Ultimate Comics X-Men #4 Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Ultimate Comics

Issue #4

Written by Nick Spencer, Art by Paco Medina

Published: February 2012

Ultimate X-Men #4 continues the story of William Stryker and son’s religious persecution of mutants as it reaches a fever pitch. Mutants everywhere are being rounded up and, perhaps more interestingly, given false hope of being ‘cured.’

Stories about religious fanaticism are, admittedly, not one of my favourite tropes. Much here, while treated with a certain level of complexity, is familiar ground for titles bearing the X-Men name. The theme of prejudice and oppression are not anything new to the series, although the element of mutants needing to be ‘forgiven’ – especially with that cliffhanger ending – is a little more appealing. It’s not bad by any means – it’s just not terribly thrilling.

The issue’s strength is far more in the character dynamics: William Stryker beating his son into ‘becoming a man’, Kitty Pryde and Johnny Storm hashing it out over Peter Parker’s death, etc. Conflicts like these, which arise because of the differences in philosophy and personality between the characters, are generally handled with a bit more creativity and resulting intrigue than anything relating to the plot. In my opinion, the relationship between William Stryker and William Stryker Jr. is more interesting than anything the two characters actually do in this issue. Whether or not this is a strength or a weakness will probably depend on the reader – for me, it’s a positive.

The issue looks great – sepia-coloured panels and liberal use of shadows give the pages a fiery, dramatic tone. Everything is bleak and brown and black. It gives the book a really great atmosphere, one of a world made duller, as if even the colour scheme is oppressing in the way it denies the typical bright colours of the average comic book page.

Overall, not a bad title, but it’s not one of my favourite X-Men titles currently running.

Avengers Academy #23 Review (Shattered Heroes)

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Avengers Academy

Issue #23

Written by Christos Gage, Art by Tom Raney

Published: February 2012

I will say this about Christos Gage, the man can really  pack an issue full of information. It is definitely noticeable in this series that either it is a high volume of action or high volume of content with dialogue. Personally I would to see him do a little less and make it tie together better. But, since I’m not his boss, it is doubtful it will happen. On to the action!

In a very unsurprising manner X-23 manages to join the team in issue #23. Sure that is a little hokey but at the same time every young super hero needs a home so welcome aboard the now massive team! While I found much of the story interesting, the total volume and variety of arcs is a bit much to handle. The story with Reptil deserves more focus and maybe spread out some other stories instead of cramming them in. Along those same lines it seems like Tom Raney is having a hard time dealing with all the new characters. While I loved some of his earlier stuff in this series, this issue was rather a weak offering overall. I am guessing that either it is a Thanksgiving hangover or all of the new people he has to work in are giving him less time for details and style. Some panels are just boring and not very interesting to view. The plot and art should blend together well to tell a story, but in this case it staggers along a bit.

Overall this is a middle of the road book. Very necessary for the series with all of the plot information but it is not a great casual read. With so much going on a first time reader will no doubt be a bit confused. Let’s hope for a less jam packed issue next month with better focus!

Action Comics #4 Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Action Comics

Issue #4

Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Rags Morales

Published: February 2012

Superman returns, this time with a good old-fashioned robot invasion story! The Action Comics title continues to deliver on fast-paced action and violence, this time with an interesting twist. The robots are here to kill us in order to preservesignificant historical artefacts. And to kill Superman – but hey, who isn’t?

I’ve reviewed some of the previous issues of the latest incarnation of the original superhero, and in many ways the strengths and weaknesses remain the same. Expressions and facial features on the characters remains very hit-or-miss, but the action and movement is great, and the quick pace at which the story roller-coasters along is pretty infectious. There are no people standing around talking for too long – at least, not without an explosion or two in the background. There’s something gratifying and just plain fun about that.

The story is slowly but surely ramping up, however, and that makes Action Comics a title that slowly but surely improves every week. This time, the madcap brawl is tied in with Clark Kent’s backstory as an alien from a dead planet. The alienvoice is genuinely creepy and threatening, and there’s a real sense of Superman being pummelled half to death, which is oddly appealing in that it makes him seem a little more vulnerable than usual.

There’s also another side story about Man of Steel, the man behind the tech suit gone rogue, fighting against his own creation. It’s short, but it’s actually a very effective character piece with good action and atmosphere – I hope John Henry Irons is more involved with future issues, and that Superman’s world continues to expand the way it seems to be doing.

Action Comics continues to be worth the read, and the story threads are really beginning to pick up.

Heroes for Hire #11 (v2) Review (World War Hulk)

by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer

Heroes for Hire (v2)

Issue #11

Written by Zeb Wells, Art by Clay Mann

Published: August 2007

One of the unfortunate conflicts in the comic book industry is the eternal struggle between creative desires and business necessities. The business necessity says that during a crossover event, lower-selling titles need to be included in the event to serve as a jumping on point for those who might otherwise not read them. The creative desire is to just tell the story the writers and artists envision and assume that good sales will come from good stories. Heroes for Hire #11 is a case where the desires of the creative team seem to have clashed with the necessities of the business, and the comic is a mixed bag as a result.

When a book gets pulled into a crossover event, the biggest goal from a marketing perspective is to make it a good time for new readers to get interested in the comic. It is ideally supposed to be an accessible tale that introduces readers to the comic, tells us about the characters, and gives a new audience a reason to continue with the title after the event ends. In that regard, Heroes for Hire #11 swings and misses. If you haven’t been reading this title, you’ll be in the dark at the start of the story. The Heroes for Hire team is flying back from a mission in the Savage Land, and all the recap page does is inform readers that Moon Boy has joined the team, while Paladin betrayed them. Early on, we’re treated to some banter about the sexual escapades between two members of the team, but we really aren’t given a feel for the characters’ personalities. On the bright side, this means that those who have been reading this book from the get-go don’t have to sit in a holding pattern while other readers are brought up to speed. On the other hand, that new audience is key to keeping the book going, and leaving them in the dark is not a good way to help long-term sales.

But let’s ignore the business realities of this story and focus on the creative question of whether it is entertaining on its own or not. That, too, unfortunately, is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the main story breaks from the formula that other World War Hulk crossovers have used, in that it is not focused on the heroes taking on the Hulk himself. Instead, the Heroes for Hire are brought in to help evacuate New York City when the Hulk invades, but soon find the group of bug-like alien refugees the Hulk has brought with him from the planet Sakaar. Humbug, who has gone through some significant trauma recently, goes ballistic, kills one of the young bugs, and then brings the team to the Hulk’s stone ship, all under the conviction that the bug-aliens are there to colonize the Earth. This is a pretty good start to the tale – we have something new going on in World War Hulk and we have unanswered questions about Humbug’s sanity and whether he might be right. It’s not great, but it’s a good start.

The bad part of the story revolves around its presentation. Comics have a reputation for being sexist and obsessed with over-the-top violence, and this issue doesn’t help matters much. The female characters are not really given any unique personality or voice to differentiate themselves from one another, with the only real details given being who is sleeping (or not sleeping) with whom. There are several panels where the layout gives us a female character talking in the foreground, only to have her head out of the panel and the visual focus being on her breasts. In the violence end, we get a shot of Humbug ripping an alien child’s head right off its shoulders and then dousing the rest of the team in their blood, with very little reaction or objection from the rest of the team (other than the Black Cat vomiting, which is unfortunately played for comedy). I’m not one to suggest that gorgeous women or violence should be taken out of comics, but a little subtlety would help quite a bit. It is possible to have attractive women and big action moments in comics while still making them classy, which this issue fails at.

Behind the main story, we also have backup tale that focuses on the Scorpion – no, not the Spider-Man villain, but a new-ish character who looks somewhat like Reptile from Mortal Kombat and is immune to all toxins. The backup does a bit of fleshing out of Scorpion’s character as well as Paladin, the guy who betrayed the Heroes for Hire in the previous storyline. It unfortunately doesn’t mention the fact that the new Scorpion may or may not be the daughter of Bruce Banner, who had a relationship with her mother in college, thus missing a potential interesting wild card in World War Hulk, but that at least will be touched upon later in this crossover event.

Ultimately, Heroes for Hire #11 is a promising start with a few presentation problems. It’s taking a crack at World War Hulk from a different angle, which is good. It struggles in that if you aren’t already familiar with the team, you’ll be in the dark for most of the issue. It also has the typical presentation problems that give comics a bad reputation. But the potential is there, and it will be interesting to see where the story goes as the World War Hulk crossover continues to progress.

Avengers: X-Sanction #1 Review (Avengers vs. X-Men)

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Avengers: X-Sanction

Issue #1

Written by Jeph Loeb, Art by Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

Published: December 2011

Yes yes yes! While I applaud Marvel trying to be creative with crossover stories and creating hype for series such as ‘Fear Itself’, overall I felt the idea fell flat. But Avengers versus X-Men? Well that idea is just too awesome to contain. I couldn’t wait for this mini-series launch as a nice appetizer to what should be a stellar main event. Plus I always liked the Cable character and after not seeing him for awhile I was hoping for a nice reunion.

Right out of the gate I loved this book. I give a lot of credit to Jeph Loeb and how he writes the story which is much different than Bendis. The style Loeb is using is more straightforward with humor coming in naturally from quips without overplaying dialogue and forcing characters to make jokes. Plus the issue is fairly simple with the story being easy to jump into. Sometimes Bendis goes overboard with too much happening, but that is not the case here. I love the big confrontation with the two biggest stars of the issue, Cable and Captain America. It was a sort of, ‘Go big or go home’ moment.

The great storyline goes hand in hand with very solid artwork. Specifically the fight scene with Cable and Cap is stellar. Overall I love the tone of the art and colors which has more of a classic, tight feel. Sometimes the art team just works so well together that you get a great blend of drawings and colors to make the scenes ‘pop’. The only downside to this book was the length. It leaves me panting for more. But, it is easy to jump into and a good ride so I highly recommend it to anyone; casual fan or hardcore X-Men/Avengers follower.

CMRO Update (12/29/2011)

Added

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #525 Review

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Black Panther

Issue #525

Written by David Liss, Art by Shawn Martinbrough

Published: January 2012

Grumble. That is what this book makes me do. This isn’t really a Black Panther comic book. It is a rather weak, rehashed Daredevil episode. But instead of the Man without Fear we have the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Other than different colored tights you couldn’t really tell. I do not like the beginning of this story arc for a lot of reasons.

First off is that it is all very uninspired and unoriginal. The Kingpin, Bullseye (lady version), and the Hand are going after the Panther. In the end we see good ole Typhoid Mary. Could this be any more Daredevilish? I wish Liss had been a bit more creative with the plot. Then as far as the Panther character goes, he doesn’t even act much like the Panther. It is all smash and dash with none of his intellect in use or tools. Quickly I grew very bored.

It didn’t help things much that Shawn Martinbrough took over the pencils from Francesco Francavilla. I really loved the way Francavilla drew the Black Panther. He was large and powerful. The figure was just imposing and dominated scenes. But this Panther is just average in comparison. While the scenes overall are darker, which reflects the story, there is a loss of detail that I enjoyed from the previous books. Also the pure number of scalpels being tossed around without hitting the Panther was rather ridiculous.

There were a good twenty plus in the air thrown by the ‘expert aim’ of Lady Bullseye. If she can’t land with at least one then really what kind of villain does that make her? I am in the series so I will buy the next issue but for the average reader this is nothing more than an average book at best.

Ghost Rider #12 (v6) Review (World War Hulk/Apocalypse Soon)

by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer

Ghost Rider (v6)

Issue #12

Written by Daniel Way, Art by Javier Saltares

Published: August 2007

When a company-wide crossover happens, the books that become part of the crossover generally fall into two categories: those that involve characters who are integral to the event, and those that are struggling in sales and thus need the extra readership. In the case of World War Hulk, characters like Iron Man are integral to the crossover and thus need their titles to fill in the blanks of an event. Characters like Ghost Rider have nothing to do with the crossover, but get thrown into the mix anyway in hopes that people who normally don’t buy Ghost Rider comics might take an interest and stick around.

The bad news is that Ghost Rider #12 brings a character who really doesn’t need to be a part of World War Hulk into the story. The good news is that this tangential story does its job and showcases the interesting parts of the Johnny Blaze incarnation of this character. If you have to be part of a crossover that doesn’t directly involve the character, you might as well at least make a good showing of it.

Ghost Rider #12 kicks off the two-part Apocalypse Soon storyline. In terms of its importance to World War Hulk, it has almost none. What we learn early on is that Johnny Blaze, the current Ghost Rider, has escaped from Hell but brought Lucifer with him. Now it’s up to Johnny to put the Devil back where he belongs. We pick up with a fight at an airport between Ghost Rider and the Devil, where things go badly because the Ghost Rider pushes Johnny to chase after vengeance rather than save a flight full of people who ultimately die on an exploding plane. Thus we have our key conflict for the character: the conflict between vengeance and compassion.

The Devil is bound for Buffalo. (Insert any jokes about Buffalo already being Hell here, along with an apology to those who live in Buffalo and might get offended at me for taking such a cheap and easy shot.) But Johnny happens across a broadcast of the Hulk’s arrival in New York City, complete with the monologue from World War Hulk #1 that has wound up in every single crossover issue we’ve seen so far. Rather than pursue Lucifer, Johnny wins an internal struggle with the Ghost Rider and rides into New York City to help the people there, arriving just in time to meet the Hulk head-on.

Johnny’s decision to go after the Hulk doesn’t make a lot of sense, since while the Hulk is powerful he’s almost certainly not as much a danger as the Prince of Darkness himself. On the other hand, the issue establishes very well that Johnny Blaze is a well-intentioned fool – a guy who wants to do the right thing but tends not to think things out very far. There’s something very endearing about that quality. It’s a lot more interesting to see a character who tries to do right but knows he’s a screw-up rather than a guy like this event’s Iron Man, who does bad things but talks constantly about how he’s still a good guy.

In short, Ghost Rider #12 is not a stellar issue, but it does its job well. It is a good jumping on point for those unfamiliar with Ghost Rider, it introduces a likable but flawed protagonist, and it hints at a larger, quite interesting, storyline that will still be around after World War Hulk comes to an end. It’s not integral to the World War Hulk story, but it’s a good chance to get some attention for a B-list hero that would otherwise get ignored, and for that I applaud it.

The Mighty Thor #8 Review (Shattered Heroes)

by Dylan Duarte, CMRO Contributing Writer

The Mighty Thor

Issue #8

Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Pasqual Ferry

Published: January 2012

After reading the lackluster first issue of Thor’s Deviant Saga, Mighty Thor 008 is a breath of fresh Asgardian air. The titular hero is gone, biting the dust while killing a serpent, as prophecy foretold. In his place is Tanarus, the new God of Thunder. But he’s filled more than just Thor’s mighty shoes. Tanarus has filled Thor’s place in history, in everyone’s minds. Thor is not even a memory. This rewritten saga is beautifully conveyed with images of past Marvel battles, with Thor replaced by Tanarus. We see Tanarus fight the Hulk alongside the original Iron Man and Ant Man, we see him fighting Beta Ray Bill. We even see him fighting alongside Captain America and Spider-Man, battling the very Serpent that Thor gave his life defeating. Thor never was, there was only Tanarus.

Except to Loki. Of all people, Loki knows that something is awry, that Tanarus is not his real brother. It’s weird to root for Loki, but it’s not difficult. Everyone loves the underdog, which is what he comes off as. Loki has little love for his brother, he’s proven as much over the years, but he seems to take issue with anybody interfering with Asgard. Loki’s subplot is the highlight of the book and what has me most excited about continuing the series.

Meanwhile, Asgard is being rebuilt. Odin is gone, the World Tree has been damaged. Citizens from all nine realms now inhabit what is left of Asgard, as the All-Mother takes charge of its reconstruction. Matt Fraction does a good job of keeping the All-Mother mysterious. They talk amongst themselves and give the impression that they’re devious, that they may have ulterior motives, but they very well may not.

And then there’s Tanarus, who we learn a bit about, just enough to keep us wanting more. And there’s even a cameo by another hero, which is clearly setting up something else. There are exciting things happening all over the place in this series, and somehow Fraction manages to cram them all in without making it seem convoluted. Pasqual Ferry’s art is beautiful, with the exception of a few odd-looking faces that will no doubt appear in my nightmares. The duo is taking Mighty Thor places, giving the legendary hero a worthy series.