Comic Fodder

Tpull's Weekly Marvel Comics Review – Part Two

Marvel’s getting harder to deal with, after all of these special titles. This review assembles the various mini-series, annuals, giant-size specials, and so on.

1985 #6

by Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards

I need some help on this one, because I still can’t figure out exactly what the crossover was with Millar’s other titles, Fantastic Four and Wolverine. This is a cinematic-style final battle royale between the Marvel heroes of the ‘80s and the villains, and all of the stuff that has been hinted at is confirmed in this issue. It was Clyde who had the power, and Jerry was innocent.

The ending may move some people, but I was always hoping for something more to come from this series. The nostalgia factor is high for a lot of readers, but the problem is, any one of us could have written this book. We need to see better stories, not the dream of Millar’s 10-year-old self coming out to play. He could have just pulled out some action figures and re-enacted this in his living room. At the end of the day, it was a small variation on Secret Wars, with the reader in the position of being the key to victory, just like all of us used to do when we were kids. There was potential for something more, but this was a missed opportunity.

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1

by Marc Guggenheim and Mike McKone

Okay, they replay the essential Jackpot scenes that let us know Mary Jane was not Jackpot, and they use this annual to solve the lingering mystery… for now. McKone gives us some great clean art the whole way through, and the dialogue flows just as smoothly. The weird thing is, everyone seems to be playing fast and loose with the Superhuman Registration Act, including Reed Richards. It is turning into a big pink elephant, and someone really needs to address this issue as far as it affects Spider-Man, because it taints every interaction he has with registered heroes. They tried to address it in the Ms. Marvel annual, but the same situation still existed after that issue ended.

This annual, however, is a good read, and has the death of a hero, and a hint of a new one, sort of. Marvel has put a lot of plots into play in their effort to keep Spider-Man published every week, and between the regular series three times a week, one-shot, specials, annuals, and Spidey’s appearances in other titles, we are getting a healthy does of the wall-crawler. The various sub-plots are also being addressed in a timely manner for the most part. Aside from the ignored Spider-Tracer killer storyline, most of the other plots are progressing fairly nice these days. Can they maintain the proper balance of new plot threads in an almost-weekly series, or will they start to overload again? They have to be careful, because it’s another year before they can close the lid on one of their side-stories with another annual!

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes 1

by Warren Ellis, Alan Davis, and Adi Granov

Considering Agent X-13 killed himself in the regular title, why is the guy sitting here announcing the invasion and conquering of the 616 universe? Alan Davis illustrates this tale of “emergency annexation,” and the pictures are good, but the story leaves me confused at first. Turns out, the whole point of introducing ghost boxes in the Astonishing title is not just to show another parallel universe conqueror (and didn’t we get enough of that in Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men? Guess the multiverse is full of conquerors who have never met each other), but to also show alternate realities. If I had to guess – and I DO have to guess, because they didn’t tell us this on the first page, there is a cloud of quantum probability around the ghost boxes which allow us to follow the thread of an alternate outcome from the “primary” reality. So if you’re confused from this, just know that this is basically a “What If” story based on looking into the mysteries of the ghost box.

Agent X makes a reference to not wanting to even go to 616 in the first place, that he recommended Earth-889 for annexation. The second eight-page story takes us to that Earth, and replays Astonishing X-Men 25 for us in a fledgling industrial society with no computers. Granov has some nice art, but this is really just a fancy variation on things we have already read recently.

Worse, it’s four bucks, and only 16 pages of story. The last few pages are script breakdowns. It feels like Marvel is just milking us for money at this point. Here’s an idea: why didn’t you combine issues 1 & 2 and make it a one-shot, instead of splitting up what obviously wasn’t enough for a long story? Pass on this unless you’ve got tons of cash and love Warren Ellis.

Captain America Theater of War: Operation Zero-Point 1

by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

This one-shot shows us a special one-man mission Cap was sent on during World War II. For some reason Cap starts off doubting the intel from the OSS, even though they have a history of being right, at least in the Marvel universe. Since OSS is the predecessor of the CIA, in real life from everything I have read, they were fairly accurate for real. Anyway, suffice to say they were right here, and Cap will probably not dismiss their concerns the next time they have a good tip.

Breitweiser is the artist from The Chosen mini-series, and it’s great to see him tackle Captain America again. At the risk of getting insults hurled at me again, I point out that Elizabeth Breitweiser is the name credited for the coloring, making this the third relative helping out the artist or writer of a Marvel comic in as many months, and maybe they just don’t believe in equal opportunity hiring. I haven’t been involved in the publishing side of comics, so I don’t know if it’s a miniature version of Hollywood, where it’s all based on who you know, and nepotism gets you a gig without a backward glance. All I know is that it is happening a lot at Marvel, and not at DC. I figure there can only be so many married people working in comics, they have to run out of these husband-wife pairings soon. That is not to suggest she isn’t a good colorist; I’ve seen better, but it’s reasonably good.

The Knauf tag-team weaves a scientific threat of basically a flying saucer, as the captive scientist has found a way to negate gravity. Cap breaks out and knocks out all of the bad guys, including the imposing leader, and then takes out the prototype flying machines too. It’s a relatively straight-forward story, and I was entertained.

Secret Invasion: Thor 3

by Matt Fraction and Doug Braithwaite

The final issue is a face-off with a single super-Skrull and Thor. Of course, he starts out as Don Blake, so Volstagg makes for a little distraction so Don can get his hands on a certain hammer. Braithwaite makes every panel look imposing, and it is worth noting that here is an artist who can successfully do his own inking.

The battle royale with the Skrull is precisely what more of the Secret Invasion should have been like. You don’t have a ton of soldiers all souped up on multiple powers running around, you have one massive bad guy (or girl, maybe, it’s hard to tell with Skrulls), and that one Skrull with the powers of four other super-humans is the big threat to the hero. In the end, Beta Ray Bill gets back into the game too, and the way they ultimately defeat the Skrull is priceless. One of the best tie-ins to SI.

Secret Invasion: X-Men 3

by Mike Carey and Ma Sepulveda

Where did Cary Nord go to after two issues? Sepulveda takes over on art, but it doesn’t help much, because he’s inking his own work just like Nord did, and most of the work is left to the colorist to try to make things work. And the coloring isn’t all that hot to begin with. The end result makes it have the feel of a kiddie book, with sub-optimal portraits of all of the characters. Nightcrawler and Beast almost look like brothers sometimes.

Storywise, Emma beats the psychic blockade, Nightcrawler turns over the mystic globe to Beast, and the Beast drags out the Legacy Virus as the way to defeat the Skrulls permanently. It’s not bad, but the art team is the poorest performer on the block. I would probably be enjoying the story itself more if the art wasn’t so average.

Ultimate Captain America Annual 1

by Jeph Loeb, Marko Djurdjevic, and Rafa Sandoval

Homage cover to Captain America Annual #8 (1971). Remember all of those Skrull and zombie homage covers? Most of them were actually good. This one does not add anything to the equation. As a matter of fact, the only fighting the two on the cover do is four pages of sparring, and two of those make up one big splash page! Note to Marvel: don’t let just anybody do an homage cover just because they think it’s “neat.”

This annual tells us how Cap came to impersonate the Black Panther. They could have designed a much more intriguing cover, but that would have required some creativity. The inside is better, with pencils by Marko Djurdjevic, who has been firing on all cylinders from his very first comic book work. We learn how big of a jerk Nick Fury can be on this little romp through history.

Sandoval takes over after a few pages for the art, and it’s unsteady throughout. Some panels look sparse, others have tons of detail. Some faces are good, others look very bad. The overall stage direction, how the characters are positioned, what they are doing, etc. is all well and good, but the quality of the art itself is sporadic.

Loeb has never been my favorite writer, but he does have the mechanics down pat after years of experience, so you can always expect a decent beginning middle and end to his yarns. This annual encapsulates the entire history of Ultimate Panther, from his being uprooted from his native land, to his training under Cap, all the way through to the agreement for Cap to impersonate him, and why.

Considering how out of left field the impersonation was, it would have been better if they could have published this a week earlier at least, to make it closer to the latest issue of Ultimates 3. Part of the lack of tension is the fact that they did everything in this annual after the fact. There was never any build-up to make us care about the Panther, no hints that there should be a need to impersonate him, and no older history that the readers could have known to make them care about the “surprise” over in Ultimates 3. So while this annul is a good read overall, the main effort of the impersonation plot falls flat.

Ultimate Spider-Man Annual 3

by Brian Bendis and David Lafuente

I have to give some props to Bendis. He manages to make an entire annual focus on a very personal choice, and when you start reading, you could care less about the criminals running around: you want to know how Peter and MJ handle the issue of sex as teenagers. Lafuente’s art looks a little anime with Spider-Man’s head a little large, so it looks like his body couldn’t support that much weight up top. For the teenage youthful feel that it brings across, it seems to work for the story.

In a twist from the usual, the setup has the criminals staging a getaway before they break into somewhere, so the “getaway” is actually just a distraction. Distraction and misdirection are the key signatures of… Ultimate Mysterio! Mysterio was never really handled well in the regular universe, so here’s hoping for good stuff from the Ultimate version in the future. This was still overshadowed by the discussion Peter and MJ have about what level they prefer their relationship to be. It is intelligent, thoughtful, and sweet at the same time. It’s probably Bendis’ best Ultimate story in quite a while. It makes for a good stand-alone read, too, if you don’t want to bother with the regular series.

X-Men: First Class Giant-Size Special 1

by Jeff Parker and multitudes

I think there was a big group of people wasting away the day at the Marvel offices, just goofing around with the classic X-Men. They decided to cram all of that into a giant-size special featuring half a dozen stories, none of which are very good. The art is really poor on most of them, as if they were targeting five-year-olds as their intended audience. For Halloween’s sake, they toss in a reprint of X-Men 40, which deals with Frankenstein’s monster. I don’t see much compelling for four bucks, except for a parody X-Men version of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Oh, and Agent Baker has now been ret-conned as a sleeper Skrull agent, and the Secret Invasion began way back when the classic team was still around. Can anyone tell me if this makes sense, given the chronology of when the Skrulls were first pissed off about the cow incident, and when they actually started planting additional spies?
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

I must getting old because I loved 1985 and your dissing it makes me want to yell at you to get off my lawn, you young whippersnapper!

Seriously, sometimes comics are just meant to be fun and need not be connected to any bigger picture nor have any message of import to offer.

-- Posted by: Jim Brocius at November 5, 2008 2:39 PM