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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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