Wednesday’s Reviews – Back in Action

Well I’ve been away for awhile. Sometime life throws you some curve balls. In my case, it was working a lot and a humidex ruining my will to stay awake. I also must apologize for the lack of Classic Comic Friday’s this month. It simply can not happen with how hectic everything has been both with work and me getting my new computer actually running. HOWEVER, I definitely will be doing some reviews this week and later on this month, tackling the whole, “Superman’s not American Anymore” topic. I may be a bit late to the game in talking about it, but I do have a reason for it. I will give my explanation to why in time.

Also, UncannyDerek.com is on Facebook! Click on the loveable blue “F” on the right of the screen to join the group. In a nutshell, it’s the easiest way to get updates.

But for now:

Iron Age Alpha

Iron Age Alpha #1 (one-shot)
Rob Williams (writer), Rebekah Isaacs (pencils, inks), Andres Mossa (colours), Jared K. Fletcher (letters), Ariel Olivetti (cover). $2.99

This was a story I was dreading since its announcement: The return of Phoenix – in an IRON MAN book? Was this current continuity or some sort of Ultimate universe? Well it’s current continuity, and surprisingly, it is not what I had expected at all.

Iron Man gets kidnapped by a old disgruntled employee, the Phantom! (Yes, even I had to do research to find out who this guy was). Talk about pulling back from Iron Man’s past. Anyway, his plans are to have Iron Man watch the Phantom kill himself and the world. The plan involves one of Dr. Doom’s old time machines pulling the Dark Phoenix out of the 70’s to destroy everything we know. Conceivably, it’s a great plan. It even works! But Stark jumps into time machine before the world is destroyed and is now stuck in the past. What is a boy to do?

Fortunately for us readers, we can see how this story can easily be retconned making it an irrelevant story in the long run, and possibly just a ploy to bring the Phantom back into the Marvel mainstream. Maybe I’m wrong. What I do know is the story is definitely not trying to bring Dark Phoenix back into the Marvel continuity. It just feels wrong with the way she enters and exits the story with so little emphasis. I digress.

What is a fair decent coupe-de-grace is Isaac’s artwork. It’s nothing ground breaking by any standards, but many excellent panels lift the book above what the rest of the story gives. All scenes with Phoenix and the final page really shows her versatility as an artist – complimenting two art styles and setting them in one book. It’s a lot of tough work, so she deserves her kudos.

Although the start was interesting, I feel like I already know how this story will end. Dark Phoenix is already out of the game and seemed really like only a marketing strategy to get readers like myself on board. It worked, Marvel. But good try. I’m already done with the Iron Age.

Grade: 5/10

X-Men Legacy

X-Men Legacy #250
Mike Carey (writer), Khoi Pham & Steve Kurth (pencils), Tom Palmer & Jay Leisten (inks), Marte Gracia & Brian Reber (colours), Cory Petit (letters), Mico Suayan & Marte Gracia (cover). $4.99

A super-sized 250th issue of X-Men gives us three stories in one giant tome. Two of the stories are written by Carey, while a reprint of New Mutants #27 by Claremont’s and Sienkiewicz appears as the third story.

Carey’s first story continues the dilemma after the Age of X. However, unlike the Age of X, this story makes sense (Cyclops even agrees with me). As the Age of X concluded, mutants long-gone (ie. Chamber) were brought back into the real world. Naturally, five of Legion’s personalities would also escape – and it’s up to a unlikely band of mutants to stop them: Legion, Xavier, Magneto, Rogue, Gambit and. . . Frenzy? If you told me about this lineup a year ago, I would’ve laughed. But Carey has been able to reshape X-Men Legacy so naturally that it feels completely natural.

For the second story, we finally get to see what Rachel, Havok, Polaris & friends are up to – and it’s not pretty. Cleverly using Rogue’s powers and the Age of X storyline, Carey makes a way to retrace where our favourite lost-in-space mutants have been. Admittedly, I’ve been confused to how the Age of X tied in with Rachel’s reappearance a few issues back, but now it is blatantly clear. I’m most excited with this storyline, as I loved the War/Realm of Kings stories.

What comes as a shocker is Khoi Pham. I absolutely love his art. Yet for his work in the first story, I’m floored to how rushed it feels. Faces seem quickly thrown together, and for the most part – emotionless. A particular panel with Frenzy yelling at Xavier makes her look sleepy rather than angry. It became rather hard not to laugh with the serious emphasis on her words and watching her face non-reacting. Kurth has always been hit and miss for me. For the most part, he draws great faces and proportions right (at least in this story). His work on Rachel was fantastic and riddled with me empathizing for the character. Rogue on the other hand, comes off rather mannish in more than one panel while some characters, like Dr. Nemesis, seem unusually stiff. Comparing the two art forms, I preferred Kurth’s paired with Reber’s colours over Pham’s and Gracia’s.

What I’m worried about is how the two plots will be balanced. If Bendis’ work on New Avengers and Fractions run on Uncanny X-Men tell me anything, writers are having a tough time running two-or-more stories in one arc. Even Carey in the Age of X became lost with the Rogue/Gambit, Magneto/Force Warriors, Legion/Moira, and Wolverine/Cyclops/Cannonball plots all trying to intertwine.

But with X-Men Legacy #250, it feels very promising. Let’s hope it gets executed well.

Grade: 6/10

Also, if you haven’t read it yet, pick up Uncanny X-Force #10 and #11. It’s currently starring in the Age of Apocalypse, folks!

As for my computer, it’s finally completed. I called it “The Hulk” because it’s a monster and a powerhouse. Oh, and it’s green.

Computer 1

Computer 2

Computer 3

Computer 4

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

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Classic Comic Fridays are Back!

Utter madness, I know!

What I’ve decided for my Classic Comic Friday from my collection is no-other-than Spider-Woman #1 from April of 1978!

Spider-Woman #1 was written/edited by Marv Wolfman who would have just stepped down as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, allowing Jim Shooter to take over. Wolfman would only write up to issue #8, allowing other writers like Marc Gruenwald and Chris Claremont to take over the series. Spider-Woman was also penciled by a Marvel great, Carmine Infantino, who has drawn comics from Captain America, to Ghost Rider, to Star Wars, Nova, and Iron Man. He would draw up to Spider-Woman #19, setting up the next issues for later artists.

SpiderWoman1

From what I know, Spider-Woman was not really a popular character as of yet either. She made a few appearances in other comics, but never held her own until she was given her own monthly title. I am not entirely sure about where her popularity grew from, but it definitely was an interesting time for female heroes, as Ms. Marvel #1 appeared a little more than a year before Spider-Woman. The Dark Phoenix Saga was about to begin in the Uncanny X-Men storyline, while Kitty Pryde was also about making her debut in the series. Also, one of Spider-Man’s most interesting female “heroines,” the Black Cat would also appear a year later. Clearly this was a big push for women in Marvel.

So where does Spider-Woman stand?

If anything, from knowing what I do now about Jessica Drew, reading back on the origin of Spider-Woman and seeing Drew with her original blonde hair, it is a bit of a refresher to dabble back in the past. Nowadays, she’s just known for being ex-Hydra, ex-SHIELD, now Avengers, etc. Little is brought up – if ever – about her solo work.

Admittedly, there isn’t much to pull from. The story itself opens up with Spider-Woman with a full mask covering her hair. She is robbing a grocery store when a man, Jerry Hunt prevents her from stealing. As she tries to escape, he pulls of her mask (amateur mistake on her behalf) and sees her face. He recognizes her from somewhere, but leaves it at that. Jessica escapes home and stays in for the night, reflecting on almost getting caught.

Going to sleep, she has a nightmare, so-to-speak, about gaining her powers on Wundagore Mountain – sparing the mumbo-jumbo – she goes into suspended animation and comes out as Spider-Woman. Why did I do that? You didn’t miss much.

She awakes from sleep the next day and decides to go out job hunting. There, Jerry Hunt sees her again and tries to stop her. Quickly, she changes into Spider-Woman and escapes.

At the end of the book (we’re there already?!), Drew decides to make a new mask and dye her hair black to give her a bit more of a disguise. While out, she would encounter Mr. Hunt yet again (must be a small city) who is under attack by some crooks with lasers. She knocks them all out, but Jerry is wounded. She takes Jerry to the hospital and puts some of her blood in him to promote faster healing. Spider-Woman then leaves Jerry in the hospital to wonder who she was.

End story.

Marv Wolfman is credited for creating up some of Marvel’s finest characters such as Blade, Terrax, and the Black Cat. However, the dud with the introduction to Spider-Woman really left me at a loss for words.

Great dialogue was the only forward momentum this story carried with it. Realistic dialogue between Spider-Woman and Hunt, and even in the dream world with Jessica’s father, Johnathan Drew and the High Evolutionary (named Herbert Wyndam in the comic) felt real. But the execution for how dialogue in the story progressed was not as exciting. There was too little interest in Jessica’s development as a character because it was shrouded by her origin story.

SpiderWoman12006

What I will recognize is the nice art from Carmine Infantino and inks by Tony DeZuniga. True body movements mixed in with delicate shading flooded the pages with depth and realism. A particular page after the failed grocery store robbery, Drew walks home through a park and into her apartment. Great care was taken with the various characters she walks past in the story with brilliant shading placed where it needed to be in a daylight scene. Art held what the plot could not – a story.

I mentioned earlier that this was a time where women in Marvel really made a push for popularity. Although I am familiar with everyone else I mentioned but Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman, I feel as if Spider-Woman was thrown under a bus for the women of Marvel. Although she may be a bigger character now, her storyline fell flat in this first issue. Had it been 1978, I would not have picked up the second issue. Also, I wouldn’t have because it somehow involved Merlin the Wizard. Yup.

But great art by Infantino and a gorgeous cover page done by Joe Sinnott definitely makes the comic score higher than it should have.

Grade: 6/10

I’m also sure some of you are asking yourself, “What about Spider-Woman Origin from 2006?”

Well, that story is pretty inconsistent with the one I just reviewed. To make Bendis’ Secret Invasion work, he had to create a new Spider-Woman origin. I am not 100% sold on the story, but apparently Marvel is just forgetting Spider-Woman #1 from 1978 even existed. Then again, if you just read my review, we all probably should.

Keep on Space Truckin’!

Classic Comic Fridays: Uncanny X-Men #134

Every Friday, I will review a classic comic from my personal collection.

For my classic comic feature this week, I’ve decided on a personal-favourite of mine, Uncanny X-Men #134 from June of 1980. It was written by the man who arguably made the X-Men who they are today, Chris Claremont. It was also co-written by artist John Byrne, the legend who drew the X-Men for their re-conception in the 70’s and 80’s. Needless to say, this was the X-Men’s A-Team. This is also the issue which gives readers the first appearance to Dark Phoenix!

UXM134

What’s fantastic about this issue – or at least, what stands out for me – are two things. First is the excitement from panel-to-panel with the ensuing battle between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club. And second is the building up of Dark Phoenix.

The story actually trails issues before this one, where Jean Grey has been getting random dreams and flashes of being a queen with a man named Jason Wyngarde. After so many issues, Grey is fully tricked into being a queen and is brought to the Hellfire Club, where, along with Sebastian Shaw, Donald Pierce, Jason Wyngarde, and Harry Leland, she becomes the Black Queen.

The X-Men in a few issues prior, go to save Jean, but are all captured. Luckily, Wolverine had eluded capture earlier and breaks in to save the day – only to be stopped by Jean under Wyngarde’s control. All seems lost, but Jean removes a helmet Cyclops was forced to wear to withhold his powers, and he blasts the X-Men free. It seems as if Jean was able to beat Wyngarde’s control. . .

With the X-Men free, they begin battle against the Hellfire Club with awesome panels drawn by Byrne. Colossus takes on Pierce and rips off one of his robot arms, while Leland takes on Wolverine and loses, of course.

Cyclops and Shaw battle it out. Although Shaw could absorb Cyclops’ blasts, Summers plays it smart and blows out the floor beneath Shaw, forcing him to fall.

Storm and Nightcrawler take on Shaw from the lower level, where Storm tries freezing the Black King. Shaw grabs Nightcrawler and throws him at Storm preventing a full-freeze. Defeated, Shaw escapes with Pierce and Leland into a secret passage within the club.

As the story winds down, we see that Wyngarde was not who he was – but instead Mastermind, generating queen illusion to Jean, as well as making the fake image of Jason Wyngarde. Mastermind tries to figure out how he lost, and the readers discover that it was not Jean Grey at all. In fact, Mastermind was playing mind-games with the Phoenix force itself!
MastermindDestroyed

Angry for being tricked for so long by Mastermind, Phoenix decides to destroy him for what he has done. In result, the fake-Jean opened his mind into all the feelings and sensations the Phoenix felt around the universe. Unable to handle such immense power in his mind, Mastermind fell into a coma.

Escaping the club, the X-Men regroup to the Blackbird and begin to leave. Cyclops tries to figure out what was wrong with Jean as she also seemed to be short with him on their way to the jet. After a few moments of gathering themselves, the X-Men turn around to see Jean floating in a red costume proclaiming, “No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever, I am Phoenix!”

And then the Blackbird blew up.

What a way to end a story, eh?

Claremont’s build up to such a dramatic story could not have been any better. No one, whether in the X-Men or the Hellfire Club could have known this was coming. Not even the readers knew, or were hinted at, that Jean Grey was not who she was. It came as a complete shock to all players for the comic.

Afterward, the Dark Phoenix Saga begins for a few issues, followed by the inevitable death of Jean Grey in issue #137, entitled “Phoenix Must Die!” I’m sure you’ve all seen the awesome cover. It’s also my profile picture on WordPress here.

One thing to definitely discuss is Bryne’s brilliant art throughout the comic. Panel-to-panel, the X-Men have to battle the Hellfire Club, and we have to see how each individual’s power affects the story. Wolverine versus Leland’s power to increase gravity to the people around him ended in failure as Wolverine jumped on Leland. Given his only was to generate weight, they both crashed through the floor, Leland obviously defeated.

Pierce’s battle with Colossus shows how Pierce just relies on brute strength rather than technique. The snapping of Pierce’s arm by Colossus’s technique brings one of those, “hell yes” moments to the page. Byrne’s great for that.

As for how X-men comics go, this was definitely one of the strongest X-Men comics I’ve ever read. X-Men, I’d argue, is my forté, so when I say this, I do mean it. Overall, this story – filled with plenty of surprises and great action – make obvious to why Claremont and Byrne’s run on the X-Men was so successful.

Grade: 9/10

Keep on Space Truckin’.