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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!

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Thanos Annual #1 [Review]

thanosannual001Damnation and Redemption

Writer: Jim Starlin
Penciler: Ron Lim
Inker: Andy Smith
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover: Dale Keown & Ive Svorcina
Assistant Editor: Jon Moisan
Editor: Wil Moss
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $4.99

It’s safe to say that Thanos is one of my favorite Marvel characters. However, perhaps that’s something to be further quantified: Thanos as written by Jim Starlin is one of my favorite Marvel characters.

While I have yet to read the entirety of Annihilation or Annihilation Conquest; or the Thanos Imperative, or even the more recent Infinity, I’ve been loosely aware of the character’s recent appearance and involvement in Marvel stuff. I’ve been sucked into buying various issues solely on the appearance of Thanos on the cover, the promise of the character within.

So it was the almost random “notice” of Jim Starlin writing and Infinity Gauntlet artist Ron Lim on art that prompted my purchase of this issue.

Despite the aforementioned favoriteness, it’s been a long time since I’ve read most of what I vaguely recall having once read–maybe 15 years since the original Infinity ____ volumes, a decade since the shortlived “ongoing” series…a fact that’s rather “idealized” Thanos for me, and coated things with that sweet nostalgia of childhood memories that so often props something up IN memory but leads to disappointment upon revisitation.

As such, I was prepared to be quite disappointed in this issue.

I’m not a fan of the standard cover…however, I opted to purchase it over any of the variants I saw. In the short term gratification sense, I probably would have preferred the Ron Lim cover…but I feel strongly enough on the “issue” of variants that I would have been quite disappointed having something LABELLED as a variant rather than the “real” cover. Particularly given the “core” creative team of this issue being Starlin and Lim, it’s truly beyond me why neither of their covers were “the” cover and instead shuffled off as variants. Starlin‘s own cover actually fits the interior story, and Lim‘s is equally as fitting visually…whereas Keown‘s cover is a generic (and not even particularly “iconic” to me) image far more suited as an interior “pin-up” page if not a variant cover instead of being the standard cover.

This issue is essentially a prologue, setup, for the forthcoming graphic novel Thanos: The Infinity Revelation. We open on Thanos upon his first major defeat in Marvel continuity–having lost the Cosmic Cube. Dealing with the massive failure, he is approached by Mephisto, but the intervention of an Infinity Gauntleted avatar of Thanos appears and takes this Thanos on a journey through time and space, as it processes various events and how they play into the younger, defeated Thanos’ future. We’re ultimately given setup for a new event in Thanos’ life, which presumably will be chronicled in the OGN this Fall.

I recall being pleasantly surprised at the ease with which Starlin brushed off several years of less-than-ideal characterization and use of Thanos in Infinity Abyss–that the appearances of Thanos in Ka-Zar, a Hulk Annual, and even a Thor-versus-Thanos arc in Thor’s own title proved to be duplicates of the ACTUAL Thanos; less than perfect at that. So this issue referencing multiple “avatars” of the Infinity Gauntlet Thanos fits right in with past precedent and gave me no pause at all, where it may have with other characters.

As a fairly simple one-off story, this worked well for me, giving me a chance to dip back in with Thanos without feeling like I actually missed anything from Infinity or anything else I didn’t feel lost, and actually quite enjoyed the touches on continuity that I recognized.

Visually, this entire issue was quite a treat. It had a feel of the familiar that I appreciated–and EXPECTED. While familiar, the coloring and such certainly showed through as “modern,” keeping this from feeling entirely like some ’90s throwback. I don’t much like Thanos’ appearance without his headgear, but having seen imagery of him without it before, everything fit. In the various detailing other than noticing how ugly he looks without the headgear, nothing of the art itself jumped out as a distraction. 

I enjoyed seeing familiar scenes and characters, and the only one I really didn’t recognize offhand was what I believe to be a “current” version of Adam Warlock that I’ve not actually read in-continuity yet.

The $4.99 price of this issue is a bit steep; I read the thing cover to cover in under 20 minutes…but then, these days, that’s par for the course to me with a Marvel issue. Steep price point for a quick read, whether it’s good or not.

To best of my knowledge, this is not a follow-up to Infinity, and that story seems to be solely referenced by the “previously” page, so you need not have read any of that to enjoy this. Similarly, if you’re looking FOR Infinity follow-up, this isn’t really gonna meet that expectation. 

However, if you’ve read or are familiar with the Thanos stories from the late-’70s and 1990s to early 2000s, and you’re a fan of Starlin‘s work in general and Thanos in particular, this should be a pretty enjoyable read and whet your appetite for an original graphic novel apparently due out in August this year.

Superman #6 [Review]


Full review posted to cxPulp.com
.

Story: 2.5/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 2/5

Superman #2 [Review]

Flying Blind

Script & Breakdowns: George Perez
Pencils & Inks: Jesus Merino
Colors: Brian Buccellato
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover: Perez & Buccellato
Associate Editor: Wil Moss
Editor: Matt Idelson
Published by: DC Comics

From the very first look at this issue–the cover–there’s something that’s been missing for me for a long, long time from Superman comics. I can’t quite put my finger on it, put words to it…but I’m pretty sure it’s something to do with just really liking the look of this new costume as shown here. Maybe it’s just simply that I like Perez‘ art over so much of what I think of with a lot of Superman stuff in recent years and so the cover grabs me. This also seems like the sort of cover, somehow, that “fits” an early issue of a new series, and whatever else to it I can’t find words for…I just simply like this cover.

The interior visuals are high quality as well, and I can’t help but think some of that’s gotta be Perez doing the breakdowns, which makes things fit the story moreso than if the writer and artist were working far more independently of one another. Paging through the issue again, I really can’t find anything that particularly bothers me about the visuals, that isn’t attributable to a generic creature/antagonist or keeping with a “newish” younger look to Clark Kent.

The story itself is good, with all the elements that I’ve tended to enjoy about a Superman comic. And for what seems like the first time in too many YEARS, Clark Kent is actually a part of the Superman story again. Maybe not a huge part, and it’s too soon for me to have much hope of any great emphasis being placed on the Clark Kent personality…but Clark is there, is a part of the story unfolding, and for now, that’s a marked improvement over things during the New Krypton era of the previous DC Universe. I really enjoy that we have Clark, Lois, Jimmy, and Superman all playing parts in the overall story. Cat Grant even appears here, and we at least have a mention of Perry. There’s even a sense of continuity here, that Superman’s got a past, even though in some ways this is like a new beginning of his career. He comes off as a bit unsure of things and yet confident enough to do what he’s gotta do.

As we open the issue, Superman’s awaiting information from Sam Lane, who remains distrustful of the man of steel from their prior encounter (in the “5 years ago” story going on in Action Comics right now). We then transition to Lois and Clark discussing their encounter at the end of the previous issue before returning briefly to General Lane, and then Superman encountering the “monster” of this issue–a creature that everyone but him seems to be able to see. After getting knocked around by the creature, Superman of course figures out a way to deal with this threat, in a fight that rages across 11 of the issue’s 20 pages. Finally, we cut to Superman recording an audio journal or log–his narration has not actually been internal this issue, as it originally appeared to be. This also allows for some more defining of the current relationship Clark has with Lois, and then we’re set up with a mild cliffhanger to lead into the next issue.

All in all…another great issue, which is quickly cementing this as a version of Superman I’d love to read long-term…and somehow, I’m even ok with Superman and Lois not (yet) being romantically involved here. It’s also great that rather than load the back of the issue with a preview I’m not even going to read (yet tend to be annoyed at having to page through to make sure there’s no other RELEVANT content to the issue in-hand), this issue has only a single page advertising Batman: Noel.

Though there’s obviously an over-arcing story building…this is the second issue, and we’ve already had two stories where amidst the other character interactions and details, we’ve had the beginning, middle, and end of a creature’s introduction and battle with Superman, rather than stretch either of these into 4+ issue arcs apiece.

Of the two main Superman books, this is by far my favorite for the story, art, and the feeling of actually getting my money’s worth in content. I expect Action Comics will read as a fast but engaging graphic novel, if you want an actual comic with serialized adventures of Superman, this is certainly the title to get. As an “old fan” I’m greatly enjoying this…but it seems there’s enough here that a new or lapsed reader would be able to figure stuff out fairly easily as well without missing out on anything.

Highly recommended.

Story: 7.5/10
Art: 8.5/10
Whole: 8.5/10

Superman #1 [Review]

What Price Tomorrow?

Script & Breakdowns: George Perez
Pencils & Inks: Jesus Merino
Colorist: Brian Buccellato
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover: George Perez & Brian Buccellato
Associate Editor: Wil Moss
Editor: Matt Idelson
Published by: DC Comics

What do you think of when you think of Superman? And more to the point, what do you expect to see in a Superman comic? Speaking for myself–especially for a premiere issue of a new series–I tend to expect to see Superman…but also Clark Kent. Ideally, Lois Lane would be there, and I don’t mind if we have something with Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and other staffers of the Daily Planet…to say nothing of the Daily Planet itself. I expect to see Clark Kent interacting with people, just as I expect to see Superman being…well, super. Have those elements, and I’m pretty much going to be one satisfied camper.

I came to this relaunch this month with a lot of mixed feelings. Probably the strongest was–has been–regarding Superman, and not knowing what he would be in this relaunch…knowing only that the character is one that DC felt the need to change quite a bit from the existing status quo, to update and bring back in a different way (unlike, say, Batman or Green Lantern). Action Comics left me rather cool–especially in retrospect…and there was but a cameo of Superman in the new Justice League book. So, there’s a lot of weight put upon this issue, the first issue of the new Superman comic itself. After Action Comics, and generally lukewarm if not hopeful feelings on a lot of the other #1s, I was prepared to dislike this issue, or at least find a lot of fault with it in and of itself.

The issue opens with a voiceover, discussing the history of the Daily Planet building. We follow the narration to find it’s live coverage of the unveiling of the NEW Daily Planet, recognition being given to the original. At this point, the Planet is an acquisition of Morgan Edge, and in moving things into the present, readying for the future–the newspaper is now “just” a part of the overall media corporation Edge owns. We’re introduced to Lois Lane and Perry White–familiar names and faces (though White looks a good 10-15 years too young), and find out their new roles moving forward with the new Planet. We learn some backstory about Clark’s opposition to the Planet’s acquisition, and that Superman is only just now back in town after some sort of noticeable absence. We get snippets on attitudes toward Superman in this new DCU. We see Jimmy Olsen at work–not as a bumbling cub reporter but as a competent video reporter working as part of a street team. We’re also introduced to new characters that will presumably be a regular part of the supporting cast.

When an alien fire-entity explodes onto the scene, it’s clearly a job for Superman. While the battle unfolds, we learn further detail about Superman–his powers are continuing to grow/develop, and no one knows for sure what can really hurt him…and there’s still a certain amount of distrust…or at least, willingness to believe that he doesn’t care about the very people he’s trying to protect. After the battle, we see the aftermath in the people involved, as we’re introduced to the current status quo of the Lois/Clark relationship.

I love the art on this issue. I don’t recall specifically enjoying Merino‘s art like this before, but in this issue, it feels like he was born to do this. I just paged through the issue again, and I can’t find a panel to dislike. The characters–if looking a bit young, but I knew they’d be, going in–all look recognizeable, and just simply…are. This is Superman–and I actually really enjoy this new costume–it just works, to the point that the ads in the issue showing the classic costume actually look dated. I hadn’t realized how much I like this costume until now.

Story-wise, Perez presents a new Superman with plenty of echoes of the classic. Though this Morgan Edge reminds me of Samuel Jackson‘s Nick Fury from Marvel…this works, too. The character seems to be what he is, or for longtime readers familiar with the name–there’s an extra layer to consider. The opening–the history of the Planet, its being swept away in favor of the new, and even some of Edge’s early comments in the issue–felt like a direct parellel to this entire new DCU thing…which adds levels of depth in and of itself to the story.

Unlike most of the other DC issues I’ve read this month, this issue does what I expect of a #1. We’re introduced to the setting, the characters–main and supporting. We’re introduced to what’s recently happened and given some slight hints as to what may be coming. We get a seemingly arbitrary scene, but a classic-style “footnote” directing us to Stormwatch #1 for more detail (which reminded me that Stormwatch #1 had a footnote itself directing us to Superman #1) which sets up some official continuity between this and another DCU book. And–best of all–despite the huge threat, that seems to be an actual challenge to Superman, we’re not left on some to-be-continued, left dangling to have to buy another issue to find out the (obvious) “fate” of the “hero” (sorry if that’s a spoiler, Superman doesn’t die in this issue).

By the end of the issue, I actually CARE about the status quo. I’m interested more, really, in all the “regular” characters–old and new–than I am Superman himself…and yet, I’m not actually disinterested in this Superman. He’s different from the Superman I grew up on…and thankfully, he’s different from boring post-Infinite Crisis caricature of the last few years that saw me walk away from the character for most of the past couple years. I think I like this character, and this issue. In fact, this has got to be just about my favorite issue of the relaunch so far.

If you’ve never read Superman before…give this issue a chance. It’s well worth it. And if you find you don’t like what you’re introduced to…you’re out a single issue. Only $2.99. No $3.99 let-downs, and no to-be-continued. This is a great single-issue story, and I really think that THIS should have been the “flagship” title of the new DCU. As-is, it certainly lives up to its title…Superman.

Highly recommended!

Story: 9/10
Art: 9/10
Whole: 9.5/10

Action Comics #904 [Review]

Reign of the Doomsdays Finale

Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist (pp 1-16): Axel Gimenez
Artist (pp 17-20): Ronan Cliquet
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Kenneth Rocafort
Associate Editor: Wil Moss
Editor: Matt Idelson
Publisher: DC Comics

Hard to believe it, but this is the final issue of Action Comics. Sure, Action Comics (vol. 2) #1 comes out in a couple weeks, but that’s a whole different thing. It’s not this same title. It’s not the actual title with its roots in the dawn of the comics industry, the dawn of the super-hero, going back to even before World War II, touching on eight decades. But that’s mostly a discussion for the new Action Comics.

This issue wraps up Superman, and Action Comics, and is basically the send-off for this title and these characters, at least for what I’m currently reading (I have not read Superman #714, nor the final issues of Supergirl or Superboy).

We open with Superman discovering that the current threat to the world still ties back to Lex Luthor’s recent actions in the Black Ring arc. Talking with this willed-to-existence entity, Superman is restored to solid existence, to lead the heroes in a final attack on the Doomslayer to save their world. While Superman and the Eradicator (in a different but familiar form) take on Doomslayer, the others attend to the multiple Doomsdays. When all’s said and done, Clark and Lois talk over dinner, bringing this era of Superman, and aspects of the character going back a quarter-century, to a close.

The main story seemed to wrap up a little too quickly for my preference. It’s not bad, mind you–but it just seemed a little quick. Perhaps it’s the time between issues combined with all the other stuff I’ve (as an individual) had on my mind and looking toward with the pending relaunch–but it doesn’t feel like the potential with this Doomslayer really had a chance to take off, and the heroes (as with a couple years back in New Krypton) handle the Doomsday threat a little too easily for what the character was created to be. That said, I found the closing to be a great touch and appropriate epilogue to this lengthy Doomsdays thing, which has been going on all year now, since that Steel one-shot back in early January.

Given that it was the Death and Return of Superman “trilogy” that most firmly brought me back into comics in a way that I’ve never truly left since, it’s rather satisfying that Supergirl, Superboy, Steel, the Eradicator, Doomsday, and the Cyborg Superman were all brought into what turned out to be the final story of this title, and these characters.

Visually, I’m not really impressed with the art on the main story segment. I’m not really disappointed, either…it’s just not a style that clicked well with me in reading this issue–something about it just felt off. The characters and action isn’t hard to follow, everyone’s recognizable and all–so it does its job as it should. The epilogue segment worked quite well, though–I’ve mostly enjoyed Gary Frank‘s work on Superman, and Cliquet does an excellent job of emulating that style.

All in all…this issue’s for the longtime/ongoing readers. This is the end of Cornell‘s run on this title; this caps off a quasi-crossover sort-of-“event.” This is the end of Lois & Clark, at least the Lois & Clark of the last 15 years. This is likely the last of a lot of other familiar elements and possibly actual characters that have been part of the Superman story for a generation of readers. This goes out with neither whimper nor bang…but leaves things so that maybe someday, this iteration of the characters can be revisited.

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

Action Comics #901 [Review]

Reign of the Doomsdays part 1

Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Kenneth Rocafort, Jesus Merino
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Kenneth Rocafort
Associate Editor: Wil Moss
Editor: Matt Idelson
Published by: DC Comics

The first thing I noticed about this issue was the banner at the top advertising the Green Lantern film due out June 17 “only in theaters.” Now, I know Marvel has done this for YEARS, but they’ve generally done it by way of the upper corner box by the issue’s number and such. And I appreciate this on the GL books–it’s most appropriate there. But on a Superman title, it’s less appropriate, except as the full-DC-wide blast of the advertising. After all, why hide the ad on an interior or the back cover when by having a banner at the top, you’re advertising off any and all ways of displaying comics that allow the top portion to be seen?

That aside…the cover doesn’t impress me all that much. I do appreciate that Doomsday looks a lot closer to what I’m used to than it has in awhile. But the image does seem rather generic to me–Doomsday standing amidst wreckage, the bodies of the Superman Family sprawled at its feet. Something about the imagery just doesn’t do it for me. Then again…the cover is not why I bought the issue.

The story picks up where the lead story of Action #900 left off–the Superman Family has found that they are facing several Doomsdays, each tailored to a diffeent power set, but all set on destruction of the entire group. Cyborg-Superman welcomes destruction, the chance at death. The others, however do not–so after Superman neutralizes the Cyborg, the group gathers up and heads away from their attackers into the depths of the prison they’ve found themselves in. Meanwhile, on Earth, an imminent extinction-level event is detected, and (in contrast to the controversy over a short in the previous issue) the American President proclaims the country’s need of Superman, of any super-powered beings able to help. As Superman & Co. realize their prison is fast approaching Earth, they encounter yet another threat, who steps forth to prevent them from saving the planet. Without wasting time arguing, he delivers a shocking blow to the group, leaving their reaction as our cliffhanger.

I’m not a huge fan of the split art duties on the issue. Rocafort‘s visual style seems a bit “off” to me, and reminded me of my least favorite art from #900, though on a double-checking, it’s not the same. There’s something to this style that makes the characters seem overly generic, Superman especially. Somehow it looks to me more like some guy in a Superman costume, and the face alone doesn’t say “Superman” to me. Merino‘s art in the middle of the issue stands out, and is far preferable to me–the characters look a lot more “on” on those pages…and it makes it rather jarring to then shift right back to a different visual style.

Cornell‘s writing is solid…I haven’t yet read much of his work…the first issue of the Black Ring arc and then the lead in Action 900. But I do like the concept, at least, that’s at play here…and I really enjoy having Superman teamed up again with Supergirl, Eradicator, Steel, Cyborg, and Superboy. And given the first time these characters all got together, it’s fitting that they’re dealing with Doomsday. Given this context–their teamup, and the Doomsday situation…I’m tentatively hooked. I came back for this issue, having figured to only pick up #900 as the anniversary that it was.

While much of the story is fairly serious and played straight…there’s a part where we actually get a thought balloon for Superman, which seems somewhat out of nowhere–especially as I’ve grown used to the LACK of thought balloons in favor of “voiceover” narration and such. The use of the thought balloon in this issue seemed hokey and a bit forced; and momentarily took me out of the story while I thought about it. Not a huge deal, but noticeable.

Where the story is most hurt in my eyes is that I have no idea how many chapters to expect…just as I had no clue how many to expect, really, with the Reign of Doomsday hopping along through various other books without really meaning much. I certainly hope this arc is not dragged out…though this is labled Reign of the Doomsdays part 1 (escaping Reign of Doomsday which was around a half-dozen issues), it’s essentially the same story continuing, so this feels like the 7th chapter, and I’m not sure I’ll want to stick around long-term if it’s simply a dragged-out slugfest or punch-and-run-and-punch-again kinda thing.

While this doesn’t really hold a candle to Reign of the Supermen, if you’re a fan of these characters, this packs a good bit of nostalgia and hope of a new classic. Worth picking up if you enjoy seeing these characters all brought together, and/or if you read #900 and want to follow this Doomsday story.

As of now, I’m interested enough to see where this goes that I plan to come back for #902.

Recommended.

Story: 7/10
Art: 6.5/10
Overall: 7/10

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