Wednesday’s Reviews: The Avengers and The Alternate Avengers

Firstly, read Jim Shooter’s blog. It’s absolutely astounding to see what he does and has done. This recent entry is one of the most fascinating ones I’ve read thus far:

Hank Pym was not a Wife Beater

As for reviews, I swear I’m not going to bring this up again – but Bendis & Romita Jr. in The Avengers series have been up to that “multiple panel” deal in their books for the umpteenth. I thought I was going crazy. Then I took a look at Avengers #1, #5, #9, #10, and #11. I left out some half-page ones in other issues because they arguably are the norm for comics.

Panels

This is how I felt after laying all of these comics out:

Bert

Variety is all I’m asking for.

Now on to one of the most anticipated books this month.

Age of X Universe

Age of X Universe #1 of 2
Main Story:Simon Spurrier (writer), Khoi Pham (pencils), Tom Palmer (inks), Sonia Oback (colours).
Spider-Man Story: Jim McCann (writer), Paul Davidson (art), Antonio Fabela (colours).
Joe Sabino (letters), Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi (cover). $3.99

For $3.99, this book is a steal. In fact, it’s an unbelievable steal which will impress every fanboy of the Marvel U.

Basing itself off of the current X-Men crossover, The Age of X, AoXU is how the other heroes have been affected by the mutants who are all over the world. Team leader and book narrator, Captain America, leads his unusual strike force of Avengers such as Vengeance, the Hulk, and Sue Storm to a mutant prison riot, to Fortress X itself.

But the excitement lends itself not to the battle, but to the quick back stories of each Avenger – and why they’re there. Throughout the book, we’re invited to see how the world has twisted its ways into the AoXU. Through that, we’re given little tidbits of character leaking themselves out into the page. We see Captain America and Sue Storm have consciences, while Iron Man is a vengeful deteriorating freak of nature and Spider-Woman is the top hit-woman. To top it all off, Frank Castle is the Chief of the Avengers – the man running the show. Of course, that will lead to extremely violent results.

Making things more interesting, forgotten mutants of the Marvel U make short, if not saddening appearances. Maggott, who I haven’t seen alive since 2003, makes a cameo, while Marrow, Mr. Sinister, and Whirlwind make for some extra mutant-loving goodness. (Did I just say that?) Don’t even get me started with Sabretooth’s depressing story.

Khoi Pham does one helluva great job delivering so many jaw-dropping moments in this book. A personal favourites are Vengeance taking on Chamber for a few fiery blazes of panels, and the final page with Hulk and his bug-eyes. My only beef is first in the book with Legacy (Rogue), as she seems rather mannish than well, being Rogue.

To top it all off, a bonus story featuring Spider-Man and a pregnant Mary Jane shows how certain heroes with altered DNA are considered “Post-Muties” – meaning Spider-Man is on the run. A short but enriching tale, we don’t see Spider-Man with his usual quips aside from the introductory narration at the beginning. Concluding on a moment where I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad, Spider-Man’s tale really ties together how perverse the AoXU is.

Regardless if you’re reading the X-Men crossovers or not, you’d be foolish not to pick this up.

Grade: 9/10

Unfortunately I’ve been busy so I cannot really focus on more reviews. Until next time folks, keep on Space Truckin’!

Wednesday’s Reviews: Result!

This was an incredible week for comics – even for Uncanny X-Men, which I’ve picked on a lot recently.

Given my massive pull-list, I’ve decided on doing mini-reviews for a few of the comics released this week. Enjoy!

FF #1
Jonathan Hickman (writer), Steve Epting (pencils, inks, cover), Paul Mounts (colours), Rus Wooton (letters). $3.99

FF

After the death of the Human Torch, the family still goes through their mourning periods – most noticeably with The Thing who blaming himself for Johnny’s death. Reed plays a video of Johnny’s suggesting that in the case of his death, Spider-Man would be the best choice for his replacement. Of course, Spider-Man can’t say no to such an offer.

What intrigues me most about the story is how down-to-earth it has become. The family sits and has dinner together, while Reed’s father adds much-needed flavour to the established characters. Tossing in AIM and the Wizard as villains, I can already see the Future Foundation becoming an excellent series.

Of course, Epting crafts emotions brilliantly throughout the story – making the dinner scene one of my favourite panels this week.

However, I cannot go without saying how rushed I feel with the book. Maybe I’m out of the loop, but it was as if the Future Foundation was already planned-out and assembled between Fantastic Four #588 and now. If this was Marvels “.1” issue, I’d still be lost. My only other little tidbit is the action with AIM seemed a bit out of the blue. Either way you look at it, this is a very promising start for Marvel’s first family.

P.S. You cannot honestly tell me that Sue Storm does not look like Creepy Chan on the cover.

Grade: 7.5/10

Osborn #3 of 5
Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Emma Rios (pencils, inks), Jose Villarrubia (colours), Clayton Cowles (letters), Ben Oliver (cover). $3.99

Osborn

Nothing is more sinister than a great villain book. Kelly Sue rocks the Marvel U with another incredible tale of Norman Osborn incarcerated – but for how much longer?

Mixed between insanity and clarity, Osborn continues his push to escape from prison, now with reporter Norah Winters as a potential ally. Wanting a story on Osborn, Winters listens to Osborn’s arguably mad rantings while rebutting him with some of her own. As calm as ever, Osborn seems to somehow have a grand scheme already planned out, and uses his keen manipulation skills to find his way to an escape pod with his new companions and Winters. But of course, he cannot do so without killing hundreds. This is Norman Osborn, after all.

What I cannot seem to get over is Emma Rios. If Marvel does not give her a contract, I’ll be ridiculously angry. Gorgeous, simply vibrant panels mix moods of chaos and wit together with genuine emotions of strength and cunningness. A truly fantastic visual experience. She nails Osborn right on the head as an insane mess. I seriously cannot get enough of her panels. Jose Villarrubia too, does a great job with the environment only having so-few colours. For an underwater jail, I feel as if I’m looking at a rainbow. What a creative team.

For the love of all that is amazing in the world, read Osborn already!

Grade: 9/10

Uncanny X-Men #534
Matt Fraction & Kieron Gillen (writers), Greg Land & Paul Renaud (pencils), Jay Leisten & Paul Renaud (inks), Justin Ponsor (colours), Joe Caramagna (letters), Greg Land & Justin Ponsor (cover). $3.99

Uncanny X-Men

As I said before, Uncanny has picked itself out of a rut with this issue. But maybe I only feel this way because the storyline is finally over. . . Regardless, Emma and Kitty’s story finally concludes with Shaw, while the X-Men put an end to Lobe, and Fantomex is – well, who knows.

The X-Men on Utopia decide to break quarantine to help Storm and gang battle rich science-made mutants. To their advantage with mutants now fighting mutants, everyone gets sick from the X-Men and thanks to Lobe, dying as he tries to destroy what’s left of the X-Men. Fail. Being sick himself, he can has to give the cure to everyone, thus ending the plague – because the sickness was controlled by a remote. Makes sense. On top of it all, the X-Men realize they may file a lawsuit for copyright infringement against Lobe for using the X-Men’s faces on his products. Yeesh!

Unfortunately, I still saw Land doing some things he’s done in the past. I even showed some friends, comparing this recent book to pictures in my blog about Land at an earlier time. HOWEVER, I will say that his work between Shaw & Emma is an incredible change of pace in terms of his art style. The final pages with Shaw were excellent. As for Ponsor, all I will say is yellow backgrounds ftw. That, and the Emma/Kitty scenes were greatly polished with colour. For Uncanny, this has definitely been a step-up.

To top it off, Avengers Academy #1 is reprinted in the issue. Two major books for $3.99? Count me in!

Grade: 6/10

New Mutants #23
Mike Carey (writer), Steve Kurth (pencils), Allen Martinez (inks), Brian Reber (colours), Joe Caramagna (letters), Leinil Yu & Marte Gracia (cover). $2.99

New Mutants

The Age of X continues with another unexpected twist in story. Who knew that Magneto didn’t know that Xavier knew this wasn’t the world they know of? If you had to re-read that sentence because it was mind-boggling, now you know how I felt with New Mutants! So many twists and turns leave me begging for more!

As expected, Rouge, er, Legacy and Gambit were not killed in the last issue, but actually saved by Magneto, despite it seeming to be the other way around. However, to the rest of the mutants, it still looks Magneto’s a murderer. Distrust fills Fortress X and mutants begin to question Magneto’s leadership. Unfortunately for Magneto, after rescuing Xavier from his own prison, he is knocked out of his leadership role, changing the way mutants in the Age of X will live. Meanwhile, Legacy and Gambit uncover the secret to what really is going on.

As mentioned, this story has more twists and turns than a kid putting together a Hot Wheels racetrack. Strong writing and intense scenes put this story ahead of its parent-title by a long shot.

Kurth’s work is good, but nothing out of the ordinary. For example, I loved his panel with Legacy and Gambit with just their lips. It was an unusual panel, but very well rendered. But when I look at Magneto I can’t stop thinking “baby face.” Overall, for a lack of action-book, it feels action-packed. It was on my second read-through did I realize no “fighting” actually took place. I’m also left wondering where Wolverine and “Cyclops” are.

With Age of X nearing its conclusion, it reassures me that Mike Carey needs to be given more major crossover stories.

Grade: 7/10

X-Men #8
Victor Gischler (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils, colours), Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey (inks), Joe Caramagna (letters), Terry & Rachel Dodson (cover). $3.99

X-Men

Thanks to Gischler & Bachalo, another great issue of X-Men is in my hands. Unlike Spider-Man’s take on this tale in the “Shed” storyline, the villain is a surprise all-together – and one I did not see coming.

Opening up from where we left off – Wolverine is taking out lizard-folk, Bachalo-style. From there, a good portion of the story focuses on the children captured by the new villain. I really start to feel for these characters – which is amazing given their short page-time in the book. The fact that I begin to empathize with minor characters the way Gischler makes me, shows that the creative team in this book really are ahead of the game. And despite the unexpected villain, the book ends on a ridiculous cliffhanger leaving Emma in a whole lot of trouble.

I cannot stress (still) how great Bachalo is with this book. I wish he could draw Wolverine all of the time. Heck, let him colour too. He’s doing an incredible job. Of course, we also get four inkers again this month leaving me to wonder who did what. I wish I could get a feel for inkers the way I can with colourists. It’s frustrating!

X-Men went from a decent first story arc to something incredible in no-time! Not to mention that the Dodson’s rocked the cover.

Grade: 8/10

X-Force #6
Rick Remender (writer), Esad Ribic (pencils, cover), John Lucas (inks), Matt Wilson (colours), Cory Petit (letters). $3.99

X-Force

I think it’s great when I can say, “this is the worst Uncanny X-Force book to date,” yet the story is still impressive.

Deathlok’s appearance at the end of last issue actually meant he was on Fantomex’s side. Admittedly, I didn’t see that one coming. The rest of X-Force eventually meet up with Fantomex and Deathlok to discover why random cyborgs are trying to kill them. Turns out they’re from the future and superheroes are not allowed to exist! But luckily Fantomex comes up with a great plan to defeat them – to destroy the future in the next issue! Despite all of that, the issue seemed like a miss for me.

Surprisingly, the most exciting part of this book for me was when Psylocke had tea with her brother, Captain Britain. She spoke her feelings about how X-Force conducted themselves with Apocalypse. She feels like she’s a changing person and she needed to know that someone understood her. Remender delves into Psylocke’s character with great emotional detail. I can tell he has great plans for her. Not to mention the twist with Captain Britain too. What a doozy!

I really cannot complain about Ribic’s work. He’s a very strong artist and takes what Opena did in the last arc and sharpens it up a bit – leaving us with a less gritty attitude. However, I have realized what feels the most different in the artwork – the colouring. Although Matt Wilson does great work, in comparison Dean White in the last arc, I feel as if the colours on the characters are too bright and plain in comparison to the pencils. I only say that with the characters because Wilson does an excellent job on everything else – particularly on landscapes.

It’s another strong issue for X-Force, but admittedly it’s their weakest too. And in accordance to the story, the cover of the book seems to be ahead of itself by about a month.

Grade: 6.5/10

As a side, see if you can spot the two Star Wars references in Wolverine & Jubilee #3 this week too. An obvious one was mentioning the “Death Star.” You get bonus points for finding the other.

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Marvel & Starbucks

I think this is excellent news.

From ComicsBeat.com

“Ubiquitous coffee chain Starbucks is expanding the offerings in its Starbucks Digital Network, which allows latte-lovers to read free digital content in its stores.”

This is such a great idea. Not only does it give Marvel more attention, but it is also another great way to get people into comic books. Since convenience stores have dropped spinner racks of comics, the only real way to get comics is either through a comic store or via a large book chain. Since comics are arguably taboo in popular culture (unless it’s in movie-form), I can understand why some people may be hesitant to go buy comics this way.

Since the comic industry seems to be fighting a uphill battle, I do think this is a step in the right direction.

Keep on Space Truckin’!

(And reviews come out tomorrow)

X-Factor and Racism

Have I told you how much I love Peter David’s X-Factor? I don’t believe I have, given I’ve never reviewed the book on here before. Shame on me.

Seems like the best time to do it is now, given all of the racist hooplah ruining the world as of late.

X-Factor

X-Factor #217
Peter David (writer), Emanuela Lupacchino (pencils), Guillermo Ortego (inks), Matt Milla (colours), Cory Petit (letters), David Yardin and Sonia Oback (cover). $2.99

Hunting for a murdered friend of J. Jonah Jameson, the hired X-Factor team splits up into two groups. Longshot, along with Rictor, Shatterstar and Madrox work to unveil the face of the killer at the scene of the crime, while Monet, Banshee and Strong Guy act as Jameson’s bodyguards.

The story quickly pieces itself together, building up to a tremendous finale. With some brilliant dialogue from David, the reader is left to wonder about relations between Longshot and Shatterstar, while worrying how quickly X-Factor can stop the killer.

What stands out for some great reading is the battle of emotions and religion between Monet and a New York audience about both racism and mutantcy. Jameson gets himself into the brawl and puts the protesters in their place with his quick wit. Crafty words are one of David’s greatest highlights with X-Factor and they can always guaranteed you’ll be glued to the page.

I’ve always been fond of Lupacchino’s work as I feel she can generate any facial expression flawlessly. This holds true in the issue with a great moment with Jameson and his bodyguard after being entranced by Banshee’s speech. She’s just a fantastic, unfortunately over-looked artist. At a monumental, if not one of the most important endings in recent X-Factor stories, Lupacchino beautifully crafts what may be a terrible blow to the X-Factor family.

My little beef, if any at all, comes from Black Cat’s almost irrelevant appearance. Admittedly, I can see her purpose for the next issue, but it was so minuscule that it almost seemed unwarranted. I would have rather preferred more dialogue with Monet and the protesters, or hey! even the mystery behind Longshot and Shatterstar! But I guess beggar’s can’t be choosers.

As probably one of the most powerful X-Factor’s yet – for both message and storyline – David and gang make it clear why X-Factor is the best X-book on the market.

Grade: 8/10

One big difference between San Francisco and New York is that there is prejudice in New York towards Muslims for particular reasons. But the reason why I really wanted to write this piece is because of my Twitter. After the earthquake in Japan, trending topics became “Pearl Harbor” and “Katrina.” By all means, both were tragedies. But the problem I saw was few people stating “The earthquake was karma for Pearl Harbor.” I could not believe it.

So I’ll say it right now: in no way do I agree with intolerance. I hate racism and wish it was abolished. But my point is yet to come.

Now I would like you to see Dean Stell’s review of X-Men Legacy #245. This is entirely relevant because there, Dean touches upon something to which I completely agreed on in the comments below:

One of the problems the franchise has suffered from over the last few decades is that as a society, the United States has become MUCH more multicultural and accepting of differences. . . Now, in 2011, a lot of those nasty old bigots are dead, it seems like half of the high school kids I know either are multi-ethnic or are involved in a multi-ethnic relationship and outside of certain religious groups, homosexuality has become a non-issue. This has made our world a better place, but it has taken that cultural relevance away from the X-Men. Nowadays, I just don’t buy the average Joe in an X-Men comic yelling, “Them muties gotta die!”

I read this and realized that in recent years, Mutants have become greatly accepted in their world. The X-Men are heroes in San Francisco, and there seems to be little, if any bigotry. Dean is right – it just doesn’t work anymore. And when it happens, it’s either too forced or seems entirely unnatural.

Then came X-Factor #217, where it does work.

The funny thing (not really) is that it has the problem has always been there, but the X-comics seemed to forget about it. But suddenly in X-Factor, the X-Men social relevance reinforced itself.

A crowd shouts, “Keep the strangers out!” “We don’t need more Muslim terrorists getting in [New York]!” “Yeah! They’re as bad as mutants!”

Monet appears. “Oh, really? I’m a Muslim and a mutant. Care to take it up with me?”

And so the crowd argues with her, saying wherever her type goes, death with happen.

She replies, “Which ‘type’ is that? Mutants or Muslims?” She continues, “Bad enough to be condemned for what you are. Imagine being hated for what you’re not.”

Monet St. Croix

From there, Jameson jumps in and gives the crowd a quick history lesson on America.

But with Monet. Powerful words.

And the thing is, I don’t remember the last time this was a problem with the X-Men. It has always been vague underlying factor – their move to San Francisco; forced to live on Utopia – for sure the X-Men have had their fair share of prejudice against them. But from recent memory, when was it this bad? When was it a mindset of a society, rather than some bad guy wanting to attack mutants?

Currently in Uncanny X-Men, regular humans are paying to become mutants. In X-Men Legacy and New Mutants, there is prejudice against mutants in a futuristic world – but beyond that, they’re all accepted in San Francisco and asked to help out. Sure, mutants have been attacked by Bastion who hated mutants. But it would be harder to compare it to a social mindset. If anything, it was a comparison to how the military is ran or like religious extremists – if any at all.

What I’m trying to say is that in recent comic books, and most importantly in the X-Men books, I have not seen a blatant call-out against racism. Unless I look for it in the Bastion example above, I cannot just name it. For the X-Men to be the “benchmark” of social commentary in terms of acceptance of other people, I find that it has swayed away from it a lot for years. And even when it seemed “bad” post M-Day (people going up to Xaviers School and trying to get rid of the remaining mutants) it was really all fantasy and seemed forced rather than natural.

Now, it feels real. And when it does feel real again, we know there’s a problem.

Kudos to Peter David.

Wedneday’s Reviews: Retcons and Amazing Fantasies

Hey folks! This week, I’m deciding on doing a review-rant. Yes, they can be one in the same.

As I read this week’s copy of The New Avengers #10, I can’t help but be ridiculously upset with how it turned out.

This is about retcons. Although it is getting ever-so-closer to Marvel’s big Fear Itself event, I can’t help but feel driven to DROP this comic due to the over-ridiculousness of this retcon.

For those who are unfamiliar with what a retcon is, in a nutshell, it stands for “Retroactive Continuity.” What that means is one may go back into time and adjust the events of the past to explain what happens in the future.

For a hypothetical example, we’ll take the X-Men. Most people know that Professor X started the X-Men, consisting of Cyclops, Angel, Jean Grey, Beast and Iceman.

Now imagine a new issue of X-Men, where they explain their history, and suddenly there was a new X-Men who was part of the team – but no one ever talked about him because he worked on another island, behind-the-scenes. Then suddenly in the future, that character appears and everyone’s best friends.

That’s retcon. But it’s a part of comics. How can comics from the 60’s, with arguably simplistic origin plots still be relevant in 2011? Well, retcons help with that – and for the most part, they can be very interesting and neat.

In this recent issue of The New Avengers however, I’m down-right disappointed.

The New Avengers

The New Avengers #10
Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Mike Deodato & Howard Chaykin (pencils), Rain Beredo & Edgar Delgado (colours), Joe Caramagna (letters), Mike Deodato & Rain Beredo (cover). $3.99

The issue flips back and forth through timelines between 1959 and the present. Starting off in ’59, we see Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan finding Sabretooth in a bar. After mild negotiations, Fury hires Mr. Creed as an Avenger. Yes, Sabretooth.

Fast-forwarding to 2011, and continuing from the previous issue, the New Avengers attack a H.A.M.M.E.R. installation, headed by Superia. Mockingbird is shot, and for most of the issue, we watch our heroes fight off the endless H.A.M.M.E.R. hordes while calling an ambulance for Mockingbird. Literally, that is all that happens in the present.

In 1959, after retrieving Sabretooth, Dominic Fortune, Namora, Kraven, and Bloodstone are hired – all to be “secret” Avengers. Indeed, a league of villains are now Avengers – all before the “official” Avengers team arrives on the scene in 1963.

Leaving on a strong note, we are brought back to the present where rescue vehicles have arrived for Mockingbird, only for Superia to raze the entire ground beneath them. If it wasn’t for comics, Mockingbird would for sure be dead. But we won’t know until next month! Ahhh!

The comic as a whole does not stand out as anything spectacular. As soon as the first villain was hired, I really could not have been surprised to see anyone else be taken in as the idea of this particular retcon ruined any fun I would’ve had with this comic. I digress.

Deodato is on the ball with this issue, penciling all of the present-day moments, while Howard Chaykin focuses on the 1959 plot. Although both are strong artists, I felt as if Chaykin’s style was a bit light for the seriousness of the book. At one part, Mockingbird is splattered in blood while Spider-Man holds her in his arms. The scene is gritty and dark, moody and in despair. The next scene however, we’re brought to a location where shadows disappear and faces are less-serious than prior. Although I greatly enjoy Chaykin’s art, I feel as if it was wrong for this particular issue. And yet his take on Sabretooth was a bit too childish for me, while his Kraven was spot-on.

And after this issue, I’ve concluded that Deodato draws an excellent Thing.

As for the structure of the story, flipping back and forth between fun and sunny places to a battlefield hurt what seriousness the story had. It felt like flipping channels between an intense episode of Law & Order: SVU and Teletubbies. It was sudden with no transition. It simply didn’t work.

Certain dialogue choices by Bendis also took away from the plot. Nonsensical remarks spewing from Thing early on, then to Ms. Marvel versus Superia mindless jabs, and Spider-Man having fun looking for a cellphone to save a life – all of it damaged the intensities of the moments drawn by Deodato. However, with Chaykin’s work, the dialogue seemed more natural. How is this happening?!

Definitely taking a swan-dive, The New Avengers needs to pick up some smart choices in writing and plotting for it to be saved.

Grade: 5/10

Inner-Fanboy Rant

I love comic books as much as I like turtles. In result, retcons are commonplace and something which I should expect from comics. But not since Secret War, have I felt that Bendis did a retcon so over-the-top that I disagree with it.

Now admittedly, the story is not done yet, so who knows where it will go – but I feel as if it’s not going in the right direction. But when you take serious villains – some which are notorious monsters, and put them on a team, you have a problem. And I’m not talking personality issues, either.

If anything, it seems down-right insulting that the first Avengers – regardless of being “official” ones or “secret” ones are the bad guys. That would be literally like suggesting Professor Xavier had a set of X-Men before the actual X-Men came out – it’s absurd and mind-boggling.

Retcons usually have to explain themselves later on, too. Recent retcon’s like with X-Men’s Deadly Genesis, or Spider-Man’s One Moment In Time, worked for me, because they were explained and honestly, could not be as far-fetched as the “powers that be” were involved with Spider-Man’s, while telepathy and clever storytelling was a part with the X-Men’s. With the New Avengers, we’re fortunate that most of the villains are either dead, or haven’t been used in so-long that the retcon does not have to be adjusted in the future. Sabretooth and Bloodstone are dead, while Kraven is dead-but-alive-now-doing who-knows-what. Dominic Fortune has been MIA for years now, and Namora disappeared with the Agents of Atlas since its cancellation – unless I’m wrong with that.

I guess I’m really just disappointed with how this came about. Admittedly, it has TONS of time to sway another way, but I really feel as if this is just going to hurt my faith in The New Avengers for the next little bit.

Amazing Fantasy

Amazing Sale

As a complete side-note, Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), the first appearance of Spider-Man, as officially reached the million-dollar club with Action Comics #1 (1938, first Superman) and Detective Comics #27 (1939, first Batman).

Amazing Fantasy #15, CGC 9.6 sold for $1.1 million

“The sale of this legendary comic is second only to the Guinness World record 8.5 VF+ Action Comics #1, which marks Superman’s 1938 debut that was also sold by http://www.ComicConnect.com last year for a whopping $1,500,000.” – Comics Price Guide.com

Amazing, eh?

Keep on Space Truckin’!