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Secret Wars (2015) #1 [Review]

secretwars(2015)001The End Times

Writer & Designer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic
Color Artist: Ive Svorcina
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Production: Idette Winecoor
Cover by: Alex Ross
Assistant Editors:Jon Moisan & Alanna Smith
Editors: Tom Brevoort with Wil Moss
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 2015
Cover Price: $4.99

Despite a certain grumpiness toward Marvel stuff lately, and being almost entirely out of the loop having consciously AVOIDED most of their contemporary stuff…I couldn’t simply pass this up. I gave DC‘s Convergence a chance, for two $5 issues and a $4…so having been turned off to that, I decided I can at least give Marvel‘s Event a chance for a $5 issue or two.

It’s been a long time since I’ve bought an Alex Ross covered issue of anything, and seeing his work on a Marvel anything again is quite cool. The interior of the issue is about 33 pages of actual story, and additional pages serving as title, credits, character, divider, and memorial pages…with the final pages of story going to black with a few words of text. While that seems at first to be quite a waste of space and pages, I find myself allowing it some leeway as I enjoyed the fade to white effect in DC‘s Zero Hour, and hold to that twenty-some years later.

Story-wise, things are a bit choppy to me, jumping between the 616 Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe. I’m not at all caught up on current going-ons in the Marvel Universe, but for the most part was able to follow along and get the “core” stuff out of the issue. Much like recognizing a bunch of characters while yet lacking their recent backstory for stuff like Zero Hour back in the ’90s, or any other event, this is what it is for me–a throwing-together of a universe of characters and I didn’t expect to experience this the way I would something I had more familiarity and interest in.

I’ve rarely enjoyed Hickman‘s work, and consciously recognizing his name on this project left me a bit dismayed the other day. I could compare elements of his work to Priest–the non-sequential storytelling, the caption/header dividing of scenes, the overall sense of the story not just being some straight-forward thing–but where I enjoy it in Priest‘s work (particularly his classic Black Panther and Quantum and Woody runs) I don’t care for it with Hickman‘s…but that truly gets into a whole different thing than this issue. As such, I expected to have a real problem with the issue’s story. Fortunately, I believe my negative expectation ran deep enough that this failed to be that extreme and so I actually enjoyed the issue as much as I have much of anything from Marvel of late.

The art was solid, and while it does not have the “classic” look my mind wanted, it’s mostly clear and certainly modern and on the whole, works for this take on the various characters. There were a few panels where I honestly went cross-eyed trying to visually parse out what was actually going on (especially one with Rocket Raccoon) but the bulk of the thing was good.

This is definitely being billed as the END of the Marvel Universe AND the Ultimate Universe, with a page at the end citing their “lives.” In that regard, this really should have been a 0 issue or something else, as whatever the Secret Wars part is, that begins NEXT issue with a mashup of the various worlds/timelines/whatever. Still…you could do worse. I mostly enjoyed the reading experience, and realizing the next issue is already due out next week, I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to several of the tie-in minis.

As starts go, I think I like this better than any other recent Marvel event I can think of…and if only for the immediate present, it’s certainly got the weight behind it for once as something that does and will matter.

I find myself a bit surprised to say so, but…recommended!

secretwars_interior_credits

secretwars_interior_end1

secretwars_interior_end2

Infinity #1 [Review]

infinity001Infinity

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciler: Jim Cheung
Inkers: Mark Morales with John Livesay, David Meikis and Jim Cheung
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterers: Chris Eliopoulos with Joe Caramagna
Cover: Adam Kubert & Laura Martin
Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas
Editors: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $4.99

I wasn’t going to buy this issue. I physically picked it up from the shelf last Wednesday, and then put it back. It’s a $4.99 issue, which is $1 more than “usual” for most Marvel fare these days (though to its credit it’s a thicker than usual issue, even factoring out full-page “chapter headings”). But Thanos’ face is featured prominently on the cover (it IS the cover image, really!), and darned if I’m not a fan of classic Marvel Cosmic Thanos stuff! So despite other online chatter, I decided to go ahead and buy this Friday after all, in the interest of giving it a fair chance.

On the whole, I’d have to say that it was a passively neutral read for me. I did not particularly enjoy it…but I did not actively dislike it the way I’d somewhat expected to.

We see a world apparently destroyed by Avengers…then move to Titan, to a creature whose existence seems to be solely its mission–Thanos’ bidding. With the success of one mission, it is now sent to Earth after other secrets. Various events unfold–Space Knights face an unwinnable situation, SWORD and Captain America and Hawkeye bust a group of Skrulls hiding out, and we see the current status quo of the Inhumans and their King, Blackbolt. The spy creature delivers a message, and we get a hint of Thanos’ plan.

After not enjoying SHIELD #1 a few years ago, not being able to “get into” his early Fantastic Four issues, and being completely turned off to his Marvel Now Avengers and New Avengers launches, I’ve pretty much decided Hickman‘s work in general just is not for me. As such, his name attached to Infinity was a big red flag…one that somewhat holds true even now, having read this issue.

Despite Thanos’ face on the cover, he may as well not even actually appear in the issue for the near-zero on-panel time he gets. For that alone I’m disappointed with the issue. Additionally, there are plenty of characters that I’m not familiar with that I get the feeling I “should” be to truly “appreciate” this issue/story.

Visually I definitely enjoyed the art overall…I’m not a huge fan of some of the costumes (specifically Captain America and Hawkeye) but they look about as good as I can expect here, leaving me only to dislike the costumes themselves rather than the depiction. As for the many characters I’m not familiar with, I suppose the visuals don’t do them any disservice…they look how they do, and I’m cool with that.

The title Infinity–and featuring Thanos’ face on the first issue and other marketing as well as the Free Comic Book Day issue–seem clearly chosen to draw association with past Thanos-centric stories like The Infinity Gauntlet or Infinity Abyss. As such, the comparison is there, and as a first issue, this does not do for me here what those did in their respective stories. Plus, about 10 pages of this issue are what we were given in that FCBD issue, so that wasn’t even a prologue so much as “just” some random scene over 3 months before the arrival of #1.

While I imagine things will pull together and make sense by the end of the six individual issues of this “main story”/mini…as a single issue, Infinity #1 leaves me let-down. If I come across positive enough reviews of the later issues and/or tie-ins, I’ll likely be interest in a collected volume of the entire story; but as it stands, I don’t plan on picking up any of the subsequent single issues for this event/story.

The ’90s Revisited: Hulk #8

hulk008Death Match

Writer: Erik Larsen
Pencils: Ron Garney
Inks: Sal Buscema
Letters: John Workman
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.99
Cover Date: November, 1999

It’s been quite awhile since I last read any Hulk comics. I think the last story I actually read all the way through was Planet Hulk, and that was probably 4-5 years ago now. But there was a time that I read Hulk on a regular basis–back in the late 1990s when Marvel rebooted most of its titles and I got in on the “ground floor” with a lot of them.

I pulled this copy of the issue from a 25-cent bin. Truthfully, it was Wolverine on the cover that grabbed my attention. While I don’t entirely care for the faces on the cover, the coloring really got me: the orange background and its contrast to the green Hulk, and the coloring of the Logo, and even the “Wolverine vs.” banner across the top, making this look like a one-shot/special.

The interior art is good stuff, with Garney and Buscema on pencils/inks. No real complaints there overall. The visuals slid right by, not distracting me from the story.

The writing by Larsen is so-so: I wasn’t blown away, but I wasn’t entirely turned off, either. Seems kinda fitting that Larsen brought Wolverine into the issue–I’d have to check to be sure, but I’m pretty sure he was the writer on the main Wolverine title at the time. We also get some hints at things that were brewing in the X-Men corner of Marvel at the time–such as the new Death, Horseman of Apocalypse.

Though it’s been a good 14 years now since being reunited with his adamantium-laced skeleton…this issue is from shortly before that: this is bone-claw Wolverine taking on the Hulk, and it was interesting to see this take on the character again, after having re-acclimated to the more contemporary Wolverine whose continuity doesn’t seem to even have any reference to the “bone-claws” era.

While I don’t much care for any of the issue’s subplots, hardly remember the context leading to this and remember nothing of what came after before Jenkins took over and the book added “Incredible” to its title again, I certainly got my 25-cents’ worth out of this. I wanted to see a Wolverine/Hulk fight, and that’s what I got, for much of the issue. At 1/16th the cost of a contemporary Marvel issue, and 1/8 the cost of this issue’s original price…25 cents very well spent.

The ’00s Revisited: Captain Marvel #17

captainmarvel017Cheating Death

Writer: Peter David
Pencils: Jim Starlin
Inks: Al Milgrom
Colors: Steve Oliff
Letters: RS/Comicraft’s Wes Abbot
Assistant Editor: Marc Sumerak
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 2.50
Cover Date: May, 2001

This issue grabbed my attention because of Thanos on the cover. Besides Thanos himself, there’s just something to the cover’s colors that I really dig…it’s so colorful without being gaudy or even all that bright…it’s just really nicely drawn and colored; the generic background sets Thanos, Thor, and Genis off quite well; and the coloring of the logo and such even fit nicely…though I might’ve gone with more of a gold for Captain Marvel to better match Thanos’s gold coloring.

This was another quarter-bin discovery, at least this copy of the actual issue–I’d bought and read it as a new issue back in 2001, and still have that copy…somewhere. So I do vaguely recall some context, both prior and subsequent to this issue, once I got to reading. But even sticking solely to this one issue by itself, I rather enjoyed the Thor/Thanos bickering, and even the dynamic with Rick and Genis and having to be aware of the environments they’re in when the swap places. And of course, the now-iconic “Klang” that I’ve come to appreciate in context of Quantum & Woody from Valiant.

We find Thanos recruiting Thor for some part of a larger plan…of course, Thor is not at all a happy camper, given his recent tussles with Thanos. But he’s convinced of his necessity in things, and goes along grudgingly. Meanwhile, Marlo (Rick’s wife) is being haunted by the ghost of…a friend, or coworker, I don’t recall exactly, she’s just here (the details were in earlier issues of this run). Rick finds himself in a bit of trouble, as the entity that has Thanos recruiting Thor to begin with makes his appearance, and the “big guns” duke it out.

Visually, I very much enjoyed the interior art. Starlin has–for me–defined these characters to the extent that just seeing his name on the cover would have drawn me in. As far as I’m concerned, “Marvel cosmic” doesn’t get much better than sharing involvement from Starlin.

Story-wise, David always did have a great feel for the characters he involved in this series, making them his own, and giving them quite a memorable voice. There are elements from this series that settled into the core of my thinking about comics, and this take on Captain Marvel remains my absolute favorite.

This issue reminds me of how much I’d enjoyed this run on the series, and has me remembering rather fondly other issues, and a bit of a rekindled interest in re-reading the entire run…and certainly wishing Marvel would put out an omnibus collecting this entire first run of PAD‘s Captain Marvel.

Infinity FCBD 2013 [Review]

infinityfcbd2013Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciler: Jim Cheung
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas
Editors: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $0.00

Given my history with Thanos, Adam Warlock, the Infinity Gauntlet (and the Infinity Gems’ involvement in the Ultraverse)…even though I REALLY don’t want to get sucked into another Marvel Event, I wasn’t about to ignore the Infinity issue Marvel‘s got out as one of the Free Comic Book Day 2013 offerings.

The cover has a rather iconic look about it, a shattered pane falling away to reveal Thanos’ grin behind it–and images of a bunch of characters from around the Marvel Universe looking rather disconcerted.

The story is fairly simple, as we’re introduced to some aliens, including one whose latest mission was a success. The alien is given another task, which it sets about accomplishing quickly. A “tribute” is extracted from another alien people–who are but thousands where they were once millions. This tribute is presented to Thanos. And on Earth, we learn that tribute will be demanded there as well, or the world will burn.

This issue certainly serves its purpose–to be a “teaser” of sorts, something within the main story of Infinity yet probably not absolutely essential to understanding the story. This reeks of “prologue,” and other than seeing Thanos, I was honestly not very interested here. I don’t consciously know anything of any of these aliens or their worlds. I’ve yet to get through all of Annihilation, Conquest, or the Thanos Imperative, so other than tidbids of spoilery stuff, I’m not really current with Thanos…but this issue doesn’t hold up, considering I’d expect from the cover to either have more of Thanos himself, or of the general Marvel Universe presented.

The issue also reprints a Thanos backup story from Logan’s Run #6 in which Thanos once more survives the wrath of Drax the Destroyer. This was more to my liking, in that at least the focus was on Thanos, not a bunch of characters I didn’t know. Also, I’d never read this particular Thanos story, so it was still new material to me.

The art of the main story is pretty good, and quite to my liking. Thing is, I’m more interested in a story that I enjoy than I am pretty pictures, so it doesn’t make up for the lackluster story snippet. Meanwhile, the art from the Logan’s Run backup at least looks like classic Thanos, and while not entirely to my liking, is easily forgiven as a product of its time.

All in all…I’m not at all impressed with this “preview” or “prologue” or whatever-the-heck-it-is for Infinity. However, as a free issue, this is certainly worth it, if only for the reprint of the classic Thanos story.

The ’90s Revisited: Spider-Man Team-Up #7 (featuring the Thunderbolts)

Old Scores

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Sal Buscema, Dick Giordano
Lettering: Comicraft’s Team Dave
Colors: Tom Smith
Cover: Steve Lightle, Mark McNabb
Assistant Editor: Glenn Greenberg
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Cover Date: June 1997

I remember the hype around the whole Heroes Reborn thing. After the Onslaught event (which began as an X-Men “event” and spread to the wider Marvel Universe), the Fantastic Four and the more prominent Avengers (specifically Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man) were shunted to another universe and “our” Marvel Universe was left without its heroes–just mutants more hated and feared than ever before.

And I remember learning of some new super-hero group, the Thunderbolts. Without researching and lacking 100% memory, I want to say they first appeared in an issue of The Incredible Hulk, and were going to be seen around the Marvel Universe, filling in a bit of the void left by the other heroes’ disappearance. Then I learned they were getting their own series. Cool…an actual brand-new super-hero group. And of course, thanks to (most probably Wizard) I was “spoiled” as to their Great, Dark Secret–though it would be a few months after Heroes Return when Hawkeye left the Avengers to go insert himself as leader of the Thunderbolts that I started buying their title–I actually, truly followed Hawkeye FROM the pages of Busiek‘s Avengers to Busiek‘s Thunderbolts.

So though I was aware of them, it was a good way into the run that I started with Thunderbolts–it’s only been in the years since that I’ve gradually been acquiring their earlier appearances–the Hulk issue(s?), and even the early issues of their own series. And when I saw this issue in a bargain-bin recently, it hit on some interesting buttons for me, just from the cover and concept.

For one thing…it’s a ’90s bargain-bin issue…to me, you can hardly go wrong getting a ’90s comic for only 25-cents (or less, even, with the right bargains or bulk-purchases!). For another, this is an early appearance of the Thunderbolts (I believe their own #1 is cover-dated May 1997, this is cover-dated June ’97). So this would be within the earliest concept of the Thunderbolts characters–before they were “outed” to the world for actually being the Masters of Evil (not really a spoiler, it’s been 15+ years AND it’s detailed within this very issue). And as a bonus, ’90s Spider-Man long before any talk of One More Day or a Brand New Day (and as I found out reading this, no talk of clones, either!)

I often lament contemporary comics’ high prices–hating the $3.99 price point and wishing for the previously-lamented $2.99-from-$2.50-or-less as $2.99 by comparison is much preferable. And here, this comic from 15 years ago is carrying a $2.99 cover price…but it’s a 38-paged issue (easily $4.99 or $5.99 and an “Annual” at that, these days!). Reasonably-priced at $2.99 with the extra pages, putting it well enough in line with $2 cover prices for 20-22 pages at the time.

The story itself is at once simple and cliched as well as nicely layered. When a guard at a warehouse is killed, a survivor sees a figure making a getaway that can only be Spider-Man! The mayor’s office reaches out to the Thunderbolts, to track Spidey down and bring him in for questioning…a task some on the team are all-too-thrilled to take on. The ‘bolts split into three groups to take on different aspects of their task–looking into the crime site, specifically searching for Spidey, and keeping an eye on a potential target-site. Continue reading

Avengers: Season One [Review]

Writer: Peter David
Artists: Andrea DiVito, Jon Buran, Nigel Raynor, Mike Bowden, Walden Wong
Color Artist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover Art: Adi Granov
Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas
Associate Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics

When I heard that Avengers Season One was going to be included with the Walmart edition of the DVD/Bluray, I was pretty much “sold” on the spot. By the time this came out, though, I’d resigned myself to some sort of DVD-case-digest-size book, probably on crummy paperstock and not at all reasonably worth the added cost (though if it was one of these sets priced the same as the non-set package, it’d totally be worth it!)

The package felt suitably heavy, though, when I finally bought it the morning the thing was available. When I opened the package, seeing the pages-out, I was ready to be incensed at the actual packaging…until I slid out a full-size TPB volume that would easily command a $14.99+ cover price if it were being sold by itself. Even at some “bargain” $9.99 price, in and of itself the book makes the added cost worthwhile if you’re interested in the book itself.

The physical package is your average Marvel paperback. The cover stock and pages, and dimensions are as any other Marvel volume that this would be indistinguishable as an ‘exclusive’ if it wasn’t for the notice on the cover where the pricing would be “Custom Edition Not For Resale.” (That, and that this is a paperback where I believe thus far the other Season One books have been only in hardback).

The writing is solid–and I’d expect no less of David‘s work. He knows these characters and it shows–though in a way it reminds me that I myself do not know these characters particularly well in their pre-1990s iterations. While the writing is solid–it manages to capture these characters in a suitably generic sort of way–they’re recognizable without being placed entirely in the silver age nor the modern age. The relationships seem familiar to what I know of them in the comics, while bordering on adapting the movie versions.

Visually, much of the book is the same way. There are multiple artists (depicting different scenes/settings) which works fairly well as it differentiates what each character is seeing/doing through the story. Though it works, I got a distinct sense that I’m supposed to associate these comics with the characters from the movies, that this story is supposed to fit either the comics or the movie universe according to primary experience.

Sure, that works well enough–it is a tie-in product, after all. But the fact it evoked the movie characters as much as it did took me out of the story and left me unsure where the story’s supposed to be set, and I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have if it felt like it was more based in the traditional comics story. I suspect I was also soured a bit by a one-shot I read earlier this year that was set in the movie universe that itself felt like a waste of time.

If this was a $15 paperback or $20+ hardcover being sold by itself, I’d be pretty disappointed despite the creative talent involved and wondering if there’d be some way to get a refund. Standing solely on its own this–to me–is not something worth seeking out specifically.

But as a bonus included with a blu-ray I was already planning to buy, this gets points as a decent read, with art that never felt bad or out of place. And though it’s the size of 4-5ish single issues, I don’t think I paid more for this package than the cost of two standard Marvel comics in addition to the actual blu-ray pack.

All that said–you get a complete story in this volume. There’s no cliffhanger directing you into some other volume or series of volumes; this is not a prologue to a crossover/event nor some epilogue/continuation of a crossover/event. You have the characters, you see their adventure, the threat(s) they face, and you have resolution.

If you’ve seen the movie, the characters don’t particularly contradict the film. Or if you read this and then watch the film, stuff works overall.

And really, on the whole, I’m glad I went with the Walmart purchase for this book. If you can still find the blu-ray/DVD package with this graphic novel at your local Walmart, and want the Avengers film anyway, this is definitely a worthwhile purchase.

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