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X-Men: Grand Design #1 [Review]

xmen_grand_design_0001X-Men: Grand Design

Cartoonist: Ed Piskor
Editor: Chris Robinson
X-Men Group Editor: Mark Paniccia
Editor in Chief: Axel Alonso
Chief Creative Officer: Joe Quesada
President: Dan Buckley
Executive Producer: Alan Fine
X-Men Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 2018
Cover Price: $5.99

I crab about Marvel comics all costing $3.99+ and virtually always put back even curiosities once I “confirm” that they’re $3.99+ for the issue held in-hand. I’m down on much of what Marvel has published for the last few years at least, and have had extremely mixed feelings on what stuff I have picked up.

This issue is $5.99.

And I barely thought anything of it. The issue FEELS thick, and heavy, and quite possibly THE single best value in a single issue that I have come across from Marvel in a long, long time.

It took me three sittings to get through this issue. Granted, I had other stuff going on, but I also hadn’t mentally “budgeted” a long time to stay put and read, used to even the extra-sized issues being pretty quick reads.

I’m not actually sure what I expected from this issue. I think initially I thought it was going to be a book that was text-only; when I realized it was actually a comic after all, I decided to give it a shot. What I got out of it is that whatever the length of the finished product, it’s like this detailed “history” of the X-Men, in comic format–using new art and narrative but covering existing material.

The page design includes coloring to make these glossy, higher-quality-paper pages look like old newsprint; the coloring to the story/art itself lends to that effect, giving this the appearance of a classic 1960s comic book or such. While there’s a little bit of “panel creativity” and “white space,” by and large the page layouts are tight and dense, modular classic panels–squares and rectangles with actual borders and gutters in a way that seems to have been largely jettisoned in “modern” comics. The dense visuals share space with dense text–plenty of caption boxes, speech balloons, and thought bubbles; the art is there, the art shows plenty, but there are no full or double-page splashes. The art serves the narrative, rather than some limited text serving up an excuse for big, flashy art.

Story-wise, I didn’t really feel like there was anything “new” or “fancy” or such here. Nothing particularly stood out, nothing was singularly memorable. But then, I was not expecting such. What the story is, what the writing is, is basically a straight-forward narrative, in chronological order, from the beginning of Marvel Comics into the 1960s and the beginning of the original X-Men issues. Things that were revealed in flashbacks a few issues in or 30-something YEARS’ worth of issues in, it’s here in order, unfolding as events unfolded–NOT in the order that details were doled out to readers as the actual issues were published. And this is presented as a tale from Uatu, the Watcher…giving a good context to things now being told in order.

In many ways, I’m sure a lot of people would consider this a boring read, and a re-tread, and probably a few other negative connotations to stuff. Me? I thoroughly enjoyed this. Part review, part history lesson, part summary, and part condensed revisitation of classic stories. I totally appreciate comics in general and the nature of them; the occasional “new reveal” or such, new flashbacks revealing previously-unknown information, the introduction of a character from someone’s past who just happened to not have been mentioned or relevant til “now” in the story that sheds new and different light on past events. But there’s something cool and refreshing about just following a single, one-directioned narrative pulling in everything–from information we got in X-Men #1, to stuff brought up/shown into 2009, 45-some years after X-Men #1.

X-Men: Grand Design (sample 2 pages' layout)

Pages seem to have 5-9 panels each, some more…making for plenty of room to cram a LOT of story into small space. No half, full, or double-page splashes to “cheat” or anything!

For my $5.99, three “sittings” to read, and sheer amount of time spent to read this whole thing, this is the best value in time-to-money I’ve found in years. As I got to the end of the issue, I wondered if this was monthly, or if I’d have to wait up to TWO months for the next issue…but then saw the next issue is supposedly in a mere two weeks.

At $5.99 an issue, and biweekly, and I’m very much looking forward to the next issue? Anyone reading much of my writing of late ought to realize that alone should speak to the quality I see in this. Again–this will not be for everyone. That said…I highly recommend it, especially to anyone who is or was a fan of the X-Men, particularly the 1960s “early days” OF the X-Men.

Bloodshot (1990s) #0 [Review]

Family Blood

Writer/Penciller: Kevin Vanhook
Inker: Dick Giordano
Colorist: Jade Moede
Cover: Joe Quesada, Dick Giordano, John Cebollero
Letterer: Jade Moede
Editor: Jorge Gonzalez
Published by: Valiant
Cover Date: March 1994
Cover Price: $3.50

We open on a flashback to the 1860s, on the man who would be known as the Eternal Warrior as he laments his inability to prevent the Mafia from gaining a foothold in the United States. The story then shifts to 1991, as we meet Angelo Mortalli–the man who has been tasked by the Mob to take down the Eternal Warrior. The two come together, and Mortalli believes he’s killed his target–not realizing the man’s nature. Not long after he’s framed for several murders that turn his family against him, and realizing he wouldn’t last on his own, turns himself in. Unfortunately for Mortalli, he becomes the subject of an experiment, as microscopic robots–nanites–are injected into him. When he’s released by a Geomancer, he has no memory of who he once was, but he’s become an ultimate survivor, proficient in all sorts of weaponry.

As I first read this issue, I wasn’t sure who the narrating character was; but I was pretty sure this was not the Shadow Man, nor Ninjak. As I sat down to write this review, it actually occurred to me this might be the Eternal Warrior–a character I know virtually nothing about, but by that name he sounds immortal and thus it would be reasonable to assume that his longevity lends to narrating this story. Having made that connection, I did a quick bit of research and confirmed it: I assumed correctly.

The story is pretty straightforward, introducing us to the various characters pretty quickly, setting up the situation, and moving us through the main points. We get a little bit of backstory as well as the ongoing insight of the Eternal Warrior’s narrative/knowledge of what happened, and we get to see bits of Mortalli’s life as a part of the mob and what he’s like as a person…which seems a stark contrast to the vigilante he would become as Bloodshot.

The art is pretty good–nothing negative, really, to say about it; it fits the story quite well and conveys what’s going on, making things easy to follow, and the issue as a whole flows quite nicely. I’m unfamiliar with Vanhook‘s art offhand, and it reminds me a bit of Barry Windsor-Smith, and the visual style of the entire art team has a look that–for me–screams “1990s!” This is not a bad thing, just an observation…and something that I think helped my enjoyment of the issue, as it looks and feels like the early/mid-1990s comic that it is.

I’m pretty sure this is the first-ever issue of “classic” Bloodshot that I’ve read–though I bought #1 when it came out, that was the dumb collector in me in the early-1990s, bought for the fancy cover and on the chance it’d be come THE “hot, new book.” I don’t recall buying this issue when it came out, though I’ve acquired several copies through the years out of bargain bins, specifically for the shiny cover and my having a thing for these chromium covers.

As something I don’t believe I’ve ever paid more than fifty cents for (so even with multiple copies, I’ve yet to pay a total of the 1994 cover price), this was an excellent issue. It’s given me the origin of Bloodshot (as expected, assuming going in that this was like the X-O Manowar #0 issue that did the same for that character), which–while it takes the mystery away–will likely inform my reading of the early issues of the series.

I approached this as a one-shot; just a lone single-issue I could read, to “sample” Bloodshot after all these years…but I found myself quickly drawn into the story, and by the end of the issue, I am very interested to get into the series proper and experience this original version of Bloodshot.

This is my first-read issue of Bloodshot (1992) but it’s my fourth Bloodshot comic overall–having already read the first three issues of the 2012 series. I can’t help but wonder how much the two inform each other–how much detail in the new series is actually drawn from the original, and how now reading the originals will affect my enjoyment of the new material.

As back-issue bargain bin comics go, if you can find this in a quarter, fifty-cent, or dollar bin, it’s a solid read and well worth picking up. Just beware it igniting an interest in the character and this series that might lead you to hunting a bunch of other issues to read more.

Story: 7/10
Art: 7/10
Overall: 9/10

Fatal Attractions Revisited: X-Factor #92

xfactor092The Man Who Wasn’t There

Co-Plotter: Scott Lobdell
Penciler/Co-Plotter: Joe Quesada
Script: J.M. DeMatteis
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Starkings
Background Assist: Cliff Van Meter
Colorist: Oliver
Assistant Editor: Jaye Gardner
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Dated: July, 1993

This issue kicks off the Fatal Attractions story/crossover/event, and carries the cover title “Out of the Light and into thy father’s shadow,” which is an apt declaration of the interior.

After an attack on a bunch of humans in hospice, X-Factor is investigating the slaughter. Though they lose the last survivor from the attack, the team has a prisoner–one of the Acolytes–who doesn’t seem inclined to give them any information until Quicksilver shows up. As the Acolytes worship Magneto, they place great importance on The Son, which allows some answers to be coaxed from the captured Spoor. Despite orders to remain behind, the rest of the team follows Quicksilver and government liaison Valerie Cooper, and what they find at an apparently quiet military base shocks the team and creating a rift between them and Cooper. Lead Acolyte Fabian Cortez does the usual villain thing of spouting off about his plan to Quicksilver, and is angered when his offer to install the Son of Magneto as leader of the Acoyltes is rejected. After X-Factor’s battle with the Acolytes ends, the team is left to deal with Cooper, who has had a revelation of her own explaining her recent actions and attitude.

I know I read this issue when it first came out 19-some years ago, but this time through much of the issue read as “new” to me. I remembered the Acolytes’ attack on the hospital, and the woman crying at the end, but the in-between stuff hadn’t stuck, nor did I have any great grasp on who all these characters were or their context.

It’s quite interesting looking back from 20 years later, knowing where certain characters wind up, and knowing in general what I do today about them that I did not know then. For one thing, I feel like I truly appreciate the enormity of this story now, where back then it was just an extra-length issue with a sturdy cover, fancy “hologram,” and a nearly triple-sized price tag ($3.50, but I think an issue like this published today would–knowing Marvel–be at least $7.99 if not $9.99).

Story-wise, I’m not entirely impressed–though this issue seems to set stuff in motion for the rest of the Fatal Attractions series, there’s something to it that just doesn’t feel like it “matters” as much–perhaps because this is just kicking stuff off, and so the nature of the crossover isn’t yet apparent by this issue’s conclusion, so it winds up feeling like more of a prologue or tangential piece of things. While the Acolytes are present here and their slaughter of the humans will have other consequences later in the arc, this issue is very much an X-Factor issue, and seems very much like the “random” issue plucked from continuity and read out of context. Knowing what I do now about Quicksilver’s relationship with Magneto, this issue holds more meaning for me–all the familial relationships of Marvel characters were still mostly abstract to me in 1993.

I definitely like the art for the issue, and in the first few pages I found myself thinking there was something familiar about it–and had a momentary “ah-ha!” when I saw the credits box and realized this was Quesada‘s work–I’d totally forgotten that he was the penciler on this series back then. I don’t recall being at all put off by the art back in ’93, and at present, find that it holds up well, as the characters are distinct, the action’s easy to follow, and I even actually like the very-90s character designs.

I’m most used to seeing the front half of this cover, so I’m that much more impressed opening the issue and looking at the whole of the image. The trade dress for this series is the darkened overlay on the right-hand side with the Fatal Attractions logo, cover blurb/title, and of course the hologram. This overlay takes up nearly half of the front cover and for me has always been the dominant factor. The hologram image itself is about the size of a trading card, and even now remains quite impressive to me–I recall noticing how “deep” the image was, and in the right light I can still stare at it for a bit, marveling at the detail and depth. (Even with contemporary 3-D films, I’m far more impressed by the depth of purported 3-D than I am stuff popping out at me).

All in all, a strong issue that I definitely like. Though I paid full price for a copy back in the day, I’ve since snagged this issue from 25-cent and 50-cent bins, though considering its cover price is still cheaper than a contemporary 20ish-paged single issue from Marvel today, it’s well worth its full price. Heck, the hologram alone is worth the 25/50 cents to $1 price if you come across it in a bargain bin. Though this is part of a larger story, it stands alone well enough.

xfactor092wraparound_large

Thor #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Average, but there’s still potential.
Story Title: Untitled

Thor returns.

thor001Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Olivier Coipel
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Asst. Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Editor-In-Chief: Joe Quesada
Cover Art: Olivier Coipel, variants by others.
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This issue–and by extension, the series–holds a lot of potential, and seems to have some good ideas to give us, as readers. The execution seems a bit off, though, and despite some good conceptual ideas, just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

I’ll be one of the first to stand up and complain about “decompression” and generally dragging stories out unnecessarily across multiple issues…but this issue felt like it actually should be at least 2, if not 3 or 4 issues in length.

The issue’s story–boiled down–is fairly simple: we as readers are introduced to Thor, his alter ego, shown how he returns, and follow his alter ego into a “new neighborhood,” so to speak.

The way the title character is first encountered seems to go against his last appearance, from what I recall (given 2 1/2 years’ separation from my last reading of that story). The way he returns has the potential of some epic, legendary thing that could bring a lot to the character…but is over so quickly that one may wonder why it’s taken so long (both in real time and comic-time) for this to happen. There’s some good setup that leads me to assume we’re meeting some new supporting cast, and we’re introduced to what solicitations lead me to believe will be the new regular locale for the book, which will nicely separate it (I hope) from being “just” another super-powered entity operating in New York City.

The art is good…I have no real complaints with it. I like the look of the characters, and can follow what’s going on visually. I also really, really like Thor’s new get-up. It has a much more realistic look, more practical for a “warrior” and somehow evokes more of a feel that Thor has Norse ties (if only through popular cultural depictions of Norse stuff). To me, it also makes the “classic” costume look fairly hokey.

This issue moves quickly along, going from lack of a title character to his return to setup of a new status quo, all in one issue–something that almost seems a feat in itself, in an age when title characters sometimes don’t show up until the final page (if even at all) of their own debut issues.

This is far from a perfect issue…and taken alone, I’m not entirely enamored with it. However, there’s still a lot of potential that I can see…and so I’ll give a couple more issues for Straczynski to kick his magic into gear and really hook me before I bail on this title.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 3/5

Marvel Zombies: Dead Days [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: Dead Days

The Marvel heroes assemble to take down a threat to the entire universe…aw, who’s kidding who? Marvel Heroes become Marvel Zombies, and there’s lots o’ good eatin’ going on!

marvelzombiesdeaddays001Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colors: June Chung
Letters: VC’s Rus Wooton
Production: Marvel Bullpen
Zombie Food: John Barber
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada
Cover: Arthur Suydam (after Jim Lee)
Publisher: Marvel

I assume that if you haven’t heard of ’em, you’ve been hiding for the last couple years, or just ignoring everything Marvel. Otherwise, who hasn’t heard of the Marvel zombies? (No, not the readers…the zombified Marvel heroes!) When I first heard of the concept, back when the 2006 mini-series was announced, I thought the idea sucked.

I couldn’t see how there’d be any point, or any fun, to the concept. Fifteen some months later, that mini is on an extremely short list of series that I’ve read one issue, and could not stop myself from reading every other issue that I had in my possession.

What’s that got to do with THIS issue, you ask? This is a prequel to that series, that shows us pre-zombified versions of the characters…how certain ones came to be bitten, and even some gruesome scenes of them eating loved ones or trusted butlers and all that…stuff mentioned or alluded to in last year’s mini.

Does it live up to the hype, and the quality, of that series? I’m not sure it does. While good…for me, this was just lacking something; though I can’t quite put my finger on it.

The story itself is really straight-forward as stated above. It cuts from one scene to another, as we see the rapid progression of the super-powered zombie plague. The scenes jump around a bit, with little time spent in any one space, though certain characters receive much more time than others in the spotlight. Even though this is a larger-sized issue, it’s still just a single issue, and it packs in what could fairly easily drawn out into a 6-12 issue series, if not more. Dense content means lack of deep characterization. But in the end, when you get right down to it, it seems that the point of this issue is the "fun" and the random gore and gruesome zombified heroes depicted on the page…if you want deep characterization, there’re six volumes of the writer’s other zombie series available, and loads of other superhero books with more room for characterization.

On the art-end, we’ve got some good quality stuff from Phillips…in and of itself, I really have no complaints visually. Where there might be some complaint would be the amount of visible gore and all that…this is not a comic to hand to the target audience of a Marvel Adventures book, and well deserves its "parental advisory" note on the UPC box.

The cover is an homage to 1991’s X-Men #1-E…the version with the double-gatefold/4-panel cover. While yet another cool zombified piece, it’s not my favorite.

I’m not sure exactly where in the Marvel Zombies timeline this fits, with the still-running Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness, so perhaps more will be made clear with that in the grander tapestry. Taken alone, this issue offers key scenes that impact Crossover and the original Marvel Zombies mini, and provides an extra-sized issue’s worth of violence, gore, and hero-eating-hero action. If that’s not your thing, don’t bother with this. If you do enjoy the concept (or enjoyed prior exposure,) this issue’s well worth getting.

Besides…there’s far worse (and less ‘fun’) out there you could give up your money for.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 4/5

Last Planet Standing #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Title: Last Planet Standing (1 of 5)

Reed Richards makes a disturbing discovery, the Avengers mobilize, and the Shi’ar face Galactus…

lastplanetstanding001Script, Plot & Pencils: Tom DeFalco & Pat Olliffe
Finished Art: Scott Koblish
Colors: Avalon’s Rob Ro
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Editor: Molly Lazer
Editor in Chief: Joe Quesada
Cover Art: Patrick Olliffe
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Reed Richards off in space investigating some ‘cosmic’ situation? Check. Trouble for Richards and Sue leads to Torch and Thing mounting a rescue mission? Yup. Seeing Avengers in action against a team of villains? Yeah, that’s familiar, too. The Shi’ar face some cosmic threat? More familiarity. Spider-[girl] annoying thugs in an alley while [she] beats ’em up? Hmm…some of the characters look different, and a bunch of them ARE different…but the feel is familiar.

It’s been quite a number of years since I’ve read an ‘MC-2’ comic, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect coming in to this issue. What I’ve found is a relatively accessible debut issue of a mini-series that feels like a crossover’s ‘core mini’ and yet…isn’t.

The story here works quite well, and is pretty accessible. If one is familiar with the ‘normal’ Marvel Universe these characters are easy to "get." The premise–a renewed threat involving Galactus–doesn’t seem all that original. And the familiarity may reek of retread in itself. But this issue is a refreshing change from the "usual" of the last couple years.

The art fits the story very well, with the characters all maintaining their distinct appearances, and it’s clear what’s going on panel-to-panel. Nothing seems over-crowded, and the overall tone is bright and open.
While the story is likely to take a much more serious turn later in this mini, right now it reads like a story reminiscent of what one might’ve found in the late 80s or early 90s when I first got into comics–before the big speculator boom and bust. The visuals somehow are also reminiscent of this, and results in a nice, clean, ‘fun’ issue that promises a big story involving a lot of characters, affects a comics universe, but there are only five issues total to the story, as opposed to a huge crossover involving multiple titles and mini-series.

I’m not sure if this issue follows up on last year’s Last Hero Standing in anything other than title, but I did not feel lost reading this issue. There’s no "Previously: in the MC-2 universe…" page, but there is a full page of character head-shots with names and abilities that serves to introduce readers to the main players of the issue…and I suspect that even if one has never before read any of the MC-2 titles, this is a decent point to jump on, especially if you just want one, single story.
In an age of waiting for the collected volumes, this series looks to be one that’ll be fun to follow incrementally, and is worth getting as singles. Regardless of format, this is definitely one to check out.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 4/5

Invincible Iron Man #500 [Review]


Full review posted to cxPulp.com
.

Story: 2/5
Art: 2/5
Overall: 2.5/5

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