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Ultimate End #1 [Review]

secretwars_ultimateend001Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Scott Hanna
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Production Design: Manny Mederos
Cover: Mark Bagley
Assistant Editors: Chris Robinson, Emily Shaw
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

Despite missing the first two issues (to this day 14-some years later I’ve had to rely on reprints for my personal collection) I had jumped into the Ultimate universe basically at its start, with Ultimate Spider-Man #3, and I believe I finally got to read the first two issues initially in a Mighty Marvel Must-Have edition. As such, seeing as how–after several false-starts on the “end” of the Ultimate universe–the ending is finally here, I couldn’t pass this up. And like I started with Ultimate Spider-Man with the single issues, so, too, I found it fitting to follow the single-issues here as well.

This triggers plenty of nostalgia for me from the cover, which utilizes the original trade dress of the Ultimate books–the two solid-color bars down either side of the cover with a skinnier image between. The Ultimate End logo looks familiar, though I think the font is slightly “off” from some of the other Ultimate _______ logos; and of course we have the Battleworld banner across the top and the Secret Wars stamp marking this as part of the overall Secret Wars 2015 event, specifically the Battleworld class of tie-ins. I had noticed an alternate cover with the Miles Morales Spider-Man costume, that looked like the original Ultimate Spider-Man #1 cover that I almost chose over the standard cover. However, never having acquired an original USM #1, I stuck to my guns on getting just the standard/main non-variant cover for this.

We open on (a) Spider-Man tangling with a Serpent Squad, putting him into interaction with Cloak, Dagger, and a Spider-Woman. We then shift to a huge gathering of heroes that seems made up of a mix and combination of “616” characters and “Ultimate” characters. Spidey joins in as everyone is debating the fault and situation itself they all find themselves in, before the party is further crashed by Thors.

Simply opening the book and reading, I was actually expecting the Miles Morales Spider-Man, so was surprised to see a classic-costumed Spidey. Further, this seems to be a Peter Parker Spidey, suggesting he’s either the 616 Spider-Man or another. The issue has a prologue and then jumps to “3 weeks ago,” and references a white portal/other world, so as a cursory read-through I’m not certain on the timing and how much the characters know of where they are and if that was pre-incursion or what; I have not kept up on any Marvel the last several years until Secret Wars #0 and 1. So what may be totally obvious to readers following along was not to me.

Still, knowing the basic premise, that didn’t bother me much…I recognized the various characters overall. Whether this was actually Battleworld as I assumed or a flashback to the universes still being separate isn’t a huge deal to me. Story-wise this worked well enough and had a familiar “feel” stylistically. The art of course is familiar, and Bagley‘s work is just as good now as I recall from when I was following the Ultimate Spider-Man series with his art.

This is only the first issue of–I believe–five, so there’s by no means a complete story here. We’re introduced to stuff, mostly, with a little bit of background/flashback given; this is clearly a first chapter of a larger singular story within the Secret Wars/Battleworld stuff. As I expected that going in and did NOT expect some one-off single-issue tale, I’m fine with that; I also went into this with the expectation that I’d enjoy it and that barring some huge disappointment or negative factor, I wasn’t going to bail on the series just from whatever this single issue held.

I enjoyed the issue overall–story and art, and appreciated the mix of nostalgia and new. I do look forward to the next issue and want to see where things go. I bought this because of my own history with the Ultimate books; though I suspect this may be one of the more “key” tie-ins to the overall Secret Wars as it deals specifically with ending the Ultimate Universe. (After all, Secret Wars is kicked off by the Ultimate and 616 Universes as the final two in existence, merging).

This seems like a very strong issue for a tie-in reading experience, and well worth getting if you’re following Secret Wars. It also seems likely to be a good story overall for putting the lid on the Ultimate Universe, fairly friendly even to readers like me who haven’t really read any of the Ultimate books for years. You could certainly do a lot worse than this issue!

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Ultimate Spider-Man #160 [Review]

Death of Spider-Man: Part 5 of 5

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Andy Lanning with Andrew Hennessy
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover Art: Bagley & Ponsor
Assistant Editor: Sana Amant
Senior Editor: Mark Paniccia
Published by: Marvel Comics

So, this issue is mostly one big fight scene. Seems the Green Goblin’s been busy, and it’s all come back down to Norman Osborn vs. Peter Parker. But unlike that first time the Goblin came back–when it was Mary Jane who was thrown off a bridge, playing on readers’ knowledge of what happened to Gwen in the regular Marvel Universe–this time, it just feels like little more than a ripoff of a two-decades-old Superman story. Yet, it works.

The villain apparently rose…many have fallen, and it’s down to the titular hero to save those around him from said villain.

Face it…the title of the story, the branding of the last few issues of this title and the Ultimate Avengers thing–it gives it all away. Much like knowing weeks before the story even began that Doomsday! was a tale that would end with the death of Superman. It was the journey to get there, watching the hero gradually take more and more of a beating, attempting to dish it back, and ultimately making a final sacrifice to save those he loves from a monster’s rampage.

The story itself–pretty simplistic. I haven’t read the first four chapters of it in this title, and bought (but wound up only skimming) the issue where Peter takes the bullet for Cap….yet, the recap page at the beginning of this issue sum things up pretty succinctly–I don’t need those chapters to “get” this.

The art–maybe not fantastic, but after recently reading the first tpb of the post-Ultimatum Ultimate Comics Spider-ManBagley‘s art–which I’ve always enjoyed and associated with Ultimate Spider-Man–is SUCH a thing of beauty. The characters actually look like I’d expect, as I got used to. The way they looked over the course of all those practically biweekly issues in college and all those TPBs after that when I went back to the series last year and caught up on over 60 issues of story.

As a whole…not truly worth the $3.99 cover price. Not even with that black plastic bag with the hero’s logo in red on it. But y’know? I missed out on Ultimate Spider-Man #1; I wasn’t able to acquire any issues til #4 or so, and was only able to get back to #3. But by and large (I got the first hardcover with those first 13 fantastic issues) I got in at the beginning. So I couldn’t bring myself to entirely “pass” on this ending.

If you’re already buying this title, sticking with the singles after the Ultimatum stuff and the renumbering and the re-renumbering, the changes in art and all that…if you read the earlier chapters of this story…again, face it: you were already going to or have bought this issue already. If you’ve sat things out, wondering at simply waiting for the collected volume: keep to that route. You’ll get a full story. If you’ve avoided this story on principle…hold to it.

This isn’t going to be for everyone. In many ways, I should be appalled at this. To see the character I so enjoyed reading about–and the supporting cast–put in this (albeit fictitious) situation, to see things come to this…it’s horrible. Heart-wrenching. But when you come down to it…this issue makes this version of Peter Parker, Spider-Man, much more real, at least in the moment. We saw his origin. His beginnings. His career. And now, his end.

If you can find this issue, without being taken for a marked-up price…I recommend it. If you’re a lapsed fan of the series, it might be worth getting to be there for the end. If nothing else–consider the collected volume.

Story: 4/10
Art: 9/10
Overall: 7/10

Justice League of America #39 [Review]

Reunion

Writer: James Robinson
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Rob Hunter
Colors: Pete Pantazis
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover: Bagley, Hunter & Pantazis
Assoc. Editor: Adam Schlagman
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics

I’m not familiar with the “Detroit League,” and don’t really have much interest in it offhand. However–as with many of the other Blackest Night tie-ins–that doesn’t really hamper the story in this issue all that much. Certainly there are some subtleties that are lost on me for lacking background knowledge of certain characters. But at its heart, ultimately, this is still a good, solid story involving a character with “history” rising to cause grief with those still living.

While Red Tornado, Zatanna, Dr. Light and crew arrive on the sattelite to see what happened, they’re confronted by Vibe (of the Detroit League), Zatarra (Zatanna’s father) and Dr. Light (the guy who raped Sue Dibny, and got his mind mucked with for his trouble, ultimately leading to Identity Crisis and whatnot). The individual confrontations are fairly interesting, though the most disturbing is the meeting of the Drs. Light, and what has befallen Firestorm’s girlfriend. Though it got incredibly annoying trying to read the backwards-speak of Zatanna and Zatarra and I was taken out of the story entirely by the thought, I had a good chuckle when I realized their battle had all but come down to a “yo mamma” spitting contest, their magic given power by what they said: “Disregard what she said!” “No, disregard what HE said!” “No, disregard what SHE said!”

It seems obvious that Robinson knows these characters well, and has a good handle on them–whatever my feelings of the various “eras” of the JLA and such, he crafts an engaging story. Particularly with Zatara, it’s obvious that his fullest potential as a Black Lantern can’t be allowed to be reached and that he’s–like Psycho Pirate–perhaps one of the greatest weapons in the Black Lanterns’ arsenal.

The art is also quite good, and though I’m not yet all that used to Bagley’s art in the DCU, I like it already–and somehow, it reminds me just a bit of Dan Jurgens’ work, which is certainly a plus in my book.

This issue’s by no means an essential part to the core Blackest Night saga…but it’s still a solid read and well worth getting if you’re interested in the Drs. Light or the Detroit League, or just seeing Robinson/Bagley’s take on ’em.

This feels like a very stand-alone sort of story within the title, where it could almost be Blackest Night: Justice League of America #1 rather than #39 of the ongoing series. Though buying the issues for the tie-in to Blackest Night, I’m not convinced there’s enough here to truly, properly “sell” one on the title itself. But as this is only the first of a two-part story, there’s no telling what the next chapter may do.

Recommended.

Story: 7.5/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 7.5/10

Batman #690 [Review]

Long Shadows Part Three: Tripwires

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Mark Bagley
Inker: Rob Hunter
Colors: Jack Purcell
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Tony Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

Even though the status quo of Dick being Batman is still pretty new–not even half a year yet–this just feels right. From the character’s depiction on the cover, to the “inner voice” we’re allowed inside the issue, even though he’s not Bruce, this simply feels like Batman.

We see Dick facing Clayface and a new partner; noting places he can improve should he survive the villains’ attack. Alfred proves a considerable ally in a way I don’t recall seeing with Bruce in contemporary continuity…and yet, it works very well to me seeing his role unfold. We also see the Penguin confront Black Mask and find a new lesson taught. Two-Face’s plan seems to bear some fruit as the issue’s clifhanger gives a familiar visual but new situational dynamic for the characters.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Clayface here, though. This is a classic Batman rogue, of course–teamed with some character I’m not familiar with. Between the various DC Crises, reboots, retcons, and Silver-Age-Returneth, I’ve lost track of what version/which Clayface this is. The way he’s depicted here, I’m put in mind of a number of things: a version of The Thing I’m not thrilled with; something belonging to the cover of the original Fantastic Four #1; and even some generic demon. I’m not really put in mind of the visual we were given in Batman: The Animated Series, nor what I think I recall from the original Hush arc back in 2003.

Additionally, I found myself taken out of the story entirely at the inclusion of the movie version of the “batarang”–the Bat-shuriken, if you will. I have no real complaint with that in and of itself–it makes sense, really–but the exactness of it caused me pause as I contemplated its inclusion as such. Specific, personal nitpicks aside…Bagley provides a good Batman visual throughout the issue. Two-Face is recognizeable, but as usual looks slightly different depending on which artist’s work we have on-hand…but really, such is the nature of the character.

On the story side of things, this is a solid issue. I’m not totally impressed in it being any great work of writing…but I’m firmly satisfied at the depiction of the characters. I’m really liking the interaction between Dick and Alfred…as we’re seeing a different interaction than what we had with Bruce and Alfred.

I really don’t care for Black Mask as a “Kingpin” figure, so the scene with the Penguin facing Black Mask’s show of power is just another point in the ongoing Batman story. The last page of the issue was a bit of a surprise–I’d forgotten about the Battle for the Cowl teaser image…and it seems that elements from that teaser are yet to really play out beyond the Battle for the Cowl minis/specials.

All in all, a solid issue…nothing terribly remarkable in and of itself, but certainly worth getting if you’re a Batman fan, a Winick fan, or just following this new season in the Bat-books.

Story: 7/10
Art: 7/10
Whole: 7/10

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