Bruce Castle Presents: Conan vs. Zombies! The Ultimate Showdown!

Ultimate Fantastic Four #59

Ultimate Fantastic Four #59 (***)

It’s depressing to read this book and write about it. This should’ve ended after Millar left. The story is average and the art is average. But I don’t blame the creative team much. This is another Ultimatum tie-in, but again you don’t have to read it. The only important thing that MIGHT happen next issue is that Johnny comes back. But who didn’t see that coming? This series is just wandering around waiting to die. The trigger is pulled next issue and sadly, I’ll be there.

Conan the Cimmerian #6

Conan the Cimmerian #6 (***1/2)

Wow! Not much happened, that’s a first for this book. This is one of those middle of the arc issues and for some reason, it’s taking place in the penultimate chapter. I don’t know why. It was still fine enough. Conan is back home. He sees his mom again. He spends some quality time with the girl he lost his virginity to. The stage is set for next issue. Even the Connacht story is mostly uneventful. Oh well, the writing and art is handled well enough that this didn’t bother me. And if I was reading this in trade, the fact that not much happened wouldn’t have even crossed my mind.

Walking Dead #56

Walking Dead #56 (****) SPOILERS!

Has it really been five years? Good job, Kirkman! Anyway, I called it. Maggie is alive, baby! I’m a little bumbed, but Kirkman made it work. That’s what this issue is about. What happens when people think Maggie is dead? Tensions rise between the new and old groups and we continue to explore Abraham’s character. The big reveal is something we pretty much guessed already. This issue isn’t bad of course, but I have to tell you something, right? Here, I’ll end on a positive note. The last issue came out three weeks ago! Keep the less than monthly schedule coming, Kirkman!

Bruce Castle Presents: Comic Tax

These are books I dread. I have to buy them, but they usually suck!

Uncanny X-Men #504

Uncanny X-Men #504 (***1/2)

Bring on the women! Bring on Terry and Rachael Dodson! Oh yeah! But in all seriousness, has Brubaker left this book? Is this is the end of Fracker?! I thought I read that Fraction was going to write the first three with Land and then Brubaker was going to write the next three with Dodson and so on. Brubaker and Fraction were credited writers are those first three issues, but Brubaker isn’t on there at all anymore. And come to think of it, Brubaker hasn’t talked about this book has he? Fraction seems to be doing all the interviews. So does anyone know what’s going on? Anyway, how was this issue? Let me break it down:

The Crap: Stop trying to be so original and edgy! Now you’re trying to gradually break up Scott and Emma?! You are not Morrison! Yes, Morrison’s run was awesome but let’s move on X writers! I won’t say that Morrison’s run is untouchable, but you certainly aren’t going to surpass him by building on or copying his stuff! Can’t Uncanny just be a lot of fun and leave the seriousness to Astonishing and even X-Force?

The Awesome: So many pretty women. Fraction definitely knows who his artists are. Terry and Rachael are masters of the cheesecake. I loved Scott’s mind. I would think his head would be boring but it was really intriguing. That Dr. Nemesis dude was pretty cool. And I will admit that the finale was interesting. I actually do care about what comes next.

Punisher War Journal #25

Punisher War Journal #25 (***1/2)

Wow this was actually good! Well, kind of. It finally has the Secret Invasion tag (It was absent last ish) which is funny because this one isn’t really about the Skrulls. Oh sure they’re there, but this story is really about Frank and Clarke. And I suppose that’s what Punisher War Journal was all about. With one issue left to go, we can finally realize that. Frank and Clarke hooked up in the first issue (I think) and they were buds. Then Frank killed Clarke’s girl due to that damn hate ray. So of course Clarke found out and amongst all the Skrull chaos this gets resolved, kind of. I did like this issue, but it’s a bit weird that probably the most important moment in the series takes place in a tie-in. Those new readers are going to be clueless. Anyway, this was a good issue that included emotionality, goofy Skrulls, and awesome sniper Skrulls. Even Chaykin did a good job, kind of. But that last page left a bad taste in my mouth. C’mon Fraction! One issue left! Make it good!

Ultimate Fantastic Four #58

Ultimate Fantastic Four #58 (***)

My God…UFF is readable again. Is that possible? I’m sorry Mike Carey fans but his run was horrible. Pokaski has the unenviable task of picking up the pieces and apparently dealing with the death of the series. Does that surprise anyone? Is anyone even reading this book anymore? Anyway, this is actually an Ultimatum tie-in, but you don’t need to read it. It’s just about what’s going on with Thing and Invisible Woman while Reed does his thing. Oh and Dr. Storm is dead I guess but Johnny is missing. Again, does that surprise anyone? Bottom line, this is an average issue and this series is really just waiting for the abattoir. But I do want to make one thing clear, Pokaski is a good writer. He makes the most of what he has and it will be interesting to see what he will do when he isn’t forced to write tie-ins.

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.

Bruce Castle Presents: Ultimates vs. Ultimates!

Ultimates 3 #5 (of 5) (Cover B - Robot Variant)

Ultimates 3 #5 (***1/2)

Yes, I liked this issue. I’m not so sure about the rest of this series since the first issue came out in December, but I think even the haters should give this a try. The March On Ultimatum tag has been on Ultimate books for a long time. Until recently, I didn’t have a clue what that event was going to be about. In this issue however, you can actually see what’s going down. If you were annoyed by all the Loeb mysteries, you’ll be pleased to know they’re all wrapped up nicely here. I can’t remember enough to tell if these twists were predictable or not, but I was entertained. I was even impressed when some of this stuff goes back to Ultimates 2. I was about to complain about how long it took for this series to finish, but I remembered a few things. Ultimates 2 took even longer to come out and this is Joe Mad we’re talking about, it’s a miracle the book took less than a year to finish. Speaking of Joe Mad, I like his art and it’s nice to see his work on some interiors. Everything resolves, the art is pretty, it’s entertaining, and the stage is set for Ultimatum.

Ultimate Fantastic Four Ultimate X-Men Annual #1 (****)

The fun continues. The art isn’t as pretty as the first part, but Nguyen and Peterson create passable work. It’s interesting how many people worked on just two issues. Two writers and four artists, seems a bit packed but that’s how the story is. This would easily be a six issue arc in the hands of less talented writers. The story is entertaining, but we’ve seen it many times before. So it works as only two issues long. It’ll be interesting to see if we’re looking at the post-Ultimatum Ultimate universe in this book. The story concludes leaving that a possibility, but probably not kind of thing. These annuals have proved to be entertaining What If type reads with some in-continuity growth of the characters, what’s better than that?

Ultimate Spider-Man #126 (***)

Please Bendis, write better. It’s very uncomfortable when USM isn’t good. Mediocrity may be as common as dirt in a lot of comics, but when you have a series where 80% of the issues are good-excellent things seem a bit off. The majority of this issue is the symbiote fighting people while Peter screams inside. It works as an attempt to make the fight scenes seem unique for a few pages, but after the fifth or sixth “HUUUNNNGGRRYYY!” and “No! Please!” I was bored. When you have an issue that relies so heavily on combat, the art needs to be great. I’m not a big fan of Immonen but he does produce good work here. Sadly, it’s not enough. However, the ending is intriguing and the fights are mildly enjoyable so I do recommend it. I just hope this book returns to the level of excellence that I know it’s capable of.

Bruce Castle Presents: Take Two Ultimates And Call Me In The Morning

Ultimate Origins #4 (**1/2)

Well, it pulled out of that downward spiral. In fact, this issue was even better than last. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough for me to recommend. This issue’s “reveal” was particularly lackluster. Ultimatum is coming, I get it. Stop talking about something big happening and actually show it please. Butch Guice’s art has been mediocre at times, but after looking at this issue, you can see that the man has talent. His renderings are probably the most impressive ingredient in Ultimate Origins. Sadly, this series has turned out to be a moderate retelling of well-known origins with an ultimate twist. Is that really worth your money?

Ultimate X-Men/Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual#1 (****)

Ah, another “people from a warped future come to the present” story. Isn’t that kind of boring now? Yes, but it can still be fun when done well. This comes from two Heroes writers, Joe Pokaski and Aron Coleite. They’re both fairly new to comics, but they’ve already become quite proficient. As I mentioned, this is one of those future yarns. We get to have some fun discovering what’s happened to all our favorite characters. Don’t worry. We still get to see plenty of the current ultimate heroes. They’re drawn wonderfully by Mark Brooks and Dan Panosian. Panosian is a name I’m not familiar with. I found his art to be quite pleasing though. He has a cartoonish style that I’m very fond of. Some more good news is that this issue may actually contain a clue as to what will occur in Ultimatum. Whether it does or not, this was an extremely entertaining read.

Bruce Castle Presents: Skrulls VS X-Men & Inhumans

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

We get more entertainment from the SI tie-in machine. This feels like a genuine invasion book that provides much merriment. What’s a perfect side dish for an invasion book? The X-Men should taste exquisite. You get to see how your favorite mutant crew handles the green meanies complete with some Cuckoos (Yay Morrison!) and some intriguing Nightcrawler business. Did I mention I have a soft spot for Cary Nord’s art? It’s not for everyone, but I really dig it. My only complaint is that this is a four issue mini instead of three. So, it’s not as tight as I’d like it to be, but that doesn’t detract much. If you’re looking for some good old fashioned alien squishing fun with a twist, pick this up.

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

I was about to write about how fun this comic is, but there was quite a bit of torture included. Even though torture is often seen as entertainment these days (cough…24…cough), I still find it a bit too unsettling to refer to this issue as “fun”. However, this is still entertaining. Tom Raney’s art still manages to impress (more historic stained glass windows yay!), we get to see the Inhumans kick plenty of Skrull ass, and Joe Pokaski presents a well-written and amusing Inhumans yarn. I just wish he would lay off the torture a bit (What? Do they tell TV writers that torture sells nowadays?).

Bruce Castle Presents: The Skrulls Get Around

Secret Invasion: Inhumans #1 (****)

This book should have come out a lot sooner. That’s really the only complaint I have about this. The two main things that a tie-in has to be concerned about is one: have something to do with the event it ties into and two: spend at least a little time introducing the characters because you want to bring new readers into your story. I know little about the Inhumans. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of their books before so all I know is their names and a little about their powers. Not only did this issue tell me who the Inhumans are, it did so in a very creative way through stain glass windows. This gave Tom Raney the opportunity to show his prowess as an artist. His Kirby-esque rendering in those windows is an artistic treat. The characters are written wonderfully and we get to know all of them quickly. But this is still a tie-in, and when the Skrulls do show up they kick some ass in cinematic fashion. Due to the great work from the creative team, SI Inhumans is worth the price of admission.

Secret Invasion: Thor #1 (****1/2)

If you haven’t been reading Thor Ages of Thunder from Matt Fraction, you really need to do yourself a favor and pick up those two issues. I have a friend who has been reading Thor for almost 30 years and he feels that Fraction has written the best Thor since Walt Simonson’s legendary run. So I was both excited and a bit nervous reading this because his other two issues of Thor were so good. But thankfully, this doesn’t disappoint. I’ll give a quick shout out to Doug Braithwaite who does the art on this fine issue. He brings us breathtaking images and genuinely godlike portrayals that leave you breathless. We get to see some cool things we rarely see like Donald Blake’s duties as a Doctor and of course the return of Beta Ray Bill which shows Fraction’s obvious affection towards the aforementioned Simonson run. The action was absent in this issue, but there was plenty of material to keep you entertained and the last page leaves you wanting more.

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

This was a hell of a first issue. I’ll first mention what drew me to this issue was Nord’s art. I’m a big Conan fan and since he’s off that book I have to get his pretty art anyway I can. So when I saw this I thought: X-Men, Skrulls, Nord art, and a pretty Dodson cover, I’m there! In addition to the glorious Nord art, I had quite a lot of fun with this issue. So the Skrulls invade San Francisco because remember, California was near defenseless until recently. The Skrulls land and start slaughtering until the X-Men arrive!  A lot of action ensues. So this is fun and has stunning art. What was interesting though is how serious the Skrulls were. They acted like they came right out of some bloody war. They had Skrully priests blessing the troops with the commander saying “These soldiers are saints already”. Who is this Skrull commander? He’s a pretty crazy character. He even refers to the Skrull invasion as a crusade. Oh and he executes another Skrull for messing up. The only thing that keeps this issue from being the best out of these tie-ins is the absence of an aforementioned tie-in ingredient. This isn’t a book for new readers at all. But if you like the X-Men, gorgeous art, and some extremely intriguing Skrulls, pick this up!

Review: Secret Invasion: Inhumans #1

So I was given the surprising opportunity to read SI Inhumans today before I get it in my DCBS Box on Friday (it’s certainly possible that it had something to do with my bitching to everyone within earshot about the agony of having to wait TWO WHOLE DAYS!!!!!! in order to read the thing), and I read through it while I was at work. There was a hell of a lot of anticipation on my end. I think if you had to create a pecking order for my favorite characters in comics, the Inhumans run a close second behind Galactus and his Heralds, with a personal affinity specifically engendered for the Royal Family, as you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting and diverse group of folks under one roof. I have literally liked every story I have ever read about the Inhumans. The Paul Jenkins/Jae Lee Marvel Knights run is well regarded as a classic (and deservedly so), but series like the Pacheco/Ladronn four issue run, or McKeever’s twelve issues, or Son of M or Silent War are all great stories. So combine that with my love for the characters and love for the Secret Invasion event, and you’ve got some big shoes to fill. Also consider that this is writer Joe Pokaski’s first full length comic work (he wrote some of those Heroes shorts as well), and there’s a lot of pressure here.

Well, my fears or trepidation were put to rest on the opening pages, where we see Karnak (he’s a personal favorite of mine out of all the Royal Family) explaining the history of the Inhumans while preaching in front of these beautifully rendered throwback style stained glass windows to catch up readers new and old alike. The current status quo of the Inhumans is also quickly established, as the events of Silent War have not been swept under the rug as some have feared. Maximus is still king of Attilan, the Royal Family still hates his guts, and Gorgon is still in his more animal-like secondary Terrigenesis form. The characterization of the Royal Family is pretty much spot on. Gorgon is still constantly trying to reconcile his temper with his loyalty to his brothers and cousins. Karnak is still a stone cold badass. Medusa still mixes her emotions of fealty, royalty, pride, and honor with that tinge of vulnerability bubbling underneath the surface. And Maximus is (as always) a MASSIVE JACKASS (who constantly takes pot shots at Triton for no reason other than being bored). It is very obvious that Pokaski is either a legitimate fan of the Inhumans or did TONS of research, so it all works in relation to what came before.

From a story perspective, it’s what you’d expect. Iron Man delivers the Black Bolt Skrull to Medusa, who is kind of a bit upset about it, and the Inhumans proceed to examine themselves from within Attilan to see just what this means for them while they attempt to find their missing deposed king. But the Skrulls are ready for them, and much of Attilan is burning by the end of the issue. I won’t go into specifics because this is a book that really requires a fresh approach to enjoy the way things play out. But I will say that someone is messing with the Terrigen crystals, and whoever designed the Inhuman Royal Family Super Skrull that appears in this issue could potentially be my new best friend. I think that thing may honestly be cooler than the Illuminati Super Skrull from Secret Invasion 2. We’ve got an ending with a very strong allusion to certain events of another recent Marvel event, and we have that undeniable need to read the next issue RIGHT NOW and the long, dark soul searching month of quietude before the next onslaught of awesomeness. And truly, what more is there to ask for from a monthly periodical comic book?

I wanted to end this somewhat haphazard and hastily put together review by talking about Tom Raney. Now, I already mentioned how great those opening stained glass style panels look. And the badass Inhuman Super Skrull. But the rest of the book is drawn in this wonderful clean style that is a pretty big departure from what we’ve gotten used to from an Inhumans book. This book does not revel in the darkness the way that Jae Lee or Landronn or Frazer Irving drew the Inhumans. It’s much more along the lines of of the artists that worked on McKeever’s twelve issue series, but even that was relentlessly dark at times. This book is not done from that perspective. The colors pop. Everything is vibrant and clear as day. It’s VERY different, but not in a bad way. This is also a different style compared to Raney’s work on Annihilation: Conquest, which I think has a lot to do with the coloring as well, so hats are off to the folks at Guru EFX for doing a great job on making this book like no other that has preceded it. That’s not discounting Raney, of course, as his lines are confident and strong, and his expression work from the myriad of Medusa’s emotions to Maximus’ indifference to Gorgon’s rage and Karnak’s frustration enhances the words in a way you can only get from the comic medium.

To say this book lived up to my expectations would be no small feat considering how excited I’m been to read the thing ever since it was announced (or more accurately ever since New Avengers: Illuminati #5 when I desperately wanted to see what the Inhumans would do about Black Bolt), but the combination of the spot on writing and the great art and the little subtleties that come from both the writing and the art really make for a truly compelling piece of superhero fiction. My mind is at ease and still swimming in a sea of Inhumany goodness. Won’t you join me?