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Review: Iron Man #8 – Gillen and Land

Iron_Man_No8For reason I don’t totally understand, the Marvel NOW “Iron Man” title seems to get no love from comic fans – to the degree that I never see it mentioned except for a few cases where it was complained about and dismissed as a horrid book.  Maybe it’s the upcoming film giving people this negative attitude towards it, I don’t know.  What I do know is that this title is in no way a lead-up or hyped-up film-related project.  Throughout the title’s eight-issue run they have kept the Iron Man world as it’s been for some time.  I am really into this book and, while it may not be the best on the shelf, it’s a satisfying read each month, which is something to be said nowadays with the ‘Big 2’.

This issue is the conclusion to the recent ‘Godkiller’ arc, and is more or less a decent closer to this story.  As a lot of Marvel NOW titles tend to be, this comic also ties in with the events and aftermath of the whole ‘Avengers Vs. X-Men’ debacle, but in an interesting way.

We begin the arc with Tony Stark creating another new armor and, with the capabilities of the suit and its new P.E.P.P.E.R. AI system, he decides to head off and explore outer space.  He realizes that with the power he has within his armor he can experience more in his life, things he wouldn’t have found otherwise.  For a man and hero who, by this point, has seen quite a great deal, this is quite the statement.  As he begins his travels, he happens upon a Pirate attack, and in true hero style busts his way into the battle, defeating the Pirates and being taken in as a victorious warrior by the alien race he helped – the Voldi, a seemingly peaceful race.  The celebration of Stark’s help and win begins, and things are going great until it is revealed that Tony had a hand in the destruction of the Phoenix Force during the ending parts of ‘AvX’.  The problem?  The Voldi worship the Phoenix as one of their gods, and they are not happy in the slightest to learn of Stark’s actions.

Stark is tossed into a cell to await his trial, when he is approached by Recorder 451, who looks to be a robotic lifeform of some kind.  He tells Tony there is a legal loophole in the Voldi system which allows Tony to request a ‘Trial-by-Combat’, giving him a better chance of survival – if he can live through the fight.  451 promises Tony that he will get the Iron Man armor to him as soon as he can, Tony just needs to stay in the fight long enough for 451 to do so.  The clever Voldi call upon their own loophole, and instead of a fight with “no enchanted combatants” who are to battle “as nature finds you”, they bring out the 30 foot tall cyborg Death’s Head.  First off, it’s awesome to see Death’s Head, who is one of those side characters that I’ve always enjoyed.

Tony and Death’s Head begin their battle, and Stark is obviously losing very quickly.  When he brings up the fact that Death’s Head is in no way the type of fighter promised, even with the loophole, Death’s Head calmly tells him that since he isn’t using his ‘upgrades’ (such as rockets and the like) it is completely fine.  The fact that the Voldi see most any creature, robotic, cybernetic, or whatever as actual living beings helps, as well.

Death’s Head is smearing the arena with Stark, who is almost completely naked – his bare chest glowing a light blue – when we cut to 451, somewhere within the ‘Chamber of Evidence’.  After moving something into a waiting spacecraft, he finds the armor and – with the addition of the new AI – he is able to talk with it, letting it know that Tony is in some major trouble.  As the suit takes off towards the arena, we see 451 climb into the ship and escape.  This, of course, makes one curious.  Where is he going?  What was his actual plan?

Back at the arena, Death’s Head is about to smash Tony with a large boulder, no doubt to break his very exposed bones and flesh.  As he raises the stone above his head, the P.E.P.P.E.R. driven suit blows its way into the fight, finally giving Tony the opportunity to suit up.  This does not sit well with the Voldi, who scream that Tony has forfeited his case.  In true Stark style, he basically ignores them all as he jets out of the Voldi’s hold and back out into space.  As he attempts to fully escape, he finds that he has been chased down by a batch of Voldi battle drones, who waste no time in engaging him.  Iron Man speeds off to a nearby location, where a weapon is waiting for him, and he locks it onto his wrist.  Pointing the fully integrated weapon at the drones, he takes most of them out in one quick burst.

We now see Veritina – the leader of the Voldi – in her Palace, watching Iron Man’s escape on a viewscreen.  She is both excited and appalled by what she’s watching, commenting on his amazing ‘heroism’.  Above her, through a roof of glass and metal, we can see the large bodies of the ‘Star Giants’, also known as the Celestials.  Though the Voldi worship these gods, they also have been using the ‘Heart’ to keep themselves cloaked from the Star Giants’ sight.   The ‘Heart’ was what 451 had loaded into his ship in the earlier scene, so it is no surprise when the Star Giants begin to destroy the Voldi.

As we go back to Tony battling the drones, he is curious when they shut down on their own out of nowhere.  Suddenly, appearing as if there were a giant screen in the fabric of space, 451’s face appears.  He explains to Tony that he did, in fact, steal the ‘Heart’, and that the Star Giants have decided to destroy the Voldi because they see them as leeches who, had they not been hidden, might have been destroyed already some time ago.  451 explains how he set Tony up from the start to reach this goal, and Tony barks back about 451 letting an entire race be wiped from space just so he could get his hands on a ‘fancy cloaking device’.  Finally, as 451’s projection dissolves, Tony has the suit’s new AI check for any survivors, of which there are none.  Angry and blown away mentally by what has just transpired, he vows to find and stop 451, no matter what.

This title has, for me, been enjoyable from the very first issue, and has yet to let up.  There are a few points here and there that bother me, such as the too-conviently placed weapon awaiting Stark out in deep space, but overall the writing is solid and straightforward.  No muss, no fuss, just stories with a purpose told very well.  There never seems to be a moment wasted, and it never feels like things are moving too fast.  Great pacing for such an action heavy title.  And, this issue itself is probably the most action-packed yet which, due to the nature of the issue in the arc, feels perfect, and like the ending of some great space epic.  Tony is written like the Tony Stark we’ve known for some time, not at all like the Robert Downey Jr. film version, which Marvel seems to like doing (just watch an episode of ‘Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ and you’ll be cringing like I was, most likely).  He is the egotistical yet fragile character he has been for some time, and Kieron Gillen’s scripting holds true to that fact.  As mentioned, this may not be the best book on the shelves, but the writing is well tuned and flows well.

I know a lot of people seem to have major problems with Greg Land’s artwork, to the point of videos being posted showing his artwork up against the actual magazine photo, etc. that Land based his drawing on.  Honestly, most of these are spot on, and some are even directly stolen from the photo in question.  This doesn’t matter to me, as I’m not here to comment on his style of working, but his work as presented here.  I like it, and at times even *really* lie it, but a lot of times it can feel very flat and emotionless.  His Tony really only has about three expressions, and a lot of the character models look very similar to one another.  I do like his work on this title, but that is the main thing that bothers me.  The adventures in the suit, however, look great.  This seems to be Land’s strong point – space battles and any sort of action scenes.  This is where his work shines and makes it worth pulling yourself through the more Tony-oriented dramactics.  So, a very uneven title in terms of art, but enjoyable, nonetheless.

Overall, I was waiting for a new Iron Man title for some time, and this is just about what I needed.  It’s not 100% solid or even consistent in the production (especially and mostly in the artwork), but it has kept me reading for 8 issues so far, and I am more than excited for #9.  Don’t overlook this title if you’re even a remotely interested fan.  It’s still Iron Man under the hood, he just has a bit of a damaged exterior.

 

Review: Uncanny X-Men #4 – Bendis & Bachalo

UNCANNYX-MEN-NO4-COVER1 As a lifelong X-Men fan going back to the mid 80s, I have followed this constantly shifting crew of heroes and villains into some very exciting and downright mind-blowing periods.  You can look at so many different eras of the various titles and a debate can be had over which of the many big moments are the most important, or the most defining for the X Universe.

Personally, I think this is the start of one of those great eras, beginning with the launching of the Marvel NOW X titles.  With multiple crossover events taking quite a toll on these mutants and their worlds over the past chunk of years, this has put them in a very interesting position.  So for me, it’s a great time to be an X-Men fan, and this 4th issue of Uncanny X-Men is more proof for my brain that while big and sweeping changes may mean difficulties in setting up good stories or even complete arcs afterwards, it can also open a tired area of Marvel’s Universe up to new and special things.

This issue is special in its own way, as it is mostly a scene we saw play out in the newest issue of All New X-Men, except from a whole different perspective.  In ‘All New’ we had the straight up scene, with all the drama and danger it held.  Scott and his new team (the ‘Uncanny’ one) arrive at the Jean Grey School campus, attempting to recruit new members for their team, or ’cause’ depending on how you see it.  The issue ended with an unknown X-Men member crossing sides over to Scott’s “mutant terrorist” group, which was a great cliffhanger.  Luckily, I also read this title, as that ending is continued within this issue #4.

Now, the way this scene plays out is one of those moments in recent X books that make me excited for the future.  Instead of the full scene we had already read in “All New X-Men”, we get the same scene, only lightly told in the background of a psychic conversation between Emma Frost and her ‘Stepford Sisters’ – Celeste, Mindee, and Phoebe.  In the issue of ‘All New’ we see the 3 girls join Scott’s side near the end of the comic, and here we get to see the ‘behind the scenes’ of why they made that choice.  It is a brilliant way to catch an important scene from two completely separate viewpoints, giving a more solid feel for the overall scene itself.

Another major part of this new issue is learning more about the ‘new mutants’ Scott is ‘keeping’ at the new (and very secret) Xavier School.  We open on the group – the whiny Benjamin, the very powerful Eva, the over confident Christopher and the seemingly useless Fabio – discussing their role at the school, and pondering the fact that they have been left to their own devices within the school.  There are some very light attempts at character development, and even some within the group dynamic, but these come off as a bit forced and the scene itself leaves you wanting.  Seeds are planted for what may or may not be future complications and closer relationships among the group, but most of it feels very stereotypical for such a scene.  The most glaring of these is when we have the egotistical Christopher rudely hitting on the smart-ass Eva, in a way so ‘by the book’ that it almost makes the very pages themselves feel stale.  There is no life, no spark of anything between any of the group, save for a short but slightly sweet exchange between Eva and Benjamin.

There is a hilarious section where the new group accidentally find themselves fighting in the Danger Room, not knowing where they are or how they got there.  It’s a great couple of panels, yet it’s nearly completely ruined by the weakly thought out reason behind their plight – goofy Fabio was ‘looking for a phone’ and just randomly hit buttons until the Danger Room was inadvertently activated.  This was a downer to such a great moment, and it really bugged me.

With this title and All New X-Men I have been enjoying Bendis’ writing, but a lot of that has more to do with what is currently happening in the X titles than the actual writing itself.  A lot of times it’s too stiff, too forced.  This is one of those times.  Even with a pretty brilliant story device in the Emma/Stepford conversation, this issue fell flat pretty quick.  Add in a seemingly random problem with Magik, and what you get at the end is a bit of disappointment and confusion.

My main complaint – and this is a spoiler – is that it turns out to be the Angel from the past that joins up with Scott.  That was the ‘cliffhanger’.  It really bothered me that the one character that expressed the most unhappiness with the whole situation would be the one to join.  It may make sense, but it feels too easy.  I expected to be surprised when this was revealed and, though I had figured it would most likely be Angel, I really thought Bendis would have thought that too easy as well.  I’m sure it’s leading into something bigger, but it left me cold, and killed my interest in the idea of a member ‘jumping ship’.  The worst thing a writer can do is kill excitement for a book’s development and although Bendis can write some pretty good stuff when he wants to, this is not a shining moment for him.

A lot of people I know have issues with Chris Bachalo’s artwork for this title, and wish he didn’t work on any of the X books.  While I had major issues with his previous work on Wolverine & the X-Men (where it felt too far ‘out of the box’ with no real grounding at all in the X Universe), I have been a diehard fan of his work since finding him in Shade: the Changing Man in the early 90s.  Not only was that title written wonderfully by Peter Milligan, but Bachalo’s artwork sealed the deal, making it one of my favorite runs in nearly any comic’s history.  So I’m a bit biased, as I’m a huge fan.  I have not had much of a problem here as I had with Wolverine, and a lot of his work is damn beautiful – especially the covers (with the exception of the poorly designed cover to #3), which have become mini-posters on my wall I love them so much.

It may sound like I’m not the fan that I make myself out to be when it comes to the X in Marvel, but it is actually that exact thing that makes me so critical of this issue.  This is one of my favorite recent eras for these titles, and having this issue fall so short of what it has been so far is a real downer.  I hope issue #5 will pick it back up.  I’ll be there, either way.  It’s an X book, after all.

 

Review: East of West #1 – Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

East-of-West-issue1-coverEast of West is one hell of an interesting comic, and that’s just the tip of this beautiful iceberg.  Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta have brought us a world that, while set in what would be our history, looks more like our future…and our past.

We open on a circular arrangement of stones, thin and tall, like fingers attempting to wave their tips at the stars.  In the centre, we see a stone placement, also a circle, with four triangle depressions around the edge.  An explosion of light, bluster, energy and smoke shoot out from this, and as it slowly drops to a layer of thin smoke we can make out some movement within one of the triangle fixtures.

Small hands tear through it and eventually a body pulls itself out, abnormal tubing and the like attached to his chest.  Three others rise from the other triangles – a female and a larger male, all children of a darkly twisted nature.  These are three of the Four Horseman of Apocalypse and, as one can tell from the group of kids – they are missing a member.  Namely, they are missing Death.

We move into a perfectly fitting introduction of the universe this story exists in, and some of the major events that sent it in that direction.  A country already divided due to violent disagreements.  The formation of ‘The Endless Indian Nation’ and a Civil War interrupted by political change, morphing into a double-headed battleground.  It is in this setting that what looks to be a ‘comet’ crashes from the sky, forever changing the Earth as we know it.

We are introduced to the mysterious and unsolvable ‘Message’, one that began with a Prophet and a Chief of Chiefs telling their parts of this message, then falling dead to the ground upon completing their piece.  The final piece – an addendum to exiled Chinese Leader Chairman Mao Zedong’s ‘Little Red Book’ – completes the missing portion of the message, and thereby solving it.  The story within the message?  The story of the end of the world.

With the re-marking of territory and the forming of the “Seven Nations of America”, we leave the ‘flashback’ and are left with a prophesy – a lone man, a ‘broken sparrow’, and a ‘Son of Night’.  “The first of four…” – the end of everything.

Enter the present day, and we’re at a bar known as ‘The Atlas’.  Our lead character walks in, his two companions in tow.  What strikes one right away is their skin color – our lead in all white clothing (including an awesome hat), with bright, bleached-white skin.  A large American Indian man with similarly colored skin.  A woman with skin a dark black, contrasting strongly against the rest of the crew. The team is there on important business, finding a man who had been hired by an unknown party to track them down.  The three use violence (and a little bit of a ‘vision’, showing the man who exactly he is dealing with) to convince the man into giving up his boss, and they take the name and location of their prey away with them.  Whoever it is, they are in ‘The White Tower’, which one can already assume is the seat of some form of Government or another.  With talk about how the Tower is warded – “Bones and Bonded”, as they call it – and the fact that this would hinder any approach by his companions.  Deciding to all meet soon at the ‘Golden Bridge’, our protagonist heads off on his own, jumping onto the back of an insect looking creature and speeding away.

We return to the three remaining Horsemen, finding they have killed loads of people, piling the bodies high into a massive pile.  As they sit and otherwise hang out on this mess of gnarled flesh, they joke about killing, and how hilarious it can be when people react to being murdered by what seems in every way to be only a 5 year old boy.  They exchange quotes and laugh a good while, when they are stopped by the sudden movement of a man – still alive among the pile of carnage.  The three joke with him, asking if he knows any jokes, all while the man begs for his family and for help.  This whole scene is hilariously demented, and is made more so by the characters themselves – a group of three ‘children’.  It is here that we learn the three remaining Horsemen are Famine (a young girl with deep black almond shaped eyes and haywire hair), War (the youngest and smaller looking of the trio), and Conquest – a larger boy in what almost resembles a form of armor.  Eventually, the man learns who these three are, and point out that there is only the three of them.  This angers Famine, and she violently snuffs the voice out.

Our ‘hero’ makes his way not only to the Tower but also – somehow – into its innards, where he comes face-to-face with his prey.  After a lengthy conversation about the nature of his being there, our main character announces that he, himself, is Death, and that he is there to pay the man back for taking something from him in ‘the Badlands’.  We are left here with a scene of gore, and many, many questions left asked and unanswered.

I really enjoyed this title.  It has a similar feel to comics like “Preacher”, and this is in tone as much as in subject matter or setting.  Speaking of the setting, this world is an interesting mix of old and new, something well explored in the ‘Steampunk’ universe – but with a style and a look completely its own.  Let’s call it “Dirtpunk”.  High tech mixed with standard dress and buildings of the day, the White Tower being an insanely large mecha-city while other surrounding areas look right out of a John Ford western.  It works, and the scale is kept even, never dipping too far into either idea.

The artwork is stunning, and one of my favorite points of this book.  It’s just damn beautiful, with thoughtful lines taking full advantage of the unique and interesting character designs. The color art is outstanding, and can dip and dive in all spectrums and schemes, from the lightly phased out look of the ‘backstory’, to the excitingly bright and rich colors found in the remainder of the comic.

The script for this comic finds a nice point between beginning a story arc with rich characterizations and a strong sense of where we are – all with leaving us enough questions to want to know more, but not so many that we feel lost or confused in any way.  The dialogue is as tough and is well written, with far less ‘tough guy’ posturing than you might expect.  The characters aren’t all that layered or filled in, but this is the opening book and what we get here is more than enough to get a grasp on who these people are.

My favorite parts of this title were with the Horsemen ‘children’.  The darkly funny scenes, along with their own confusion in regards to humans and their emotions, is a sell on its own.  Add in the world Hickman has wrapped around it all, and you have yourself a damn fine comic.