Thursday, 28 August 2014

Avengers Vol. 1: Avengers World (Marvel NOW!) Review


Avengers Vol.1: Avengers World (Marvel NOW!)
Insert Queen's "We Will Rock You"

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artists: Jerome Opena and Adam Kubert

Collects: Avengers #1-6

Background Information:

So, apparently Avengers is a thing.

Yeah, who knew, right?

For years the Avengers, in multiple forms, was written by Brian Michael Bendis. Now that Bendis is working on the Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men titles. The Avengers books are now being taken by Jonathan Hickman, who used to write for Fantastic Four and FF. Whereas a lot of Bendis’ titles were based on fairly grounded local threats, Hickman’s more about the interstellar and the strange. So you can expect something a little different from what happened before.

Review:

Marvel NOW! is supposed to be about helping new readers into Marvel comics. Keywords are supposed to. I’m not sure that all of these titles are all that good for getting people’s feet wet. All-New X-Men and Uncanny Avengers require you to have read Avengers vs X-Men to really understand and if you want to get Superior Spider-Man, you’ll need to read Dying Wish.

Thankfully, Hickman’s adjectiveless Avengers doesn’t have the same problem. In fact, if you want to start reading Avengers books, Avengers World is a really good starting point.
PUNY HULK!!!

So the Avengers  have decided that they need to “get bigger”; meaning that the usual roster of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow aren’t going to be enough. The team expands the roster to include more Marvel heroes such as Spider-Man (the Superior one), Wolverine, Shan Chi and others. A roster of six becomes a roster of eighteen.

And a big Avengers is just what’s needed to face a big threat. That big threat comes in the form of a character called Ex Nihilo who’s a… uh… a… uh… it’s kinda’ hard to explain. All I can really say is that he’s trying to recreate the earth in preparation for what I can only assume is… something.

It sounds like I’m making fun of the collection, but I’m not; not really. See, Hickman has a habit, apparently, of writing insanely long story arcs- the kind that can’t fit into the rigid structure of “only 5-6 issues per trade” that Marvel seems desperate to stick to. And to be honest, the trade isn’t so much about the bad guys as it is about showcasing the twelve new avengers. Hickman does a pretty good job at this, giving the reasons for each character’s reason for joining the team and crafting a story that essentially gets most of the team out of the way so we can see the new guys in action. It’s fantastic to see that Hickman has this kind of confidence in the characters he writes. Considering the success of the Avengers on the big screen, I imagine it would have been all too easy to write a story focussing on the movie characters, but I’m glad we got something with a slightly different flavour to it.

All the same, the story seems to go largely unresolved. I’m not the kind who demands that every loose end be tied up by the end of the first trade, but you’d think Hickman would at least tie up one of them. The point of this volume, unfortunately, seems to be only to set up the next and that never ends up being truly satisfying.

That helmet, for the record, looks stupid.
Art here, though is great. Between Opena and Kubert we get some fantastic depictions of characters. Hulk returns to his ape-like form and while that can sometimes look a little goofy, it really works in terms of showing us the vast difference between Bruce Banner and the less-than-jolly green giant. The real credit though, has to go to the colour artists, who are too numerous to mention here. The paints in Avengers World just do so much to capture the grandeur of the situation and really helps to add gravitas to the story.

Avengers World is great fun to read, and excellent as a jumping-on point. It gets a four out of five… somethings.

****

+ Good jumping-on point.

+ More focus on the characters you didn’t see in the movie.

+ Art looks phenomenal.

- NO loose ends resolved.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Real Relevance: Superman


He means a lot more than punches and flight.
“Relevant” is a word that gets thrown a lot around comic fandom. Indeed, to become relevant is usually the highest honour a character can have. In comic circles, the word means that characters have received, or are worthy of, a fair amount of recognition.

It’s a weird term, really, because that’s not what the word really means; at least not to me. See, to me, something has to be important to be relevant. It has to be necessary to a people, to societies or, dare I say it, to global communities.

It sounds like I’m asking a bit much; we’re talking about comics, after all; a medium not well-known for world-changing narratives (at least not in the same way that novels like Animal Farm or To Kill a Mockingbird can be called world-changing). But that doesn’t mean that Superhero characters don’t have relevance. So I’m starting a series of articles on various heroes from Marvel and DC.

So today we’re going to start with Superman. It feels like I definitely started with the hardest one; it’s difficult to say that Superman’s popularity is at an all-time high, but “popular” is different to “relevant”. Whether some nay-sayers will admit it or not; there’s a few reasons that we still need Superman stories. What follows are those reasons.

We Need Hope

Let there be Superman!
For a while now, we’ve been bombarded with the message that Superman is a symbol of hope. It’s not something that the public has really caught on to.

Sure, you could blame Man of Steel for this; while visually spectacular, it wasn’t the message of hope that director Zack Snyder thought it was. But I think Superman’s lack of popularity has more to do with the society that the Man of Steel now finds himself in.

See, we live in an age of scepticism. Hope isn’t a popular notion. If you want proof of this; look at the opposition to Barack Obama during his first campaign for presidency- he was criticised for talking about hope. And people jumped on the opportunity to make Obama look na├»ve.

It’s little wonder that, when compared with the dark, jaded, cynical Batman, Superman seems to play second fiddle. But the fact that this apparently “goody-goody” character is championing an attitude that now seems outdated is exactly the reason we need Superman. We need icons that fill us with hope. We need ones who encourage us to do better. Superman, by his nature does this.

We need role models

We need people to look up to. Superman does that.
One of the other reasons Superman seems less popular is that he’s “too goody-goody”.

Yep, we don’t want heroes who are good, it seems. May as well base the next superhero off Adolf Hitler.

Except we shouldn’t. When did we as a global society stop aspiring to something better, or even the best? We also need Superman stories because we can’t continue to worship anti-heroes who only serve to make us feel better about our own twisted, bitter, spiteful selves.

Superman as the “boring flawless” character holds that up as a standard to us. The fact that he is flawless may not make him particularly gritty, but does make him a role model. Written in the right way (and I should also say; read in the right way), Superman is evidence of the kind of person a human being can become. Not super-strong or able to fly, but enthusiastic in his ability to good, self-sacrificing and honest.

In short, Superman is highly relevant. Not because of any film or video game appearances have made him mainstream popular, but because of who he encourages us to be.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Superman- Action Comics Vol. 2: Bulletproof (The New 52) Review


Superman Action Comics Vol.2: Bulletproof
It must be so hard to be a white dude
facing all that prejudice... yeah...

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Rags Morales

Collects: Superman – Action Comics #9-12, 0 and Action Comics Annual #1

Background information:

Grant Morrison has a reputation. Whether that reputation is good or bad remains to be seen. To some, he is the man responsible for great stories like All-Star Superman and New X-Men. To others, he is the man behind the pure weirdness of a long Batman runs and Superman singing away evil in Final Crisis. Most recently, he has been writing Superman Action Comics for the New 52, focussing on the early career of the Man of Steel. It’s a Superman who hasn’t yet learned to fly, but has already saved Metropolis and taken on Brainiac.

Review:

Second volumes in the New 52 haven’t gone wonderfully really. Generally, they’ve all been just that little bit less good than the first ones. Grant Morrison’s Superman Action Comics has been part of this trend- not, in any way bad, but rather pale in comparison to the first volume.
Superman has a thing with trains, doesn't he?
 
Bulletproof deals with a number of stories, really. Nimrod the Hunter, Captain Comet and Kryptonite Man make their own New 52 debuts in this book, as well as another universe featuring what I’m going to call “Superobama” (an African-American presidential Superman who is really fun to read). What Bulletproof is really about, though, is the disappearance of Kal-El’s identity as Clark Kent; who gets caught in an explosion. The question of the necessity of Clark Kent is raised here; not only as a way for Superman to live a normal life, but as a way for him to continue his mission.

See, Clark in this volume isn’t just a way to throw suspicious people off the scent; Morrison actually writes him as part of the Superman mission. After Clark’s “Death”, he’s remembered most for helping others who are in trouble. In a way, Action Comics has been presenting a more inspiring Clark Kent than it has a Superman, and I’m surprisingly okay with that.

If you saw the villain list and rolled your eyes, don’t. Nimrod, Captain Comet and Kryptonite Man are only used as much as they are necessary to use and no more. When we stopped seeing Nimrod, I wasn’t too bummed. I’d had my fill of the character and was more interested in what was coming next. It was the same for every other villain in the trade and it’s a credit to Morrison that he’s able to handle the fairly large cast without making any of them feel pointless.

One of my only real problems with Bulletproof’s story is the rather dragged-out section in the middle where a collection of side-stories are given front and centre. As well as Morrison writes Superman’s supporting cast, I don’t really care to see things that happen outside of Clark’s story. The side stories aren’t bad, but they’re incredibly jarring and I’m pretty convinced they should have been left for the end of the trade.

Also, if you’re new to Grant Morrison, I wouldn’t really suggest this one just yet. I actually read Bulletproof before the previous volume; Superman and the Men of Steel. When I did, I found it jarring and difficult to follow. That’s partially due to Morrison’s style; he likes to jump forward and back in time and explore some of the weirder elements of a character’s mythos. If, however, you’d like a steadier introduction into Morrison’s work, you’d best check out the first volume before this one.

Important point: X-Rays do not allow people to see people
naked. Superman isn't a pervert... at least not in this sense.
Art is this collection, unfortunately, bears the same problems as the first. It’s handled *moderately* better here, but not much. You can still expect to see a different artist in every issue (sometimes after only a few pages) and that becomes very off-putting. I like Morrison’s Superman generally, but he needs to have ONE ARTIST PER ONGOING. Seriously, this is getting annoying.

Bulletproof is good, don’t worry about that, but like Batman’s plan to beat Supes, you’re gonna need prep time. It gets a three and a half out of five Superobamas.
 
*** ½

+ Clark Kent is inspiring.

+ Villains are evenly spread out.

- Art is uneven.

- Some sections feel unnecessary.
 

Alternate Option: Superman Action Comics: Superman and the Men of Steel

If you haven’t read it, do so before reading this one. It’ll enhance the experience.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Superior Spider-Man Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy (Marvel NOW!) Review


Superior Spider-Man Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy

SUPERIOR creepiness!
Writer: Dan Slott

Artists: Ryan Stegman and Giuseppe Camuncoli

Collects: Superior Spider-Man #1-5

Background Information:

Peter Parker is dead.

And it’s permanent.

No, really, it is.

What?

STOP LAUGHING! He’s dead!

Okay there ends the jest. But even if Peter Parker hadn’t already come back in the retconned Amazing Spider-Man, it would still be ridiculous to suggest that we’d never see the original Spider-Man again. Characters from Marvel’s mainstream universe never stay dead. Captain America came back, Thor came back almost immediately after he died, and it’s almost a guarantee that Wolverine’s upcoming death will, in fact, only be a temporary hiatus. Nonetheless, in a Spider-Man story called Dying Wish, a near-death Doctor Otto Octavius (also known as Doctor Octopus) switched minds with Peter Parker, causing your friendly neighbourhood hero to die in Otto’s old body while Otto began a new life in Parker’s body. With this new body though, came some fragments of Peter’s memories and Otto found himself determined to become a new, yet far superior version of Spider-Man.

Review:

There are plenty of comic stories that, while good, tend to tread ground that’s too familiar, too safe. They’re plenty enjoyable, but their focus on more of that same-old-same old can make the story somewhat stale. Superior Spider-Man, thankfully, isn’t one of those stories. In fact, it’s become the biggest game-changer for Marvel’s status quo in decades and though the series gained it share of controversy (including alleged death threats from die-hard fans to writer Dan Slott), the change pays off like nothing you’ve seen in years.

SUPERIOR cuddles!
It’s hard to say that there’s a real story to My Own Worst Enemy. Sure, there’s a few different arcs at play here, but that’s not really the point of the collection. My Own Worst Enemy is really about establishing the new Spider-Man’s status quo. In that way, it reminds me of the first issue of Scarlet Spider, only a change to a different status quo instead of establishing a new one.

And what a different status-quo it is!

Otto’s Peter is clearly cut from a different cloth than the Peter we all grew up with. Right from the get-go Otto is fighting crimes the way a supervillain would do. The first issue sees Otto reprogram a robot criminal to be his butler/assistant/minion and help him create new tools. Later, he develops an army of small robots to watch the city. Even the way he fights criminals is far more brutal and rage-fuelled than most superheroes out there.

More than that, the way Otto relates to Peter’s previous supporting cast is totally different too. Otto doesn’t play as well with others. He thinks his boss at Horizon labs beneath him, chooses to distance himself from Mary Jane (even though there are a few problems before that, which I’ll address later), and even makes peace with Mayer J. Jonah Jameson. What’s more, he’s haunted by the remaining memories of Peter Parker, who tries to steer Otto right.

I know, right?

All of this makes for a truly compelling collection and I can see it being a truly compelling series. It is, however, hardly a perfect book. There is one really quite disturbing scene, and people who have read this trade know exactly what I’m talking about.

See, Otto spends an issue trying his best to court Mary Jane Watson. I won’t go too far into it, but suffice to say that Octavius only has one thing on his mind. Thankfully, Otto changes his mind later on in the volume, but that doesn’t make the experience of reading his admittedly sick mind any more pleasant. I have to imagine that Slott thought this was something that we could all relate to, Mary Jane being continually regarded as very attractive, but it comes off as nothing more than perverted and gross. There is nothing entertaining about dirty old men trying to be taken seriously.

SUPERIOR "wooo!"
The art duties are taken by Ryan Stegman in the first few issues and his work is totally on point. Stegman did work on Scarlet Spider and he just seems to get how to draw spider-characters. His artwork is light and his colours are the perfect tonic for those who have grown tired of constantly reading comics that are designed to be “dark and gritty”. I can’t say the same for Camuncoli’s work. It comes off as dirty and not as interesting as Stegman’s. Still passable, but it’s a pity that Stegman couldn’t draw the whole book.

Superior Spider-Man may have a deeply disturbing bit of perversion, but My Own Worst Enemy is still a highly entertaining book that sets up one of the most interesting series Marvel has done for a long time. It gets a four and a half out of five dirty old men.

**** ½

+ Great new status quo.

+ Stegman’s art is great.

- Otto can be kinda’ pervy sometimes.

Alternate Option: Scarlet Spider: Life After Death

It’s another bad-boy Spider, but if a new Peter Parker rubs you the wrong way, this may make up for it.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Green Lantern Vol. 3: The End (The New 52) Review


Green Lantern Vol. 3: The End (The New 52)

A cover that isn't in the book at all,
but who cares?
Writer: Geoff Johns

Artists: Doug Mahnke

Collects: Green Lantern #13-20

Background Information:

Geoff Johns has been writing Green Lantern for many years, now. And he’s the man who really threw the character of Hal Jordan into the limelight. For better or for worse, it may be the reason that we ended up having a Green Lantern movie, as lame as it was.

In the last two volumes, Hal’s teamed up with long-time enemy Sinestro to take on a plot that the ruling Guardians are forming against the Green Lanterns. It’s brought Hal and Sinestro into contact with the villain known as Black Hand and has banished them to the dead zone, with their rings believing them to be genuinely dead.

Review:

The comics industry is obsessed with getting new readers at the moments. Reboots, retcons and renumberings have been churned out regularly as the industry desperately sprints to provide readers with the perfect jumping-on point. With so many of these around, it’s just as important to provide jumping-off points. In case you couldn’t tell from the title, but The End is just that kind of title; one where you can happily stop reading Green Lantern and move on to other comics.

Obama's not a Green Lantern fan- there's
a red, white and blue joke here, I know
it.
This isn’t purely coincidental to the fact that The End also marks the final volume of Geoff Johns’ brilliant run on the character of Hal Jordan, and the end is as epic as you’d expect a final volume in an over-nine-year run to be. Nothing more than what you’d expect mind you- this isn’t anything mind-blowing, but immensely satisfying.

With Hal and Sinestro in the dead zone, the ring that the two shared now must find a new owner in the form of Simon Baz. In the meantime, the Guardians are setting up a group called the Third Army with this assistance of the First Lantern, Valthoom. It’s the intergalactic version of what we on Earth call a kerfuffle.

Yep, I’m using words that probably don’t exist.

Firstly, though I gave a fairly short synopsis, there’s a lot that happens in this book. And though a new reader may have no idea it’s happening, The End draws together so many elements from Johns’ Green Lantern run; the multi-coloured lanterns, Blackest Night, and the huge focus on developing of Sinestro’s character that it’s hard to believe that Green Lantern isn’t simply ending.

It’s admittedly a complicated story; one that requires you to read it alongside at least Green Lantern Corps and possibly Green Lantern New Guardians and Red Lanterns. That’s a problem for people who don’t want to buy the crossover. It does make the story a little confusing.

Insert anime style "Waaarrrrrggghhhh!!!"
Thankfully, there are so many elements to this story that brings out the best of Geoff Johns’ mythos. I can’t go much further without talking about Sinestro. It’s possible to say that Johns’ run is more about Sinestro than Hal Jordan, and Sinestro really comes full circle here. Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of extra story with the character, but again, if you were to stop here, it would be just as satisfying as if you continued. Not bad for a guy who looks like a pink Hitler.

Art by Doug Mahnke is as good as it has always been, but my problem lies not in the art at all. It actually lies in the fact that Johns puts so much into this book that it’s really hard to take in. Each scene, as a result, feels rushed. We go from the Lanterns fighting the Third Army, to fighting Volthoom, to fighting Sinestro to the finish.

Be that as it may, The End is still an amazing finish to the New 52’s Green Lantern. It gets a four out of five pink Hitlers

****

+ Perfect “jumping-off” point.

+ Sinestro is awesome

+ Cover so much of what made Johns’ run awesome.

- Story can sometimes go way too fast to follow

Alternate Option: The first three volumes of any other Lantern series

There’s a much wider story to be experienced here; go and experience it!