems more dynamic, yet less refined than what he achieved on “Dark Avengers”, which remains a benchmark of his abilities in my opinion. Seeing what Deodato was capable of, I feel his work on this comic seems either rushed or not always as inspired as it could be, and that’s a hard pill to swallow coming from such a talented creator as he is.

Conclusion:There are qualities I liked about this issue, and about this storyline in general, but not enough of any one of them to create that drive and need and incentive for me to want to continue buying “Secret Avengers” month after month. This can be a good comic, but I don’t think I’ll stick around to find out. Until things improve, I’m going to wait for this to be released in graphic novels.

Grade: C+

-Tony Rakittke

Secret Avengers #3 – Review

By Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato (artist), Rain Beredo (colorist)

The Story: The Secret Avengers and Archon fight valiantly to oppose a possessed Nova, while Ant-Man spies the machinations of the Shadow Council.

The Good: Uhhhhhh, God, I don’t even know. I mean, there wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with this issue, but I didn’t think there was anything overwhelmingly good about it to justify the $3.99 price tag, either. It was so slightly above average that when I finished it I was almost too apathetic about the experience to summon the strength to shrug my indifference. Is it just me, or is it slightly unreasonable to charge so much money for a comic that delivers so little?! In terms of actual plot, we are treated to an extended fight scene in which a throw character gets killed, Nick Fury and the Big Bad Guy talk ominously of the three Serpent Crowns, and Nova encourages subtly encourages Valkyrie to go back into the kitchen and bake him a pie. But what the hell is happening?! We’re three issues in and the Secret Avengers are still on Mars, seemingly no closer to understanding why the hell they are there or what their objective is. They haven’t actually thrown down with any serious villains or than some minor cannon fodder types, and aren’t even really functioning as a team. This story is plodding along to a destination that I’m not sure I care to reach at this point, and that is a huge shame to speak of a comic created by such esteemed talents as Brubaker, Deodato, and Beredo, none of whom have quite seemed to be firing on all cylinders on this book.
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Thunderbolts #146 – Review

By Jeff Parker (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Frank Martin (colorist)

The Story: Luke Cage and the team are scrambled to New Guinea to investigate the disappearance of U.N. and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents near a hidden vein of Terrigen Crystals.

The Good: This new assembly of Thunderbolts continues to be one of the titles I look forward to most every month. On all levels, from writing, to art, to colors, this is a book that thoroughly delivers entertainment value, and I haven’t been finding many comics lately that can do that for me. I think part of the appeal with this book, despite having been a fan of the title since Warren Ellis began his infamous run on it, is that the cast this time around is just so fucking bizarre, so absurdly surreal, that it makes you wonder how the hell Parker was able to get editorial approval for his vision. But he did, and holy crap has he pulled off one hell of a hat trick with this book!
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Secret Avengers #2 – Review

By Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato and Will Conrad (artists), Rain Beredo (colorist)

The Story: The Secret Avengers search Mars for Nova and answers as to why Roxxon Corporation was in possession of a Serpent Crown.

The Good: Brubaker has done a rare, wonderful thing with this book: he’s taken everything we’ve come to expect from an Avengers Comic and, with a generous dose of espionage intrigue, turned it into something different, but no less exciting. For a title with as rich a heritage as the Avengers, this is a rare feat, but Brubaker is pulling it of nicely and making this a priority comic for me to read each month. Reading Secret Avengers, I can’t help but feel like this is what it must have been like to read Steranko’s run on Nick Fury back in the 60s; it has that same, suave aesthetic to it. I like that Marvel has this kind of covert team out there in the field now. Incredibly powerful for a black ops unit, these Avengers are nonetheless a highly surgical strikeforce, and it’s immensely satisfying to watch Steve Rogers take command of these unique personalities and their abilities. Speaking of unique personalities, Brubaker has done a great job this issue of defining who these people are and how well they work together. I loved (and realized how much I have missed) the calm, assured confidence Rogers displays when going into battle, as well as the unspoken trust, forged through years of fighting together, between Rogers, Beast, and Black Widow. Add to that Moon Knight’s desire to be a good soldier and please his commanding officer, War Machine’s refusal to go easy on Ant-Man, and Ant-Man’s quest to get a little respect from his comrades, and I can’t help but see potential in the stories that can be told about these characters.
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Thor #610 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writer), Doug Braithwaite (art), Andy Troy, Doug Braithwaite, & Paul Mounts (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: The heroes of Asgard come to grips with Siege’s aftermath, while Thor concludes his unfinished business with his clone.

What’s Good: This issue of Thor does what needs to be done in positioning the series, and the Asgardian status quo, moving into the Heroic Age as a time of rebuilding.   I like where this series is going.  Partly, it’s because not everything is being reversed; for instance, I like the fact that Balder is going to remain king.

Then there’s Kelda, who’s left in a very interesting position after this month’s issue.  This is most particularly due to the painfully “sort of, but not quite” return of a much beloved character.  Just seeing this character in an issue of Thor that isn’t a flashback was a heartwarming moment that’ll fill any reader with a desperate kind of hope.

I’m also pleased that Thor’s clone is dealt with.  This is a piece of history that needs dealing with and this resolution is perfectly timed by Gillen.  The character is a clear representation of Civil War and the past and thus, having this character dealt with is a symbolic step forward, away from the past and into a fresher, brighter new era.
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Secret Avengers #1 – Review

By Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato (artist), Rain Beredo (colorist)

“Our world is out of control… But the things I worry about most are the threats we don’t know about.”

As the Marvel Universe breaks free from the dark reign of Norman Osborn to bask in the light of a new age, Steve Rogers has remained skeptical. Cautious, even. He and his compatriots have endured many hardships over the years, responding to threats that have threatened to destroy them and only barely emerging victorious each time. Captain Steve Rogers has had enough. Ever the steadfast soldier, he is tired of holding ground and waiting for the problems to come to him. He has put together a new strategy, one that will proactively hunt the threats that plague the world before they have a chance to destroy it. To aid in his mission, Rogers has assembled a covert team of specialized operatives to help him save the world, but only this time from the shadows.

After months of speculation and eager anticipation, Secret Avengers has finally arrived, and I’m relieved to find that it was a comic well worth the wait. There’s simply a lot to like here!

Marvel has flirted with this idea of a preemptive superhero strikeforce before (anybody ever read Abnett’s short-lived Force Works?) but I’m glad they dusted it off and polished it up for The Heroic Age, because I think it’s an idea Marvel needs to keep around and address often. Why aren’t there more superheroes in the Marvel Universe that prevent problems instead of simply stopping them after they’ve already happened? Why do so many teams stand idly by and wait for shit to land on their doorstep when they should be relentlessly taking the fights to the villains until they are crushed once and for all? Hell if I know, but Secret Avengers seems ready to defy those conventions and offer us a new perspective on what heroes can and should do, and for that alone I’m ready to see where Brubaker, Deodadto, and Beredo take this comic.
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Ultimates 3 #4 – Capsule Review

Jeph Loeb, (Writer) Joe Madureira, (Artwork) and Christian Lichtner (Digital Paints)

To be honest, this one doesn’t deserve any more space than it is getting. If it wasn’t for the awesome (its a love or hate thing I know) artwork by Joe Mad and Christian Lichtner I would have dropped this one after the first issue. The storyline is a mess featuring too many characters, Jeph Loeb’s dialogue is hilariously cliché, campy, and one-note, and I am fairly certain characters are acting wildly out of character. This is easily one of the worst things I have read since getting back into comics. If the artwork wasn’t so fun to look at, I would have to consider this a complete and utter failure at every level. (Grade: D)

-Kyle Posluszny

A Second Opinion

I have no idea where this book is going anymore. And to think it’s going to wrap up next issue is just unthinkable. The only thing I can make a wager on is that it’s going to say, “To be continued in Ultimatum” at the end of issue #5. There’s just too many subplots and dangling threads (that have been randomly conjured up, no less) to be wrapped up in another 22 pages of story. This series has done nothing but sullen The Ultimates brand and lower the integrity of the creative team. Joe Mad’s art is the only reason why people are buying this turd, because the story is a convoluted mess and the coloring is still too dark. Why he would want to be associated with a piece of garbage like this is beyond me. At least with Hulk, I know that Jeph Loeb is purposely writing a bad story for the hell of it. Here, there’s just no excuse. Even the cover sucks. (Grade: F+)

- J. Montes


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