Marvel’s SIEGE Primer

That’s right, folks. Desiato is back and ready to talk some Marvel.

Spoilers abound for this one.

 

I’ve done this previously for Dark Reign and War of Kings, and I thought, as the resident Marvel guy lurking in the shadows of a generally DC heavy comic review blog, this is the perfect time to make a triumphant (but most likely short lived) comeback to the world of read/RANT. So let’s talk some Marvel. More specifically, let’s talk SIEGE. Bendis! Coipel! Only four issues! It’s got a strong chance of being pretty awesome. Time to break it down, see where we’ve been and where we’re going, specifically pertaining to the last two months or so of Dark Reign continuity.

As a quick proviso, this article is going to focus on Norman Osborne. To find out what’s going on with the rest of the Cabal, I’m going to be putting up a sort of “Where are they now?” article on my own blog, Musings of the Alpha Primitive. This is partially to be self-serving, and partially because I don’t want this article to be 4,000 words long. That should be posted in a week or so, and I’ll probably update this article with the link when I’ve done it.

By the time folks read this, Dark Avengers #11 will most likely have been released. It comes out on Wednesday. I get my books online through Discount Comic Book Service (the best folks in the planet in many ways), and will not be receiving my copy until the end of the month (which, while lame, is a hell of a lot better than paying cover price).So bear in mind that this Siege preview is being written without the added detail of anything that happened in that issue.

So let’s talk about the most recent pertinent points first. We’ve navigated through just about all of The List. I remember when the list was announced, I was perturbed by the idea of 8 $4 one-shots coming out within a month or two. I wasn’t going to buy them. At the time, I was enjoying, but not totally enamored with Dark Reign. But then I saw the creative teams. Fraction and Davis on X-Men. Bendis and Djurdjevik on Avengers. Remender and JRJR on Punisher. Hickman and Ed McGuinness on Secret Warriors. These are stacked creative teams that are worthy of a $4 purchase (or, in my case, about $2.20 thanks to DCBS). And they were all great. I didn’t read Daredevil and didn’t order Spider-Man because I don’t read those ongoings. But maybe I should have, considering the quality of the other books (and I’m sure I’m going to pick them up during con season on the cheap next year). The List rekindled my interest in Dark Reign.

Add to that the monumental achievement that was World’s Most Wanted, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s world-spanning Iron Man epic that has taken a year to tell (and, honestly, how often do you see twelve issue story arcs these days, especially in ongoing titles?), and Dark Reign has kicked into overdrive. Norman Osborne’s armor is weakening. His hold on the world and his own sanity is slipping. The members of the Cabal are splintering, creating their own alliances against Norman and HAMMER. Everything is coming to a head. Siege is, as some of us know thanks to J Michael Straczynski, at its core the siege of Asgard. We know this, because this is apparently why JMS left the Thor book, because he didn’t want to deal with the crossover. We also know a few other things based on some teaser images that have been released in the past few weeks.

1. Asgard is in trouble. One of the teaser images that has been released is the picture of a burning Asgard plummeting to the ground. It’s still in Oklahoma, and the neighboring sleepy town looks to be in trouble (considering that Asgard is landing directly in the center of it). Considering that the whole point of Siege is Norman Osborne storming Asgard, nothing about this should come as a surprise. But let’s keep some things in mind. First, the Asgardians as we know them are not actually in Asgard right now. Loki, Baldur, basically everyone but Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three are currently in Latveria. Secondly, considering the last panel of World’s Most Wanted, featuring Donald Blake in his Oklahoma hotel room alongside Pepper Potts, Captain America (Bucky) and Black Widow, and that Blake has power of attorney in Tony Stark’s living will and is presumably going to get him, there’s a decent chance that the BIG THREE (and I mean big three, as Cap Reborn should be wrapping up to the extent that I fully expect Steve Rogers to be back with the shield by the beginning of Siege) will be using Asgard as their headquarters/staging ground preparing for some kind of attack on Osborne when he brings the heat to Oklahoma. One would assume that the big three will also bring in folks like the Mighty Avengers to join the cause (probably the X-Men too, but I don’t know if the scope of the book is such that they want everyone involved).

2. Norman Osborne has a secret weapon. This goes all the way back to Dark Reign: The Cabal, and the shadowy figure that Norman’s been using to keep the rest of the Cabal in line. There has been much speculation, and now we’ve got two pieces of information to help us narrow some things down. The first is a teaser image of Norman surrounded by seven pictures and a “WHO IS NORMAN OSBORNE’S SECRET WEAPON?” tag line at the top, and the second is the end to Dark Avengers #10. These are obviously linked, considering that three of the characters are in both images. Let’s take a look at who’s on the teaser image first to get a sense of the possibilities.
2a. Thanos. No chance in hell. This is a red herring. One, the fact that they specifically chose an image of Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet is too loaded of an image. Take also into consideration the utter arrogance of Thanos, and that there’s no way he would ever go along with someone like Osborne. Plus, there’s the fact that he’s dead. And Abnett and Lanning would probably be a little annoyed if one of the supreme cosmic characters of the Marvel universe suddenly shows up parading around a crossover on earth. Odds: Eleventy-billion to one
2b. Odin. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m getting the no chance in hells out of the way first. Most of the reasoning behind Thanos can also be attributed to Odin. He’s arrogant, and would be exceedingly unlikely to consider Osborne an equal deserving of his time. He’s also dead, and while he did hold a grudge against Thor for not resurrecting him after the most recent Ragnarok, they reconciled during the two issue Thorsleep arc in JMS’ run. Not gonna happen. Odds: 200,000,000,000 to one
2c. Nate Grey. X-Man, eh? So I’m not reading many of the X books. I’m reading Uncanny, but that’s basically it. Dark X-Men seems to be the book that features the return of X-Man, and while I probably should have bought it considering that Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk are piloting the series. Nate’s an omega level mutant, and he’s one of the many folks in this teaser that can actively alter reality. From my perspective, Nate Grey lacks the punch that would be needed to really make Siege pop. Not enough folks would really get enough out of Nate Grey being the big secret baddie. It’s more plausible than Odin or Thanos, but it’s definitely unlikely. Odds: 999 to one
2d. Mephisto. See, now we’re talking. Mephisto has some definite possibilities. He’s definitely shown that he’ll work with anyone if the price is right. And Norman’s definitely crazy enough to have no compunction to make a deal with the devil. Some folks have been attempting to make a link between Mephisto as Norman’s secret weapon and the events of One More Day as a sort of kill two birds situation. I don’t see that happening. Personally, Mephisto’s up there. He works perfectly well in this situation. He could legitimately keep folks in line. Plus, he’s in the last panel of issue ten of Dark Avengers (for the information of those not in the know, Dark Avengers 10 ends with a double page spread featuring Norman Osborne being confronted by a new Dark Cabal consisting of Enchantress, Zarathos, Mephisto, The Beyonder, and Molecule Man on a throne of skulls). Odds: 10 to one
2e. Molecule Man. Molecule Man has some potential and some problems. Rich Johnston leaked some things about Norman’s secret weapon having the MM initials, which certainly points to Molecule Man, but one would think that if this were the case, you might not necessarily give that away at the end of Dark Avengers. But Molecule Man was certainly in power, especially considering his sitting on a throne of skulls and all, and if he can exert his will to dominate folks like Mephisto and The Beyonder, we should probably watch the hell out. Sure, he’s not necessarily dominating these folks, but he’s definitely in the place of power. Of course, there’s also the fact that Norman is completely insane and could be imagining it all. But, if he is imagining it all, is he doing it for a reason? Is it because he’s worried he could lose control of his secret weapon? Hard to say, but I think Molecule Man is, in a way, a little too good of a fit. He doesn’t have a strong personality, and could easily be convinced by Osborne to be his ace in the hole. Odds: 7 to one
2f. The Beyonder. It seems to be the case that Bendis has been itching to use the Beyonder in some capacity. New Avengers: Illuminati #3 was all about The Beyonder. There was heavy speculation that he was pulling the strings during Secret Invasion. He’s been on the cusp of involvement for a while, and he would absolutely scare the shit out of the other Cabal members (and extra points for having a specific grudge with Doom). Of course, this could easily be Bendis continuing to mess with us by dangling The Beyonder just out of reach; only this time he’s actually appearing on panel. I like The Beyonder as the secret weapon. I think it works well. A mix of the old and the new. Personally, this would be my choice, though I don’t necessarily think it’s the most likely. Odds: 4 to one
2g. Scarlet Witch. When was the last time we saw Bendis and Coipel working together on a big project? House of M. COINCIDENCE?!?!?! The return of Scarlet Witch would bring quite a few things full circle. It would play off Loki’s recent actions in Mighty Avengers. Hawkeye would continue to go nuts, especially considering New Avengers #26. Scarlet Witch, in many ways, started the ball rolling. She’s the most unstable of the reality-alterers in the mix. She would scare anyone into service, because she’s capable of anything. House of M proved that. Much like Molecule Man, this might be too perfect. But Scarlet Witch has been off the table for a long time, and this might be a worthy moment for her return. Odds: 3 to one
2h. Someone else. There are other possibilities. Dormammu, for one, as he does have ties to The Hood, who’s probably been the most on Osborne’s side throughout most of Dark Reign. The Void would manage to not only keep the Cabal in line, but would also act as a safety net to cover The Sentry. Marvelman was a popular guess after Rich Johnston’s MM leak, but I think it’s too soon for Marvelman to hit the main Marvel U. I’d like to believe it’s one of the folks on the teaser, and that it’s not a bait and switch situation.

3. Some flying shadow dude. There’s another teaser image of a shadowed figure flying above New York City as the denizens of the city look on in a mixture of shock, awe, and terror. We all assume that this enshadowed figure is Norman’s secret weapon, though much of that could be because those two teasers were released at the same time. So who is it? The Beyonder with his white disco coat blowing in the wind like a cape? Scarlet Witch? The Void? Sentry? Who knows? What I do know is that I dig the image and it further whets my appetite for some Siege goodness.

Is there more to cover? Yeah, probably. But we’re going on 2,100 plus words now, so I think I’ve done enough damage in my return. If you want the lowdown on Dark Reign and Siege, make sure you’re following Dark Avengers, Invincible Iron Man, Utopia, and The List. That’ll help out the most for the major story points. And once again, keep a look out for my article on the Cabal over at Musings of the Alpha Primitive (yeah, I plugged it again).  You stay classy, read/RANT

Review/RANT: Final Crisis #6

So I read Final Crisis 6. Was quite looking forward to it, considering that I enjoyed issues four and five, and the buzz for six was pretty positive on the boards I frequent. I had heard vaguely about what happens to Batman, but in general I was going into this clean. Well guess what…this was a terrible issue. This thing was incomprehensibly messy in so many ways. Morrison isn’t even bothering trying to explain himself or his characters or his plot movements anymore. Things just happen because they have to. Case in point: The book opens with Superman and Brainiac 5.1 presumably in the 31st century. So when did this happen? Superman Beyond? Legion of Three Worlds? Didn’t read ‘em, don’t care. Even still, wasn’t Superman supposed to be at Lois’ bedside using his heat vision to make sure her heart wouldn’t stop? Didn’t the crazy monitor chick from issue two tell him he’d be back from his journey nigh instantaneously? Wasn’t that the whole point of why he decided to go with her? So where the hell has he been in the past three issues? And why does Lois show up halfway through the book showing no ill effects of a building falling down on top of her? There’s no way enough time has passed for her to heal from her injuries. This is abjectly ludicrous storytelling.

To further compound things, we have Batman. This would be the same Batman that got put into Granny’s crazy machine thing in issue two. Like Superman, he shows up out of nowhere in this issue. But this is even worse, considering Batman was CAPTURED, somehow escaped, somehow found Darkseid, somehow got his hands on a time traveling God bullet firing pistol, AND somehow managed to hold onto the bullet from Orion’s crime scene. Did no one search his damned belt? And what the blue hell is the “Omega Sanction”? Is it different from his Omega beams? And why the fuck should I care? Then Superman shows up and unleashes hell, and we’re treated with another example of how bad this issue is. Ever read a book and feel like you’re missing some pages? The transitions in this book are DREADFUL, and one of the best examples of that is the move from the penultimate spread to the final page. Sure, it follows that Supes goes nuts because Batman died. But from a script and sequential art perspective, moving from Superman devastating everything in sight to suddenly holding Batman’s desiccated corpse Crisis 7 style is just badly done and jarring. But this isn’t jarring in such a way that helps the tone or aids some kind of a reveal. This just sorta happens.

These types of bad transitions happen throughout the book, which basically consists of various snapshots of everything that’s going on. But each scene is too short and chaotic, and it all boils down to a manic jumble of white noise. People do things, battles take place, Checkmate has some crazy Brother Eye thingie that may have something to do with the return of Superman. Both Luthor and the Flashes seem to have no problems overriding Anti-Life. Considering that all you have to do is scramble a signal or prove true love exists (or whatever the hell Barry Allen’s been doing), this diminishes the dread nature of Anti-Life a bit. I get that it’s basically just Apokolips on Earth, but I feel like the events are no longer justifying the tone. Especially considering how easily Darkseid was taken down by a mortal man (yet another example of Batman being written too strong, but this has gone on for years, so I can’t really grouse about it now). Does this mean that some crazy new villain is going to show up for half an issue? Is this finally becoming a multiverse story? I mean, we’ve seen the Monitors and a few other things, but this series has been contained on Earth so far. It’s a dangerous situation where Morrison might try and blow this up too huge for one issue to handle. Darkseid’s death didn’t really feel like a climax. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if they keep their new schedule, and get issue seven out at the end of the month.

Really, what we have here is a situation where Morrison just doesn’t have enough pages to cohesively tell the story he wants to. He’s probably getting his point across to the DC historians and die hards who know these characters and are reading the tie-ins (and Seven Soldiers), but this just does not work on its own as a mini series. It’s been a weird read, because he completely lost me with the first three issues, got me back with four and five, and lost me all over again with issue six. It’s incredibly frustrating.

War of Kings: A Primer

Officially launching in March, War of Kings is the next Marvel cosmic “side event,” following in the footsteps of The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest and continuing the general story of strife and upheaval that has hit all corners of the cosmic landscape. We are currently in the middle of the buildup for War of Kings, and I thought I would take the time to talk about what we’ve seen, what we’re going to see, and where you need to go to catch up.

If you want to boil things down to their absolute essential elements, the build for War of Kings can be found via two books: Ed Brubaker’s The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire (as found in hardcover, trade paperback and issue form as Uncanny X-Men 475-486) and Joe Pokaski’s Secret Invasion: Inhumans (a four issue miniseries to be released in trade in April). The reason you don’t really have to go beyond these books is the fact that from what we’ve seen so far, it’s readily apparent that War of Kings will chiefly revolve around Black Bolt and Vulcan, the sovereigns of the Inhumans and Shi’ar, respectively. Now, I personally have not yet read Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire (I hope to soon now that I have a bit more cash flow than I have recently) or its follow-up series “X-Men: Emperor Vulcan,” so all I have seen involving Vulcan as the leader of the Shi’ar can be found on X-Men Kingbreaker #1 and Secret Invasion: War of Kings. Vulcan is the third Summers brother, following Cyclops and Havok. He seized power over the Shi’ar and proclaimed himself emperor after killing D’Ken and neutralizing Charles Xavier.

Black Bolt, as anyone who has followed the Inhumans knows, is the King of the Inhumans and has been ever since these characters existed in comics. Recently, after the events of Silent War, Black Bolt was replaced as king by his crazy brother Maximus (the Mad), but it is discovered that Black Bolt was in fact a Skrull, and once the original Black Bolt was rescued during Secret Invasion: Inhumans, it was decided that not only would Black Bolt and Maximus basically become co-rulers of the Inhumans, but they would stop taking everyone else’s crap and actually go on the offensive for once. Despite the fact that the Inhumans were created by the alien Kree race in order to be used as living military weapons, they have always rebelled against their creators and the rest of the world, content to live in peace and seclusion. However, no one else seems to be interested in actually letting this happen, and the Inhumans have been constantly set upon by humans, mutants (thanks, Quicksilver!), the Hulk, the Kree, most recently the Skrulls, and so on and so forth, that they’ve finally realized that they have to do something if they want to live their lives in their own way.

On the other side of the coin is the group of folks stuck in the middle, the Guardians of the Galaxy. They’ve recently been splintered into tiny groups, with Star Lord out on his own, Adam Warlock and Quasar beginning their assault on the Universal Church of Truth, Drax and Gamora trying to track down Cammy, and the rest of the ragtag bunch continuing their crusade under the name. The biggest part of this that relates to War of Kings is the Star Lord portions of the story, as Peter Quill was sent to the Negative Zone by the Kree (to get back at him for allowing the Phalanx to infiltrate Hala during Annihilation: Conquest) to find that Blastaar has proclaimed himself king of the Negative Zone and has aspirations to expand his dominion into Earth via the dimension gate in Prison 42. It sure seems like Blastaar is going to be right there alongside Black Bolt and Vulcan vying for power. And when you’ve got someone like Adam Warlock with his power level and history in the cosmic terrain, as well as the recreated Nova Corps headed up by Nova Prime Richard Rider, there is so much potential for where they can go.

That brings us to Secret Invasion: War of Kings, which is basically designed to lead into the event in the same way as the Prologue one shots for both Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest. Now, granted, 80% of that one shot was about the Inhumans with only a passing mention of Blaastar (which was a nice touch, because it reinforced events from Guardians of the Galaxy) and a short little back-up about Vulcan, but it still showed us exactly where we’re going. The Inhumans have decided to stop taking things lying down, and are officially on the offensive. They take out the rest of the fleeing Skrull armada (which presumes to be how they justified the Secret Invasion part of the title) and throw a full assault on the Kree homeworld of Hala, which culminates in the subordination of Ronan the Accuser at the feet of Black Bolt. The Inhumans portion of the issue ends there, and the rest of the book is dedicated to a quick little scene with Vulcan fighting in a gladiatorial arena, vanquishing his foe for the entertainment of the Shi’ar public. He then gets an update about what the Inhumans just did to the Kree, and decides that anything the Inhumans can do, the Shi’ar can do better, and this will be the perfect time to expand his territory. So you have the Inhumans reaching out on the one side, and the Shi’ar pushing out on the other side, and they are more than headed for a collision course. So this is the premise: Black Bolt versus Vulcan in a battle for space supremacy. Sounds pretty sweet to me.

I’ve also included a few lines that chart the flow of these characters through their major appearances over the last few years. I wouldn’t say all of it is essential, but it’ll give you everything you need going into War of Kings.

Vulcan
X-Men: Deadly Genesis -> The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire -> X-Men: Emperor Vulcan -> X-Men: Kingbreaker -> War of Kings

The Inhumans
Decimation: Son of M -> Silent War -> Secret Invasion: Inhumans -> Secret Invasion: War of Kings -> War of Kings

Everyone Else
Annihilation -> Nova 1-8 -> Annihilation: Conquest -> Nova/Guardians of the Galaxy -> War of Kings: Darkhawk -> War of Kings

Desiato Returns for the End of Secret Invasion

Currently writing this from back home in Pennsylvania. I finally acquired myself a job, and even though I don’t start until January 5th, things have been quite hectic. Even still, I’ve got some free time right now so I wanted to throw out some reviews before I return to Boston.

Mighty Avengers #20 (****)


This is Bendis’ last issue of Mighty Avengers, and is really the true “requiem” issue for the Wasp (as opposed to Secret Invasion: Requiem, which will primarily be reprints of important Wasp issues). This issue features the Wasp’s funeral, and primarily deals with Hank Pym’s attempts to reintegrate into society after escaping from the Skrulls and discovering the death of the love of his life. We’ve got three artists on this book, with Lee Weeks covering the opening couple of flashback pages, and Jim Cheung and Carlo Pagulayan drawing the rest of the issue. It’s a funny thing, because one of the annoying things about this issue was the device that Bendis used to catch Hank Pym up on the goings on of the world using five silent full page splash collages of House of M, Civil War, Cap’s death, World War Hulk, and Secret Invasion. It’s a waste of pages, but the work Jim Cheung did on these was fantastic. It reminded me a lot of the Young Avengers Presents covers, as well as that double page spread from the first Secret Invasion New Avengers book featuring Spider-Woman’s history. So I didn’t like the pages being there, but they were beautiful to look at. Ambivalence. I loved the funeral scene, and while it’s another example of everyone piling on Tony Stark post Secret Invasion, I think it fits here because of the emotionally charged nature of the scene, and the way Hank didn’t necessarily get the full story of the events he missed when Carol Danvers caught him up. This book did give us a much more appropriate send-off to the Wasp that we didn’t see in SI 8. It’s a strong way to leave the book for Bendis, and I’m looking forward to what Dan Slott plans to do with the book from this point on, because this team seems to be the odd one out.

Secret Invasion: Front Line #5 (****)


Front Line #5 is structured in a very similar way to issue eight of the main series. The title of this issue is “Dark Reign,” and it basically follows the end of the Central Park fight (starting with the Wasp’s doomsday device whatever thingie being activated), quickly finishes that plot thread and moves on to confronting the idea of a world led by Norman Osborne. You can definitely understand why Ben Urich being the main character of the book was done, because it pays off in spades due to Urich’s long personal history as a man from the Spider-Man family with a long history with Norman. The scene where Ben confronts him and both he and the crowd completely blow him off is great. It also does a nice (if perfunctory) job of wrapping up the other characters we saw throughout the five issues. I still like the premise and import of the Front Line idea, and this was a worthy companion to the Secret Invasion event.

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign (***1/2)


Okay, so we all know that Maleev messed up Namor something fierce. Crazy homeless Bendis isn’t exactly what you would expect from the long faced, regal king of the seas. However, I do think Maleev did an excellent job with the rest of the characters in the book (Norman’s hair notwithstanding), and the art in a book like this isn’t as important as the writing. It’s a bit easier to ignore the art in a board room book compared to something that’s heavier on action. And I think that the board room scene itself was well done. The goals for this book are simple. You’ve got six people in a room with explosive personalities and different agendas. You have to find out why they’re all agreeing to work together and how Norman Osborne could keep these people in line. So obviously this is designed from the perspective as a callback to the original New Avengers: Illuminati and Road to Civil War books, and I think Bendis pulls this off creating a twisted mirror of craziness where the trust is completely nonexistent, and no one is looking out for anyone other than themselves. Really, Emma is the only one here who’s acting from the angle of potential altruism, as she seems to be willing to partially compromise her beliefs in order to make absolutely sure that the mutants will be kept safe. I’m not exactly sure what made Bendis decide to bring in the two vingettes about Kitty Pryde and Swordsman, as they could probably be better served in the X-Men and Thunderbolts books, but at the same time, I do also see them as quick little hooks that might make you want to pick up some X-Men or Thunderbolts issues, so maybe that’s why we saw those framing scenes. I think the characters were written well, and I’m looking forward to the other shoe dropping for Doom and Namor, as well as where we’re going to see the continuing story of The Hood. I liked the book for the most part, but it was generally inconsistent in both the writing and art categories.

Desiato’s Top Ten Single Issues of 2008

I did this last year (obviously before the blog existed), and even though I’ve got a pretty durned big DCBS box coming next week (25 books. Yay!), I don’t necessarily expect them to crack this top ten, so I’m just going to jump the gun and publish my list now. Ha ha! It begins…

Going to skip putting the cover images on here because I am lazy and it takes up too much space.

10. Fables #75
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciller: Mark Buckingham
DC’s Vertigo Imprint

Ah, Fables. If there’s one thing you do well (and believe me, it’s a lot more than one thing), it’s big milestone anniversary issues. You could argue that this book had a lot to live up to considering the quality of issue 50 and its positioning as the climax of the War and Pieces arc. I love the way Willingham and Buckingham depict war (the March of the Wooden Soldiers trade pretty much assured that I’d be reading this book until it ends), and this issue caps off the arc while giving us a window into what else we get to look forward to.

9. Kick-Ass #3
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Marvel’s Icon Imprint

Is it late as hell? Yup. Is Millar more interested in the movie than the comic? Probably. Doesn’t change my opinion of this issue. This book revels in being over the top, and does not pull any punches in the violence and blood department. There’s more to it than that crazy final battle sequence, but we shouldn’t exactly be looking for a lot of depth in a book like this. Review is here.

8. Thunderbolts #121
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Mike Deodato, Jr.
Marvel Comics

Ah, watching the Green Goblin go nuts. Who hasn’t seen that before? Well, me, honestly. Never really read much Spider-Man, mostly due to lack of time. This issue is the last of Ellis’ run, and it delivers on what we’ve been wanting to see since he started writing the book post Civil War. And that’s not all of course. You’ve got Bullseye with one of the best lines of the year, and the rest of the inmates attempting to run the asylum while Norman flies all over the place and just throws pumpkin bombs indiscriminately. Fantastic stuff.

7. Terry Moore’s Echo #3
Writer: Terry Moore
Artist: Terry Moore
Abstract Studio

Most of the awesome in this issue came from the last page reveal, which is that kind of true holy crap moment that gives you a little glimpse of what could be coming over the months as this series continued. We have a new character introduced out of the blue, all kinds of craziness and over the top dialogue. It forces you to pause and try to cope with what you just read, and the only words you can think of are “Damn. Didn’t see that coming.” Contrast that with a crushing interaction between the main character and her sister, and you have a wonderful issue of a wonderful book. Review is here.

6. Nova #15
Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Penciller: Wellington Alves

Yes, I love Galactus. Yes, this was one of the better Galactus stories I’ve read in recent history. Any of the three issues of the story arc could have been on this list, but I think the way that the Harrow B plot was resolved was a great moment. Wellington Alves did a great job with the big G, and the way he was used as this disinterested party hovering in the background of panels was excellent. Review is here.

5. Superman/Batman #51
Writers: Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
DC Comics

You can only read so many depressing ass comics (and considering my top four could all easily fit in that category except Iron Fist) before you need a break. And what works better as a break than the madcap fun of the two issue “Little Leaguers” arc from Superman/Batman? Not much at all, really. Super fun silliness that just makes you feel good inside. Sure, either issue could have been put here, but I went for the first because I flipped a coin. These things need to happen sometimes. Review can be found here.

4. The Twelve #6
Writer: J Michael Straczynski
Artist: Chris Weston
Marvel Comics

This is probably the best issue of this series so far (and this is pound for pound the best mini series that has come out this year, despite delays), mostly because JMS really poured on the despair in a way we hadn’t seen yet or since. That’s really what this series is about: despair. It’s another very quiet book similar in style and scope to Thor (and really, this is where JMS seems to be most at home). This issue features the actual fate of Rockman, and dear lord is it heart-wrenching. Check out my previous review for some more insight.

3. Thor #11
Writer: J Michael Straczynski
Penciller: Olivier Coipel
Marvel Comics

More JMS love here. This is a recent one (and oddly enough, takes the same place on the list as Thor #3 last year), and I might be high on this one because it’s fresh in my mind, but the quality is there nonetheless. I LOVE what JMS is doing with this book. It is nothing like what someone would necessarily expect from a character like Thor, but it perfectly fits into his world. Gods with flaws as an interesting literary device dates back to the tragic plays of Ancient Greece to me, and that’s the same kind of feel that I get from this Thor run. It’s such a quiet, slow burn. This issue is similar to that third chapter that I loved so much, in this case we’ve got Thor getting some closure concerning the death of Steve Rogers. He wasn’t around when it happened, so in this book he manages to contact Steve’s spirit and just talk to him for a bit. Coipel’s art in these pages is gorgeous, and he really makes such a simple story device sing. You’ve also got the continuation of Loki’s manipulation of Balder, as well as a callback to the fate of Lady Sif. Fantastic storytelling in every way.

2. The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California (One-Shot)
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli
Marvel Comics

This to me was just a beautiful throwback to the 1920’s noir style starring a character I’ve enjoyed quite immensely since his creation by Fraction and Brubaker. Swierczynski had written some Iron Fist work prior to this, but I think this issue is what really made me believe that he would be a worthy replacement for the original creative team. I think this ended up being better than Fraction’s Green Mist of Death one shot simply due to the layered references to Pygmalion and Metropolis, as well as the general feel of the book being more akin to what I look for in an Orson Randall tale. Here’s the review.

1. Casanova #14
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Fabio Moon
Image Comics

If anyone read my ridiculously over the top review gushing like crazy about this book back when it came out, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is my top choice of the year. I’ve gone back and read it probably 15 to 20 times, and it never ceases being absolutely and totally incredible in every possible way. It’s the perfect ending to a story arc. It’s the perfect twist that completely changes (without being cheap) everything that came before it. I think I wrote enough in my review to justify my feelings, so I’ll just point you there. This book is covered in the combined souls of Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Transcendent.

Secret Invasion #8, and the Event as a Whole

Spoilers, natch, for all of Secret Invasion, as well as the Dark Reign solicitation freebie.

I’m not even going to attempt to look at this from the perspective of just the mini. We’ve got the DC boys to do that. First, some comments on issue eight, followed by my thoughts on the total package.

So really, issue seven was the end of the series. The first third to half of the book basically consisted of Norman Osborne telling the President (as well as television reports) what happened at the end of the battle that led to the Skrulls retreating. Their big gambit with Janet Van Dyne failed thanks to the efforts of Thor. Norman Osborne used the tech/information he stole from Deadpool to kill the queen. Issue seven already proved that in a fair fight, the Skrulls have no chance against the combined power of the heroes of Earth (and why would they? They never have before), so when their bomb didn’t work and their queen was killed, they came to the decision that they would be better off running and attempting to find somewhere else to live. Works for me. I especially liked the quick shout out to Annihilation, where Teddy and Xavin had to let the heroes know that Earth really was a last ditch effort, and they have no planet to call their own. Janet’s death galvanized the right people (Thor, Iron Man, and Ms. Marvel, all of whom have been very close to Janet for years and decades), and the invasion was thwarted. We then see Iron Man discover the ship full of all the heroes that were replaced (something that was earned in a tie in issue, and as such I didn’t have a problem with it). Mockingbird is there, which is…well…kinda weird. It’ll be interesting to see just what that means in the grand scheme of things. We then get to probably the best part of the book, when Jessica Jones sees Jarvis on the ship and realizes that she left her baby with a Skrull. Kudos to both Bendis and Yu for making that moment have some true emotional depth to it. We get some tie ups and some reunions, followed by the second half of the book basically being devoted to the fall of Tony Stark and the rise of Norman Osborne.

Tony really gets beaten down here. The world sees him as the reason the Skrulls were able to get a foothold on Earth. Everything the Skrulls were able to do was made possible because Jarvis uploaded the virus to Starktech and single handedly shut down SHIELD, SWORD, The Raft, and countless other defensive measures. Tony’s bravado and his decision to put all his eggs in one basket ended up nearly dooming the planet. Then, in the middle of the climactic battle with all the media attention swirling around it, Tony was forced to flee the scene and fix his armor. So all the media sees is a coward who can’t clean up his own mess. Sure, he gets back to the battle in time to pitch in at the end in an older suit of armor, but Norman Osborne takes out Queen Veranke. Adding to that, the heroes still haven’t exactly forgiven him for his role in Civil War as architect of the Superhuman Registration Act. Thor hates him. Bucky hates him. The media is attacking him from all sides and both Osborne and the President want him to answer for his actions. He is a broken man.

And on the other side of the coin is Norman Osborne. A man that has been working tirelessly to sieze power ever since he was put into the position of Director of the Thunderbolts. We all know he’s an evil, evil man, but the world sees him as a reformed and conquering hero. He led his team in the battle that saved Washington DC from the Skrulls (Thunderbolts 124 and 125). He secretly stole the information that contained the way to kill the Skrull Queen (Deadpool 3). He then fought on the front lines (where the media would certainly see him there) and killed the Queen in front of everyone. The grand hero rising from the ashes of his former misdeeds. He is rewarded for his heroism (which truly is heroism. Let’s not discount that. It’s just done from a place of less than moral motives), and takes the place of Tony Stark as the man with the keys to the Marvel Universe. SHIELD is disbanded. Stark is on the run. Fury has to go back underground. Both the Superhuman Registration Act and the Fifty States Initiative are still in effect, now under the control of a crazy bastard. And of course, we’ve got that last double page spread with the new faces of the Marvel Universe sitting around the table while Norman tells them the score.

So that covers issue 8. What about the event as a whole? I just combed through my comic database, and as of today I own 87 comics that are branded as either lead ins or tie ins to the Secret Invasion event. That doesn’t include the Spider-Man Brand New Day mini or the New Warriors issues, all of which I plan to pick up in bargain bins at cons next year. That’s a lot of comics and a lot of money spent over the past year. So was it worth it? Was it worth $300 plus (cover price wise) of comics to tell this one story? Yes. I think that when you take all of this together, you have a massive, sweeping epic that touched nearly every corner of the Marvel Universe (except that wacky Daredevil) in some way. You see the ambition of the Skrulls. You see a race that has been the butt of everyone’s jokes. They’ve been decimated by Galactus and the Annihilation Wave. They’ve been played for fools by the Illuminati and the Kree. They’re the whipping boys of the universe. So they took one last shot. They made it a grand scheme. They planned for decades. They took the necessary precautions to make things go as smoothly as possible. They started replacing people slowly to allow for attacks from both inside and out. Then they attacked everywhere and everyone all at once. And at the beginning, it was looking pretty good. We saw heroes being beaten down in the US and Britain. In Wakanda and on the moon. The Skrulls were winning; they had finally done it. But then you started to see the cracks form. Brian Braddock returning to stop them from taking control of the world’s magic. A sneak attack in San Francisco from the X-Men. Hercules and his God Squad taking out their god. Black Panther and Storm sending them a deadly message. The Inhumans taking their revenge. It all unraveled in the way the Roman Empire did. The Skrulls spread themselves too thin and didn’t have the requisite forces to take everything down individually. Of course, this was their only real choice in the matter, because if everyone had banded together to take them out, they knew they couldn’t win (and indeed, they didn’t when it came down to that). This was the story of a last ditch effort from a broken down and endangered race biting off more than it could chew.

I read so many great books in the last year that came out of Secret Invasion. I was introduced to Norman Osborne’s crazy and dysfunctional Thunderbolts (which led me to pick up the Ellis run in back issues). I saw Black Panther kick unholy amounts of ass. I saw Hercules and Amadeus Cho put together a kind of dirty dozen team of gods. I saw the Inhumans band together and reinforce their familial bonds in the face of grave and total danger. I saw a new team take shape in Britain. I saw the history of the Invasion and just how deep the beliefs of the Skrulls ran.  Some of it was fantastic. Very little of it was bad (thanks, Larry Stroman). But most of it was great. These were such good books. They all had their stories to tell, and they told them in engaging and fascinating ways. There is SO MUCH to this event that most people won’t see. And hell, I can’t blame them. It was an extreme monetary investment. And I can also see how your average comic fan that just read the eight issue mini would be let down. Bendis just scratched the surface. It was really all he could do with the pages with which he had to work. Nobody’s wrong here. And as I said before, I have difficulty commenting on just the main mini, because when I read an issue, I have all the tie ins in the back of my head. So I see the fall of Tony Stark and the rise and Norman Osborne as the culmination of months of Thunderbolts issues instead of a few pages in Secret Invasion. I know what everyone outside of New York and the Savage Land put on the line to give Earth a chance against the invading horde.

And I know that I’m super excited for the potential of what could happen in Dark Reign. Paging through the little Previews booklet, all I could see was stories that I wanted to read. I don’t want to buy these things because I’m a fevered collector and I have to get everything. I want to buy these books because the stories look extremely interesting to me. Who are the Dark Avengers? What the hell is Scarlet Witch doing in those Mighty Avengers issues? Who is the new lineup of the Thunderbolts? Just what is Emma Frost’s part in the “Evil Illuminati” going to be? I’ll give you a hint: SHE’S NOT EVIL. Where’s Marvel Boy going to end up? This event did not play out in a way that I think anyone was expecting. But I made sure to keep an open mind and go with the flow, and I got a truly enjoyable and epic story that I will revisit time and time again.

So yeah. 1700 words later, it worked for me. Good show, Marvel.

Review: Avengers The Initiative Special

I’ve been a bit hot and cold on Avengers: The Initiative over its run. Arcs like the World War Hulk mini tie in and Killed in Action were pretty much full on excellent, but a couple of the one off moments and the Secret Invasion tie-in haven’t been tickling me the way some of the other issues did. Not sure why I ordered the Special, as I’m always a bit wary about these one off $4 specials, but I’m pretty sure I read the solicit and it sounded legit (i.e. not a couple pages or half story and a bunch of reprints or rushed supplemental material. You hear me random Hulk specials and Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?). It came in my DCBS box yesterday (and a depressingly sad box that only had about eight books in it. Sad times), and I read it a few minutes ago. Had to start writing about it immediately while it’s still fresh in my mind, because I was very impressed by the quality of this book. Like the main series, this was co-written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, with art by Steve Uy, who seems like I’ve seen his work before, though he doesn’t seem to have done work on the monthly as of yet. This is a story that is designed to not stand on its own, but instead to give a chance to step away from all the Skrully madness and focus on a couple of the characters from the first year of the book that have been lost in the shuffle. The main story brings us back to the relationship between Komodo and Hardball, and the backup is about Trauma. This is a 40 page book. And I’m not saying 40 page from the perspective that it’s 32 story pages. There are a full 40 pages of story here, which actually makes this thing a good value at $4 (considering the extra dollar gets you another 18 story pages). I may not have previously been aware of Steve Uy, but his art is relatively reminiscent of Caselli’s work. So the packaging is good. What about the story?

Remember that little one of splash of the Nevada and Arizona teams fighting Zzzax on a dam that showed up in one of the recent issues of the main book? That’s where this issue starts, as these new super teams (led by Gravity and Two Gun Kid) attempt to work together to try and take down that silly electromagnetic monster. Long story short, both teams get pretty well wrecked before Hardball and Komodo step in (Hardball operates out of Nevada, and Komodo is in Arizona), and proceed to use their combined powers to stop the threat. What follows is mostly a continuation of the Hardball/HYDRA storyline that we saw around the time of Killed in Action and the attack on Gauntlet, where we learn a bit of back story about Hardball and why he can’t seem to escape of the devious clutches of the particular HYDRA operative that has been using his services. Hardball finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place (HA! I kill me!), and is forced to make a decision between his family and the love of his life. Sure, it’s a bit of a cliched story point, but that doesn’t stop Gage and Slott from breathing new life into it via unlocking some of the back story of Komodo and Hardball. These are damaged people who aren’t exactly in the position to make good and well reasoned decisions when it comes to matters of the heart. Hardball loves his family. He obviously loves Komodo. And his life is on the line thanks to some good old fashioned HYDRA blackmailing. We get some espionage and back stabbing all around, which sets the stage for the final big battle of the story. But the crux of the story isn’t lost in all of the punching and explosions, and Hardball makes a hard choice (again! Boom!) that certainly heavily changes the status quo of his character. I’m trying to keep things vague (could you tell?), because I love the way that this story unfolds itself. It’s perfectly paced, keeping a nice ratio of action and quiet character moments, and the motives of Hardball make you completely buy what he does at the end of the story, despite the fact that it’s not exactly what you would expect. This story really reminds me of what I liked about The Initiative in that first year. We grew attached to these characters, and I’m glad to know that Slott and Gage have not forgotten and abandoned them (or at least given them more time than a quick cameo from Cloud 9 or something). This story feels like home. I hope that the creative team gets back to stories like this post Secret Invasion, and maybe leaves Camp Hammond behind for a bit to explore what happens to these characters in the real world.

The Trauma backup is shorter but no less good. I do like Trauma as a character, and I think the decision to turn him into a superhero therapist that helps them overcome their fears was a great choice for him. This backup is similar to the main story in that its thrust was to delve into Trauma’s back story. This is a quick eight pages about how much it sucks to have a power like that without the ability to control it. He alienates both friends and enemies in high school. He accidentally gets his mother committed. He has to hide from his family and is eventually forced to leave his home, at which point he has nowhere else to go but Camp Hammond. This backup mirrors the main story in another way, in that we’ve got a glimpse at the future of where this character can go in the future. There is one specifically excellent and haunting series of two panels that really pulls off what was needed to make you emphathize with Trauma (excellent work, Mr. Uy). Excellent work here again.

This book is more than worth the four bucks for fans of the series and the characters. It’s right up there with Swierczynski’s Orson Randall special as a wonderful one shot that features great work from everyone involved. Vigorous thumbs up over here.

Desiato Reviews Some Final Crisis Books

Final Crisis #4 (***1/2)


Best issue of the series to this point. Looks like most of the blatant silliness of the plot was setup, and we’ve now reached the meat of the story. Thus, I can sit back and really let the sense of dread wash over. It’s a more straightforward story that is now relying more on plot pieces from earlier issues than plot pieces from ealier generally unrelated comics. Now, something like utilizing The Ray for a good chunk of the book without any real discussion of who he is and why he should be important doesn’t really work for me, mostly because I don’t really have any initiative to dig deeper into the character. It didn’t take away from things as much this time around. But I really want to talk about DC and their attempts to publish this book. DC COMPLETELY dropped the ball on this series. We saw no issue in July, and no issue in September. There was a twelve week hap between issues three and four. Ostensibly, this was designed to allow for the tie ins to take cetner stage. But they couldn’t even do that right, with a book like Final Crisis: Submit, that is blatantly designed to bridge the third and fourth issues, being unable to come out in that twelve week gap. Putting those two books on the stands on the same day completely ruing the point of the skip month. Things came out in bunches, and DC didn’t try particularly hard to push these tie ins, which made it very easy to disconnect for folks (like me) that aren’t heavily entrenched in the series. Of course, the real reason for the skip month was to give JG Jones enough lead time to finish the series. And we all know by now that he won’t even have ANY work in the seventh issue. So if we believe what Morrison says about when he finished the script for issue one, JG had more than a year to work on this, and managed to get a total of three issues done on his own. Plus, issue five is being pushed back a week to the beginning of December. The funny thing about all of this is that I actually prefer the Jones/Pacheco team. I still don’t like the way Jones draws faces, so the Pacheco were way more enjoyable. Jones still does the big splash moments very well, but I’d rather have Pacheco than a rushed Jones doing the quieter moments. Final word: nothing in here particularly bothered me. The Darkseid stuff was good. The art was improved. It didn’t wow me completely, and I still don’t think it’s high art, but at least it’s gotten better.

Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns (****1/2)


See, this is the Geoff Johns that I like. Haven’t seen him in a while, but he’s back now. It’s also nice to know that this book proves I didn’t have to read the rest of Secret Origin, because the big characters are explained in a way that does not require prior knowledge (outside of things garnered from the series itself), and as someone that only read the first three issues of Secret Origin, I didn’t miss a thing. This is something I don’t get often from a Johns book. This issue really is what I love about Green Lantern. As others have mentioned, this book itself is very reminiscent of the Sinestro Corps War Special one shot, and even though I still contend that Secret Origin was a waste of seven months, but at least Johns is back on track. The Red Lanterns are certainly an over the top bunch of folks, what with the anger and the fire and the puking blood and such, but it fits with their MO. Shane Davis sure does make them come alive, and the fact that all the artists are working from Ethan Van Sciver’s original character designs leads to a nice sense of continuity. But beyond all the Red Lantern hysteria, you’ve got a second mini story following Hal Jordan. This is the first time we’ve seen Johns writing Hal in the present in a long time, but quite a bit has gone on in the Green Lantern Corps book during that time, so there’s a bit of a disconnect, but it’s not enough of one to ruin things. Doesn’t really have much of anything to do with Final Crisis other than time line constraints. Hal’s going to have to get back to Earth pretty soon so he can get framed and arrested. That little bit does strain on the credulity. But other than that, good stuff.

RAMPANT SPECULATION: Dark Reign

Haven’t done much on this blog for a long time. Blame Rock Band 2 and Fallout 3.

So we’re about a month and a half away from Dark Reign kicking off. And with the help of this week’s DCBS shipment, I’m not only fairly confident about what it’s going to be, I’m also SUPER EXCITED about it. Let’s dig deep into what led me to the conclusions I’ve reached, and why they’ve got me so jazzed about the post Secret Invasion Marvel Universe. For a while now, an image has existed (I believe it was shown at one of the Marvel panels during con season) that consisted of a picture of six characters that Brian Michael Bendis (through various interviews/podcasts) referred to as the “Evil Illuminati.” About a month or so ago, a website (I believe it was IGN) confirmed that the image in question was going to be a cover for one of the kick off Dark Reign books (it was either Secret Invasion: Dark Reign or Dark Reign: New Nation). The image itself is a play on the cover of New Avengers: Illuminati #1, featuring six characters of less than perfect morals. Four of them (Dr. Doom, Namor, the female incarnation of Loki, and The Hood) are clearly defined and easy to recognize. The other two are a bit more vague. They seem to be Emma Frost and Norman Osborne. Reasons for this speculation will be forthcoming. These six characters were obviously chosen for a reason, and I’m quite confident that we’re looking at the new leadership of the Marvel Universe. But this won’t be like the Illuminati, as there will be no hiding or subterfuge with these folks. They’re going to be out in the open, and they’re going to have all the power. Let’s look at where these “villains” are at this time, and find out what they have been doing and where they’ll be after the Skrulls are kicked off the planet (and they will be kicked off the planet).

Dr. Doom – Last seen being captured by the Mighty Avengers and escaping from The Raft during the attack on Starktech by the Skrulls, Dr. Doom is the King of Latveria and one of the most intelligent humans in the universe. I would not be surprised if the devastation of the invasion leads to Doom expanding his territory to much of Eastern Europe.

Namor – Currently running around in The Incredible Hercules’ Love and War arc, Namor recently once again aligned himself with Dr. Doom after an attack on Atlantis that left much of the city-state devastated. He is lord of the seas, and sovereign over 70% of the world.

Loki – Since being reborn in female form by Thor, Loki has been slowly gathering power in Asgard through manipulation of Balder, who has been recently revealed to be Odin’s son, Thor’s brother and rightful equal heir of Asgard. She will soon completely seize power over Asgard, and will rule some of the most powerful gods on Earth.

The Hood – He’s taken his merry band of villains straight to the front line of the battle at Central Park, but the big piece of the puzzle for The Hood was revealed in New Avengers #46. The oft manifested demon entity has turned out to be the Dread Dormammu, who has pledged to unlock the secrets of the Dark Dimension. Dark Reign. Dark Avengers. The Hood and his gang are going to be the Dark Avengers. A twisted conception of The Thunderbolts. He will control the streets, and he (alongside Dormammu) will rule the mystical realms.

Emma Frost – I thought for a while that this person could have been Courtney Ross of the Hellfire Club, but I’m pretty sure there’s an X on her chest (although Miss Ross was a member of Excalibur, so it doesn’t completely preclude her), so I’m going with Emma. Emma’s importance to the X-Men has been steadily growing since Morrison’s New X-Men, to the point that she is basically on the same level as Cyclops as co-leader of the X-Men. I stopped reading Uncanny, so I’m not completely up to date with what Emma is doing right now. I think this is an example of a character that is not currently evil being grouped in with the rest of the evil folks due to her reputation back from the Hellfire Club days. I think she’ll become the true power/leader of the X-Men, but not necessarily turn evil. She will be the leader of the mutants.

Norman Osborne – He’s the hardest to make out in the image (some have thought it could be the Purple Man), but it’s got to be Osborne. You read Thunderbolts #124 and #125, Deadpool #3, and Secret Invasion #7 (and from what I’ve heard, Spider-Man’s New Ways to Die arc), and the one thing you see is the rising importance of Norman Osborne. He’s hailed as the conquering hero when the Thunderbolts beat back the Skrulls in Washington DC. He’s praised for his courage when Iron Man flees the scene during the Central Park battle while he stands tall. He might have had something to do with the death of Queen Veranke due to the end of Deadpool #3. He’s everywhere, and everyone to a man in the US government is falling head over heels for him. Prepare yourselves for Norman Osborne, Director of SHIELD.

So here’s how I think it goes down. During the Invasion, Doom is working with Namor to secretly marshall forces in and around Latveria and Atlantis. Once the Skrulls retreat, he expands his sphere of influence outward. While the battle at Central Park rages on, Loki takes the opportunity to seize power over Asgard thanks to Thor’s absence. The Skrulls are defeated, and the American people are led to believe that the true heroes of the battle are two bands of reformed crooks, Norman Osborne’s Thunderbolts and The Hood’s gang (the soon to be christened Dark Avengers). Norman Osborne is named Director of SHIELD due to his valor, and Iron Man is forced to go on the run with the New Avengers. With SHIELD destabilized and Asgard under Loki’s sway, Captain America and Thor are also forced to go underground and join the New Avengers (alongside Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors), only to be dogged at every turn by The Hood’s mystically powered, cape killing Dark Avengers, who are being mandated by Norman Osborne. Doom and Namor throw the support of Latveria and Atlantis behind these new leaders, mostly in an attempt to gain their trust in order to take everything for himself further down the line. Loki makes a similar compact with similar aspirations for future conquest. Emma Frost sees the danger and power of this new ruling class, and decides to throw her support behind the regime in order to preserve the endangered mutant race. Suddenly, up is down, the villains are in complete control, and we have ourselves a Dark Reign.

Well, at least that’s what I’d do…

Review: Secret Invasion #7

I have about an hour before I leave for an interview, so now’s as good a time as any to comment on the latest issue of Secret Invasion.

We knew going in based on the last pages of issue 6 (as well as the last page of Front Line #4, which I thought was a very nice continuity moment) that this thing would pretty much be all fighting, all the time. And that’s basically what it was. It makes you wonder if Bendis felt bad about making Leinil Yu draw as many characters as he had to in this book. Between nearly every New York based Marvel hero on Earth (and a lot of villains too) and the gaggle of Super Skrulls duking it out in every panel of every page, it’s a hell of a sight to behold. Yu manages to keep the foreground character detail pretty darned consistent, and to my eyes the art did not seem rushed or sub par. They may have shipped a week or so late from time to time on a couple of these issues, but the artwork has been astounding considering that the book has remained on schedule for all intents and purposes. I’m going to list some of my favorite moments bullet point style (while keeping as vague as I possibly can), as there isn’t a whole lot to talk about from a meaty plot perspective:

  • The Thunderbolts remain some of my favorite characters in all of comics right now; there were some great moments with Norman Osborne and Bullseye just adding to the mayhem.
  • I love the sequentials of the double page panels during the assault on Skrull Hank Pym.
  • Stature is kind of a badass. There’s a really great image of her punching out Skrull Galactus in the shadow of The Watcher.
  • Jessica Jones dropping everything to enter the fray? Awesome. Leaving her baby with Jarvis Skrull? Well, that can’t be good (apparently he made it out of that helicarrier explosion)
  • Woo! Marvel Boy come to save the day! (You’ll hear more about this when I get a chance to talk about Mighty Avengers #19)
  • Clint taking up Kate Bishop’s bow and doing exactly what he promised at the end of SI #5. This is another example of Yu doing stellar work.
  • Of course, the issue ends with Janet Van Dyne’s comeuppance. I don’t know exactly what it means (or exactly what’s going on with her, for that matter), but it’s a great play off a one off moment during the first arc of Mighty Avengers. Is she going to be the subject of Secret Invasion: Requiem? Possibly, but she’s still alive and kicking at the end of the issue, so who knows?

This issue served better to spotlight Yu than Bendis. Bendis did his standard good work with some solid dialogue, but this was not the type of issue where you really feel Bendis’ voice come through. That’s not really a bad thing, as an issue like this really had to happen in order to set up the end game, and Yu’s artwork is so fantastic and enriching that it just makes the book work really well.

Some Quick Reviews

I’m working on a series of articles about The Sentry right now that has been taking up the majority of my time. First article is nearly finished, but I ended up getting side tracked by an essay I decided to write about dreams and reality that I’ll probably post on Alpha Primitive in the next few days. I’m hoping to get a Trade Secrets out about the Marvel Knights Sentry run by the end of the weekend, provided that the potential arrival of my books on Friday (crossing my fingers, UPS) doesn’t side track things further. I’ve done a ton of writing in the last week; I just need to finish what I start. I did end up going to the comic shop today and read a few of the books I bought, so it seemed like a good idea to throw up some reviews and keep things rolling.

Fables #77 (****)

Ah, this is more like it. Not sure why Pepoy is inking this one instead of Leialoha (especially considering the cover image I pulled from ComicbookDB lists him instead of Pepoy, but the cover I have on hand is correct), but Buckingham is back and things are moving again. This is part one of The Dark Ages, and it follows multiple story lines dealing with the power vacuum in the Homelands now that the Adversary is no longer in control of things. Much of it concerns two new characters, mercenaries in the land of Tiabrut that are just trying to get on with their lives by killing some folks and earning some money in classic mercenary fashion. We don’t get a lot of heavy character development for these two, but judging from the cliffhanger at the end of the main story, these guys are going to be very important for the continuation of this first new story arc in post-war Fables. Elsewhere we see some second generation Fables demanding to take up arms and claim one of the Homelands for themselves, only to be shot down by Beauty and Beast. This is another thread I expect to pay off later on in the arc, and it might not go by without some violence. Plus, Rose Red is doing something that is not going to be taken very well by anyone who has been reading the series since its inception. In addition to the wicked cliffhanger, we’re treated to a backup story with art by Peter Gross that focuses on how Bigby is handling hid position as the director of the Homeland Recovery program that appears to be a little five issue backup run that one assumes will be printed concurrently with the Dark Ages storyline (and as such, I’m assuming this will be a five issue arc, as there is no mention of a specific number on the title page and I’m too lazy to look up the solicits). This is a classic first issue. Many threads are established (the mercs, the SOS, Rose Red, Bigby, etc.), and they’re all going to pay off and intertwine as we move on. What’s important is these threads are a lot more interesting than what we got in the last issue, and I’m engaged again. What’s more important than that? One thing’s for sure though, I am very glad that I decided to switch to singles on this book.

Superman/Batman #51 & 52 (*****)

I’ve heard so much good about these issues both from folks on this blog and various podcasts, I felt the need to pick them up the next time I ventured to a comic shop. And I did. And I am not disappointed. These issues had the kind of berserk energy that I would expect from a crazy Mxyzptlk story. I do not have a whole lot to say that Billy didn’t cover in both of his reviews; he did an excellent job pointing out all the good that happened in this arc. It’s got that wonderful mix of playfulness, youthful exuberance and bizarre non sequitur, but Green and Johnson are not afraid to undercut everything with what happens once that innocence is lost right in front of your eyes. This is the subject of the second half of the second issue, and the book is completely successful in getting that stomach punch moment as you see these super kids realizing just what death is. It’s a sobering prospect. Not sure what to make of the end. It was certainly apt for the story, but I don’t know if it’s going to have some crazy payoff further down the line. I HIGHLY recommend these issues to anyone. They’re great fun and professionally put together.

Secret Invasion 12B: The Rest!

New Avengers #45 (**)

House of M was the first Marvel book I ever read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s safe to say that I was looking forward to this one, especially the way that the last three or four issues of New Avengers had the little “Next! House of M!” icon at the bottom of the last page. Well, we finally got it. However, I was kinda let down by this one. There was a moment earlier in the Avengers Secret Invasion tie-ins that mentioned three things the Skrulls needed to happen to ease the pressure on their invasion. They needed Nick Fury gone, they needed the mutants in check, and they needed the heroes not to trust each other. Of course, these three necessary components take the form of Secret War, House of M, and Civil War. So you have the presupposition that the Skrulls had something to do with these events. But really, they just got lucky. These events all happened in rapid succession and as far as we can tell, the advance scouts and sleeper agents just happened to be there when they happened. I know this does sorta feed into the notion that this does reinforce to the Skrulls that the invasion was in fact prophesized, and I know that retcons are a bit of a taboo for fans these days, especially when they’re done to events that happened so recently, but Bendis wrote Secret War and House of M. He’s been planning Secret Invasion since Avengers: Disassembled. So why not take the plunge and make the Skrulls more than bystanders? It’s his story! He can make it work. This book just seemed like a great missed opportunity. I find that saddening especially since Jim Cheung was on the art for this book and his gorgeous work was wasted on a middling book. This one was a misfire.

Mighty Avengers #18 (****)

I don’t have a lot to say about this one (you’ll notice a bit of a theme for that, but I’ll discuss that at the end of this article). I do love the way Bendis writes Nick Fury. Mighty Avengers 12 and 13 were really fun, and I’m glad they went back to this portion of the back story. Sure, it’s designed to further flesh out the characters before the launch of Secret Warriors, but it’s a good little one off story that also builds up Maria Hill a little further, which I always appreciate. All the Secret Warriors are fun characters. Bick Fury is the badass he should be. It’s just a great book, and it makes me excited for Secret Warriors, so it was a success from that perspective.

Avengers: The Initiative #17 (***1/2)

I like Eric O’Grady. I should probably read the Kirkman issues. I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this one either. The overt actions of the Skrulls were a little sill, but I like the way they’re smart enough to realize that they need to mkake sure Spider-Woman is protected. It’s also possible that the use of Jessica Drew dupes came as a response to Maria Hill’s little LMD ambush on the Helicarrier, which is a nice touch (if one that may be completely fabricated in my own mind). Plus you’ve got that little Mutant X semi reveal that was a bit weird. Sure seems to me that they’re trying to intimate that Mutant X is Jean Grey. Which means it’s probably Madelyn Pryor. Or someone else that has long, flowing red hair. That was a bit strange. This was a good, if middling, read.

Secret Invasion: Thor #2 (***)

I don’t get the same sense of energy in this book compared to the Fraction one shots. Obviously, it’s not going to read like the JMS book, and the Thor that we see in the JMS book is different from the Thor that we saw in those first two one shots, but that’s not the problem. Even still, this book just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s Beta Ray Bill, but I don’t have a problem with the character or particularly how he’s written. I guess it might be the way Fraction cuts between the battle at Asgard and the child birth scenes in nearby Broxton, Oklahoma, but I don’t necessarily hate the device. Perhaps it’s the execution. I also wonder if I would like this more had the two Fraction/Zircher one shots not come out yet. They created a quality expectation for any Fraction penned Thor book, and these first two issues haven’t lived up to that. The third issue shows some potential promise with some possible Thor/Beta Ray Bill team-up action. Hoping this will pick up and turn into something worthwhile.

Deadpool #2 (****1/2)

Complete madness. Deadpool training Super Skrulls is a recipe for disaster. HILARIOUS disaster! We’ve got a lot of nice moments in the course of this book, including the realization that Deadpool’s DNA replication not only grants his impressive healing factor on these new Super Skrulls, but also his complete mental imbalance (and presumably his penchant for breaking the fourth wall). Deadpool wreaks havoc on the Skrulls and basically ruins an entire batch of Super Skrulls (who had already killed a completely separate batch of Super Skrulls as a “training exercise”) singlehandedly. Of course, we find out at the end that this was planned by Nick Fury from the beginning, and all is right with the world. The humor is still there and solidly done. Personally, I still prefer Nicieza’s humor over Way’s thus far, but he still brings the funny well enough. And it’s perfect acceptable for a Deadpool book. It’s a positive start to the series and I’m looking forward to the continuation of the book.

War Machine: Weapon of SHIELD #33 (***)

I’ve gotten a bunch of the Iron Man: Director of SHIELD issues, mostly for 25-50 cents apiece at various cons or Wild Pig sdales. Haven’t actually read any of them yet, but this one is a Secret Invasion book and War Machine has officially taken the title over, so it’s as good a time as any to start reading the book, especially considering the book is ending in a few scant months to be replaced b a Greg Pak War Machine book. So was it good? I guess. Christos Gage wrote this one, and it doesn’t exactly have the same flair that he puts into, oh…I don’t know…let’s say THUNDERBOLTS (Woo! Thunderbolts!). It’s a pretty good book; nothing about it is bad or painful, but it’s just okay. I didn’t get much out of this, and it’s one of the few tie-ins that didn’t add too much to the worldwide scope of Secret Invasion. Not necessary to be read, but it’s okay.

——-

So here’s the deal. I’m getting really burned out by the whole capsule review thing. Not really sure how to fix that, but I think I’m going to take some time to try and find a topic I can write about that isn’t a review or tied to any specific book. It’s been too long since the whole aborted look at the nature of various event structures to go back to that one (yeah, I know. Lame), so I’m really looking for something along the lines of the “In Defense of Civil War 7” article I wrote about six months back. Hopefully, the inspiration will strike me soon enough.

Secret Invasion Part 12A

Secret Invasion: Inhumans (****1/2)

I must say that Pokaski has a very good feel for these characters. Crystal making a gigantic stone Black Bolt golem to fight the Skrulls? Fantastic. All the Inhumans are written well in a believable fashion, and you still get the different sense of how this royal family acts in comparison to a standard superhero team. Loyalty above all else is the name of the game. So it’s not even a question that Gorgon would protect Maximus despite his hatred for the man. I should also mention that the Inhumans’ methods for torturing a captive Skrull in attempts to discern the location of Black Bolt was a perfectly ingenius way to go about their business. We’re continuing to learn of the overall plans of the Skrulls as relates to Mr. Boltagon, and it’s not going to be pretty. This is a great series so far, and Joe Pokaski eally does seem to have a future in print media.

Nova #17 (****1/2)

Nova has returned home. Most of the events of this issue take place at the home base of Project PEGASUS, wherein Richard Rider, his brother Robbie and Darkhawk try to beat back the Skrulls from intercepting some seriously dangerous tech. The three characters engage in quite a lot of wisecracking (including a nice shot at the cliche of heroes attacking each other before realizing they’re on the same side) and we’ve got the return (in a way) of the Xandarian Worldmind. But the best moment of the entire issues comes on the last page, where we have a big (from my perspective) return that makes perfect sense, considering that character originally met his end early on in the Nova book (hint, hint…It’s Quasar!). Great reveal that was truly well executed and logical, and it sets up a lot of interest for the rest of the arc and potentially beyond, provided that he’s going to stick around. I love this book. But you already knew that.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 (***1/2)

Drax gets his Wolverine in the sewers of the Hellfire Club moment here, as he skulks around eviscerating Luminals for a good portion of the book. This issue has a bit of middle chapter syndrome going on; things happen and the story continues to move, but not a lot of it grabbed me. The Drax stuff was fun, but as I mentioned, we’ve seen it before. A lot. There is a big reveal involving Cosmo that was a nice moment, and I did enjoy the way Adam Warlock discovered the traitorous dog with a nice continuation of the work being done in the Marvel Universe with the Eternals and the Celestials. I am also looking forward to the litany of “I told you sos” and overall smugness of Rocket Raccoon over the next couple issues once he finds out about Cosmo. This was a good issue, but nothing special.

Black Panther #41 (*****)

Well, there was certainly an unholy amount of badass in this three issue run. There are so many great moments in this issue, from the reveal of what was actually going on with Black Panther and Storm to the final fate of the Skrulls. But like the rest of the issues, the real star of the book is Commander K’vv, the man that is running the Wakandan portion of the invasion. There is a running theme in the book of K’vvr struggling to figure out how to write a letter to his wife, and the final portion of the book is set to the narrative of the letter itself (this is, of course, going on after his bloody and violent end at the hands of the protagonists) with these stark pages of dead Skrulls and blood alongside the cheering Wakandans. The way Aaron wrote these issues is very sympathetic to the Skrulls, despite the fact that they are the invading force and should really be the villains of the piece. It’s that little extra oomph that pushes this book over the top. The characterization of K’vvr is excellent, and the final letter is a very sobering series of panels. These are overall probably the best issues to come out of the Secret Invasion event. I probably liked the Hercules issues more, but they were not as accessible as what we have her. I recommend that everyone out there read these books. You will not be disappointed.

Thunderbolts #124 (*****)

I love what Christos Gage is doing with these characters. I should have started reading this book earlier. How long has it been this good? Every single person in this book and on this team is certifiably insane. And all of it is tempered by the strange sense of twisted honor that many of these characters feel. Many of them are legitimately trying to do good works, but have to deal with what simply boils down to mental illness, and at the same time, you’ve got characters like Bullseye and Venom right next to them that only care about killing and survival. The interactions between Norman Osborne and Moonstone are awesome. Songbird, Radioactive Man, the Swordsman duo, Penance, it’s all great. I don’t know if I have more fun reading any Marvel book other than Thunderbolts right now. Awesome stuff.

Desiato’s Rainy Sunday Reviews, Part 2

Angel: After the Fall #12 (****1/2)

Sons of bitches. I just dropped the damned book, and these bastards go and come out with an issue that’s really good. Perhaps I should have seen this coming. I am staring at a Murphy’s Law poster while I write this, after all. For every issue that didn’t capitalize on the potential of the characters or plot, you get something like this where everything clicks and you’re reading an excellent instance of a comic book. Every question brought up in the first eleven issues of this book is answered. It all fits too. The entire series turns a huge corner, and we now have more of a sense of where we’re headed and why. Franted, the art is still not to my liking, and Wesley is very much in the role of Dr. Exposition during much of the issue. There’s a lot of story to cover here. Maybe there might have been better ways to go about disseminating the necessary information, but the device used works, and only the most impatient reader would grow tired of the amount of text. This issue very well might have renewed my faith in IDW’s handing of Angel, and I might have to keep getting it, as much as it bewilders me to say that.

Invincible Iron Man #5 (****)

The ending of this book is right out of the book of comic cliffhanger cliche. It’s one of those little moments that makes you love the medium. The rest of the book is no slouch too. Fraction obviously has a handle on Zeke Stane, considering he created the character, but his use of tony Stark has been excellent as well. This truly is Iron Man the hero, and it’s practically the only place you can really get that right now (though I surmise that things will change post Secret Invasion). Obviously, this book is perfect for those that are coming in to the Iron Man books from the movie; the first storyline is basically the generational sequel to the Iron Monger storyline that was covered in its own way in the film. It’s good stuff. Fraction can definitely navigate his way through the mix of political intrigue and terrorism that is the cornerstone of Zeke Stane’s attacks on Starktech. The art is still a bit of a sore point, as it’s tough to completely suspend disbelief when Stane’s face is modeled after Brian Michael Bendis. But Larocca does draw the armor and the action well, so I can roll with the punches.

Green Lantern Corps #28 (****)

I do love these issues so very much. Between the Ringquest arc and the current Eye of the Beholder issues, Pete Tomasi has been doing an excellent job keeping the momentum leading into Blackest Night strong while Johns is wasting his time on Secret Origin. I am a bit surprised that Tomasi wrapped up this story in two issues, and there’s a bit of compression here in order to allow for the book to reach its conclusion. I think we probably could have benefitted from one more issue in order to flesh out the main villain of the piece. He’s introduced and captured all in the span of one issue, which gives the impression that we’re basically dealing with fodder. Sick and sadistic fodder with a pretty big body count, but fodder nonetheless. Still, there are a lot of good quiet moments with the Lanterns, and it’s a good installment of my favorite DC ongoing.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 18 (**)

I’m liking this arc less and less as it goes on. I’m not really enjoying the future Fray universe; it’s quite possible though that this is because I haven’t read the original Fray story. Still, the future moments aren’t sticking. The little dialogue quirks grate on me from time to time, and nothing about the story grabs me in a significant way. It’s a bit scattershot. I’m also not too jazzed about the present day story line with Dawn and Xander. It’s alright, but this issue just felt ephemeral. This isn’t a bad book or anything; it’s just not good.

Eternals #4 (****)

Still digging this book, and that’s predominantly because of the Makkari story line. The backstory of the Eternals, Celestials and Deviants was a highlight of Gaiman’s mini, and while the branched dialogue of the Celestial can be silly/unnecessary (see what I did there?) at times, the story being told is the big show. The other story lines going on are also entertaining, but Makkari’s world building and mythos establishing travels create that sense of wonder that hearkens right back to Kirby. It’s just another testament to the quality of the middle tier Marvel books. You’ve got the flashy Avengers books and Amazing Spider-Man and the X books, but right under the surface are books like this, the cosmic suite, Incredible Hercules, The Twelve and so on. It’s the main reason why I love Marvel as much as I do. And the Eternals are wicked cool characters that are becomiung deeply established in the Marvel U. The Knaufs are doing well and Acuna’s art does the job and brings forth the otherworldly feel that the Eternals should have as citizens of Earth that are wholly separate from humans.

Punisher War Journal #23 (**)

So the Jigsaw arc is finally over. It never really felt right outside of the penultimate issue. I do like the idea of GW Bridge and his merry band of hottie assassins. Plus, the Lady Punisher set up was a nice one. But Punisher and Jigsaw didn’t ever sound right, and when your two main characters are off base, it’s going to be tough to make things work. Let’s hope they get everything sussed out in time for the Secret Invasion tie in. If it’s anywhere as good as the World War Hulk issue, we could be in for a treat.

Desiato’s Rainy Sunday Catch Up Reviews, Part 1

Crappy weather all over the Northeastern seaboard this weekend. It’s time to do some MAJOR catching up.

The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California (*****)

This is the best story to come out of the new Iron Fist mythos. It should be noted that I’m including the main Iron Fist series in that statement, which means that this book actually manages to outshine Fraction and Brubaker’s work on the character and the title. I never thought I’d find myself in a position to make a statement like that. But that’s how good this one shot is. Swierczynski takes the Orson Randall character and puts him exactly where he should be; a hot blooded noir tinged Hollywood at the end of the 1920’s. He proceeds to spin a yarn that effortlessly combines the Eastern sensibilities of the Iron Fist with the American culture of the early twentieth century. It’s a detective story in the good noir tradition, complete with everything kicked off by the voluptuous and mysterious woman coming out of nowhere to present her problems to the protagonist, who in turn can’t keep her our of his mind while he tries to focus on the task at hand. Of course, she’s not who she originally claims to be, and thus the mystery unfolds. Sure, it’s procedure, but things become procedure because they work. Which is not to say Swierczynski simply follows a script here and plays by the rules. Something as simple as naming the female lead Galatea (who is of course the name of the woman statue from the Greek Pygmallion myth) starts to pique the interest of the mind.

The most important part of any noirish book is the narration. It’s the only entrance you have into the story and the main character. The window into his thoughts. Duane is more than capable here, and his narrative captions move the story along swimmingly. The story itself twists and turns upon itself over and over as new details come to light and more characters enter the picture. You’ve also got that inevitable moment where the detective proves he’s a badass, which in this story is represented by Orson having a meeting with a film executive and using some pistachio shells to his advantage. Did we need to know Orson Randall is a badass? Not really; he is an Iron Fist after all, and the work done in the first arc of Immortal Iron Fist as well as the Fraction penned Green Mist of Death one shot certainly established the level of badassery at play when Orson Randall is around. In this case, however, Duane is specifically making sure that this book is perfectly accessible to anyone that might deign to pick it up. Truly, there’s not a whole lot of actual Iron Fist talk until later in the book, and Orson very rarely appears with his cowl early on. This is simply an awesome noir story that anyone can read. I gave it to one of my roommates that is a big noir fan, and while he may not have gotten as much out of it as those of us with a larger information base about the Iron Fist mythology, he still loved it.

The art is also excellent here, and the work of Giuseppe Camuncoli is very different than what we’ve become used to in the various and sundry Iron Fist books since the relaunch. It also follows the standard approach of using different art for different eras. With this being a standalone one shot, things work despite the different art style than what your average Iron Fist fan would be expecting. It more than gets the job done, and there are some beautiful sequences that show a strong grasp of sequential art. It enhances the story without being garish or jarring, and both halves of the book work in a wonderfully symbiotic fashion, which is exactly what you want from a comic.

This is a gorgeous book, and probably the best Marvel one shot I’ve ever read. If not for the mad power of Casanova #14, this book would be a strong candidate for my favorite single issue of the year. It’s super accessible, wonderfully written and wonderfully drawn. It is completely worth the four dollar cover price (which I did pay in full, as I managed to forget to order it from DCBS). EVERYONE should pick this book up, if not only to enjoy the story but to see a taste of what Duane Swierczynski is doing with Iron Fist post Fraction and Brubaker

Fables #76 (***)

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE FABLES SERIES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Still with me? Cool.

This kind of issue was probably necessary after the conclusion of War & Pieces. You had to have the moments that deal with Gepetto and his attempts to reacclimate himself with polite society after signing the Fabletown charter at the end of issue 75. And considering the art demands that faced Mark Buckingham during War & Pieces, it was as good of a time as any to spell him with pinch hitter Mike Allred. It’s also always been the case that the non-Buckingham issues have never been heavy on story progression. So we have a breath catching interlude to take care of things. This issue does not answer the question of “where is this series headed?” after the huge shake up of the Adversary being captured and brought into Fabletown, but that’s not something that had to be answered immediately. You have what is pretty much expected. Pinocchio and Beast take Gepetto out for a tour of the town, and the inhabitants of Fabletown aren’t exactly pleased with their newest resident. He is spit on, denied food, and generally reviled. No shock there. The only problem with this is the fact that it’s basically an auto pilot issue. Willingham doesn’t do anyhting big or spectacular, nor does he do a lot of character building that we haven’t seen before. The art is capable enough; this isn’t Mike Allred’s first go around in the Fables universe. It’s certainly a different style from Buckingham, and the only part of it that’s really jarring is Allred’s rendition of Pinocchio, which is completely different from Buckingham, even down to hair color. Even still, that’s not the kind of thing that’s going to ruin a book. All told, it’s an adequate installment of Fables. It’s not reaching for the stars and it’s not slumming. It’s just there.

Secret Invasion Part 11

Deadpool #1 (****)

It’s a good start. Basically continues the standard approach for Deadpool with the added wrinkle that he’s not got a second set of narrative captions that is arguing with the first. There’s obviously not a lot to the character. He’s not an essential piece of the Marvel Universe. He serves a purpose, which is basically to act as a humorous foil to what is going on in the books that may need a bit of levity. He’s very similar to Ambush Bug in that respect, both from the perspective of constantly breaking the fourth wall and lampooning the goings on of major continuity events. Here we have the Deadpool look at Secret Invasion. Basically, the Skrulls are forced to deal with another hero on Earth they didn’t count on. And someone as unpredictable and dangerous as Deadpool could easily unravel their plans simply by being himself. So the Skrulls throw everything at him and can’t take him down. But of course, this is Deadpool, so things aren’t going to play out the way you think, and you have a nice little crazy cliffhanger that is perfectly within Deadpool’s character. The humor is there, the art is good, Deadpool reads true and things are starting well.

Secret Invasion: X-Men #2 (***1/2)

This is the best X-Men storyline going on right now, and it’s mostly because of the side story involving Nightcrawler. He’s always been among my favorites of the Claremont Byrne X-Men, and I do enjoy the way Mike Carey uses Nightcrawler as a way to link the X-Men and the Skrulls as agents of change. Between the main book and the tie-ins, these may be the most well developed villains we’ve seen in comics in a long time. They combine excellent tactical skill with religious zealotry, which is certainly an odd and dangerous mix for an invading force. So even though the Skrulls were immediately caught by surprise without the knowledge that the X-Men had relocated to San Francisco, they still managed to gain the upper hand. It’s really only the appearance of X-Force that turns the tides. You’ve also got some nice moments with Emma and the Stepford Cuckoos. This isn’t high art, but it’s a good book with nice characterization.

Secret Invasion: Front Line #3 (****)

It’s a bit disappointing that this book has not yet touched on the Embrace Change movement, but the story being told is compelling in its own right, so it’s no bad thing. Front Line is such a good concept that everyone seems to bad mouth due to the last few issues of the Civil War installment. It’s good that Brian Reed is really focusing on the core of the book and looking at just how the average Joe would actually deal with the Skrulls’ largest invasion force dropping right over his head. This book continues the thread of multiple story lines, but these all comes together in the locked down Stark Tower that has the claustrophobic fear of a classic horror movie, where the aggressor stalks the populous in an enclosed area. This book just reads differently than the other SI books, and it’s always a refreshing cleanse of the pallet.

Secret Invasion: Young Avengers/Runaways #3 (****1/2)

As someone who has read little to no Young Avengers or Runaways books in the past, the biggest thing about this three issue series for me was learning about how charming these characters are. But that doesn’t mean that these issues were a simple flight of fancy. The story of Xavin and Hulkling continues and the tension within Xavin between loyalty to the true heir of the Skrulls and their current religious holy war outlook. I also quite enjoyed the continuation of Xavin’s back story in relation to the Skrull that taught him how to fight in the army, who of course shows up during the invasion for a confrontation. This isn’t the kind of book that is going to be necessary for the main story (unless they decide to make Hulkling a bigger part of the ending), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a three issue series of really good writing and art. It was more than worth the money, and both the wrapped SI minis thus far have been very enjoyable.

Ms. Marvel #30 (***)

We see what the hell happened in the Raft at the end of the issue, and it’s not exactly what I expected. It’s fascinating that the best and most powerful Super Skrull was actually created by HYDRA, and of course he’s completely and totally unstable to the point that his bloodlust is undeniable and unquenchable. The book ends up devolving into a long fight, which is a shame considering the potential here. Brian Reed probably should have done more with the concept here. Seems like he’s throwing more of his time into Front Line (just because it’s better), but that could be completely off base.

Secret Invasion #6

Yes, I’m alive, and yes, I’m for the most part settled in my new apartment. So I have a TON of catching up to do, and I’m going to try to do a lot of it today before Rock Band 2 comes out tomorrow and my free time no longer exists. I’ve also decided to for the most part stay away from plot points and look at this issue as a puzzle piece and how it fits into and affects the entire event.

We’ve entered Act 3. This event is not what most of us expected. Huge and sprawling, but not in the way we assumed would happen. The action is in the tie ins. But Secret Invasion’s main mini is not without its purpose. It’s obviously written from the perspective of Bendis’ own characters. Avengers and their outlying character bases. It’s pretty much his only option. He knows these characters. We know he knows these characters. It’s the best case scenario to write to your strengths. This way there is less of a chance that he’s going to step on the feet of other Marvel writers. Sure, the characters overlap, but that’s not something you can get around when you’re doing an event like this. There really aren’t a lot of characters here that Bendis hasn’t written before. You’ve got the Young Avengers and Runaways, the new Secret Warriors (which is a Bendis creation, so it’s not like he’s stepping outside his bounds here), and a couple people here and there that he hasn’t really touched upon. Two of those characters are the James Barnes version of Captain America and the post reboot Thor. So we get their confrontation, which was a heck of a lot of fun. It was also a beautifully rendered panel that showed the difference in stature between these two mighty heroes that are really new kids on the block that have been around in their current incarnations for ten issues or less (and I am SUPER IMPRESSED that this book hasn’t had lateness issues. Look at those last two spreads! Damn!). But Bendis doesn’t do a lot with them. We’re not looking at any kind of character development beats here. This is a huge fucking event where the entire Earth is at stake, and you’d damn well better believe that Cap and Thor are going to show up and do something about it, even if it boils down to throwing some shields and hammers, being a heroic presence and not doing much else. So they’re not the focus. Nick Fury is the focus. Jessica Drew Spider-Woman is the focus. And that feels genuine to me. It’s the new look of Marvel comics that Bendis has helped create.

Heroes versus Skrulls is arguably just as simple as an event like Civil War. But Civil War was for the most part a straightforward event from a character perspective. Cap versus Iron Man. Shiny heroes versus street level thugs. There was a unified voice on each end. That wasn’t the case for a good portion of the early part of Secret Invasion. The Skrulls certainly had a unified voice, and that voice was established as Queen Veranke/Spider-Woman and her religious holy war. The heroes did not have this unified voice. But now with issue six, we’ve finally got that unification. It took Nick Fury, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor to do it, but the folks of Earth are finally coming together. New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Thunderbolts, Young Avengers and Secret Warriors all banding together to fight back the alien invasion force. And this is how the book has turned. But the beautiful thing about it is the fact that considering the little things we’ve heard from Bendis and Marvel via previews and Word Balloon interviews and Retailer Summits and so on, it sure doesn’t seem likely that the heroes are going to come out of this one on top. We can postulate that the seventh issue battle could easily end on the side of the Skrulls, whether that is due to sheer overwhelming force or the possible wrinkle in the plan that is whatever is going on with Janet Van Dyne. But either way, I think change will be embraced, forcefully or willingly. And it’s a concept that can allow for a lot of growth, and has a ton of room for new stories and characters.

I wrote notes for this review last night after getting home at about 1 AM from the Allston bar Big City. So this review was a little scatterbrained and also somewhat influenced by alcohol. I wouldn’t call it my best effort, but things should hopefully get better the more settled in my new environment I am. New books will be arriving on Monday, so I’ll have reviews of that and some of the small press books I got at the Super Show in the coming hours/days/weeks.

CGS Super Show Thoughts

Yesterday I got back from a nice weekend in Reading, PA hanging out with geeks aplenty, spending money I shouldn’t have and generally enjoying the hell out of myself. Here’s some highlights.

I picked up a bunch of sketches, but decided that the ones I preordered simply weren’t enough. I added two Galactus sketches to my haul, one by Dave Wachter (www.davedrawscomics.com) and one by the artist behind the Mumblepuss webcomic (www.mumblepuss.com). I also got Ken and Buz from The Living Corpse (www.corpsecomic.com). Pictures of some of the sketches (because my scanner has kicked the bucket) will be at the bottom of this article, as well as on my own blog, Musings from The Alpha Primitive.

I bought stuff. I decided to get the Tori Amos Comic Book Tattoo anthology from Image, which is a whale of a book that could easily be described as a tome. The thing is nearly a foot wide and tall, and close to two inches thick. I’ve read parts of it, and it’s gorgeous. I also picked up a signed copy of the first Mousegard hardcover with a little sketch from David Peterson in it. Haven’t cracked that one open yet; I’ll probably wait until after the move.

Wild Pig Comics was also there with 48 feet of table space full of long boxes. I grabbed issues 2-5 of Trinity, some early issues of a few Marvel Classic Illustrated stuff to try them out (Iliad and Picture of Dorian Gray), as well as some other random stuff to fill in some recent holes. And all of it was fifty cents apiece. I would honestly say that one of the only things I’m going to miss after I move is the fact that I can’t easily make it to the twice annual Wild Pig sales in northern New Jersey.

I also sat in on my first podcast, as myself and my roommate were invited to join Ian Levenstein’s Super Show episode of Comic Timing. We talked about the show for about two hours, and there was a lot of guests and madness and drinking and laughing our heads off at one in the morning in a Days Inn hotel room in Wyomissing, PA. I also threw in a little plug for read/RANT at the end there. It’ll go up as episode 72, and knowing Ian’s posting habits, it might be up by October of 2012.

Charlito (co-host of Indie Spinner Rack) performed a fifteen minute musical about Peter and Bryan of CGS. I can’t really explain it, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to be the same again.

Many other things happened, but I’m not going to write about those things. It was a great time, and a hell of a lot more fun than Wizard World Philly, so by default it was the best con of the year for me, and I can’t wait for next year.

Now, on to the sketches!

Dave Wachter’s Galactus:

The Mumblepuss Galactus:

Ken and Buz’s Mar-Vell

Reviews: Secret Invasion Part 10B: The Avengers

As of tomorrow I’m off to the Comic Geek Speak Super Show (woop woop!) for the rest of the weekend. I’ll write up a report of what I saw and got there, and I’m very much looking forward to bumming around with about 300-400 crazy comic geeks and 50+ artists and picking up the sketches I preordered of random Marvel Cosmic characters (Thanos, Lockjaw, Karnak, Ronan the Accuser, and AIR-WALKER!). Hopefully I’ll have time to put up the final SI tie in part Sunday night or Monday, but things are going to get super crazy and busy next week with the move, so I might not be heard from in a while.

New Avengers #44 (****1/2)

This is definitely a novel way to deal with the problem of how the Skrulls learned to become undetectable. We’ve known the mechanics of what is done for some time (well, those of us that are reading New and Mighty Avengers do at least), but it was never adequately explained how the Skrulls came up with the idea in the first place. Turns out that they didn’t. This is the furthest back in time we’ve gone since New Avengers: Illuminati #1. In fact, this seems to take place hours/days/weeks after the events of that book, where we find out that one of the things the Skrulls did to the Illuminati while they were captured was to perfect a way to create flawless clones of the six Illuminati members. Why would they do such a thing? It’s simple: they can interrogate Reed Richards without actually interrogating Reed Richards. The entire Illuminati makes their appearances here (well, technically none of them do, but you know what I mean), but Reed is at the center of things here, as the Skrulls attempt to attack his mind from various avenues and perspectives. Of course, they eventually crack him, and Reed rationally surmises how the Skrulls could potentially elude detection, which leads to the eventual invasion however many years down the line.

So this is really the first time in the history of Marvel comics that the Skrulls come off as actually smart. It’s important to keep that thread alive considering their less than stellar track record, because this is easily a situation that could fall into the realm of an unimpressive threat. A book like this is what is needed to reinforce the ideals at the core of Secret Invasion that these aren’t the kind of Skrulls that are going to be hypnotized into thinking they’re cows. This book also puts Reed Richards at the absolute center of the entire event, because he’s the cause of it all. His getting captured along with the rest of the Illuminati gave the Skrulls the ammunition they needed to get the ball rolling. But at the same time, it’s not perfect. The Skrulls were successful in completing their objective, but it sure took a couple tries to get it done, which further explicates the cracks in the armor that Bendis and the other Marvel writers have been seeding into this event from month four on. The plan may have been perfectly realized, but the execution hasn’t. Looking at what happened between the panels in Secret Invasion 5, it’s quite apparent that Reed not only knows the “how” that led to their improved cloaking abilities, but he also knows what they did to him to get there. Reed’s not going to be happy. These books are so layered and satisfying that I just can’t get enough.

Mighty Avengers #17 (***1/2)

It seems Hank Pym is Bendis’ anti-Hawkeye, as he’s been doing a lot of work in Mighty Avengers to attempt to redeem the poor bastard, and that continues here. There are two kinds of Skrull agents on Earth during this event. The first kind is completely stripped of any memories, emotions or feelings that tie them to being a Skrull to the point that they’re completely convinced that they are who they look like. This would be the model used for the folks that crashed in the Savage Land, and is mostly designed for diversionary purposes. The second variety it designed for the higher ups of the infiltration force, and they still retain their own thoughts and feelings through the transformation process, which allows them to carry out specific objectives that would be impossible had they gone completely undercover. Look at Queen Veranke/Spider Woman and Jarvis as examples of this kind of Skrull. Hank Pym is the latter version. But these agents still go through the process of having their DNA melded with that of their “host” (as it were), and in so doing, it’s impossible not to pick up on some of the physical and mental traits that come with the territory. And in this case, Hank Pym is just too smart for his own good.

It’s a good concept, but the book is a bit choppier than usual. I think the fight in the middle is a bit overlong, but the conversations that pepper the beginning and the end, and the slowly building mix of paranoia, fear and dementia that grips the Pym Skrull before he goes off the deep end are something special. So you’ve got the dual purpose of the Skrulls knowing that the replacement of Hank Pym undeniably necessary for the success of their plans combined with the various Pym Skrulls always figuring out that the plan isn’t going to work, and you’re left with chaos. I would have liked it more if it were structured differently, but it was still a solid story.

Avengers: The Initiative #16 (***)

I like 3-D Man. Not too fond of the Skrull Kill Krew at this point. We’ve only seen one issue, and they do go into the back story of the SKK (which is a bit of a problem in itself, as the events that led to the Skrull Kill Krew being formed didn’t exactly jive with the events of the Kree Skrull War so many years before it, but there might have been some kind of explanation at some other point), and I certainly understand why they’ve been pulled into the universe, but Slott and Gage don’t really give us a reason to care about them. I still like the writing, and Caselli’s art is more than adequate, but there was definitely a disconnect here that took me out of the story.

Reviews: Secret Invasion Part 10A: The Secondary Characters

WAY too many books to review from this last shipment, so I’m going to split this up into three installments. After this one will come the Avengers books, followed by whatever’s left over.

Incredible Hercules #120 (*****)

I love the way that everything going on with the Eternals matters. The Dreaming Celestial is standing in the outskirts of San Francisco, and every book I’ve read that has involved San Francisco in some way have either explicitly mentioned his presence or at least shown him in the background of a panel (we’ve seen this in both Uncanny X-Men and this very book). Hell, the Eternals are all up in Hercules’ bidness, and I’m not just talking about Ajak being a member of the God Squad. Let’s put it this way: HE is not the Beyonder. HE is not anyone we’ve ever seen before. But the concept behind HE and who HE is caught me completely by surprise, but makes a whole lot of sense in a super awesome way. It’s not hard to make the claim that the Eternals are the true movers and shakers of the Marvel Universe right now. Not the Illuminati. Not Tony Stark. Not SHIELD or the Red Skull or any of these people. It’s groovy. And as a whole five issue arc that starts with the Eternals thinking Hercules is Gilgamesh and ends the way it does, this will stand as masterful comic work regardless of its affiliation with a major event going on at the same time.

This is a book that shows the true potential of a shared universe, because it brings in ideas completely alien to its original concept borrowed from other books that allow new avenues of storytelling to unite and divide. Stories like this are why we NEED these big earth shattering crossover events, whether we like them or not. Because it’s all about potential. And I’m not the type of person that’s just going to assume that it’s going to fail or not sync up because there’s no specific reason for it to do that. I don’t need these books to be validated by having their story threads show up in the main Secret Invasion title. Because I know there’s no room for it, and I’d rather Bendis focus on the story he wants to tell and pace it the way he wants to without having to worry about the added pressure of filling in the gaps or making sure everything gets mentioned. After reading this issue, I’m going to know exactly whom the Skrulls are referring to when they say “He loves you.” Do I care whether it’s mentioned there or not? Hell no! Because I have the information. I’ve been saying this from the beginning, but Secret Invasion as an event is too big not to have this many crossovers. Does it suck for those who don’t have the time or resources to read it all? Maybe. But I’ve read 67 Secret Invasion books (counting the Infiltration prologues), and all of them but one have been solid to great reads (sorry, X-Factor #33. Even though the rest of the arc was good, you still sucked). So what’s to complain about? Not a thing.

X-Factor #34 (***)

Does the art still suck? Pretty much. I know some people enjoy this Larry Stroman art because he’s basically the diametric opposite of the Greg Lands and Salvador Laroccas of the world, but I think there’s a breaking point when you can’t actually recognize characters easily. And when it gets in the way of actually being able to easily follow and enjoy the story, you’ve got a problem. But as for the book itself, we have the continuation of the X-Factor/She-Hulk/Secret Invasion Detroit series (which Nova actually gets sucked into a bit, but more on that later) with Jazinda and Nogor’s dealings with Darwin (the Talisman of the Skrull gods introduced in She-Hulk 31) at its center. We also get a little more of the new “Embrace Change” aspect of the series, as Nogor is convinced that Darwin is the evolutionary missing link between humans and Skrulls (the idea being that Darwin’s ability to adapt to any situation on the fly is not far removed from the Skrulls’ ability to shape shift to fit any situation), and he could be the one to unite them all. Of course, it doesn’t take, and Nogor is tied up and taken away (where is he taken? Why, She-Hulk #32, of course). I think Nogor is a wonderful premise and a fantastic character, and for that reason and that reason alone, I think these issues are well worth reading (though you can probably just skip X-Factor 33. You might be a little lost, but that issue is pretty painful).

Nova #16 (****)

Not as good as our Galactus storyline, but that’s a pretty high water mark to deal with, and a bit of a recession should be expected. Kl’rt enters the Secret Invasion scene here (took him long enough, eh?) and the results are not exactly what Nova would expect. There are some great moments afoot, however. I particularly enjoyed a little interaction where Nova is shocked and dismayed that the Skrulls disguise themselves as children in order to set a trap, and Kl’rt points out that when you’re a shapeshifter, subterfuge is really your only option. We also deal with the continuation of Nova coping without the Worldmind and how difficult it has become for him to do even the most mundane things due to his internal suit mechanics being the equivalent of a prerecorded customer service phone chain. There’s a lot of good here, and most of it comes from Kl’rt’s characterization as the grizzled veteran that’s been forgotten by the Skrull invasion forces, partly because he’s been busy with all these Annihilations that keep popping up and partly because he can’t win a fight to save his life. He’s the outmoded old tech that sits in a corner and rots. He’s the old Pentium 1 PC that’s been in your garage for fifteen years. But he still wants to be part of the action, and he needs to find his daughter. And that leads us to…

She-Hulk #32 (****)

Woo! Shared universes! Kl’rt shows up fresh from Nova to confront Jazinda in this issue, as we have more interactions with Nogor the Talisman, who is still written very well by Peter David. I just really like this character and the tension between his fate and the fate of the Skrull invaders. You threaten him and the Skrulls just might relent, thinking their plans are not ordained by the gods, but if you kill him, they’ll launch into such a religious fervor that they’d probably completely exterminate the human race. So She Hulk and Jazinda are stuck with this guy, and they can’t trust Tony Stark enough to let him deal with the problem. Kl’rt’s arrival really mucks up the works as well. These She Hulk issues have really shown the strength of a lot of these crossovers, in that we’re getting all kinds of ancillary benefits that there would never be room for in the main mini.