Friday, August 08, 2008

Marvel Capsule Reviews Week 30 2008

A celebration of Mutant Kitsch in Uncanny X-Men #500, the new Sinister, Swierczynski's Mortal Iron Fist, a second chance for the New Warriors, Christos Gage's Thunderbolts, Wolverine leading Alpha Flight, the usual Secret Invasion fillers, Ultimate X-Junkies, Hulk dog-sitting Cerberus...

You bet we have a lot to cover!


(Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa / Adam Pollina)

Warren finally reveals his wings, and it's a true spectacle to see their beauty and grandeur through Adam Pollina's dynamic designs and storytelling. I don't really mind how the plot has suddenly crawled to a halt as we prepare for the final confrontations between pedophile priests, school rivals, disgruntled old girlfriends and mutant-hunters - I would love another 48 pages of Angel simply hovering in a room and flying over frozen lakes...



(Dan Slott & Christos N. Gage / Harvey Tolibao)

The cast of the Initiative join the pitched NY battle from Secret Invasion #1 (hey, it's not that tough to coordinate a crossover when it only really has two battles running concurrently throughout its duration), while the writers focus on the team's 'good' secret Skrull member (all cool super-teen teams need one): the Crusader.

The writers have brought an amazing dynamic to the character's situation. He's a renegade Skrull who's turned his back to his alien race to become a real hero for Earth. The twist? when he discovers a nefarious Skrull infiltrator Yellowjacket on the superhero training grounds, he can't expose him without revealing his true nature as well, so he uses his (way cool) power ring to alter reality in his close proximity and reverse the polarity of 3D-Man's Skrull-revealing goggles - now the 3D-Man thinks everyone BUT Crusader and Yellowjacket are Skrulls and he races to warn the others - as the rest of the team head to NY.

Slott and Gage retell Crusader's origins from Marvel Team-Up, and embellish with more details of his time on the Skrull HomeWorld, and his first days on Earth. The emotional core of the story deals with this man coming face to face with the world he betrayed and standing by his choice even in the face of the racist attitude of the men he respects towards his race - handled very subtly and almost lost in the heat of the battle.


(Duane Swierczynski / Travel Foreman & Russ Heath)

'The Mortal Iron Fist' part 1. Happy 33rd Birthday Danny Rand! Oh, say, did you ever notice when you were reading all those legends of the 65 Iron Fists before you... how they all seem to die slightly shy of their 34th candle? Funny, huh...

Swierczynski picks up right where Fraction & Brubaker left off -- or did they adjust their stories to allow for his creative direction? Danny has survived the war on K'un Lun, he's trying to figure out his relationship with his 'girlfriend', he's bent on fuelling his billion-dollar empire into charity work, and he's mainly desperate to know if he has more than a year left to accomplish all of the above. Swierczynski impressed me with this first offering, mainly because of my abysmally low expectations coming from his rather poor work on the Cable relaunch. Here, he has an excellent command on plot pacing, he uses flashbacks (and a surprising flash-forward) weaved into the main narrative to emphasize the level of threat (could we really be looking at a new man under theyellow hood after this storyline?), and he captures Danny's new voice from the beginning of his run.

Travel Foreman is a departure from the more quiet and classic illustrators of the previous run, but brings a definite sense of power and dynamic to the character; the first time Danny uses his Iron Fist in the issue - and the glorious Dragonball-inspired energy effect he uses-- I guarantee you'll be left with your jaw hanging! The editors continue to wisely use different artists for the flashback and modern sequences to make them more distinct and also alleviate the workload and schedule of the main book artist. Russ Heath handles the flashback to the 'cowboy'-era Iron Fist's adventures.

Here's to a long and healthy run!



(Chris Eliopoulos / Graham Nolan)

Don't let this cover fool you. Unlike MA: Avengers - which does feature a ridiculous fun cosmic baseball game with Galactus- there is no cosmic football to be enjoyed on the surface of the moon within these pages. Instead, we get the Thing narrating a didactic tale of Reed's continuing guilt over the space cosmic rays accident, and his fight against a generic space conqueror, in the form of a letter to his hot Aunt Petunia.

It's a decent filler story, with great Graham Nolan art, but without any of the funny and the zanity I've come to expect from this title.



(Paul Tobin / Alvin Lee / Terry Pallot)

Hercules dupes the three amigos Iron-Man, Spidey and the Hulk (oyboy) to dog-sit the mythical (and giant) Greek puppies Cerberus and Orthus, while he goes out scoring chicks. You know what to expect here... Iron Man ends up a a giant metal chew toy, Spidey trains the multi-headed dogs, dumb Hulk almost has some funny moments and the action (of course) explodes in the inevitable canine beauty pageant. Lots of fun ideas flying around, but still nothing laugh-out-loud to keep.



(Brian Bendis / Billy Tan / Danny Mikki)

Now, this is just an utter waste of an issue. Bendis has a strong emotional core for this story, the shattering tragedy of the Skrull warrior who absolutely believes himself to be the human Captain America coming to terms with his reality. Unfortunately, his story is lost within the tedious retelling of yet another Skrull replacement ceremony, the queen's pointing out the flaws in the plot structure (i.e. the Skrulls not having access to Cap's DNA or memories) without offering a pleasing explanation, half-assed page-wasting battles and Billy Tan's utter inability to express emotion in his characters.

Bendis keeps gliding along with the false belief that readers are actually questioning if characters like Cap, or Phoenix, Beast or that Emma are actually Skrulls on the ship, and his splash-page revelations are actually shocking and surprising... Apart from Mockingbird and the eventual (actual) revelation that leather jacket Luke is the real deal, I don't even have doubts for any of the passengers of the 80s ship that crash-landed in the Savage Land...



(Kevin Grevioux / Koi Turnbull / Sam Regla)

'Invaded' part 1. As much as I firmly believe this is the single worst super-hero book of this decade, I do feel a bit for writer Kevin Grevioux. He showed with Young Avengers Presents that he does actually know how to write an interesting teen super-team, he's gone on record in conventions saying that the concept and cast of c-rate ex-mutants playing dress-up was basically forced on him, and I hear from middle parties that Marvel simply won't let him do the stuff he really wants to with this title. Is it the simply the editor's fault then? Judging from some of the recent fill-in artist choices, I wouldn't be surprised... Still, it would take a lot of editorial interference to turn even a half-decent script into the pile of poo that is the standard for this title.

(oh, yeah, I LOVE reviewing this title almost as much as I hate reading it)

This issue kicks off the necessary Secret Invasion tie-in. I figured this would be a good jumping-on point to give the title a second chance... Oh boy, was I wrong!

The story opens up with the team hanging out in their civvies in a cafeteria. Now seriously, the book has such a huge cast, they don't even fit on the same table: 11 teens not even counting their leader. Surprisingly, there's not a single caption, or even a dialogue cue to identify any of them apart from the main three (Jubilee, Jono and Sofia) - heck some of them don't even get lines this issue! What is the point of drowning the book down with all these E-list nobodies if you don't even acknowledge their presence. I'm vaguely familiar with them from the first arc, but I still couldn't remember all their names, let alone connect them to their generic super-hero identities and their powers.

When the new Night Thrasher (the original's brother) sees footage of the Skrull invasion in New York his first response is to assemble the team and help save lives to assume that his dead brother and teammates were really Skrulls and set out to visit one of his old hideouts to see if he's there (yes, let's play 'leap of logic' altogether now). At the location he gets ambushed by Justice's New Warriors leftovers (from the pages of Avengers: Initiative) who also have nothing better to do (hint: deal with an alien invasion?) than punch an old teammate around.

As one last insult to the 22 pages of injury, I've attached the most nonsensical sequence in the issue, where an entire panel is repeated and shrank on two continuous pages in a very crude attempt to create -- ok, you got me there, I have no idea, and it really is glaring in its amateurishness...

Cancel! Cancel! Cancel!



A scarily comprehensive Handbook-style listing of all Skrulls to ever appear in any Marvel book, including a lot of favourites, and a multitude of second- and third- stringers. I simply cannot fathom the amount of research that has gone into this book. Great work!


(Christos N. Gage / Fernando Blanco)

'Running the Asylum' part 1. Christos Gage finally flies solo on an actual in-series storyline after Ellis' closing arc. He's heavily referential of both Ellis' closing storyline (which pitted the members of the team against each other), the team's previous incarnations (cleverly picking up on Songbird's relationship with Captain Marvel's straight son Genis - whom he's utterly unaware of), and his own one-shots through last year -- unfortunately so, since I'm unsure how many people actually bothered reading as they felt as simple filler material at the time, but are now all brought in as actual plot fuel.

Gage doesn't waste any time in this issue; he re-introduces the cast for the new readers who might be picking up the title because of the Secret Invasion tie-in (hear that, New Warriors editorial?) through a pitched battle with a seriously amped-up Swarm (minus the fun lissssp); he covers the story-up-to-now seamlessly through the dialogue; he even has time to prove to the unbelievers (guilty as charged) that he does belong on this title, by picking up an errant incest thread from Ellis and resolving it in an innovative way (think of it as a 180-degree Loeb maneuver): Andreas Strucker's twin sister returns mysteriously (gee, in a Secret Invasion tie-in issue? I wonder...), and we take a closer look at their relationship dynamic, Andreas' subordinance (leading to a horrifying self-mutilation surprise) and what really happens in their bedroom.


(Aron E. Coleite / Clay Mann & Brandon Peterson / Carlos Cuevas & Brandon Peterson)

'Ultimate Power' part 3. You know, I think I actually preferred when it was just Robert Kirkman sucking on this title. It was a comfortable level of suckage that you could learn to accept -- compared to this new unfathomable level of suckage that only a 'Heroes' TV show writer could introduce us too.

Some (undefined) time has passed from last issue's shocking ending, Northstar is dead, and Colossus' X-Men team are full-fledged drug addicts living on the run and hitting Acolytes teams for their dose of Banshee (the power-enhancing drug). Yeah, exactly: 'WHAT?!?'

It's one thing to actually show some character development, a didactic plot, the subtle downward spiral of a person becoming addicted to a drug. Coleite chooses to fast-track straight to the end of the road, skipping any sensible characterisation and explanation. Didn't he reveal Colossus has actually secretly been on this drug since before his first appearance - spending years without going stark-raving addict? I could understand Northstar's shamelessly wasteful death pushing the Russian over the edge, but what's the others' excuse for keeling over in a matter of days/weeks? It all reads like a rushed plot device to get the X-Men to fight between themselves while sacrificing any potential for nuanced characterisations in favour of a blunt 'drugs are bad' message.

The one interesting aspect I'll admit is addressing Kirkman's leaving gift: Phoenix' scary new power levels (resurrecting fallen teammates with a wave of her hand), although failing to actually give the perspective and feelings of the actual resurrected parties.

The art is handled by yet another last minute replacement artist, working with the excellent Brandon Peterson. I do remember the days not that long ago when Ultimate X-Men was the shining beacon of editorial excellence, amazing writing and kick-ass art. When editors would plan ahead and assign each story arc to a specific artist, to keep a consistent look and feel to the story for the collections. Why has this book gone to the shitter, and why won't someone please pull the plug?



(Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction / Greg Land & Terry Dodson / Jay Leisten & Rachel Dodson)

'SFX' part 1.

Hurray for Fraction!

Matt Fraction joins his frequent collaborator to breathe fresh air into the most stagnated of the current X-Men titles (well, ok, not counting any Claremont books). As brilliant Brubaker really is in crime noir, and urban super-hero and spy comics, he really is a fish out of water when it comes to the more sci-fi and traditionally super-hero elements of the spandex set. His run has been a continuous oddly paced and uninteresting mess. Even in this issue, it's fairly easy to pick out the Fraction bits from the rest of the issue.

The issue ushers in the new era of X-history: the X-Men have moved into their new home in San Fransisco which is now declared a safe heaven for all mutants and a sort of embassy to the surviving mutant nation/race. It's a bold new direction, and I'm excited about it, just because it's something new and untried.

What I liked:
  • the promise of a brighter X-Future and teases of upcoming storylines (linking to Whedon's tease of an 'Evolutionary War' in recent Runaways issues),
  • Cyclops officially taking full reign with the hairs-on-edge 'To Me My X-Men' moment,
  • the celebration of Mutant Kitsch,
  • Angel back in the forefront of the team and being a formidable asset,
  • the Lobdell approach to refreshing old concepts, with the Hellfire Cult and Sisterhood of Evil Mutants as early indicatives,
  • certain elements of Magneto's power and authority,
  • the beautiful Alex Ross cover,

What made me go 'meh':
  • the poor overall treatment of Magneto, being a parody of himself, taking him back to the retconned Morrison appearances, and contradicting the recent excellent appearance in X-Men Legacy,
  • Cyclops actually saying :
  • Greg Land still getting work with his soulless characters and blatantly swiped fashion magazine faces (only working briefly here when it was supposed to be celebrities and unknowns dressed like X-Men),
  • the famously swiped Greg Land cover,
  • Terry Dodson not getting enough recognition and playing second fiddle,
  • the way the new Astonishing Bianchi costume designs are forced on all the artists of the X-Men line, when noone else could possibly make them work on the page -- Angel as a glaring example,
  • the unsatisfied non-event feeling after finishing the issue -- Marvel hasn't produced a proper worthwhile anniversary issue in years


(Fred Van Lente / Clayton Henry)

A flashback story featuring Wolverine leading a select early Alpha Flight team on a mission. I'll admit I was excited at the prospect of seeing the Scott Lobdell retconned First Flight members (Stitch, Saint Elmo etc) after they were shown on the cast screen, but unfortunately Wolvie went for the popular choices of Snowbird, Aurora and Shaman. Still, any Alpha Flight is a good treat (well, apart from the new Weapon Omega). Van Lente creates a fun infiltration mission for them, utilising all their talents, though going a bit overboard on the characterisation. Clayton Henry is actually doing a more remarkable job on the team here, than when he was handling the art on vol. 3 of the series. Could we hope for a return of Alpha Flight classic?



(Mike Carey / Scot Eaton & Ken Lashley / Andrew Hennessy & Paul Neary)

Mister Sinister is reborn inside the body of Xavier, and it's up to Gambit, Sebastian Shaw and the deadly senile Ms Mueller to put things right.

Carey is writing a tribute run to the glory of the X-90s. Remember, it wasn't all 'the Twelve' and 'Cerebro gone wild', we still ha our AoA, and our silly years-spanning storylines and fun new concepts running around. Carey here creates a loving bookend to the dangling Black Womb storyline from Nicieza's X-Men, Gambit and X-Men Forever runs - making sense of the haze and condusion, keeping it unbelievably new reader-friendly and reimagining Sinister in an... -ahem- interesting new fashion. It keeps to a disturbingly predictable recent Marvel trend, but just by the virtue of the new name it was really begging to happen a loooong time ago!


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