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Casual Saturdays: Where Things Stand… September 27, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Casual Days, Comic Book Stuff.
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Wow, three months goes by fast! Let’s once again take a look at where things stand in the Marvel Universe.

Secret Invasion – It’s rapidly approaching its end, and six issues, three big Skrull reveals, and countless tie-ins later, it is a great story, while at the same time being a little unsatisfying. For the most part, I have enjoyed the goings-on in the main series, but many of the tie-ins have been disappointing. While this has almost as many tie-ins as Civil War did, Civil War was much better at being able to carry the story of each particular character or group of characters coping with the SHRA. In this case, most tie-ins simply feature a character or group of characters participating in an issues-long brawl with the Skrulls. As epic as this story has been, I will be happy when it is over.

Fantastic Four – I’ve loved Millar’s take on the FF, even if it is a little slow at times, but it seems that many do not share my enthusiasm. Sure, his take on the individual members may not be completely orthodox, but this departure from the norm has been what has made most of it fun. So while I’ll enjoy his sixteen issue run, I wouldn’t want him to take the helm for the next several years. (And I do hope they find someone great to do so, FF really does need a shot in the arm that will carry it forward.) In the meantime, regardless whether or not you are a fan of Millar’s handling of the team, you should definitely check out the Fantastic Four: True Story mini-series that is going on. The story might be slightly absurd, but I’m loving every minute of it. I’ve reviewed the first two issues of it at WCBR here and here, and I’ll soon post the link here to my review of the third.

Silver Surfer – We haven’t seen hide nor hair (that is, if he had hair) of him since Nova 15, and as far as I know, it looks to stay that way. I really wish Marvel would do another mini. 😦 (Or, heck, even an ongoing!) But, with the “War of Kings” that’s supposed to tear through Marvel’s cosmic line next year, maybe they’ll find a place to tell a story about good old Norrin. Until then, I plan to write a review of one of my favorite Surfer tales, Silver Surfer: Requiem for WCBR sometime this week, and I’ll post a link here when it is available.

Amazing Spider-Man – It sure has come a long way from the atrocious One More Day fiasco. New Ways to Die has been every bit the fantastic story we were promised it would be and while I’m still upset with the dissolution of the marriage, I won’t lie that I’m looking forward to what the “Braintrust” will bring us next. Especially the courtroom story hinted at in the “Extra!” one shot a while back. Also, the first issue of ASM Family was decent, and I was disappointed at first when it sounded as though they wouldn’t be including further “Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man” stories, but the solicits for future issues makes it appear they will. Expect reactions to issue two in two weeks.

New Avengers – This title is severely lacking from its title characters, namely the Avengers. I’ve not hidden my dislike for the fact that Bendis is using these two books he’s in charge of to write Secret Invasion back-up tales (some of which haven’t even been that important) despite the fact that they rarely involve the Avengers. I really wish he’d done a Secret Invasion: Origins mini-series for these stories, or something of the like, and just given us more Avengers adventures. Though I won’t lie, rumors running around of the possible upcoming fourth Avengers ongoing (Dark Avengers) has me excited.

Mighty Avengers – See above.

Avengers: The Initiative – Where its two “Avengers brethren” have suffered from “Secret Invasion overdose,” Avengers: The Initiative has flourished. Dan Slott and Christos Gage continue to put out spectacular, character driven stories proving that you can pull characters from the “nobody’s ever heard of these random Marvel superheroes” list, and still have one of the best comic books on the market. Yes, I still miss Cloud 9, my favorite character to come out of this series, but team Slott and Gage haven’t steered us wrong yet, and I’m sure we’ll see her before too long.

Captain America – With Ed Brubaker’s long awaited conclusion to the “Death of the Dream” “mega-arc” that came out this week, Brubaker proves that he can leave you satisfied and begging for more at the same time. With almost complete resolution on the good guy side of the equation, and almost none on the bad guy side, Brubaker has made me a permanent fan of Captain America. Don’t expect to see this series leaving my must-read list anytime soon.

Thor – This, in my opinion, is still probably the best comic book series on the market. J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel continue to give us this slow-churning epic infused with humor and suspense. What is Loki’s true plan? What does it have to do with Dr. Doom? How does she intend to gain the allegiance of Balder, one of Thor’s longest friends? How will her actions affect Midgard? When JMS’ run on Thor is finally over (which I hope never happens), this will likely be one of my favorite graphic format stories told. (This honor currently belongs to Bone by Jeff Smith, and yes, I have read Watchmen, I still think Bone is better.)

Invincible Iron Man – One year ago, I never would have guessed that I’d be reading an Iron Man series. I loathed him for his actions during Civil War and, along with many fans and much of the actual Marvel Universe, blamed him for Captain America’s death. My appreciation for him, unknowingly, actually began when I started reading Avengers: The Initiative. As I began to see more and more the benefits of the SHRA, I began to understand Tony’s actions. I didn’t necessarily like him, but I no longer hated him. Then, of course, the Iron Man movie came out. I was completely blown away. I needed more Tony Stark, and I needed it IMMEDIATELY. Luckily, Marvel was wise enough to start a new Invincible Iron Man ongoing series just days after the release of the movie. And, luckier still, the series has maintained much of the flavor of the movie. IIM has become one of my favorite monthly reads, and one that I recommend to everyone I talk to who loved the movie (especially non-comic book readers, what better way to introduce them to the medium?)

Uncanny X-Men – With the authors of the already legendary Captain America series and the breakaway Invincible Iron Man ongoing at the helm of the world’s best selling super-team, this should have been an easy success. Unfortunately, something has gone wrong. Ever since Messiah Complex, Uncanny has taken a turn for the mediocre. Luckily, it had the beautiful artwork of Mike Choi to make us survive through the awful hippie story. Now we’re just getting an ever-increasing focus on the ever-increasingly annoying character Pixie, as rendered by the horrible artist Greg Land. I don’t know what needs to happen to fix this title, but Brubaker and Fraction but figure it out fast. (And firing Greg Land from the comic book medium would be a good start, especially when he pulls off crap like this.)

Astonishing X-Men – Who’d’ve guessed that this series would still be plagued with delays after the departure of Whedon and Cassaday? I dunno, but with the upcoming Ender’s Game comic book adaptation (discussed below), I’ve decided to drop this in favor of that. Don’t get me wrong, the story seems interesting enough, and the artwork is wonderful, but I feel this isn’t really an essential part of my reading list. I will, however, still review issues of this from time to time on WCBR.

Ender’s Game – Finally. One of my all-time-favorite novels is getting the comic book treatment. I’ve never looked forward to the release of a comic book as much as I am Ender’s Game #1 on October 8th. If you’ve never read the book, first off, shame on you! But secondly, you definitely better read the comic, because it’s gonna be epic! In fact, next week, Casual Saturdays will be all about why you should read it, so if you aren’t planning to, you better check back then!

So what do you guys think of the Marvel Universe as it is now? Share your thoughts if you feel like it.

-LOTRKing

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Review of Astonishing X-Men 26 (4 stars) August 13, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First off, I love the cover. Bianchi’s interpretation of Beast is a thousand times better than many of the recent ones I’ve seen. Almost everyone else makes him look like a walking cat. But while I enjoy the cover, I have to wonder, why does it feature Beast when this issue does not? Mehh, oh well.

The story picks up in Chaparanga, the “spaceship graveyard.” While the entirety of the issue is about the X-Men dealing with the “triploid” they’ve tracked there, it still manages to be a great read, due largely to the characters and the art. Ellis continues his mastery of being able to provide distinctness to each character. As an example of his work, up until last issue, I had only ever heard of Armor, now I already think she is a very interesting character. Likewise, Ellis’ is finally able to relate to us why Cyclops will sometimes resort to killing. I’ve heard that he has ordered a kill or two recently in other X-books, and fans have been complaining that he was acting out of character. Well, if you want an answer, you’ll find it here.

“Team Simone and Simone” continue to do a spectacular job in the art department. Every panel looks like a painting and every character looks great. I’m not sure whose work I enjoy more: Bianchi’s pencils that convey the many actions scene of this issue, as well as make each character individual, or Peruzzi’s colors which give the book a beautiful tone, and create the painted look mentioned earlier. Either way, Astonishing X-Men has to be one of the most beautiful books on the market.

Going back to the plot, as the X-Men find the triploid, he is trying to power up a dead ship. As he begins to do so, the power source looks like some kind of mechanical cube (like a Borg Cube, but much smaller), but perhaps the more odd part, as it powers up, what looks like miniature Roman columns, and even beings that resemble miniature Dr. Manhattans appear around the cube. This confused me more than anything else this issue, and I hope we learn the story behind the columns and “mini-men,” and that they weren’t just an element that looked sci-fi-y and cool. One other mystery introduced is “The Annex.” Just as the X-Men are about to capture the triploid, he remarks that they cannot stop “The Annex” and then commits suicide. While The Annex are likely the creators of the triploids, I wonder what their purpose was in creating them. Also, what do they need in space? This mystery keeps getting better and better, and I’ll definitely stick around to find out what happens next.

-LOTRKing

Review of Astonishing X-Men 25 (4 stars) July 18, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Having not read any of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, and having only read Uncanny from Messiah Complex forward, I jumped onto this issue as a fairly new X-reader. I’ll be the first to admit, this one issue was better than the entire recent “hippie” arc of Uncanny. Given, not a lot happens, but we get a great deal of characterization. I’ve never been a huge mutant fan; I’ll take a good old-fashioned scientific-accident-spawned superhero any day. But if this series doesn’t finally make me an admirer of our evolutionary replacements, I don’t know what will.

Most of the issue is composed of “hi, I’m this character,” but Ellis does this in a way that is so intriguing, that it is hard to explain what makes it so good. He also establishes the new status quo by introducing several of the new San Francisco elements, such as a new HQ, a new X-Jet, and the X-Men’s working relationship with the SFPD (along with some cool “civilian uniforms” in the process). Of course, sealing the deal is the introduction of a new sci-fi murder mystery. Essentially, someone has been trying to artificially induce mutations after the events of M-Day by giving people a third set of chromosomes (humans and mutants only have two sets) which contain the X-gene. Now, one of these “artificial mutants” has murdered another and is attempting to leave the planet.

Throw in the beautiful artwork by Simone and Simone (Bianchi and Peruzzi that is) and this becomes a thoroughly entertaining issue. Bianchi’s pencils not only maintain a lifelike look, but his characters exude emotion. Most good comic book artists can convey a lot of emotion in the character’s faces, but Bianchi uses the whole body for this task. Further pleasing the eye, Peruzzi’s colors maintain an almost painted portrait look; fellow artists such as Marko Djurdjevic and Esad Ribic come to mind when looking at Peruzzi’s work. The only real complaint I have is about the various X-vehicles, as they all look a bit too alien. (Heck, if I saw one of those flying around, I’d think we been invaded by extraterrestrials from a bad sci-fi movie.) Still, this is something I’m willing to put up with in lieu of their other high-quality work.

This is an all-around perfect jumping point. Anyone who needs an excuse to start reading an X-title: this is it.

-LOTRKing

Casual Saturdays: To Return Next Month July 5, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Casual Days, Other Random Stuff.
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As mentioned in this announcement, Casual Saturdays will return next month. Until then, here is a new announcement: seeing as I’ve dropped The Twelve (I’ll get the second TPB for 7-12), I’m picking up Astonishing X-Men. I hadn’t originally planned to pick up anything when dropping it, but after reading AXM 25, and being told that despite Uncanny’s lengthy history Astonishing is now the flagship X-title, and since I’m not a huge X-fan and probably should be given my rabidly devoted Marvelism, I’m picking it up. Expect a review of 25 either next week, or the week after. And just to throw in another link, here is a comic book industry “report card” to which I contributed.

-LOTRKing