Review: Secret Avengers #23

I haven’t done one of these in a long time! Time has flown by!

In Secret Avengers, as seen by the cover – Venom joins the team. Oh, and by the way, Venom is now Peter Parker’s old high school colleague Flash Thompson. I’ll admit, I haven’t been catching up with my Spider-Man lore at all. When I saw Flash Thompson for the first time in years, I couldn’t believe he was missing his legs. He lost them due to fighting in the Iraq War. I had no idea Marvel went down that route at all. Kudos to them.

Secret Avengers

Secret Avengers #23
Rick Remender (writer), Gabriel Hardman (pencils, inks), Bettie Breitweiser (colours), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Arthur Adams & Peter Stiegerwald (cover). $3.99

The last time I can recall reading a story with so much intensity due to dialogue was Fred Van Lente’s Taskmaster mini-series. Writer Rick Remender does such an incredible job at giving everyone important moments and nails every voice along the way. I’ve always been iffy with Hawkeye because I find writers never know what to do with him. He’s either too much of a jerk or a complete goof. Remender nails the character and even gives subtle hints to why the character is that way. The same goes for Ant-Man. I was wondering why Warren Ellis just forgot about the character during his brief stint in the series. Turns out Remender had something special planned with his characterization.

The story moves on a very strong pace. Nothing is filler and everything is useful. Reading through the book, I felt as if Remender overdid himself with the story – there is just that much happening all of the time in the book. The conversations that need to be had are said. This is a solid story.

Art by Gabriel Hardman is also exceptional. The wonderful noir feeling throughout the whole issue is completely tasteful to the changing scenery. From the view of the Lighthouse in space, to a hospital scene, to another world and a gritty city – the transitions are flawless in his storytelling capabilities.

But what I must point out is how incredible Bettie Breitweiser’s colouring job is. Hands-down, the colours are the best thing about the story. Images truly come alive with Breitweiser’s great work on tones and highlights. Looking at the light pollution from the city gives so much more life to the buildings, while the transitions onto the final few pages carries the same energy to the climactic cliffhanger. Facial features are accented beautifully, and nothing is ever overdone. Dean White has a run for his money with Breitweiser on the prowl.

Criticizing the story however, I find that Remender is trying to buff his team up with as much “awesome” as possible. Last issue Captain Britan joined, while in this issue, both Jim Hammond (The Human Torch) and Venom have jumped on-board. While I do not mind the great variety of the series, I found that the previous writers: Ellis, Spencer, and Brubaker, couldn’t incorporate everyone into the story because it was stretching itself on the cast. Remender was able to give mostly everyone a voice, but the larger cast will certainly leave some heroes out of place.

While currently Remender is keeping a fine job with the cast on Uncanny X-Force (and passing characters off to Jason Aaron), I’d just hope Remender can keep doing stories like #23 – fully encapsulating and balanced enough for everyone to have a say.

Grade: 8.5/10

Keep on Space Truckin’!

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Review: X-Factor #228 & Avengers vs. X-Men

X_Factor

X-Factor #228
Peter David (writer), Leonard Kirk (pencils, inks), Matt Milla (colours), Cory Petit (letters), David Yardin (cover). $2.99

There is always a ton of fun to be had in an X-Factor book – guaranteed.

As of last issue, Jamie Madrox (Prime) was killed by Jamie Madrox (Dupe) who was killed by the little boy whose father X-Factor was sent in to save and later possessed by the villain Bloodbath who Strong Guy apparently killed! Geddit? And that was all in the last issue!

Although it may seem overwhelming with that summary, X-Factor is fast-paced and features many twists and turns with each page. By the end of it all, you’re left begging for more after each issue. In X-Factor #228, there is no exception. Albeit a more of a conversational book, the dialogue is completely necessary and builds up the inevitable answers people have been asking since Layla Miller’s return in X-Factor #202. (We’re so close!) Not to mention, we’re also getting closer to find out what really happened to Guido after his “death”! And those are still only a few of the loose ends!

Looking at the writing, however, it’s obvious that David has a great handle on this book. Even in a book with little action, the amount of effort put into the characters we are reading allows us to enjoy the book on such a higher regard. It really is a family book, where even the characters are invested in their own team – and that alone makes it a fun read.

And what’s to say about Leonard Kirk? He’s a tight artist with strong emotions pouring out of the characters. Layla in particular really shines with bits of sadness, rage and shame. With such a focus on characters, it’s hard to notice that most of the panels do not have backgrounds to them as readers will find themselves much more interested in the story than the “set” background. It leaves colourist Milla with a lot more freedom to set different moods in the varying panels of humour, action, and sorrow.

Although the book is definitely not a jumping on point for new readers (and I think most books should be), for the fans, we’ll be at the edge of our seats for yet another issue.

Bonus points for a killer cover by Yardin.

Grade: 7/10

As an aside, I’m sure you’ve all heard about Marvel’s summer blockbuster involving The Avengers versus the X-Men. Marvel’s pushing it with an “it’s finally happening” message through their all of their media releases.

Well, what about Avengers #53? Jeez, guys.

Avengers vs. X-Men

Yup. “‘Nuff said!”

Keep on Space Truckin’!

Classic Comic Fridays: X-Men #95

It has been about four months since I’ve last done a Classic Comic feature. For the new folks here, Classic Comic Friday’s feature a comic from my personal collection which I look back upon and review. Then, if we’re lucky, I can compare it to newer comics similar to it so we can see how things have changed.

This past August, I was fortunate enough to find a decent-quality copy of X-Men #95: The death of Thunderbird. He was arguably the first X-Men to be killed (because people debate Changeling), and set-off a idea of the “unknown” with these X-Men comics. Another notable mention is that X-Men #95 features Chris Claremont’s second story with the X-Men.

So here we go:

X-Men 95

X-Men #95 (October, 1975)
Chris Claremont (writer), Len Wein (plotter), Dave Cockrum (pencils, cover), Sam Grainger (inker), Petra Goldberg (colours), Karen Mantlo (letterer) Cockrum, Gil Kane & Dan Crespi (cover). $0.25

If you were unfamiliar with the X-Men prior to this issue, Claremont and Wein set up this story so you can fully grasp each character within the first few pages. You find out who is the strongest, which heroes can fly, who the X-Men’s field leader is, plus who has the smartest mouth and who has the biggest ego to them. All within the first few pages. Within those pages, would you believe we also get a recap to who all the villain is – Count Nefaria – AND his masterplan! They certainly do not make stories like they used to.

So now that everyone and everything is established at the beginning, the rest of the story is a playground of fun ideas to entice the reader to keep reading. Nightcrawler teleports in the enemy base to let the X-Men in, followed by a battle between the the villains evil creations: The Ani-Men and X-Men. Just when the X-Men have seemingly won, Count Nefaria escapes in a jet plane. Fortunately, X-Man Thunderbird follows suite and jumps on the plane. As Nefaria tries to escape, Thunderbird uses his brute force and beats the plane down to stop Nefaria at the price of Thunderbird’s own life.

As shocking as it comes to a comic reader that a hero had just died, it was done so artistically well, thanks to the legendary Dave Cockrum. Well-known for his clean pencils and well-plotted out panels, Cockrum owns this book. When the X-Men are on a mountain, their hair is blowing. When problems appear, the faces clearly represent what the characters are saying or feeling. The action sequences are never jumbled and without dialogue, we can tell what is happening in the story. It is very rare to see comics these days like that. But like I said, Cockrum owns it.

Thunderbird's Death

In fact, the whole artistic team really controls this story. While the exposition sets up the characters, the true feeling of this story comes from the art. With a very James Bond-like tone, it’s as if the reader can feel themselves in the trees on a mountain or smell the machinery inside the hidden base. Both Grainger and Goldberg accentuate Cockrum’s pencils with a tremendous dramatic effect. Nothing is overdone on the inks and the fluidity of colour is spot-on. Vibrant sheens across each page really gives this book a light-hearted tone – setting the reader up for the unexpected.

The most exciting part of this book is definitely the unexpected death of Thunderbird. The build up, while readers have seen it in hundreds of comics throughout the years up to this point in 1975 – the death was sudden and done tastefully. The X-Men do not take the death lightly. However, because of the character development and the “team” feel the book gives, readers are forced to read on to the next issue to see how the team deals with the death.

That’s right. There’s no twist ending to make readers want to jump back to the book like a season finale of a TV show. Claremont and Wein compel readers to come back because throughout the book readers are forced to care for the characters. And that’s a more powerful reason to continue reading a book than any cliffhanger could bring.

Grade: 8/10

Looking back on this book, it’s amazing to also consider that Thunderbird is one of the few Marvel characters whom have stayed dead. Aside from some flashbacks or the more-recent Chaos War – Thunderbird, John Proudstar – has stayed dead. It’s interesting to see why that has been the case. Three issues in, of course he would not have a lot of reader fanbase – but it still remains.

To top it all off, there was no cliffhanger of a villain suddenly appearing on the last page. Nor was there a jaw-dropping moment for readers to say, “Wow! I need to go back and read this book!” The readership is solely gained because of how the writers make us feel for these characters. Name three comics nowadays that end that way. It’s pretty hard to come up with a list.

And don’t forget to check out UncannyDerek on Facebook and Twitter!

So until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Review: X-Men Legacy #258

With two issues left on Mike Carey’s exceptional run on X-Men Legacy, as expected, we’re about to get a lot of closure with the characters he’s used for years – not to mention the homecoming of the Starjammers!

X-Men Legacy 258

X-Men Legacy #258
Mike Carey (writer), Steve Kurth (pencils), Ed Tadeo (inks), Brian Reber (colours), Cory Petit (letters), Mico Sayan & Sonia Oback (cover). $2.99

With the fear of the X-Men being obliterated mixed with the possible homecoming of Havok, Polaris and Phoenix, this should be an exciting book.

And you know what? It is! But once I finished the book, I found me asking myself, “What the heck just happened?” But first:

Once again, writer Mike Carey hits his knowledge of the X-Universe home with these characters. Magneto pulls some trickery from his hat (or helmet?) while Rogue and Rachel combine their powers to finish off Friendless once-and-for-all.

With so many characters running about in the book, it’s great to see how Carey balances them all. Frenzy gets her time to shine, while Gambit – with so few words in-story – is still same the Gambit we all know and love.

In terms of development, Carey makes Rogue not only act as leader, but has her prove it again and again in this story. With the conclusion of this story arc, Carey really improves his take how on our favourite Southern belle has moved so far from the comics which we grew up with her in.

But I asked, “What the heck just happened?” When the story ended, I was still unclear about the events that took place. And it wasn’t Carey’s fault.

I enjoy Steve Kurth’s work. From time-to-time, characters look a bit stringy or faces do define the character too-well, but he definitely is a clean, sharp artist. I especially love his depictions of Rachel and Gambit in this book. What bothered me was rather how the story progressed. By no-means am I a professional artist, but I’ve read enough comic books to understand how storytelling works. While Kurth has been doing this for years, this book didn’t do it for me.

The problem lays in with the massive panels. While Kurth’s art is pretty immaculate, the story-telling aspect became muddled in the large panels – especially when they are exterior shots of the ship which story takes place in. I really have no idea what I’m looking at – whether the ship was in peril or not. It’s close to crashing, it’s not close to crashing – it went into a wormhole? It was unclear with what was happening. If there were smaller panels, it would give Kurth a lot more space to explain the events in the story. Big images are gorgeous, but many panels can tell a story clearer than a single splash page with one or two smaller panels embedded.

X-Men Legacy 258I hope you enjoy the colour yellow

And while the art was good, Brian Reber’s yellows really clustered what was visible outside of the ship. Things were too yellow or orange. In fact, aside from a few characters who have blacks in them, and the “trance blue,” yellow and orange were really the only two colours that ran through the book.

Like I said though, Kurth is a strong artist. However the small qualms with storytelling in this issue really detracted from what happened.

With Carey only having two issues remaining on his run on Legacy, the way he concluded this arc makes it look like he’s just getting started.

Grade: 6/10

Keep on Space Truckin’!

Quick Reviews of Wedneday’s Comics – 10/27/11

This weeks pull-list for me was just filled with awesome comics. Two by Jason Aaron, two by Abnett & Lanning – other stories by Warren Ellis, Nick Spencer, James Asmus, Jonathan Hickman – art by Emma Rios, Chris Bachalo, Marc Silvestri – Gah! It’s an excellent overload! I don’t have time to fully review every single issue, so let me just tell you what was so awesome about each one!

Wolverine and the X-Men #1
Jason Aaron (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils, colours, cover), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey (inks), Rob Steen (letters). $3.99
Wolverine and the X-Men

Who wasn’t looking forward to this? The over-sized first-issue delivers an exciting look at how the new school is ran and the who’s-who with faculty. Aaron sets up this book with extreme care as readers get not only an idea about the school, but who the villains will be throughout the series. Making things even better is Chris Bachalo’s glorious art and inking team. Over-exaggerated bodies really only work in Bachalo’s world because he does them so. . . right. The story is stuffed with extra goodies too. An enrollment chart to see all of the characters in the story along with a Class List breakdown makes this the perfect jumping on book for any comic fan. I mean, who gives you a character guide to a first issue? So quickly grab Wolverine and the X-Men now, and join us at the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning.
Grade: 9/10

New Mutants #32
Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (writers), David Lafuente & Robi Rodriguez (pencils, inks) Val Staples & SotoColor (colours), Joe Caramanga (letters), Jason Pearson (cover). $2.99
Unlike the parent title “Fear Itself,” we actually get to see the New Mutants fight with enchanted armor! Seeing Warlock run amok in Hel was a blast. To top it all off, Nate Grey saves the day in one of the most coolest ideas I’ve seen in recent New Mutant storylines. For $2.99, Abnett and Lanning shake up the status of the New Mutants pretty deeply. I’m really excited to see what will happen with Magma. . .
Grade: 7/10

Cloak & Dagger – Spider Island #3 of 3
Nick Spencer (writer), Emma Rios (pencils, inks) Alvaro Lopez (inks), Javier Rodriguez (colours), Joe Caramanga (letters), Emma Rios & Jose Villarrubia (cover). $2.99
Cloak and Dagger

Two words: Emma Rios. What an exciting end to Cloak & Dagger’s mini with Rios at the helm. Can this woman do no wrong? Her creative team working with her are too – flawless. To top it all off, Spencer threw readers for a loop with an incredible ending to the crime fighting duo. My main beef with is was that even from the get-go, I wasn’t entirely sure what Mr. Negative’s motives were. Maybe I had to pick up the rest of Spider Island to understand it. Regardless, one should not have to go out and buy five other books to understand a mini series (if that is even the case). However, I beg that Cloak & Dagger turns into a monthly series. Rios, of course, must be on board. Now go out and BUY THIS BOOK!
Grade: 8.5/10

FF #11
Jonathan Hickman (writer), Barry Kitson (pencils, inks) Paul Mounts (colours), Clayton Cowles (letters), Steve Epting (cover). $2.99
So comes the Kree armies upon Earth! What’s most exciting is that the FF are not alone in fighting them. Yes, the Avengers are with them to save the day. The Kree army, led by Ronan the Accuser, also brings back a particular Kree whom I haven’t seen alive in quite some time (And no, it’s not Mar-Vel). While Kitson kicks butt in the art department, I cannot feel bored with his backgrounds. The man has talent – I just wished he used a ton more of it! Oh, and this story will continue in Fantastic Four #600.
Grade: 6/10

Astonishing X-Men #43
James Asmus (writer), David Yardin, Normal Lee & Rachelle Rosenberg (art), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (digital art), Joe Caramanga (letters), Arthur Adams & Jim Charalampidis (cover). $3.99
As a one-shot story featuring Emma Frost and Danger, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Turns out the story is just as interesting as the concept of the duo. Danger wants to feel human and finds something calling for her on the Secret Avengers Quincarrier. Naturally, stuff goes wrong. Fortunately, Beast shows up and while things go wrong, Emma and Beast shoot one-liners throughout the rest of the story to help pick things up from interesting to a little bit better.
Grade: 5/10

Secret Avengers #18
Warren Ellis (writer), David Aja & Raul Allen (artists), David Lanphear (letters), John Cassaday & Paul Mounts (cover). $3.99
Secret Avengers

These one-shot issues by Ellis are an absolute blast. Featuring Steve Rodgers, Sharon Carter and Shang-Chi, we get three spies in a world full of trouble. Aja & Allen’s work recreates a stair-world like M. C. Escher and fully makes our heroes utilize the complexity of it. Needless to say, it makes the story that much more fun to read. As always, Ellis’ conclusion has me in stitches. If Secret Avengers keeps up like this, I hope the rest of the comic world would catch on. These are so much fun to read! (All aside, the cover for the issue is the worst one of the week. For the longest time, I thought that was Elektra).
Grade: 9/10

Annihilators: Earthfall #2 of 4
Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (writers), Tan Eng Huat (pencils), Andrew Hennessy (inks), Wil Quintana (colours), Joe Caramanga (letters), John Tyler Christopher (cover). $3.99
What’s more exciting that the Universes’ Mightiest Heroes in an all-out war? How about the Universes’ Mightiest Heroes versus Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Yes, The Annihilators versus The Avengers happens in this issue – and it doesn’t disappoint. Little quibbles from Ronan to Ms. Marvel, “You are a disgrace to the name Mar-Vel,” and Beta Ray Bill versus Red Hulk make this an excellent story to read. Pacing is tremendously good, while the story itself is mostly just fighting. Like I said, the book delivers exactly what it said it would. My beef is with Eng Huat’s faces, where sometimes they’re spot on. Other times, not-so-much. On the first splash page, how old does Captain America look? And what is Thing “feeling?” Case-in-point. Rocket Raccoon and Groot get their second story too – exciting pacing with Mojo acting as a villain? I’m down.
Grade: 8/10

The Incredible Hulk #1
Jason Aaron (writer), Marc Silvestri (pencils) Michael Broussard (pencil assists), Joe Weems, Rick Basaldua & Sal Regla (inks), Sunny Gho (colours), Ed Dukeshire (letters), Marc Silvestri, Joe Weems & Sunny Gho (cover). $3.99
Incredible Hulk

I wasn’t looking forward for another Hulk reboot. I loved Pak’s run. Who could take Pak’s place? Enter Jason Aaron. What an wonderful thrill ride with an awesome twist-ending. To make things even better, Silvestri is absolutely, brilliantly, astounding. This book is gorgeous from cover to back. The amount of time and detail put into this issue is anything less than astonishing. It’s like, jaw-droppingly good. After being skeptical picking up a rebooted first issue, I’m definitely on-board for the rest of the ride.
Grade: 10/10

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Review: Uncanny X-Men #544 – The Final Issue

After decades of joy and millions of dollars in revenue, Marvel concludes the solid Uncanny X-Men series to re-open a new chapter in the lives of our favourite mutants.

But is the final issue any good?

Uncanny X-Men Final

Uncanny X-Men #544
Kieron Gillen (writer), Greg Land (pencils, cover) Jay Leisten (inks), Justin Ponsor (colours), Joe Caramanga (letters). $3.99

Gah! That cover!

As the series concludes, one thing is for certain: Gillen owns these X-Men. Not since Claremont have I seen someone have such a great voice for each character. I know I’ve said that before, but it rings true. I feel that these characters are completely safe under Gillen’s rule.

That being said, he doesn’t play with a lot of different voices in this issue. A discussion between Cyclops and Iceman runs through most of the book, while a major X-villain gives context to their discussions within his/her own telling. What Gillen does with UXM is allows the reader to see is how much Cyclops has matured since first starting as Xavier’s student. Concluding as a touching story, Gillen sets up the newest storyline coming out next month with Uncanny X-Men #1.

And then there’s Greg Land. Working with mostly males in the story, he does a pretty decent job without having sexually-posed people. However, you can see Iceman aged from a twenty-something-year-old to fifty in more than one panel. A major splash page representing Cyclops reflecting on past X-events is also sullied by a stiff Jean Grey which may be easily mistaken by many other Land X-heroines. Not to mention that he’s recycling himself with many characters. . .

Uncanny X-Men 544 Preview

My only real “beef” with the book – Land aside – is actually one character Gillen seems to throw under the bus: Beast. I don’t know why Beast is the jerk he is in this issue, but yup, he’s a jerk. I’m not entirely sure what the reasoning was for Beast to metaphorically throw mud in Cyclops’ face for, but Gillen made it happen.

For the final issue of my favourite comic series, it ends somberly – closing one chapter and forcing another one to open. It’s just a shame that Land is the one doing the art.

Grade: 6.5/10

Keep on Space Truckin’!

Review: Legion of Monsters

I’ll have to admit, I was a bit skeptical to pick up Legion of Monsters. I didn’t really jump on the Fraken-Castle craze – although I found it hilarious. I really didn’t know what to expect going in. What I got was – well – read on!

Legion of Monsters

Legion of Monsters #1 of 4
Dennis Hopeless (writer), Juan Doe (artist, cover), Wil Quintana (colours), Dave Lanphear (letters). $3.99

Just in time for Hallowe’en! The fun-filled Legion of Monsters miniseries – featuring some of Marvel’s most prominent horror creatures: Morbius, the vampire, Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night, The Living Mummy and Manphibian, bring terror and hilarity to a new level. The series kicks-off featuring monster slayer, Elisa Bloodstone, tempting an unknown monster through stereotypical slasher-lore: her dancing in a bedroom in her underwear while the monster sniffs her “innocence” out. Unfortunately for the unnamed monster, this means total doom.

Now enter the Legion of Monsters. Underneath New York City, Morbius runs a tight ship, housing hundreds of thousands of monsters in order to prevent them from harming anyone on the surface. Acting as the monster police, Jack, the Living Mummy and Manphibian help quell any problems the monsters give the surface world – with hilarious results. But what Bloodstone’s role is with the legion only becomes revealed by the final few pages – setting up a really awesome and exciting story for the remaining three issues.

And that’s where Dennis Hopeless really shines. If you want funny, monster-driven dialogue, this book is for you. In fact, if you’re a fan of slapstick comedy mixed with violence, science, mystery, and unusual team-ups, this book is your you. Yes, Hopeless seems to fit everything and the kitchen sink into the first part of this series. But most importantly, this story is good. Every tiny detail of set-up is given in this book, creating a world for new readers to jump on to who have no prior knowledge to any of the characters.

To match Hopeless’ world, Juan Doe hits the nail on the head with his art style. While it’s ultimately cartoony, it fits the mood of the book with near-perfection. Clean lines appear rough when headshots are presented in particular panels, but it allows you to see the grit of the monsters while still seeing their human-like traits. Each panel is used properly, showing everything that is needed to keep the story moving along. Doe essentially put a ton of effort into this book and it shows. Matching Doe with Quintana on colours must have been a dream come true for Doe. Quintana never overdoes brights or darks and shows all of Doe’s pencils without drowning any of it out. With such a versatile set of characters, Quintana has a lot to play with, and he spares no expense in having fun with that.

The Legion of Monsters is a ton of fun for fans of horror and people who just want a good laugh. It’s unfortunate that it is only four issues, because the first one went by too fast!

Grade: 9/10

Keep on Space Truckin’!