Review – Iron Man: Believe

Iron Man: Believe is a breezy, confident relaunch for the Armored Avenger, and while it lacks the depth of some of Kieron Gillen’s best work, its casual inventiveness should charm and thrill a lot of readers.


In a lot of ways, Iron Man was kind of a B-lister even 10 years ago. Sure, he was on the Avengers regularly, but at that point, basically everyone was on the Avengers. Until the mid-2000s, the only major storyline he really had outside of the Avengers franchise was Demon in a Bottle, a melodramatic but largely excellent story that defined the character for years to come. The dual success of his movie – particularly Robert Downey Jr.’s incredibly charismatic performance as Tony – and Civil War, a story that put him at odds with Captain America and gave him a lot of intensely emotional material, has made him one of Marvel’s most marketable heroes.

His status as an A-list hero is fitting given the vast changes to the role technology places in our everyday lives, and Matt Fraction’s largely excellent run from 2008-2012 helped cement his status as a modern pop icon. British writer Kieron Gillen, fresh off of reinventing Loki and pushing the X-Men into war with the Avengers, was an interesting choice to relaunch the character for the Marvel Now initiative, and Iron Man: Believe is the first volume of Tony’s relaunched adventures. So, how does Gillen fare?

Written by Gillen and penciled by Greg Land, Iron Man: Believe is probably one of the least dramatic re-launches of the Marvel Now initiative – but just because Tony is still fundamentally the same man dealing with essentially the same conflicts, don’t mistake this for business as usual. Kieron Gillen’s Iron Man is an unusually thoughtful adventure, and it continues the hero’s run of strong, character-focused stories that push Tony forward without trying to break the formula of who he is and why he works.

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Review: AvX Consequences

Those who have kept up with my AvX reviews should know that I was not entirely pleased with the series.  The idea was good, but the execution was flawed.  More so, I was rather upset with how they treated Scott at the end of everything.  Consequences on the other hand has been handled absolutely wonderfully.

Spoiler Alert

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Review: Sword and Shield

S.W.O.R.D. #1

Twice last week, Marvel surprised me.  Perhaps they’re now making a concentrated effort to get out of the self-destructive, obsessively grim ‘n gritty cloud that they’ve been desperately living under in recent years, but, much like Strange, S.W.O.R.D. #1 is a surprisingly light-hearted adventure with a solid creative team, a cartoonish tone and a strong sense of the bizarre.  Following the adventures of Abigail Brand as she juggles new obstacles from Osborn with hectic space adventures, writer Kieron Gillen quickly introduces readers to the important cast-members, making each distinct and lively without stealing too many pages from the narrative itself.

Steven Sanders’ energetic art is well-matched by Gillen as he draws a bizarre assortment of alien entities with verve, if not with a particularly memorable sense of design aesthetics.  The pair introduce a large cast, but they do so entertainingly.  Like Strange, the book is not without its flaws, but, like Strange, it is nonetheless an engaging, fun read that offers a reminder of just how expansive, and how weird, the Marvel Universe can be.

Grade: B+

The Shield #3

Trautmann’s opening issue of The Shield impressed me.  It seemed like it might be a fitting successor to the action-espionage tradition that DC lost when they cancelled Checkmate (or rather, when they gave Checkmate to Bruce Jones) and Marvel lost when they put the two least subtle human beings on the planet, Bendis and Millar, in charge of their world-building.  But while Trautmann is hardly a novice at comics anymore, The Shield #3 displayed what looks like a surprising lack of confidence, despite still-excellent characterization and a good use of the arc’s guest star, Magog.

The back-up feature remains relatively forgettable, which was less of an issue when the main story seemed so promising.  Jerwa and Scott are hardly turning in bad work, but it doesn’t particularly fit, tonally or thematically, with the book to which their back-up is attached, a bad sign for the book’s consistency (and sales).  With one arc completed in the main feature, the book’s grace period is over.

Grade: C+

– Cal Cleary


Review: Dark Reign: The Cabal

Dark Reign Cabal


“Forgettable and useless.” Sounds harsh, but that’s the name of the game. I’m a Matt Fraction completionist, so that’s why I bought it. I’ll never read it again and I’ll forget about it in a month or so. It’s basically an advertisement for titles like Uncanny X-Men and Thor.

Now, does that mean that what is here is terrible? No. Marvel must have told the creators involved to write about whatever the hell they wanted. The five stories break down like this:

Doom wants to kill everybody.

A deeper look at Emma Frost (The Fraction tale, and probably my favorite).

The Hood is keeping a secret.

Namor is Solomon-esque.

Loki is trying to move in with Doom (That’s old news).

I’d only recommend this to hardcore fans of the creators or characters involved.

For more comic goodness, go here.

SeventhSoldier Presents: The Christmas Haul!


So, rather than save my Christmas money*, I did what any sensible person would do – I bought comics!  Sure, I can’t pay rent for February, but I got some quality reading done in the meantime, so all is good, at least in my head.  Without further embarrassing personal detail, onwards!


Northlanders: Sven the Returned



While the adherence to modern slang and language might be off-putting, it soon becomes subsumed in the tale of a stubborn Viking who just wants people to quit fucking with him.  Entertaining and violent, with just a touch of the dramatic, the first trade nevertheless fails to surpass the standard Viking revenge tale.  Still, the hint of promise shown within make me hopeful for future offerings.

Grade: B-

Scalped: Indian Country




The hype from Jason Aaron’s reservation-life Native American noir is heavy, and this opening trade fails to deliver.  Standard art combines with a story that barely serves as more than an introduction to make a disappointing first volume.  There’s promise to be found in the filth the book revels in, but it takes some digging to find.

Grade: C-

Scapled: Casino Boogie 




Scalped: Casino Boogie

The second trade, however, delivers in all the ways the first one didn’t.  Introducing new twists to the story, the book does it in a creative and entertaining way, each issue taking place over the span of the same day, but from a different point of view.  Here we finally get in deep with the various players on the reservation, and here we finally have a reason to care.  Count me among the converted.

Grade: B+

Phonogram: Rue Britannia




I have trouble explaining how much I enjoyed this from relative newcomer Kieron Gillen.  Ultra-masculine Brit hipster David Kohl is forced to search for a dead goddess of Brit Pop music and find out just what it going on in the ether that’s causing him to change in drastic (to him and no one else) ways.  Even given my relative unfamiliarity with the bands and trends being mentioned, I nonetheless could relate to the sheer power music has in the lives of these people.  An intriguing story and a fascinating setting just a little to the left of our own work together with simple (but clean and gifted) art to provide a book well-worth your money.  A story about reinforcing why you love what you love, about coming to terms with it and its influence on your past.

Grade: A-

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wolves at the Gate



The Whedonisms of the book are beginning to grate, and while it is still an undeniably enjoyable book, some of the particular thematic and writing tics of the book are wearing.  Nonetheless, the book continues to excel at humorous, heartwarming, heartbreaking relationships, and fans of the TV show will continue to enjoy the rapid-fire wit and excellent dialogue.

Grade: B-

Hellblazer: Joyride


Andy Diggle, writer of The Losers and Green Arrow: Year One, seemed like an odd choice of writer to take over the Hellblazer writing chores after award-winning horror novelist Denise Mina, and Joyride is his first collection, a series of stories meant to bring John back from the brink where he’s been hovering through the last couple writers. The story is entertaining and suitably dark, a good set of arcs to set up what Diggle seems to hope to accomplish.  Expressive, dark art from Manco and strong ties to the recent Hellblazer run of Mike Carey combine to make a standard, but competent story.

Grade: B

Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead



The fourth trade in the Rucka/Brubaker masterpiece bringing a refreshing bit of realism to the gritty uber-epic Batman mythos, The Quick and the Dead might be the weakest trade in the series thus far… but given the strength of the characterization and dialogue, it still serves the series well, and shows time and again how Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya got where they are today.

Grade: B

Casanova: Luxuria




Matt Fraction’s tiny little piece of insane pop action is well-introduced in this first volume.  While stylistic art takes a little adaptation to those of a more traditional bent, it nonetheless complements Fraction’s hyperkinetic action hero well. Fun fluff, well worth the shot for fans looking for a little something more from their action espionage comic books.

Grade: B

The Filth




Yet another obscure entry from Grant Morrison, the Filth almost delights in being obtuse.  Filled with crazy, creative ideas, it boils down to a cranky old man who just wants to be alone with his cat in its dying days.  Weston had his work cut out for him, but he steps up to the task admirably and delivers on many of the absolutely horrifying concepts Morrison bandies about with creepy ease.  Absolutely not for everyone – not even for most people – the Filth nonetheless may offer some readers a glimpse into the darker side of Morrison’s work, that they might better understand where he’s coming from in the lighter works.

Grade: B

Young Liars: Daydream Believers




The first disgusting trade of Young Liars is finally available, and well worth a gander.  Like Mike Carey’s so-so Faker, Liars focuses on disgust, betrayal and selfishness, but the refreshing blitz of Sadie, teamed with the self-loathing love of young Danny, make for far more compelling interactions.  The attitudes of the book may be a turn-off for many, and some bizarre stylistic choices in terms of background and dialogue can be confusing, but it is nonetheless worth a gander.

Grade: B+

Fables: War & Pieces




Willingham’s epic seems to move in waves.  Alternating between stories with a great deal of creativity, heart and action all laced together with a healthy dollop of bastardized mythology and a series of stagnant set-up arcs with a lot of introduction and even more nothing-really.  So, it should be no surprise that after that strength of The Good Prince and Sons of Empire, War and Pieces reads as a perfunctory conclusion to the first major conflict in the Fables-verse.  An important book plot-wise with (as always) impressive art, War and Pieces is nonetheless another dry spot in the ongoing story.  Not bad, just not up to the standard the book set for itself.

Grade: B-

DMZ: On the Ground



Brian Wood’s breakout hit about a the only on-location journalist at ground-zero of America’s second Civil War appears to be almost entirely a setting-building exercise that also happens to casually examine the horrors of war with which we are all pretty familiar.  Still, the excellent art provides a certain touch, and Wood’s story excels where many such stories fail in its compelling cast of supporting characters and slice-of-life stories, like the sniper romance.  Wood doesn’t let us revel in a single aspect of war atrocity on home soil, instead taking us through a series of small arcs to see the effect of the civil war and troop involvement in New York City itself.  Thanks to its easy familiarity with a cool cast, DMZ proves itself a consistently entertaining read with just a touch of the frighteningly familiar.

Grade: B+




*okay, admission time – it was actually just gift cards, so it wasn’t actually a waste, and some of these were bought before or after Christmas that I just never got around to reviewing.  I may begin to review some of my older trades as my pull list (and available cash) dwindles.


Triple Review: True Believers, NU: 1959 and Reign In Hell

True Believers #1

I wasn’t familiar with the writer/artist team-up – Cary Bates and Paul Gulacy – but the book was conceptually interesting, so I picked it up. 

“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”  That’s the tagline of the book.  Now, whether or not it truly is a time of universal deceit in the Marvel Universe is a matter of debate, but between the genetics-based Civil War and the secretive Skrull Invasion, there’s no question that there’s a whole lot of lying going on in the Marvel Universe right now.  The True Believers know that, and they want to get the truth out there, whatever the cost.

The first issue deals with an underground chick-fighting/rape/drug ring.  A young metahuman code-named Payback has gone undercover to find out who’s in charge and break the story, regardless of the cost.  With her is her ‘news team’, a group of potent metahumans with technology so far from the future it can baffle even SHIELD’s investigative prowess, she finds out who’s behind the ring, breaks it up, and then reports on it.

That part in the middle there was my main gripe with the book.  There had better be a damn good explanation forthcoming for how a group of underground journalists have the tech – and the powers – the escape SHIELD, but haven’t been noticed by anything yet, never stepped up during a war based on genetic persecution, never targeted Stark’s war-profiteering, the Illuminati, anything. 

Still, ignoring that (and a fairly ridiculous last page), the book was quite good.  The characters’ goals and operations are interesting, and underground journalism – digging into the seediest side of the Marvel Universe – makes for an interesting change of pace from the standard superhero fare.

Grade: B+

NewUniversal: 1959

I’ve never heard of Kieron Gillen, the writer.  Literally, never heard of him.  And yet, somehow, his single issue of NewUniversal, the Warren Ellis-masterminded relaunch of the failed 80’s New Universe project for Marvel Comics, has blown any single issue Ellis gave the series thus far completely out of the water.

This issue deals with America’s first recorded meeting with super-humanity.  It evokes all the paranoia towards mutants that mainstream Marvel wants to evoke – the difference, of course, is that in NewUniversal: Everything Went White and NewUniversal: 1959, it works. 

In 1959, the sky world-around was lit by something eventually titled ‘The Fireworks’.  The next day, things changed.  Drifter Lester Robbins gained the ability to instantly teleport.  Veronica Kelly, Kansas City widow, seemed to be able to read minds, and could create and control deadly blue blades.  Alcoholic slacker Tony Stark could create and understand technology decades ahead of what he should have been able to.  None of them had had these abilities before The Fireworks.

The book does not follow those metahumans, however, but instead follows rookie government agent Philip Voight, familiar to those who have read Everything Went White, but this is as good an introduction to the character as anything.  The decision to stay with him, rather than the heroes, definitely adds to the sense that super-humanity truly is a different species than traditional humanity – especially as the agents observe the relationship between Lester and Veronica, a bizarre cat-and-mouse game that appears wholly alien to the human agents.

I cannot recommend the NewUniversal line highly enough, and 1959 is an excellent place to start if you just want to try out a single issue.

Grade: A

Reign in Hell #1


Giffen has been billing this as a supernatural Annihilation.  Both series’ were written by him, after all.  And both deal with a previously largely-ignored but enormously important segment of each Universe’s mythology.  Rather than a series of warm-up minis leading up to a main mini, here Giffen went for a single miniseries with a selection of back-ups to set the stage.  Otherwise, it’s largely similar.

And like Annihilation, it doesn’t read well in single-issue form.  The story begins with an all-out battle in hell for a structure called The Odium, and it fills you in as you go.  Lord Satanus and Lady Blaze, currently in charge of Purgatory, are tired of a system of eternal damnation, a system with no mediums and no forgiveness – or that’s what they’re telling people – and so they’ve led all the souls of Purgatory into Hell in an attempt to retake and reshape Hell.  Opposing them is Neron, current leader of Hell.

But that is, of course, not the whole of the conflict.  What happens here will reshape how magic works all over the DC Universe, and so many of the mystic and divine heroes and villains of the DC Universe have a stake in this as well.  In this issue, we see the Shadowpact, the return of Linda Danvers (albeit a fairly out-of-character Linda Danvers), Jason Blood, The Creeper, Zauriel, and Zatanna’s dead father, Giovanni Zatara.

The back-up – easily the most entertaining part of the book – features Ralph and Sue Dibny, Ghost Detectives, in a meeting to convince Dr. Occult just how important this is.  The back-up is slow, but well-written, and is great set-up for what is to come, as well as back-story on the little-used Dr. Occult.

The issue is largely set-up, and reads like the more boring parts of Annihilation, but like Annihilation, the struggle promises to be epic.  Let’s hope Giffen can deliver, but a slow opening issue, combined with fairly average art from Tom Derenick and Bill Sienkiewicz, don’t make the best start you could hope for.

Grade: B-