Monday, 31 October 2016

Amazing X-Men Vol. 1: The Quest for Nightcrawler (Marvel NOW!) Review

Okay, fine- you've seen the coolest
image in the book already. HAPPY?!
Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: Ed McGuinness

Collects: Amazing X-Men #1-6

Background Information:

There was a time when the X-Men fought baddies. Then a few different things happened. Magneto became a good guy, the X-Men split into the Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine's X-Men, and Cyclops found himself convinced that all humans were evil and that mutants had to be protected from them. Now the X-Men fight each other. For better or for worse, Marvel NOW! X-Men have been fighting each other. That's earned it some criticism

Oh, they've also brought the original X-Men into our time from the past.

That couldn't possibly go wrong, right?

You thought I was joking about the "literal hell" part, didn't you...

In many ways, Amazing X-Men feels like a return to form for those who have come to loathe the Amazing X-Men an exception rather than a rule.
current run of X-books; it features a classic team of mutants, has plenty of humour and, most importantly, is about X-Men fighting someone other than themselves. It's a pity then that Marvel have seemingly no interest in continuing this series into the current X-Men run, and that disinterest shows, making

The Quest For Nightcrawler finds the X-Men in literal hell- That's something only Jason Aaron could make light and fun. They've followed the Bamfs (not an acronym) through an unknown portal with new member Firestar and have been confronted with Azazel- the evil pirate demon-dad of Nightcrawler.

In case you're wondering, yes. This collection was written with no other purpose than to bring Nightcrawler back into the universe, and honestly, it's done fairly well. The fight between Nightcrawler's X-Men (yes; in this collection, that's what they are) and the demon pirates in as fun and bombastic as many remember comics always being. Nightcrawler's action scenes- particularly his fights with Azazel- are particularly epic; seeing him "bamf" around cutting down enemies is exciting and his dialogue feels fresh and witty.

The other characters, unfortunately, don't feel as fleshed out. Firestar (who I know I'm going to mess up and call Starfire at some point) seem's to be relegated to "straight man" to juxtapose Iceman's not-quite-as-funny-as-Aaron-wants them to be, and be shocked at the so-called craziness of everything. Northstar hates everyone and reminds us about why we haven't seen this character since his wedding a few years ago. Beast is FAR better handled in Bendis' X-books as Aaron dilutes his character to being a coffee addict. I could go on, but it bums me out that Marvel are giving us X-books that basically say "you can have well-developed characters or you can have storylines where things actually happen." No, Marvel; we want both!

Guys... don't mean to be a downer, but
Wolverine's in this book, too.
Thankfully, plenty does actually happen in The Quest for Nightcrawler, and for a moment, you're tempted to ignore the fact that none of the characters actually need to be there. This is a story that could just as easily be told with the Avengers or even the Fantastic Four! It's a book full of cool happenings, but nothing more substantial. Is it fun? Sure; and those lamenting the seriousness of contemporary comics will likely love it, but don't kid yourself: this is pretty shallow escapism.

The art here is vibrant and colourful and it makes you think of the 90s X-Men cartoons. I can't stress here just how much this book seems written for those who miss the old X-Men and every visual drives it home. It helps to drive home the fact that this is the "fun" book.

And ultimately, I'm glad it exists. I'm not always a fan of the "light and funny" mandate that seems to get god-status every time a piece of superhero media exists, but Amazing X-Men proves that there are still SO many ways to take the franchise. It's not the deepest mutant book- not by a long shot- but it's a fun, nostalgic read to be sure. It gets a three out of five Bamfs (again, not an acronym).


+ Nightcrawler is well done.
+ Vibrant and colourful art.
+ Fun tone with lots happening.
- Character progression nearly non-existant
- None of these characters feel important to the story.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Batman Eternal Vol. 1 (The New 52) Review

"Hey buddy! Wanna buy a supporting
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, Ray Fawkes, Tim Seely and Kyle Higgins.

Artists: Y'know what? There's a lot- let's leave it at that.

Collects: Batman Eternal #1-21

Background Information:

Every now and again, DC will release a weekly series. If they have faith in it, that series will last 52 issues. If not, It will end around the 40-45 mark. By the time Batman Eternal was in full swing, DC were publishing no less than three of these series; the aforementioned Batman title, The New 52: Future's End and Earth 2: World's End. These were all billed as big deals for the DC universe, but only one series found people who actually cared about it. Guess which one it was?

...the Batman one. It was the Batman one.


There have been complaints aplenty made about Batman Eternal; it's chaotic, there's a lot of plots going in different directions at any one time and there's more filler than the teeth of a sugar addict following fourteen consecutive Halloweens. These complaints though, are best attributed to all DC weekly series and it seems a bit harsh to slag Batman Eternal for doing what series like 52 were already doing. That said, Batman Eternal's major selling point is that there's a lot of it- even if some of it isn't all that good, which is worrying considering how much they're asking for a trade paperback.
We currently have no idea what's happening here and we read
this scene twice!

So Forever Evil has just finished and Batman is back to his old games again- chasing criminals, recruiting minors to fight dangerous battles and trying his best not to refer to Alfred as "mummy" when a train accident finds Jim Gordon arrested for causing the death of hundreds. It's at this time when Gotham's criminals decide that when the cat's away (I'm not making a reference to Catwoman- she's in this one) the mice will.. well, start a massive gang war and cause death and destruction everywhere... y'know- typical mouse stuff.

This leave various Gotham heroes frantically running around the city to do typical hero stuff; Batgirl and Red Hood search for whoever set Jim Gordon up for a fall, Red Robin and Harper Row track a nanobot virus that's doing all sorts of evil things and Batwing joins up with the Spectre to set up Gotham at Midnight investigate strange going-ons at Arkham. This leaves Batman having to deal with the gang war and I have to say that it's cool to see old Bats with white-knuckles as he frantically rushes from one place to another to just barely avert disaster. You really get the impression here that he hasn't slept in days, which is great because I don't think we ever see the line "I haven't slept in days". It's show-don't-tell at it's finest.

Oh, and Stephanie Brown is in this one. Yep, that character that people demanded be brought back has indeed... come back. Honestly, that's all I can say about her at this point, because Batman Eternal seemed only interested in doing that with her character. She constantly pops up to remind us that she is indeed there and that DC are very sorry; please take them back, they love you and really that fling with the new readers didn't really mean anything! To say that she propels the plot forward in new and interesting ways is like saying Thomas the Tank Engine runs on Coca-Cola and Mentos; It's something we may really want to happen but when it comes down to it, we need to accept the fact that reality isn't going to pander to us in that way.

Weirdly, the most interesting plot seems to be that of Vicki Vale and new detective Jason Bard. There's a lot of solid detective work done by these two and seeing their relationship is absolutely the books sweet spot. There's enough space to argue that these two people matter more to the plot than any of the superhero characters combined. You know how people are all impressed that Batman's on the Justice League even though he has no powers? Vale and Bard, in this sense are Batman Eternal's Batman- no intense combat training (beyond what a cop can do), no high-tech gadgetry and yet they rattle cages like a blind parakeet on a sugar rush.
One day, I'm going to find whoever gave Red Hood's helmet
that stupid mouth and maim them.

With a book that has 13 artists, do I need to say that the art is a mixed bag? Or remind you of an idiom about too many cooks? None of this is to say that the art is bad for a weekly series (except for Ian Betram's, who makes every character look like they gained 20 kilos just for the issue and have blackheads all over their faces), But you're more likely to notice the change in artist than the change in writer. Otherwise, it looks how a Batman book should- dark, gritty, and intense as anything.

Now, as I mentioned, this is a 52-issue weekly series which means that the old weekly-series problems still apply (sing along if you know the words): Many issues feel like they're there to fill in gaps in the publishing schedule, there's no sense of a complete story arc in this volume, and too many things are happening at once. That's not a fault of Batman Eternal so much as it a fault of the weekly format; the book is very much a slave to its publishing schedule, so there isn't that feeling of tightness you get from an monthly ongoing. Batman Eternal does its best to still make those problems somewhat enjoyable, even if it can't negate them completely, but fair warning; I'm not anticipating a fully satisfying plot until the end of the series.

Thankfully, as I said, there's a lot of it, so you will be kept busy reading a series that is actually okay. Batman Eternal gets a three out of five Coca-Cola/Mentos-powered steam engines.

+ Chaotic in the best way.
+ Bard and Vale.
+ A lot of story.
+Stephanie Brown is in it...
-... but she's just "there".
- Not all art is good
- The usual weekly series problems.

Alternate Option: 52

Takes a MUCH broader swing at the DCU, even if the book itself isn't as good.

Fantastic Four Vol. 3: Doomed (Marvel NOW!) Review

It's... prophetic... I'll give it that.
Writer: Matt Fraction

Artists: Mark Bagely, Raffaele Ienco, Mark Famer and Joe Rubinstien.

Collects: Fantastic Four (2012) #9-16

Background Information:

For the last two volumes, the Fantastic Four have been trying to figure out what has been messing with their powers.

Oh yeah, it's been killing them, too.

Trying to find a way to fix their problem has involved them travelling through time and space because comics. The family have been to a lot of strange places and found out completely nothing.

Doesn't that just make you desperate for more?


I don't get it. I just don't get it.

I swear, you'd think Marvel were trying to
tell us something...
You ever read those books that has plenty of what you like and then ended up forgetting about it?

That's Doomed  in a nutshell. At face value, there's nothing to hate- there's even a lot to like- yet, somehow the whole thing is a bore. It's disappointing because as the final volume of Matt Fraction's run, this should have been the best book of the three-volume stint. As it is, it's only the second. It's better by far than Road Trip, but not as good as New Departures, New Arrivals.

So Reed Richards now has to fix his family's powers before everyone dies. On the side, Ben Grimm is worried that his actions resulted in Dr Doom existing, so he and Reed go back in time to witness the beginning of Marvel's greatest villain. There's also an alternate universe that's ruled by Kang the Conqueror, Annihilus and Doom himself, and that takes us to the book's climax. If that sounds overly complicated, it's because it is.

This is one of those volumes that was made after the series was cancelled and, like all comics that suffer the same fate, every remaining issue gets crammed into one volume that makes for a rather cluttered story. The result is that there's really too much here. Or at least it feels that way. Fraction somehow puts that much into a story without ever giving the feeling that something has actually happened.

I'll give it this, where Road Trip felt like nothing more than a transition point, Doomed actually feels like it's about something, but each part of Doomed feels like it's being squeezed out of a pipe (don't make that a poo joke... don't make it a poo joke... DAMMIT, you made it a poo joke). Each moment feels like Fraction was saying to himself "Just one more page, and then I can get back to writing Hawkeye, which I actually like doing" and because of this, I found myself checking how much more of the book I had to read before I could move on to something else.

And at this point, it really is hard for me to believe that Marvel didn't have a plan to destroy the Fantastic Four for no other reason than it couldn't make movies about them. Scream "conspiracy theorist" all you want, but at the end of the day, Matt Fraction is a far better writer than this. Like I said, his Hawkeye is proof enough of this. It really does seem like Marvel was telling him to make this book as boring as he could, and if that was the case, pat yourself on the back, Matty ol' boy because you certainly succeeded- even when you had a million and one exciting things going on, you still pushed out a stinker (you're making a poo joke again, aren't you?!).

Even the black suits didn't help...
The art is the strongest feature of this book. It's really the reverse of the writing. Where the writing had all the hallmarks of a great book and still failed to deliver, the art uses colours that usually would only go together if you wanted to incite madness and somehow still comes off as pretty pleasing. A large part of the credit goes to the pencillers Mark Bagley, Raffaele Ienco, Mark Farmer and Joe Rubinstein, who draw these incredibly exotic, out-there environments. Even so, colourists Paul Mounts and Guru-eFX (who must have drawn a LOT of sympathy out of the maternity ward for that name) need to be praised. Like I said, this book shouldn't look good, but it does, which makes all the more a pity that the writing is so bland!

I make it sound like I hated this book and I really didn't. The heart-felt epilogue issue at the end draws together both this and Fractions FF for a warm-and-fuzzy goodbye and I found myself treating it like a teacher does a naughty kid who give her a thank-you card at the end of the term. I was unimpressed by it's performance, but it left me feeling good at the end. It gets a two out of five poo jokes.

+ The end issue.
+ Art.
- Cluttered story...
- That feels like nothing is happening.