Posted tagged ‘Marvel’

Review: Essential Sub-Mariner Vol.1

June 7, 2010

I’ve been waiting years for Marvel to get around to releases this book.  The Sub-Mariner is the last of their silver age super-hero titles to have gone without an affordable edition in print.  For that alone I’ve been wanting this to complete the collection, but also I always loved the character of Namor, probably the most pompous figure in comics, and a lot of fun because of that.

But sadly I think I see why Marvel was hesitant to bring these back.  As it turns out, there are exactly two types of Namor stories.

  1. Namor has a misunderstanding with the human race and nearly declares war
  2. Someone tries to claim the throne of Atlantis from Namor

Now, this collection has stories from 35 issues, granted most of these are only 12 pages long, but still, these schticks get old pretty quickly.  And it doesn’t help that there’s a fairly glaring problem with the art as well that I just can’t get past, even with greats such as Bill Everett, Gene Colan, and John Buscema at work.  

Namely, no one can seem to remember that Atlantis is actually underwater!  Why does the city have paved roads!?!  Why are robes in fashion and why don’t they float!?!  Why is Dorma’s hair perfectly styled, only to appear wet when she’s out of the water!?!  You get the idea.

There are a few decent issues here, and in small doses the stories can be fun, but as a whole, not one of Marvel’s better efforts.

Review: Annihilation

May 26, 2010

Annihilation was Marvel’s quite successful take at reviving their cosmic characters.  The cosmic branch of the Marvel Universe had been languishing for years under the weight of Jim Starlin’s legacy.  Starlin wrote epics of Godlike beings with nebulous powers who would battle across the stars while espousing cryptic philosophies.  His approach came to its head in the Infinity Gauntlet, a fairly legendary mini-series in the Marvel cannon, which everyone else to tackle this world has sought to emulate, never with much success.

Now the Gauntlet was published back in ’91, making it well past overdue for Marvel to try something radical, which is where Annihilation comes in.  It’s an event, comprising 7 mini-series, with 29 issues, and collected in 3 volumes.  The structure of this sort of thing is slightly odd, with 1 issue to launch the story, a big mini-series to wrap it up, and a bunch of more character focused minis between that serve to spotlight a pretty damn eclectic group of characters.  The Silver Surfer is there because there has to be one big name cosmic hero, but then there are stories for Super-villains Ronan the Accuser and Super Skrull, former teen pseudo-cosmic hero Nova, and one for a completely revamped Drax the Destroyer.

Their stories all bring them into conflict with the Annihilation Wave, an enormous army lead by the classic Fantastic Four villain Annihilus (a.k.a. the living death that walks).  Now I’ve always liked Annihilus for some reason, despite the fact that he’s hardly the most well-rounded villain, being someone who simply wants to kill everyone so he can be the last living thing in the Universe.  But as far as evil cosmic menaces go, that’s pretty good, and its kind of nice to see him actually trying to follow through on his goals after being around for 40 years or so.

So with that what we have he is a good old-fashioned space war, but maybe the best one ever portrayed in comics.  Worlds are destroyed, heroes fall, and in nearly every issue the status quo of the universe is changed.  And when it’s all over, Marvel cosmic is left a much more interesting place, not to mention one that’s proven to be able to sustain a few ongoing series for the first time in an age.

Review: Captain America: Reborn

May 6, 2010

After 50 issues (of which the title character has been dead for the last 2 years worth) Ed Brubaker has brought things to a conclusion in Reborn.  It’s not a bad summation to the story (or of Captain America’s history for that matter), and it does accomplish its main goal of resurrecting Cap without resorting to too large of a deus ex machina, but it does have a pretty major plot flaw.

So, two years ago, Captain America was shot and killed by girlfriend who was being controlled by minions of the Red Skull at the time.  As it turns out what actually happened was that Cap became unstuck in time (slaughterhouse-five style) thanks to Dr. Doom’s time platform (which to be fair, had been introduced into the story before then).  And now in this book the Red Skull has launched his master plan, to bring Cap back to the present and take control of his body.

As master plans go, not so original.  And furthermore, this doesn’t really make sense as it was established pretty well in here that Cap’s time traveling was an accident because the time platform was broken.  So, after all this time Brubaker’s master plan for the Skull was this, despite tons of villainous monologuing from both the Skull and his allies about how nefarious his plan was and how people would be astonished when it was unveiled.  Yeah, not so much.

But looking past that flaw, the story’s pretty good in a widescreen action way, which isn’t a surprise with Bryan Hitch on art duties.  The man is the #1 go to guy for illustrating enormous super hero battles, and Brubaker gives him plenty to work with here.  And it does make for a pretty satisfying ending, but it is also a bit at odds with the more intricately plotted sort of espionage stories that Brubaker had been telling up until now.  Brubaker can do better, but Cap still remains one of Marvel’s best books.

Review: Captain America: Road to Reborn

May 3, 2010

Ed Brubaker treads water a bit in this volume of the ongoing series.  I suspect a lot of that is publisher interferance though, and Brubaker makes the most of the situation, but it is what it is.

The problem is a pair of scheduling debacles.  First of all there’s the slightly contrived back-to-back anniversary issues.  This volume collects issue 50 of the current series, and which point Marvel reset the numbering to its original system, giving us issue 600.  So we have an issue dedicated to the history of Bucky (the current Captain America), and one dedicated to remembering the death of the previous one.  Both are good, but both are also filler.

Scheduling problem two, Marvel decided to take the next major story arc, in which the original Captain America returns from the dead, and pull it out into its own mini-series in an attempt to boost its prominence.  This move left the series with an extra issue to be used up, so more filler it is.  This time its an unused annual Marvel had lying around that has become Cap 601.  The issue is really meant to be a tribute to Gene Colan, one of the legends of the industry.  And on that level it works, letting the Dean come back to draw a double sized issue of Cap battling vampires, elements from two of his signature comics.  And his art is as wonderful as it ever was (although he could make do with a better colorist).  However, this is also the third issue in a row that doesn’t advance the story, and enough’s enough.

I’m being pretty harsh here I realize, and none of these comics are bad issues.  But you can pretty much skip this whole book and not notice a thing, and that’s got to matter.

Review: Invincible Iron Man Vol.1

April 20, 2010

With Iron Man’s sudden rise to becoming Marvel’s biggest character, the publisher had to finally give his book the sort of push the character has always deserved.  And so they assembled an all-star creative team (not to mention one that can actually produce on a monthly schedule) with Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca.  Now, two years later we have a huge collection of the first 19 issues, just in time for the sequel to hit theaters.

So, what we have here are the first two storyarcs of the new series, both of which are at least fairly interesting.  First up is the Five Nightmares, in which new baddie Ezekiel Stane (son of classic/movie villain Obadiah) positions himself as the latest anti-Iron Man.  Which is hardly original, but probably something the character needed given that the previous claimants to that honor have all become a bit dated (Mandarin, Titanium Man).  So now we have a terrorism supporting arms dealer to counter the reformed weapons manufacturer.  The character makes a lot of sense on paper, but he feels like he was constructed backwards, being made to fit a mold while not having a lot of substance to support him.  But there is some potential there so I’m looking forward to the next time a writer tries to pull him out as an antagonist.

The second story, World’s Most Wanted is a bit more interesting, and is probably the best of Marvel’s Dark Reign books (in which Spider-Man villain Norman “Green Goblin” Osborne essentially becomes director of homeland security).  The story portrays the lowest ebb in Iron Man’s life, in which his company is in ruins and he is forced to lobotomize himself in order to prevent his knowledge from falling into his enemies hands.  Now the side effect of this is that as Stark’s mind deteriorates he is forced to start using progressively less complicated/older Iron Man suits, turning this story into a tribute to the history of the character.  

It’s also the first time in ages that I’ve seen anyone attempt a year long story in a ongoing title, and I’ll admit in this day the story actually feels a little long because of that.  There are a few b plots that pad the story out a bit longer than it should maybe have been, but they generally served to promote Iron Man’s often ignored supporting cast (especially Pepper Potts), so I welcomed their inclusion.

All in all a decent book, with a lot of very smart ideas for the character, it just has a few mishaps when it comes to the execution.  But I’ll be coming back for the next volume, particularly after the cliffhanger presented here.

Review: Ghost Rider by Jason Aaron

March 31, 2010

Ghost Rider has a long history of being the worst, major character in comics.  He’s been around for nearly 40 years at this point, and has never had any reason to be around besides having a great visual:

Ghost Rider

Thank God Jason Aaron came along to fix that.

Turns out what the character needed was for someone to treat him as being inherently ridiculous.  And so Aaron has created a 4 volume epic (done in the finest grindhouse tradition) in which the Ghost Riders (yes plural now) discover their secret history while attempting to save Heaven from a coup led by the rogue angel Zadkiel.

But that plot doesn’t really matter.  What does is the legion of foes the Riders get to fight along the way.  Trull the living steam shovel from the stars!  The orb, a circus freak with an eyeball for a head and a penchant for suffering traumatic injuries (and bed wetting).  The Highwayman, the devil’s trucker, whose a real fan of 8-tracks deck.  And of course Skinbender, who looks like how Sailor Moon would if she existed in reality (and thank you Tony Moore for the nightmares that image is going to conjure).  Oh and I can’t forget the hordes of heavily armed nuns on both side of the war in Heaven.

If that sort of gleeful insanity doesn’t appeal to you, then this isn’t the book for you.  But if it does, this will be one of the greatest comics you’ll ever read!

Review: Wolverine Weapon X: Insane In the Brain

March 17, 2010

Wolverine doesn’t have enough super-villains.  That’s pretty much the reason for the latest volume of Weapon X to exist.  You’re typical Wolvie story ends with the bad guy getting impaled on the end of his claws you see.  And now that Sabertooth’s been killed, the number of reoccuring enemies he has can be counted on one hand.

Which brings me to Jason Aaron’s latest creation, Dr. Rott.  Rott is an insane brain surgeon who creates psychic machines and serial killers.  Not a terribly great character sadly, but he does make for a smart foil to Wolverine.  He also lets Aaron cut loose with the same sort of manic horror that he first showcased over in Ghost Rider.  

This also lets artist Yanick Paquette get out of his comfort zone for a few issues.  Now I know Paquette as primarily a cheesecake artist, albeit a very good one.  But here he’s in full on slapsticky horror mode.  People are strangled with intestines, brains are removed with enormous nutcrackers, and then there’s Charlie Chainsaws (who has chainsaws for hands).

It’s all a bit over the top, but Aaron and Paquette just manage to pull it off, largely by going out of their way to point out what a ridiculous history Wolverine already has when you stop and think about it.

As a bonus there’s a nice little single issue story in which Wolverine gets a girlfriend, but first has to check in with all the other women in his life to talk himself into it.  It’s a cute comic, although a little too stereotypically superheroy for Wolverine, being the “what if my enemies use you to get to me” conundrum.  But it is nice to see Wolverine outside of his comfort zone here, and C.P. Smith’s art is kind of fantastic.

Review: the Incredible Hercules 3-for-1

March 11, 2010

Out of a bit of pseudo-laziness I’m combining a few reviews here.  So this will cover the Secret Invasion, Love and War (which I read in the Sacred Invasion edition), and Dark Reign collections of my current favorite Marvel book, the Incredible Hercules.  The book is just more fun, and (now that Jason Aaron has left Ghost Rider) more inventive than anything else on the stands.

At its heart this is a buddy book featuring Hercules (whose desperate to retain his classical loutish ways while being constantly forced into the role of responsible adult) and Amadeus Cho (a Korean American teenaged genius with a slightly skewed sense of morality).  Together they get up to trouble and occasionally run missions for Hercules’ older sister Athena.  

It’s a cute set up that co-writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente milk for all its worth in the three stories collected here.  First up is the tie in to Marvel’s Secret Invasion event (in which shapeshifting aliens invade the Earth).  For their part of the crossover Herc and Amadeus join up with the God Squad (a misfit collection of fairly obscure Marvel deities) to hunt down the Gods of the alien invaders.  Then in Love & War the duo fall in love, in the midst of an attack by a band of Amazons (not to mention a revenge crazed, Washington Monument wielding, Atlas).  Finally there’s Dark Reign, in which Hercules has to descend into Hades in an attempt to rescue his father Zeus from Pluto.

The stories may not sound like much, but there is just so much joy invested in the book by its creators.  From the occasional meta comentary (Hercules pondering why he used to be portrayed as speaking in Shakespearean English when he’s Greek) to Joe Caramagna’s puckish lettering (sound effects used include “bichslapp”, “brakkitupp”, and of course “sisy-poof”), to its inconceivable plot twists (the puppies a traitor?) this is the most enjoyment you may ever get out of a comic.

Review: Immortal Iron Fist: Escape From the Eighth City

February 1, 2010

And another title bits the dust.  This time around it’s the Immortal Iron Fist.  The comic began in a blaze of glory thanks to the team of Fraction, Brubaker, and Aja, quickly becoming the best book Marvel was publishing.  But then the title was passed on to Dwayne Swierczynski and Travel Foreman, who did an able job of continuing the story, but pretty much failed to add anything to it.

Which brings me to Escape from the Eight City, a disapointingly formulaic story.  In issue 1 Iron Fist and his fellow Immortal Weapons go to Hell; in issue 2 they’re tortured for a bit, n issue 3 they break free, and in issue 4 they go home…the end.  

Fortunately Swierczynski has the opportunity to tack on a coda before the axe fell on the comic and he goes out on a high note, although one with some slightly dodgy art.  He fits an awful lot of character development into 22 pages and leaves the series at both a nice ending point, and a great place for other writer’s to pick up on the story elsewhere.  But for now the story is over, and maybe it was time.

Review: Wolverine Weapon X: Adamantium Men

January 19, 2010

If there’s one thing Marvel really didn’t need (besides another Deadpool book) it was another Wolverine book.  However, this time out it happens to be by wunderkind Jason Aaron and the great Ron Garney, so I figured it was worth a look.  And I’m glad I tried because it’s the most fun I’ve had reading a Wolverine story in ages.

There’s not really a whole lot to this story Haliburton, sorry I mean Blackguard, make themselves some Wolverine mercenaries, Logan finds out and gets revenge.  It’s a simple story, well told, that fits the character of Wolverine like a glove, and it’s got enough little flourishes (including a great little Faulkner riff) to elevate it somewhat.  For the first time, possibly ever (like the character, have never liked his own book) I’m looking forward to a future Wolverine story.

Then as a bonus this collection also includes a short story Aaron did with Adam Kubert (making his return to Marvel after some time at DC) that tries to explain why Wolverine appears in every other book the company publishes.  This one is I think the only time I’ve seen Aaron stumble to date.  The tone of the story is just a little bit off, placing Wolvie into a slightly comedic situation while trying to show that this is his way of doing penance for a few lifetimes of sins.  It’s not a bad idea, and it’s a nice little bonus story here, with some nice art to boot, but ultimately just a bit off.

So, in summary this is the book to get if you are in the market for a prototypical Wolverine story told with a great deal of skill.