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Review of New Avengers 45 (3 stars) September 30, 2008

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Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Well, even if this issue didn’t turn out to be all that important, at least it was pretty entertaining. The story was hyped to seem as though there would be some big reveal involving House of M and the Skrull invasion. While the Skrulls were trying to get things back to normal just as much as “we” were, this finally gave us the perspective of seeing Skrulls at their weakest. Even the mighty Empress Veranke had a breakdown as she woke up to find an already alien world transformed around her. Of course, this scene also showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Veranke truly did take the place of Spider-Woman. In the back of my head, I suspected that perhaps Jessica Drew was somehow able to stop the switch and act as a “double agent” only pretending to be Veranke. (C’mon, we all know Jessica would be the only person able to pull this off.)

Really the only thing I was left wondering was how the Skrulls were able to sense the change, and didn’t believe everything was continuing as normal. Perhaps their altered “Super-Skrull” DNA somehow protected them? I don’t know.

Aside from seeing Skrulls at their weakest, the best part of this issue was definitely Jim Cheung’s art (well, most of it). His scenery, facial expression, and action were all brilliant. His only real flaw is the actual faces. He can convey emotion rather well, but many characters had similar looking faces, even amongst men and women.

As reality returns to normal, the Skrulls on Earth finally learn of the Annihilation wave, and the destruction it has caused. Having only read parts of Annihilation myself, I don’t know how much of it may have directly affected the invasion, but I do know that countless worlds were destroyed, many of which were controlled by the Skrulls. If anything, I’d like to see Bendis give us an issue showing more of the ramifications of the Wave on the Invasion. Until then, we have next issue to look forward to, which presumably will show how the Hood uses his distinct methods to fight the Invasion.

-LOTRKing

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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

Review of Avengers: The Initiative 17 (4 stars) September 26, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First off, sorry for not having a review yesterday. First I had computer troubles, then I had troubles here at home, then I had distractions (accursed Facebook!), and then I had to go to work. Anyway, I STILL haven’t gotten any comics in the mail, so there wouldn’t have been a review today anyway. With that out of the way, let’s get on to the review.

Starting off at Camp Hammond, the Shadow Initiative (of which Trauma is now a member) is finally summoned to take down the on-base threat. They discover that Ant-Man is also remaining on base, and begin to plan how to take care of the Skrull threat. Like every team, they go through some paranoia about Skrull infiltrators, but they eventually figure out that everyone is (probably) who they say they are. However, along the way, we get some hints about Mutant Zero’s identity, and it’s looking more and more likely that she is Jean Grey. I won’t say I’m surprised, but it will be interesting to see what affect this has on the “X-books,” if any.

Meanwhile, the Kill Krew saves Hardball, and he and Komodo are reunited (if I actually cared about those two characters, I might have been happy; when are we gonna see Cloud 9 again?) as they then move on to Utah. After taking out the Skrull on that team, they are given a great asset to their mission: Devil Slayer has joined them. I’ve seen him in a grand total of one issue before this, but I’m eager to see him in action again. And hopefully, with the help of his teleporting cloak, the Krew will make it to Montana (the home of Cloud 9, for the forgetful ones out there) much sooner.

Lastly, the big battle between the Shadow Initiative and the Skrulls has its fair share of surprises (and some great art by Tolibao, I’m very happy that he has taken over art chores when Caselli can’t do it, instead of Uy), but, of course, ends with the Skrulls pwning and capturing our heroes (at least they aren’t dead)! This issue took a slight change in direction in that it was more about the story than the characters, but still managed to be thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m sure we’ll get more focus on the characters once Secret Invasion is over.

-LOTRKing

Review of Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (3.5 stars) September 4, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Comic Book Stuff, Other Random Stuff.
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Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My original intent was to rent this, and summarily bash it here for its horrible cheesiness which, I thought, the trailers made apparent. Well someone needs to fire their marketing department, because this was much better than it looked to be. Given, it still stars a bunch of young teen superhero children of the original Avengers, but the movie creators were actually able to pull this storyline off fairly well.

In the future, Ultron has killed off all the original Avengers, except for Iron Man, Hulk (though he isn’t discovered until late in the movie), and Thor (who left Earth behind). Before their deaths, the Avengers sent their young children with Iron Man, to be kept hidden away from Ultron. Tony, now the unsuspecting surrogate father must raise these kids. Surprisingly, he does a pretty good job. Twelve years later, these children have mastered their abilities, and after a quick chain of events, are found by Ultron. The rest of the movie is a series of attacks and escapes filled in with story and character development, and along the way we see a few “familiar” faces (though now much aged). There may not have been too much in the way of “Easter Eggs,” but those familiar with Marvel history will probably be able to guess a few plot points faster than the less familiar.

Now, addressing the complaint that this isn’t based off of any comic: personally, that doesn’t bother me at all. True, there are still plenty of classic Marvel sagas that need to be adapted to movie form, but seeing a completely new tale feels somewhat fresh, especially when it’s with new characters. Despite being kids, the stars give us plenty of great characterizations, and humor. The “child element” of this movie didn’t annoy me in the slightest. However, faithful Marvelites may be bothered by one thing: in the movie, it has been changed that Tony Stark was the creator of Ultron. Yes, this is a major change, but since he is still a character in this film, and plays a significant role, it allows us to see how he suffers the consequences, and makes for a much better story (in this particular instance) than if the creator had remained Hank Pym. So I was slightly annoyed at first, but I soon came to realize it was for the best.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but let me confirm now, the cheesiness was kept to a surprising minimum for being marketed as a kid’s movie, in fact this probably had the least cheesiness of any of Marvel’s Animated Features so far (though Dr. Strange remains my favorite to date). While this was intended to bring more kids into the genre, adults who enjoy superhero tales, and don’t mind animated movies should enjoy this. If you’ve seen any of Marvel’s previous animated movies, you should definitely look into this. There’s really not too much to complain about here. Yes, there were one or two lines that could have been omitted, and an occasional instance where the animation was awkward. But overall, this was surprisingly enjoyable.

-LOTRKing

Review of Avengers: The Initiative 16 (4.5 stars) August 29, 2008

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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I don’t know how Slott and Gage do it, but they’ve once again not only packed in a massive amount of story into a single issue, they’ve also continued to maintain their excellent story-telling standards. Somehow, they manage to touch base with everyone remaining at Camp Hammond (including providing a very interesting set up for the upcoming issue of Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., I may have to look into that one) and also with Crusader at the battle in NYC, and still provide what feels like a full length story with 3D-Man joining the Skrull Kill Krew. We even meet back up with Komodo by the end.

At Camp Hammond Trauma and Physique find War Machine and the Baron, who in turn all go look for Pym. Luckily, remnants of Stanetech have kept War Machine’s suit from complete failure, and eventually let him reboot. As this happens, he receives an embedded programmed message from Tony instructing him to stop whatever he is doing, and go to a certain location for instructions, and most importantly, to keep it secret. As Trauma, Physique, and the Baron go to the infirmary to help the injured, Pym has a meeting with other Skrulls on base, Ant-Man, who has remained hidden, sees this, and wishes he was elsewhere.

As 3D-Man meets the Kill Krew, they decide to take out the infiltrated Skrull from each Initiative team, with the first stop being Arizona. There, after defeating an undercover Skrull, Komodo plans to join with the next stop being Vegas to save Hardball! (And they better stop by Montana pretty soon, or there’s gonna be an angry fan if Cloud 9 turns up dead!)

So Slott and Gage prove once again that A:TI is one of the best books on the market. Add in the fact that Caselli has returned for art, and you have just another typical(ly great) issue from this series. If you aren’t reading this yet, take a moment now to ask yourself why.

-LOTRKing

Review of New Avengers 44 (4.5 stars) August 28, 2008

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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Now that’s much better than this week’s other Bendis-Avengers title. (Given, I still prefer Mighty to New Avengers as a whole, but seeing as how all of the Secret Invasion tie-ins of both series have had little to nothing to do with the respective teams, I’ve actually enjoyed the NA tie-ins a bit more.) Not only does this issue bring to light what actually allowed the invasion to happen, it also gives the closing scene of Secret Invasion 1 a bit more meaning.

The issue opens with what appears to be a standard Illuminati meeting (if there is such a thing) as the Illuminati discuss what the Skrulls could possibly do to remain undetected among superpowered humans. As this discussion leads to more distrust, Dr. Strange attempts to use the Eye of Agamotto to calm everyone, only to realize he can’t do it. The plot takes its first big twist as the heroes discover that they can’t use their powers, and that none of them fully remember how they ever escaped the Skrulls in the first place, until it dons on them: they didn’t escape the Skrulls.

With my mind still trying to fathom what the crap was going on, Xavier becomes a Super-Skrull and summarily kills the rest of the Illuminati. We then get our second plot twist as it is revealed that they were all clones, and this was a Skrull experiment being conducted in a lab. And this was only the first half of the issue.

Despite this trial being a failure, the Skrulls did take away one important piece of information: Reed Richards had figured out a way in which the Skrulls could remain undetected, he simply did not have time to explain before the situation fell apart. So the scientists formulate a plan B: clone only Reed Richards, and use any means necessary to discover this method. At first they try something torturous and harrowing, but Reed still does not give in (even when he’s a clone, he’s awesome!) After killing this clone also, they finally attempt a more subtle and sinister approach, and to humanity’s eventual dismay (dismay may be an understatement), it works. You wanna know what Reed means when he says “they used my brain to start this” in Secret Invasion 5? Pick this up.

Oh, and the scene at the end of Secret Invasion 1 where Reed figures out how they did it? Now we know how he was able to do it so quickly, because it was a clone of him that created the process in the first place. This also explains the lack of surprise from Skrull-Pym when Reed does figure it out.

Anyway, an essential Secret Invasion chapter, you’d be foolish to miss it.

-LOTRKing

Review of Mighty Avengers 17 (2 stars) August 27, 2008

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Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars

As my long time readers may know, I’ve been complaining about the lack of story in many of the Avengers Secret Invasion tie-ins. However, those lacking in story at least have the saving grace of being somewhat relevant. This issue, not so much. Unless I missed something extremely significant, this issue has not importance whatsoever. The summary is as follows: Skrull-Pym tries to convince Skrull-Dugan that the invasion will not work; Dugan doesn’t listen and has a bunch of undercover Skrulls attack Pym. That’s it. If this had beautiful art, I might say that it was not a complete waste, but as it is, the art is fairly mediocre. Save yourself three bucks, and don’t pick this up.

Believe it or not, I feel bad when I write an extremely short review. I usually try to keep these things between 300 to 500 words, so that you’re not reading an essay, but at the same time, not reading two or three sentences. But when I’m given an absolutely empty issue, I can only give an absolutely empty review. Sorry again for the shortness, check back tomorrow for some regularly scheduled reviewing.

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Avengers 471 (September 2002) August 11, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in most instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

Since starting Flashback, I’ve been looking forward to the time when my random number generator would pick an issue from this decade. Not only did it pick out a rather entertaining one, Avengers 471 (aka Volume 3 #56) just happens to be a one-shot and the end of an almost five year run. This was Kurt Busiek’s final issue and he uses it to tell a flashback story with an amusing situation. Auditors from the Maria Stark Foundation (which funds the Avengers) have come to examine a particular Avengers mission to see if the expenditures of the foundation do indeed qualify for tax exemptions, as they say they do. What follows is a piece by piece story as several of the members tell the tale of their mission and the part they played.

In the flashback, the Avengers had to travel to St. Louis to combat the recently recreated “Elements of Doom.” While the issue made it seem as though these were not new characters, it was certainly the first time that I had heard of them. The idea behind them is that a scientist had discovered a way to bring each of the elements to life and do the bidding of their creator. A bit of eye-brow-raising science, to be sure, but then again, quirky science has always been a staple of comics.

While this was surely meant to be a funny look at what “normal people” like accountants have to deal with in the wake of super hero’s actions, it also surprisingly played a strong case for why the S.H.R.A. (or something like it) would simplify these matters (at least, if you read between the lines). If the Avengers were simply run by the government, these sorts of things wouldn’t be necessary since the Avengers would be government funded. True, the government would still perform audits to ensure that no money was spent needlessly, but at least the team would never have to worry about losing their funding, because the country will always need superhero teams.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable Avenger stand-alone issue. It may not have done anything ground breaking, but it provided for a great read. If you ever come across this in a back issue bin, don’t hesitate to pick it up.

Next week: Uncanny X-Men 217

-LOTRKing

Review of New Avengers 43 (3 stars) August 6, 2008

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Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Sorry for being so late in getting this up for review (I only got it in the mail last Friday, when I also got Iron Man 4 which comes out this week. So I got a week late issue and a week early issue on the same day. Go figure. 😐 )

Anyway, this wasn’t exactly a spectacular issue, so I didn’t mind waiting. We get a rather quick resolution to Captain America randomly showing up at the end of NA41 as some Savage Land mutates take him out with tranquilizer darts. These reveal this Captain America to be a Skrull (big surprise) and follows up with the back story of how he ended up here.

This story would have seemed more relevant had it explained all the heroes’ doppelgangers on the Skrull ship, but it only tells the story of “Captain America.” Seeing as how it is not really a “replacement story” (Steve Rogers was never switched out for a Skrull), it really isn’t that interesting. We get a lot more of the same scenes with “Skrull-Cap” giving his monologue (“the blood of a human, the blood of a male…” etc) as he gets a bloody towel placed over his head (where did the Skrulls get the blood of Rogers anyway?)

The only thing of merit we learn in this issue is that the Skrulls can indeed implant memories into the imposter’s heads. “Skrull-Cap” believed himself to be the real Steve Rogers. This still doesn’t explain who, if any, of the other “Skrull-ship heroes” are real. I think at least some of them are truly abducted heroes. I’m guessing probably Mockingbird (how else would she have known the information she shared with Clint?) and either Luke Cage or Jessica Jones.

Personally, I think it would make for a good story if the very anti-Skrull Luke Cage turns out to be a Skrull and doesn’t even know it. Anyway, a fairly run-of-the-mill Secret Invasion tie-in, this really isn’t a necessary purchase unless you want your collection to be complete. Here’s hoping that next week’s Secret Invasion 5 will be much better!

-LOTRKing

Review of Avengers: The Initiative 15 (4 stars) July 31, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My review can be found here.

Quick spoilers: The Initiative is called into action to help fight the Skrulls in NYC. Crusader relates the story of how he came to Earth and chose humans over his own people. While in battle, Crusader instinctively kills one of his oldest Skrull friends. While he regrets his rash action, he now fully considers himself human.

-LOTRKing