Review: Edge of Spider-Verse #5

eosvThis series, designed to introduce us to some of the many and varied other inhabitants of the Spider-Verse has been one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises to come out of The House of Ideas this year. The main thrust of this five issue series consists of five one-off stories that get our collective reading appetite primed for the big upcoming Spider-Verse event that is to feature these obscure Spider-Men and Women as well as countless others.

However, the series has ended up being much more than the sum of its parts. One of the biggest developments to come out of the series is of course the inclusion of Spider Gwen in the Marvel Universe proper but for me that was secondary to just how good each of these single narratives really were. These stories were diverse in content, tone and style of execution, the one thing they all shared was dynamic storytelling. As good as each of these issues were, it appears that they saved the best for last.

The final issue is written by former My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way. This is Way’s Marvel debut but he has co-created the brilliant Umbrella Academy series as well as The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys for Dark Horse. There is a significant anime influence to Way’s work and that is definitely apparent here as he introduces the young heroine Peni Parker, daughter of the late Peter Parker and genetic heir to SP//dr, a symbiotic combination of an Iron Man-like suit of hi-tech armor and arachnid companion. Way and artist Jake Wyatt present a completely fresh and inventive re-imagining of the Spider-Man mythology; there is just enough of the familiar to provide a connection but from there it is certainly not the same old “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. Given the limitations of a single issue, Way does a fantastic job of creating fully actualised characters. Sure, we don’t get the luxury of a meticulously detailed back story, but we do get a sense that these characters have some extensive roots in this universe. Take Way’s clever slant on Mysterio –  it’s the perfect melding of science fiction and comic book villain but something more than merely an amalgam of the two genres. The same applies to the writer’s take on the extra-dimensional doppelgänger of Daredevil.

These previously unseen versions of characters we have known our whole comic book reading lives serve as anchors that keep this entirely new universe from feeling alien to us. It’s more like seeing a person we love with a completely different hairstyle; all the things we love about them are still there beneath the newly styled coif. Way very accurately captures the feeling and tonal quality of a Spider-Man story right down to the subtle nuances; the quirky sense of humor, the high ideals, especially the “great responsibility that comes with great power”. It’s all there, transcending time, dimension and universe.

eosv1Way enters the Marvel Universe like a brilliant, blazing shooting star. This story is engrossing, entertaining and refreshingly dynamic. The only complaint I have is that it is only one issue. I hope that Marvel gives Way another assignment sooner than later. He brings a degree of edginess and, God forgive me for saying this, a certain hipness that is not easy to find. Way is cool without being pretentious possessing an obvious love and respect for the medium of comic books. Much of his intelligent use of metaphor and penchant for obscure references as found in Way’s lyrics, are likewise evident in his scripts.

Jake Wyatt’s art is as unique and brilliant as Way’s writing. He has a style that readily lends itself to Way’s anime infused imagery and brings these images electrically to life. The artist incorporates Peni’s personality with SP//dr extremely effectively, particularly in one panel where we see that the young protagonist has put Hello Kitty-type stickers on the actual armor providing a touching and humorous juxtaposition between the menacing look of SP//dr and the diminutive girl who pilots the heroic symbiotic robot. Wyatt’s art is dynamic and his approach to storytelling is energetic, fueled by his unique use of panel placement and vivacious page composition.

The final Edge of Spider-Verse installment will definitely leave you wanting more. Marvel showed extremely shrewd judgment by closing the series with Way and Wyatt’s electrifying issue. It has all the action, excitement and razor sharp humor that we have come to expect from a Spider-Man related title. I would love to see these two creators return to these characters, this time for an extended stay. Until then I’m sure they will turn up in the big event along with a multitudinous amount of other Spider-Beings like Miguel O’Hara and Peter Parker but I for one will be looking forward to being reunited with Peni Parker and SP//dr. (5/5)

Review: Original Sin #5

os1Jason Aaron steps on the brakes, slowing the brisk pace of his revelation filled narrative in this current issue that trades dynamic character interaction and up-tempo timing for meticulously detailed exposition and historic flashbacks – all in the cause of more fully examining the character of Nicholas J. Fury.

One may infer by this opening sentence that they are in for an arduously drawn-out, exhaustive portrait of Marvel’s eye patch sporting super spy, but boy would they be wrong. Aaron does take a rather unexpected detour with this issue, especially in light of how exciting and shocking this story has been thus far. However, he very deliberately dissects Fury with surgical precision at the very moment this information becomes imperative to the forward progression of the narrative. There are elements of Fury’s extensive and storied past that even die hard Marvel fans may not know or readily remember because of Aaron’s decision to literally turn this issue over to Nick Fury (a great majority of the story is narrated by Fury).

The preceding two issues have ended with mind-blowing revelations centered on Fury; first his perceived murder by the Winter Soldier which is immediately followed by the revelation that the Fury slayed by the Winter Soldier was in fact an LMD and the “real” Fury is actually alive but a very elderly man. All of this  data is almost too much to take in – so much in the way that the Star Wars films go on to become the story of Darth Vader, Original Sin has become Nick Fury’s tale. This shift makes an exclusively Nick Fury-centric issue not only clever but necessary.

Aaron delves into the history of Marvel’s greatest Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. beginning with his days as a member of The Howling Commandos through his time as leader of the Secret Warriors on up to his current often ambiguous position within S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Universe as a whole. This interlude may seem to be a bit too lengthy of a digression at this point in an exciting, well established narrative but I think that if you read it as a precursor to the next chapter of the story it makes perfect sense. Although this approach does seem to hang a dynamic supporting cast out to dry for an entire issue; that is my only complaint and it is precisely because Aaron has done such a bang up job with the characterisations and interactions within this diverse and eccentric cast that they are so sorely missed, particularly Doctor Strange and the Punisher. For my money you can’t get a more “odd” couple, but Aaron makes magic happen with these two diametrically opposed “heroes”. The main plot of Original Sin is so strong that it can withstand a course deviation to further and more deeply develop one of the main players in this multi-faceted narrative without losing significant momentum. I can just about feel Exterminatrix and Dr. Midas lurking in the shadows, waiting for their moment to strike with maximum proficiency and malice.

Mike Deodato does a phenomenal job of bringing Fury’s legendary past to the page as he astutely illustrates Fury’s narration, enhancing his words with striking and dramatic images. Deodato does some of his most stunning and inventive page composition in this issue. He makes effective use of panel layouts creating an intensely cinematic feel depicting scenes from Secret Invasion and other equally iconic moments in the life of Nick Fury. Once again Frank Martin captures the tone of the narrative perfectly with his evocative palette of moody, subdued shades. The collaborative result of this creative team is a cohesive work crafted with chemistry and a mutual vision. This is visually one of the most dramatic issues in the series.

Sure this issue is a bit of a change of pace, especially following the big reveals of the previous issues, but Jason Aaron shrewdly throttles down the action and gives us a decidedly more cerebral chapter as a preface to what is sure to be a return to the excitement and over the top action that we have come to expect of this wildly entertaining and engrossing epic. Don’t jump ship if this issue didn’t scratch you where you itched. Have faith true believers, this is going to be one event that lives up to and dare I say exceeds the hype.

’nuff said. (4/5)

Review: Rocket Raccoon #1

rr1Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu could have gone for an obvious cash grab when given the opportunity to work on a Rocket Raccoon solo series. It’s a character that many see as the next Deadpool or Harley Quinn in terms of his popularity among non-comic readers who are obsessed with t-shirts, action figures and everything else featuring the likeness of a comic book character. However, Young and longtime collaborator Beaulieu took the high road and gave us a darn near perfect comic book full of gorgeous, eye-popping imagery and a story powered by endless kinetic energy. The lush, meticulously detailed pages stuffed to overflowing with imaginative images should come as no shocker to anyone even remotely familiar with Young’s brilliantly inventive style. But what pleasantly surprised me was his skill and competence as a writer. Young deftly crafts a narrative more befitting the adult audience that will be seeing Rocket on the big screen in this summer’s hugely anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy film. That’s not to say that this book is overtly “adult” in its content, but Young does build on Rocket’s reputation as a bit crass and somewhat rough around the edges – he is no Lobo but he is not too far behind when it comes to attitude and conquests of the fairer sex. In fact, his dealings with the ladies are the reason Rocket has found himself in hot water this time around.

This is a runaway train of epic proportions; from the opening pages which feature two guards discussing the merits of a reality show based on the concept of a living sentient planet, Young displays his comedic prowess as he cleverly uses humor and the over the top action to propel the narrative forward at break neck speed. There is scarcely time to catch your breath between pages as Rocket is chased from a wrestling event featuring his good friend and fellow Guardian, Groot through an arena teeming with every form of flamboyant alien life imaginable, and boy can Young imagine some colorful creatures (one of them sporting a Southern Bastards patch on the back of his jacket). This is precisely the kind of exciting, fun-filled story that Rocket Raccoon was created to star in and Young really gets the most out of the character, whether it’s through the extremely sharp, spot on dialogue or just his attitude-exuding posture. Rocket comes across as a bushy-tailed Han Solo, equally savvy with weapons and women. This little guy is on a rampage fueled by the possibility that he may not be the last of his race and the need to clear his name while this shadowy other is on a killing spree.

Rocket Raccoon is a decidedly more mature title than we have seen Young work on before; however he proves with a single issue that he is more than up to the task. He seems exceedingly comfortable with the material and handles the grittier fare with proficiency and flair, particularly when it comes to scripting dialogue. Young is a shrewd storyteller and one of the most gifted and inventive illustrators working today. His highly stylized, larger than life approach to sequential storytelling is a perfect fit for this character and setting especially when Beaulieu’s vivid colors are added to the equation. There is a definite otherworldliness to the finished product here. The scene inside the arena is a particular stand-out with its nearly limitless array of hues glimmering and gleaming in an ethereal glow. There is a certain cinematic sensibility to the entire work, a vivaciousness that enlivens the imagery giving life to the pages as the story unfolds as if of its own volition. It is a living narrative full of energy, heart and humor.

This is a perfect inaugural issue – there is action by the ton, there are loads of laughs, the genuine variety that are the result of good writing and there are characters that capture our collective interest and at times even our hearts. Skottie Young has done his job well – he pulled us in and made us want more. Now all he has to do is continue to do that on a monthly basis – after reading this tremendous first issue I have no doubt that he can and will do just that.


Deadpool #19 – Duggan / Posehn / Shalvey / Bellaire

deadpool19The final chapter of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly hits like a sledge hammer to the chest delivered by Thor Odinson himself. It’s relentless, not only in the rapid fire pacing employed by co-writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, but in the poignancy nailed down in the heart-rending revelations uncovered during this cathartic journey undertaken by Deadpool. Duggan and Posehn have proven their comedic chops in previous arcs, but the emotional meat-grinder they throw Wade into, and then reassemble him from the mass of raw nerves and newly exposed feelings, is truly unprecedented in the history of the character. Daniel Way certainly touched on the darker side of Wade Wilson, but just scratched the surface of the voluminous amount of back story just waiting to be told to fully bring this character from the shadows and into the light of actualisation. Duggan and Posehn have succeeded in this endeavor beyond expectations.

In this issue Duggan and Posehn show that Deadpool has changed at the very core of his belief system, as is witnessed by his reaction to Butler during their stand-off. Deadpool relies on a very under-used weapon in his arsenal – his intellect. The fact that he is able to step back and not only examine his options but recognize and act on an alternative to full-throttle violence shows tremendous growth and strength of character. Violence still ensues of course, and boy is it brutal. Declan Shalvey graphically renders one of the most gruesome panels of this arc, but as always he does so with such artistic panache that violence becomes poetry.

Another point of growth and development is Deadpool’s relationship with the other heroes of the Marvel U, specifically Captain America and Wolverine. The two iconic heroes seem to have accepted Wade on a level they have heretofore thought unlikely if not impossible. It is as though Wade has come through a rite of passage and proven himself worthy of a “super hero guys night”. The bond formed by the three is one of the highlights of this arc for me as I’ve always wanted Deadpool to stop being the Rodney Dangerfield of the 616 and finally get the respect he deserves. That is not to say I would like a humorless, brooding Deadpool – I just think that Duggan and Posehn have found the balance that allows Wade Wilson to be more than comedic relief. In fact, they have given Deadpool an overhaul and what has resulted is a more interesting, fully-formed, engrossing and to a degree even endearing character who is capable of holding his own with the big boys of the Marvel U.

Although this has certainly been the darkest arc of this run, perhaps even any run of Deadpool, it is not without an optimistic and hopeful ending for Deadpool. There is the aforementioned improved standing in the eyes of the hero community as well as the possibility of finding his daughter among other gems of introspection to be gleaned from this arduous trek.

Visually, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire collaborate to bring this emotionally taut narrative to life. Shalvey’s tweaks to Deadpool’s appearance infuse his facial expressions with more emotive power than in previous incarnations, adding an additional degree of dramatic weight. The method of shading Shalvey uses perfectly captures the dour tone of the narrative. Bellaire’s coloring is spot on, particularly the contrast of muted colors used in the flashback sequences as opposed to the more vivid hues used to convey the gravity and horror of the more violent scenes. These two artists do an impeccable job of transforming Duggan and Posehn’s words into images – every page is full of gritty magic.

This is arguably the best Deadpool story to date, definitely the most poignant and while we know for sure that Deadpool will always be able to make us laugh, it is good to know that he is now in the hands of writers who can tell us stories of a far deeper and much more complex nature than the jokey, pop culture reference laden fare of the past. Given this issue’s final page teaser, I feel secure in saying that Duggan and Posehn have another twisting, intricate narrative in store for us. The fact that it involves S.H.I.E.L.D. makes me even more anxious to get started.

So to Deadpool fans and neophytes alike I unreservedly recommend this issue – this arc and this series, all of which are top-notch.

And remember comic book fans during this reflective holiday season, the geek shall inherit the Earth. So until next time, see ya at the comic book store.

Jupiter’s Legacy #3 – Millar and Quitely

jupiterslegacy03FIThe long wait between issues two and three of Jupiter’s Legacy have paid off in a big way. Mark Millar has upped the brutality in this current issue while Frank Quitely contributes another off the chart visual performance. Even with the extended wait, it’s hard to believe we are only three issues into this story. It reads more like an event than an ongoing series when you consider the densely populated super hero universe and the sheer magnitude of power possessed by these two warring factions – you really get a sense of the scope and ambition of this book.

Bringing an air of realism to a super hero book is not a new concept – we have seen it many times from Watchmen to the more recent Invincible but there is a modern world pathos that Millar brings to Jupiter’s Legacy that is absent from some of these other works. The degradation of the family unit, the rampant drug use and tanking economy all touched on here by Millar lend more than a gritty realism when looked at through the lens of social criticism. It takes on a biting satirical edge in much the same way as Burgess did in A Clockwork Orange, however we are dealing with human society as it effects the super human, which is an altogether new and different perspective.

There is something voyeuristic about this narrative in that it feels like we are watching a family fall apart. On a much larger scale we are witnessing events unfold in the super hero community that will have ramifications reaching every corner of existence. The conflict here is like a presidential campaign on steroids – both sides have their own deeply held beliefs and motivations, some are more altruistic than others but in a world where might truly makes right, these ideals are only as strong as those who hold them.

Millar does an excellent job writing dialogue for these characters. Although these are new characters, he has given us a look inside them through his sharp, intelligent dialogue and made them feel familiar. Their interaction and collusion paint an accurate portrait of just who these people are and what drives them to do the things they do. The narrative is briskly paced to say the least – events happen in rapid fire succession, sometimes leaving us to wonder if there’s going to be a return to that plot thread later or are we to fill in the blanks ourselves – which can lead to confusion or a point being muddled where it should be crystal clear. This is a complex story full of subtext and sometimes that can get lost in the fast tempo. However, I think Millar is doing a fine job of balancing the fast pace of the narrative with the abundance of information presented – I would just recommend reading these issues more than once to really get the most out of the lush contextual landscape.

Frank Quitely is the perfect artist for the realistic super hero story. His clear and concise portrayal of anatomy is enhanced by his knack for dynamic perspective and posing within a panel. Quitely is a master visual storyteller – he employs the location almost as much as the characters as a conveyance device for the plot. Those of you who have read my reviews of his work know that I am an unapologetic fanatical fan of Mr. Quitely’s work, especially when he and a certain Grant Morrison collaborate to make comic book magic, so it should come as no surprise at all to hear that I was floored by his work in this issue. There are so many incredible pages but one of the gruesome highlights would have to be the splash page of Grace’s brutal murder.

She is twisted in pain and pierced multiple times by numerous weapons – swords and arrows obliterate her abdomen as her life blood gushes from the cruel wounds of her ferocious assault. The whole thing is a study in slaughter. Another such page shows Brandon astride his freshly murdered father surrounded by his new team mates while his manipulative Uncle Walter stands beside him with his misguiding hand upon his nephews shoulder. The once powerful and majestic Utopian lies lifeless, his face now a smoldering skull with two bottomless pits where his eyes, a father’s eyes, once beheld the world and all he held dear. Quitely expertly captures the emotion in this scene with subtleties like the inclination of Brandon’s head as he gazes up at his uncle and the consternation in Walter’s face as he looks to a future that he will shape from the shadows. Peter Doherty’s dynamic colors add a vivid depth and dimension that truly enliven these pages.

Millar and Quitely have fashioned a world where super heroes are not immune to the problems that tear families apart. Jupiter’s Legacy does not lack action, excitement or a compelling and engrossing narrative that keeps you wanting more – it has all of that. This is a world that is not hindered by past continuity conflicts or preconceived notions of how a character would or should act. This is a new world, but a world no less full of situations that shock and surprise by their very nature – not by juxtaposing behaviors or contrasting norms, but they are shocking simply by the brutal finality that result from them.

This is a comic book that doesn’t pull any punches however it does not need to be reined in for being gratuitous or needlessly indulgent. There is a balance here that is not so easily maintained – just look at a book like Crossed and you will see just how hard this balance is to maintain and how awful a book can be when it goes careening off the tracks and into the world of pointless violence and depraved sexuality. Jupiter’s Legacy is first rate across the board and for that reason as well as the myriad merits mentioned in this review. I give this issue my strongest recommendation – add this title to your pull list ASAP.

So until next time, see you at the comic book store.

Review: The Walking Dead #112 – Kirkman, Adlard and Rathburn

Image_Comics_-_The_Walking_Dead__112The Walking Dead is unique in so many ways, but one of the most singular to the title is that there are truly no story arcs as defined by most other comic books. Instead what you have is one long uninterrupted narrative that progresses organically, driven by conflict and resolution – and within that paradigm characters are defined by their actions in much the same way people are in everyday life. This process makes The Walking Dead a viable, living story that has all but taken on a life of its own.

Each month we are afforded a glimpse into the lives of these characters that have by now become like old friends (or enemies). Robert Kirkman has not only carved out a niche in popular culture, he has transcended the boundaries that would fence many creators in. By making The Walking Dead more accessible than say the George Romero “Dead” films, he has broadened his audience to an amazing extent and tapped into a demographic beyond comic book fans. That said, he has not sold out by any stretch of the imagination – the comic has gotten grittier and more violent if anything. Not long ago, (SPOILER ALERT) one  of the main characters, Glen, was brutally beaten to death in one of the most graphic scenes of murder I have ever seen in a major published comic, so obviously Kirkman is not watering down his vision or compromising his ideals just to enlarge his readership. He doesn’t have to; in the case of the modern horror comic he has built the proverbial better mouse trap. The Walking Dead is the standard by which all other horror comics are measured and for that fact alone we are indebted to Robert Kirkman.

This issue picks up only minutes after Negan has killed yet another of Rick’s people, Spencer. Negan opened Spencer from throat to navel, spilling his guts all over the street when he dared approach the hot headed leader of the Saviors covertly about taking Rick’s place. Rick is out with a group of his people collecting supplies to give Negan in return for a continued if tenuous peace. Negan is the kind of villain you love to hate. He is sarcastic and vicious but somehow charismatic. Kirkman’s excellent dialog, although peppered with expletives, gives Negan a frightening appeal; he is compellingly reprehensible, like a charming serial killer.

In contrast Rick is a flawed but good man who is at his breaking point. Negan has pushed him over the edge and Rick formulates a plan on the fly which does not turn out as he and his group had hoped. The Saviors may have appeared to be less than prepared for the attack but as is frequently the case in The Walking Dead, things are not as they seem. The most recent encounter between Rick and Negan is thoroughly entertaining but frustrating to read. Rick finally has had enough but his ill-planned revolt does little but take him from the frying pan into the fire and for that the entire group is sure to suffer. The final page is classic Negan as he illuminates the terrain in which Rick currently finds himself all too hopelessly deployed.

I have been a fan of this book for quite some time now and it has yet to disappoint me. Sure there are better plots than others but right now the book and its creative team are at the top of their game. There is a lot going on and plenty of well written characters to love and to hate and as always tons of bad situations getting worse long before they get better. That seems to have become the trademark of a good Walking Dead story – see how much a given character can take and push them far beyond that point before reaching a resolution. Robert Kirkman has taken us on a 112 issue thrill ride so far and there are no signs of it slowing as yet.

Visually, Charlie Adlard is as solid as ever. His style has become the defining look of these characters, including the zombies, even more so than the television show. His work is moody and emotional bringing a feel of perpetual cloudy skies to the page. Adlard has come to know these characters intimately and that comes through in the detailed way he renders their expressions. Cliff Rathburn’s gray tones add dimension and emotional depth.

Over all this is an absolutely entertaining issue full of all the elements we have can to expect from Kirkman and company. The lightning fast pace speeds you through to a final page that leaves you anxiously waiting for the next issue.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Jupiter’s Legacy #2 – Millar and Quitely

jupiterlegacyEven super-heroes are not immune to dysfunction in the family. Mark Millar explores the depths of that dysfunction in his new series, Jupiter’s Legacy. Utopian is the patriarch of a family of super-beings –  to call them super-heroes would imply that they are somehow virtuous and that cannot be said for most of them. He struggles to maintain some semblance of morality in this clan of deficient principals, however his struggles seem to be overwhelming even for one who possesses the powers of a “superman”. Besides his drug-addled celebrity children, Chloe and Brandon, who make Paris Hilton and Marilyn Manson look well-behaved by comparison, Utopian has a back-stabbing, power-hungry brother named Walter to contend with.

Chloe has just found out that she is eleven weeks along in an unplanned for and unwanted pregnancy when she is rushed to the hospital to recover from yet another drug overdose. Her “boyfriend”, Hutch just happens to be the son of a super-villain. Brandon looks more like a rock star than a super-hero and he behaves more like one as well. He begins this issue by recklessly and drunkenly using his telekinetic powers to transport a huge cargo ship through the air. The ship is full of containers which start to fall overboard when Brandon loses his concentration. A number of the containers plummet dangerously toward the ground. It is only Utopian’s timely intervention that prevents any loss of life not to mention millions of dollars in property damage. Father and son have a heated exchange full of some very well written dialogue –  Millar is quite adept at giving his characters believable voices. Frank Quitely’s awesome visual story telling really shines in this scene as well.

Next we go to Long Beach where Hutch, Chloe’s paramour, makes his first appearance. He is a shady reprobate who has absconded with a shipment of heroin, neglecting to pay for said narcotics. His weapon of choice is something called a “power rod” but he also has the ability to transport anyone foolish enough to annoy him to some rather inhospitable surroundings. For instance when he is approached by a pair of super-powered henchmen representing “The Big Man” whose heroin Hutch pilfered, he simply says the words “shark-infested waters” and bingo! Next thing you know the unlucky henchmen are shark food. This is one of the issue’s highlights – the nonchalance of Hutch just makes this such an awesome moment and Frank Quitely’s cinematic style brings it to life so brutally yet so stylishly.

Utopian finds his brother, Walter in a Cabinet Office meeting with some government advisors. He barges in, making Walter look and feel inferior in front of the government big-wigs. This does not sit well at all with him and makes for a very devious and dubious alliance that begins to unfold on the final page of this issue. I dare not say more suffice to say a knife is looking for a back to call home.

This book has everything I love about good comic books. First of all it has long-time Grant Morrison collaborator, Frank Quitely, who is in my humble opinion the very best comic book artist to grace the printed page. His style is so unique; no one can match the emotion and command of anatomy he wields over his characters. His work is clean with an elegance unrivaled. He lends a sense of humanity to these characters simply by the limitless array of facial expression in his artistic arsenal.

Next there is Mark Millar, who has written Jupiter’s Legacy at a break-neck pace thus far, glossing over some vital history that I hope he gets around to in later issues. That is my only complaint and it is a minor one. This book has come out of the gate firing on all thrusters. I love Millar’s” take no prisoners” style of writing, I have been a fan of his for quite some time. His seminal work on The Ultimates, his groundbreaking Wolverine story, Old Man Logan, the significant Kick Ass trilogy are all examples of the genius of Mark Millar and there are so many other works I could add to that list. With Jupiter’s Legacy he has created a work that will be compared to Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Mark Waid’s Irredeemable for its very human portrayal of super-heroes, their flaws and strengths there to be observed. The plot is intriguing and full of scandalous characters who threaten to bring down a good man who only wants his children to live up to the potential he believes exists within them.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

If you are a fan of superb writing and just phenomenal artwork this book needs to be on your pull list. So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Age of Ultron #10 – Disappointment x 2


Something a little different with this review, with both Shawn and Sean throwing their hats in the ring to have a loser look…

Shawn’s take

After ten issues of anticipation and hope for a mind blowing climax that would forever change the Marvel Universe, what I have just read is without a doubt the most disappointing event finale in Marvel history. Age of Ultron is nothing more than a sales pitch to sell more books based on this pointless anti-event – it is a proverbial snake eating its own tail. As disheartening as this issue is, it is not completely without merit – the opening pages reunite Bendis with his frequent collaborator Alex Maleev for one of the highlights but the mish mash of artists on this book destroy any sense of cohesion. All of the art is top-notch by some of the industry’s best but the way they are all thrown together give the book the feel of an ill-conceived jam.

I lost count of the sub-plots that once began were left to wither and die unresolved, like Nick Fury and his team of Avengers that were sent into the future to stop Ultron. So many plot points were touched on, only to ultimately amount to nothing or be rendered moot by the events of issue ten. The majority of the issue takes place in the past as Hank Pym reacts to a warning sent to himself pertaining to Ultron. This adds to the increasing sense of tension as the final conflict with Ultron looms ever closer. However, the disillusionment begins and once it does it never lets up. From here the encounter with Ultron takes place during the time of the Age of Ultron prologue which literally reprints Bryan Hitch’s artwork, only varying the dialogue to reflect changes that occurred during Wolverine and Sue Storm’s time travel mission and Hank Pym’s own interfering with Ultron’s brain.

The final battle with Ultron is summed up with one mighty blow from Thor. While the other Avengers stand around in what appears to be a ceremonial circle, Thor takes the initiative and shatters Ultron to bits with one swing of Mjollnir. Ten issues of posturing and false promises come to an end – but wait, there are more Age of Ultron tie-ins to hype in the remaining pages. In fact once all is said and done, the Marvel Universe we lovingly refer to as the 616 is virtually untouched by the Age of Ultron. As the final pages flip by, the highly- touted introduction of some mystery character (everyone knew who this was going to be) felt more like a last minute afterthought than an event with a nine issue build up. Anti-climactic does not begin to describe the feelings I had to contend with after reading this book. For nine issues I reserved judgment because I love so much of what Age of Ultron consisted of; it had a great writer with freedom to explore any plot he could come up with more or less, it had illustrious artists, it had a remarkable cast of characters that spanned time and space, how could it fail to amaze? For nine issues I disputed my friends and colleagues who discounted the premise without reading the first word. Now after the tenth issue I am completely disillusioned. Of course over the span of ten issues there were some inspired moments, but without a pay-off they amount to spinning wheels, they go nowhere. As lovely as many of the pages were to look at they were merely window dressing.

I am still looking forward to reading Infinity. I have not soured on Marvel or on event books as a whole, (I even liked AVX) but this just felt like a massive waste of time and at $3.99 an issue there is no excuse for an ending like this. By the last page Ultron as a threat or even as a character is forgotten. I can see no lasting ramifications that could conceivably come from the events of this book. The only real result of this fiasco seems to be that now the Ultimate Universe (which is dead already for all intents and purposes) is now slated to be victim of the ill-fated premise that is The Age of Ultron.

Age of Ultron as a whole had glimmers of genuine brilliance but they were quickly abandoned or left to die on the vine. Plot threads that would have led to a much more exciting and satisfying climax were left unexplored in favor of hackneyed and convoluted plot devices that ended in a sales pitch for more Ultronless Age of Ultron books instead of a real resolution. Visually Age of Ultron is stunning – even in the inconsistent conglomeration of fantastic artists that graced issue ten with their work, there is definitely virtuosity.  For me Age of Ultron ended up being nine issues of titillating set up with the most dissatisfying culmination. As much as I love comic books, it pains me to have so little to praise in this finale but also as a fan of comics I believe the creators that are entrusted with these beloved characters owe it to us to put out their very best work.

I don’t believe for a second that this is the best Bendis can do.

Sean’s take

And so Age of Ultron ends, in potentially the most anti-climactic way possible. Brian Michael Bendis – and the many artists he brought along for the ride – were definitely on to something. Who would have thought that a post-apocalyptic, time travel story, involving some of the biggest names in the Marvel Universe, with no telling who would live – or die – could turn out so badly? With its drawn out story, erratic use of artists, and little closure for many events that preceded it, Age of Ultron #10 flounders what could have been a truly interesting story.

Where Age of Ultron really suffers is its apparent disregard for many events it set up. Remember Captain America’s assault on Ultron’s future headquarters? The writers seem to have forgotten, as this future where Ultron is in control is never mentioned again. The four chapter build up to that moment feels wasted, and this entire arc could have easily been cut back in those issues. Echoing Shawn’s sentiment about the high price per issue, I feel like Marvel pushed for more issue to pull more money from the readers. Bendis seems to struggle with the ten issues he was given with injecting some plot points that go nowhere, seeming to exist only as filler rather than a fully-fledged storyline.

The entire issue feels like a half-baked mix of many different ingredients. The use of many different artists is difficult to follow, and while each in their own right does look good, the overwhelming mix makes the issue feel disjointed. There is a reason why they usually stick to one artist per issue, and this is a complete embodiment of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Joe Quesada’s mysterious final pages (which were spoiled for me many months ago) do look great. It’s nice to see him drawing again, but I can’t help but feel that this mysterious and exciting reveal didn’t really need to be here. It didn’t have to be a part of this event and it makes me wonder if this reveal was shoe-horned in at the last minute, as it could have been put in almost any other title.

That’s not to say everything in this issue is bad. Like Marvel’s AvX last year, the set-up to what is to come is much more interesting that the actual event itself. The cross-over to the Ultimate Universe is exciting, and reminds me of the fantastic Spider-Men event last year. Plus the entire Wolverine/Sue Storm relationship was great, and I’d love to see Marvel pick up this again in other avenues.

None of this set up could really save this series. Age of Ultron seems to be an event for events sake. It doesn’t help that before the final issue landed, Marvel began promoting their new Thanos-led event Infinity, not inspiring confidence in their current one. The choices made through this event were odd, and plotlines were fairly quickly dropped. Age of Ultron made so many weird choices that didn’t really inspire interest, just confusion. The only question that came out of my mouth when this finished was just one word.


Review: Batman #21 – Snyder and Capullo

batman21Batman perhaps more than any other comic book character has had his origin examined and scrutinized, most notably by Frank Miller in his masterfully written Year One. So when Zero Year was announced I was cautiously optimistic. The fact that Scott Snyder, who has just amazed and impressed us with Court of the Owls and Death of the Family eased many of the doubts that persistently crept into my mind. Like legions of comic book readers out there, Batman is and has been since childhood my favorite character and his origin is like gospel, a subject not to be taken lightly. Admittedly most of my concerns stemmed from the continuity discrepancies that arose from the birth of the New 52. That being said, Batman was the least impacted by these sometimes drastic changes. His origin is not so much changed as it is more fully explained and some of the blanks are filled in by Zero Year. There are years in Bruce’s past that have yet to be addressed, formative years in the Batman mythos. Scott Snyder does an excellent job here of driving away the shadows that remain and linger around some of those years.

The story begins six years ago – Gotham City is in utter disarray, looking more like the Savage Land than a major municipality. Scott Snyder, more than any other writer, writes Gotham City as another character. He gives it life and personality and Greg Capullo enhances this effect by rendering the city as though it were a living organism. A child is spear fishing in the flooded entrance to the Gotham subway when suddenly he is assailed by a pair of mask-wearing thugs .He drops his fish and runs for his life. Batman shows up in a tattered makeshift uniform minus cape ,riding a dirt bike that looks like it was used in a Mad Max film. He saves the child and returns his dinner to him.

The time line jumps further – it is now five months earlier and The Red Hood makes his appearance but just who is under that hood at this point is not known. Bruce is heavily disguised and driving a truck full of men that The Red Hood is quite interested in killing for refusing to join his gang. This sets up an edge of your seat escape scene and shows a more reckless Bruce at a time when he was more likely to take chances. Bruce returns to a pre-Bat Cave headquarters which appears to be a secret room full of computers and training equipment hidden inside Wayne Manor. Here Bruce and Alfred discuss the state of modern crime fighting. Snyder is a master of writing dialogue. The conversation flows with a natural rhythm that lends a deeper level of credibility and realism. The discussion is complex without being pedantic and illuminates a deepening relationship between two friends.

Bruce’s Uncle Philip plays a major role from here on out. He shows up and takes Bruce on a drive around Gotham to show him the new Wayne Enterprises building. As an interesting detail we are shown the giant penny that we all know will come to be housed in the Bat Cave. It stands before Wayne Enterprises as Uncle Philip tells the story of overseeing its forging. He also gives us some history of the relationship between the Wayne family and the Kane family. Snyder then takes us back to a time when Bruce was a boy. He sees his father working on an old Lincoln and runs happily to him. His father looks lovingly into his eyes and what follows is some of the most revealing dialogue in the book. Bruce explains his desire to be anonymous and that his love for Gotham stems from the fact that he can be anyone he wants when he is in the city. His father then shows him a visual mapper designed by Mr. Fox to be used by fire-fighters, EMTs and doctors. It makes a three dimensional map from inside the rubble of a collapsed building or destroyed village. I can’t help but think this is going to be a significant piece of equipment in the near future, perhaps in the construction of the Bat Cave.

Uncle Philip returns for the final pages and has a conversation with a rather unexpected co-conspirator. A dark and foreboding solution is proffered to Philip’s quandary, one that echoes across time and space as we see Bruce as a boy reflected in the shiny visual mapper held in his tiny hand. In the final panel he stands contemplating a gaping hole at his feet.

Zero Year is not the re-telling of Batman’s origin that some may have been expecting. It has so much more ambition than that. Scott Snyder is writing his own entry in the history of the greatest of all comic book heroes, filling in some of the gaps and bringing the Dark Knight into sharper focus. Snyder’s engrossing and meticulous dialogue brings these characters to life. His fast paced and absorbing plot is the perfect framework for the exhilarating action sequences. Zero Year is the total package, not only does it have everything a great comic book should have but it is an endearing human drama as well.

Greg Capullo continues to deliver some of the best pages on the racks today. His hyper-detailed cityscapes and exhilarating action scenes are the stuff of comic book dreams. He has been the perfect collaborator with Snyder to bring us these stunning Batman stories. Not since Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s groundbreaking pre-New 52 run on Batman and Robin have I been so thoroughly and completely impressed by a creative team on a Batman book.

The back-up story is a look at a nineteen year old rebellious Bruce in Rio de Janeiro, also by Snyder this time with the help of his Talon collaborator, James Tynion IV and art by Rafael Albuquerque. The story highlights Bruce’s firm resolve to do the right thing even though his methods may seem drastic. The writing is again top-notch, the break-neck pace and snappy dialogue rocket you through the narrative in no time flat. The art is more stylized but fits the material. The flowing lines, blending colors and blurred backgrounds give you the very definite feeling of speeding through the streets of Rio. It is a short but intriguing look into another of Bruce’s formative years.

Zero Year is off to an immaculate start. Over the next year we are to be witnesses to the birth of the Dark Knight. Some of the questions we have always had about why things are the way they are in the complex mind of Bruce Wayne will surely be answered while others are more fully explained. This book is mandatory reading not only for Batman fans but for all lovers of great writing and tremendous artwork everywhere. So even if you are only a sporadic reader of the Bat-titles I would recommend jumping on at least for the next year. I’m sure you will stick around.

Until next week, see you at the comic book store. Same Bat-time…

Review: Iron Man #11 – Gillen and Eaglesham

ironman-11Kieron Gillen is re-building Iron Man and he is using alien technology to do so. Well that’s not entirely true, but he is re-tooling the origin story as told to Stark by the alien robot 451. And what a story it is: engineered birth, pursuing murderous greys, the fate of the world in the balance – this is the kind of story that would make Fox Mulder salivate.

Kieron Gillen has hit his stride – I have liked this book since its inception in the Marvel Now line up but it was never the Marvel book I looked forward to reading. That was usually Superior Spider-Man or one of Hickman’s Avengers books or Bendis’ X-Men but lately I have been mentioning Iron Man in those terms with increasing regularity. The book is improving and not all of the credit goes to Gillen. Dale Eaglesham has brought a visual dynamic to this book that it was so sorely lacking. Although Greg Land is an accomplished artist in his own right I don’t think he fit this title. His work tends to be flat and his faces are all rendered in too similar a fashion for my liking.

This issue begins with Tony and 451 on board a cloaked space ship traversing deep space and in deep discussion when they are detected crossing some sort of perimeter. Tony is becoming more and more irate as 451 implores him to save his ship. At one point Tony refers to the robot as having a “glorified Commodore 64” brain, but when all is said and done he decides to go along with 451’s plan.

The story then returns to the past and Tony’s parents in the company of 451. The robot continues to shed light on Stark’s parent’s relationship and his pending birth. Gillen does a really good job illuminating the changes he is introducing to Tony’s mythology without simply blurting them out. He is building up to what we can only assume will be an Earth-shattering revelation. These changes go a long way in making sense of Tony’s inclusion on the current Guardians of the Galaxy team and really legitimising his status as a super genius. His parent’s story is told in meticulous detail. Howard Stark is the portrait of a father. His love for his wife and unborn son serve to motivate him more than the fate of the world. He is a man conflicted and passionate as Gillen demonstrates by having Howard Stark run after a pair of laser pistol wielding greys armed only with a conventional shotgun. This is the act of a protective father rather than a genius. He doesn’t think of the superior fire power he is sure to face, only of saving his young family. These are the kind of details Gillen uses to flesh out Howard Stark and endear him to us. He becomes the hero of the book.

The story then moves to an examination room of some kind. There we see the Starks and 451 – Howard listens intently to 451 explain what is happening to his son in utero while his wife lies back and receives the treatments from the robot’s hand (literally – his finger is a hypodermic). Again Gillen takes us deeper into what is happening to Tony prior to his birth. The complicated alien alterations that are being made to his genetic make-up are spelled out via a sonogram. This scene works so well.

We then return to the present and deep space as Tony rejoins 451 on board the ship. The two continue their conversation, concentrating mainly on Tony’s parents and the reasons behind the decisions they made. Tony pushes for answers that at first 451 seems reluctant to give but he finally relents and that is where we are left as 451 prefaces his coming answers with the ominous “All the things we did, we did for you.” Gillen leaves us with an unbearable sense of anticipation.

Kieron Gillen has established Iron Man as one of the upper echelon Marvel Now titles. The addition of Dale Eaglesham has only served to solidify that fact. Gillen has proven he is a consummate and capable story teller, adding chapters to the already rich history of Tony Stark and the Stark family. Though this is a decidedly different Iron Man from the one Matt Fraction brought us in the recent past, it is an Iron Man that is entertaining and enthralling. Visually dynamic, briskly paced and complexly plotted, this is what good comic books are all about.  Don’t hesitate to jump on board – this promises to be a heck of a ride.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.