Fantastic Four Annual #1 Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Contributing Writer

Fantastic Four Annual

Issue #1

Written by James Robinson, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: December 2014

Fantastic Four Annual #1

I hate annuals. I remember years ago when I was a kid my old Transformers comics had yearly annuals. What made those so infuriating was that you would by a huge book solely to get a few pages which concluded the ongoing story from the regular comics. The rest of those books, which were hardbacks at that point, were filled with reprints, adverts and silly quizzes as well as rehashed histories of the major characters, normally written by people who knew less about the characters than the readers did.

Fortunately the modern annuals are not like this. They are a normal comic, printed the same way as all other books, but with a few extra pages and costing a £/$ more for their trouble. Often this book has nothing to do with the ongoing storyline being a standalone tale often involving a peripheral character or a throw away situation. With the exception of the Deadpool annual this year featuring Madcap I have found them all utterly pointless and irrelevant. The last Wolverine annual had me reaching for the virtual shredder and wishing the guy had died a few months early, it would have saved me £3.99 and a wasted 20 minutes as I watched Logan and Kitty bumble around in the woods scaring the locals.

To be honest, given the recent track record I might as well never buy them; more expensive for a tiny amount more pages, irrelevant to the ongoing plot, stand in artist and random writer. Is it even worth me continuing this review? Well unsurprisingly given that build up, yes it is, because other than the slightly higher cost none of those things are true about this book. While it is not intrinsic to the ongoing plot, it is highly relevant and involves a major character; the writer and artist gave not been pulled out of remedial school and can in fact create a decent narrative; but most important of all, reading it did not waste my time in any way.

I have joked in the past that there are no villains in the Marvel universe anymore, merely heroes on slightly different moral grounds. While that is not entirely true and there are still people like Zemo and the Red Skull plotting in the background, most of the ‘bad guys’ are people with believable goals that in other circumstances might well be honourable and decent. Look at the current drama in Avengers; is Steve or Tony right? Depending on your point of view one of them is the ‘bad guy’ and the other the hero*. However what is not often the case is a hero becoming a villain and for the purposes of this I do not mean Magneto who strays back and forth more often than even a genius like Beast can count. No what I mean is one of the big name heroes going flat out bad guy and levelling a city because they felt like it, endangering women and children and not caring one bit.

Sue Storm has pretty much lost the plot and understandably so. Her husband has practically abandoned her in his attempts to save the world with the Illuminati, her brother is a worthless, powerless drunk, Ben is in prison for killing his father-in-law and to top it all off, the Avengers have taken away her children as she is not fit to be a mother. All accept one who is in the strangely kind hands of a seemingly beneficent Dr. Doom. Realising that she is the only one Sue can get to she takes a jet and flies to Latveria intent on ‘rescuing’ her daughter.

Unsurprisingly this goes rather badly. The brattish 3 year old, Valeria, with a vocabulary of a pedant and the appearance of primordial achrondroplast unsurprisingly does not want to go home. She is living every little girl’s dream of being a princess including medieval jousts and LMDs to do her dirty work for her. So when her dishevelled mother is brought down by Latveria’s air defences the little brat defies her mother and starts what is for me the greatest display of unchecked power I have ever seen in a comic. Susan Storm has often been described as one of the most powerful people on planet earth and yet for decades she played fourth fiddle to a guy made of rock, one that burnt and one that was a bit floppy.

The final 10 pages of this comic are the greatest bit of role reversal I have ever seen. With Axis coming up a lot of characters are going to have a change of heart and switch sides, but this comic got here first. This is what happens when a super-powered hero goes bad and it is truly terrifying. I reviewed DC’s Injustice Gods Among Us recently and it has a very similar theme, the difference being it is set in an alternate reality whereas this is happening for real in the 616 universe. I do not want to give away too much because it is very much worth reading, but I cannot stress enough how impressive it is.

This book is not perfect and it does suffer terribly from the awful set up that the current Fantastic Four series has. All the events that lead to this moment are stupid and the way the team has fallen apart is laughable at best, however if you take all of that at face value then this is the logical conclusion. I say logical, but for me it fails on one level, Sue stopped. If it was my child then she would never have been allowed to leave in the first place (but that is the fault of the series, not of this comic) and if I were in this position then there would not have been a building left standing in Latveria, nor a shred of skin or metal on Doom’s broken body. But then perhaps Sue is a hero at heart?

* And anyone with a brain can see that Steve is wrong…

Indestructible Hulk #19 Review

by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer

Indestructible Hulk

Issue #19

Written by Mark Waid, Art by Jheremy Raapack, Joe Bennett, Tom Grummett & Karl Kesel

Published: April 2014

Indestructible Hulk #19

In short, The Indestructible Hulk #19 is about the Hulk versus a rage vampire. I love this idea.

As has been the way of this series, the art chores are split between two pencilers here, but it’s well-done enough by both that the slightly different styles never become a distraction. Moreover, the art here is fantastic – possibly the best we’ve seen on this story so far.

The Indestructible Hulk #19 is probably the best issue of this series so far.

Unlike other Terrigen mutants, Banner’s lab assistant Jessup shifts back and forth from his mutated form into his human form. He does this because – theoretically at least – he’s been exposed to Banner’s bomb. The nitpicky fan in me wants to point out that the Hulk doesn’t shift to human form and back because he was born in a bomb but because he has a split personality due to childhood abuse. This is, of course, only a criticism if you’re looking for things to complain about. And, in fact, it might not be an error at all, since Jessup has some childhood trauma in his past. That nitpicky fan in me hopes that Mark Waid will pick up these threads and connect the two characters’ childhoods in the next issue.

We find out about Jessup’s transformative capabilities through a rare (for this series, at least) glimpse into the Hulk’s inner workings. Rather than stay angry at Jessup, the Hulk feels sorry for him. This is the type of thing I’ve been hoping to see for a while – the Hulk showing something other than the usual catch phrases. I feel like the Hulk is a character who needs a day in the sun in this series. The focus has been solely on Banner, who has never understood his other half, so it makes sense that we’ve seen so little of the Hulk’s personality. Still, that leaves a lot of dissatisfied fans and a lot of missed storytelling opportunities. This bit here is a good glimpse into the Hulk’s inner workings, and I can only hope to see more of this in the future.

The weakest part of this issue is with the unnamed new villain, who just teleports in and screws up Banner’s chance to saving Jessup for reasons that, as of right now, seem to be the typical schtick of a super-scientist messing with forces beyond his control. The next issue should explain his motivations (and his identity) a bit more clearly, but for right now he’s just a guy showing up to ruin things because the story’s plot demands that things get ruined.

Aside from the sudden introduction of a new villain, however, this issue is very solid. The art is pleasing to look at, the writing is good, and we get some indication that the Hulk is more than just a mindless smashing machine. The ultimate fate of “The Humanity Bomb” storyline hinges on its conclusion, but so far this is a good, solid story.

Incredible Hulks #629 Review

by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer

Incredible Hulks

Issue #629

Written by Greg Pak, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: July 2011

For a story arc that began as something fun and frivolous, the conclusion of The Spy Who Smashed Me in The Incredible Hulks #629 is surprisingly poignant. It reaffirms a lot of the things that form the core of both the Hulk and other Marvel superheroes: the price of heroism, the strain it puts on the hero’s relationships, and the fact that those with power need to be responsible, no matter the source of that power.

Empowered by the magic stolen from the Knights of Rome, Tyrannus swats the Hulk away from him. Betty heads out after the Hulk, and this leads to a reunion between Betty in her human form and Bruce Banner. Just as the Hulk and red She-Hulk reunited in the last issue, this time it’s Bruce and Betty getting their moment together. We also learn why Betty has become increasingly reliant on her red She-Hulk form: it’s a defense mechanism. She can only take Bruce running off and risking his life so often. Indeed, over the history of the character, she’s had multiple nervous breakdowns because of this.

Despite Betty’s pleas to let the puny humans take care of themselves for a change, the Hulk takes on Tyrannus in a battle for the fate of Rome. At the climax of the issue, Tyrannus finally opens Pandora’s Box, releasing a being of pure hope that has been corrupted by years of imprisonment. Because that hope has now become rage, it’s speaking the Hulk’s language. The Hulk, in a move that nearly kills him, absorbs the entire being.

With Bruce badly injured, Betty rushes to his side calling his name. However, the Hulk quickly reminds her that he isn’t Bruce, which is all that Betty needs to go over the edge again and transform into the red She-Hulk, locking herself into that form. Ultimately, Betty leaves with the now-defeated Tyrannus, leaving the Hulk as the hero but without the girl.

It’s been no secret that I absolutely love The Spy Who Smashed Me, and this issue is a worthy conclusion to such an entertaining story arc. Once again, the characters are spot on, especially the interaction between Bruce and Betty. Pak is using decades of character development in a way that feels natural and organic while also keeping things easy to understand for newcomers.

The Incredible Hulks #629 wraps up a tale of adventure, intrigue, and the difficulties of true love. It’s a wonderful piece of art that should not be missed.

Incredible Hulks #628 Review

by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer

Incredible Hulks

Issue #628

Written by Greg Pak, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: July 2011

Last issue we got to see the Hulk and Bruce Banner interact with Dr. Sofia di Cosimio. In The Incredible Hulks #628, Dr. di Cosimio is captured along with Tyrannus by the Knights of Rome, so it’s up to the Hulk and the red She-Hulk to put aside their differences and save the day.

I have to admit, while I think the red She-Hulk was a bit lame to include, it works well for the mentally unstable Betty. Guided by impulse and pent-up rage, it’s nice to see Banner and the Hulk have to deal with somebody that drive them nuts for a change. The red She-Hulk identity also works slightly better than the Harpy for Betty, but only slightly so.

This issue is effectively a long series of the Hulk and the red She-Hulk trolling each other. Betty expresses jealousy over the Hulk’s apparent connection with Dr. di Cosimio, saying that the good doctor is too old for him, and the Hulk snaps back, “Class never gets old.” The Knights of Rome use the mystic powers of Zeus himself, and Betty is happy to remark at how recently the Greek god kicked the Hulk’s butt.

In the end, the two seem to put aside their differences, and we get a scene of the Hulk and red She-Hulk making out after defeating the Knights of Rome. Tyrannus, however, interrupts the scene by taking control of the mystic tower that the Knights had used and seizing Pandora’s box, turning the tables and reminding us that he is indeed the bad guy here.

Once again, this issue has everything – good art, excellent pacing, and a great handle on the Hulk and his supporting cast. It’s a real shame that this represents the second to last story arc in Greg Pak’s run, because he has the characters down pat and is really doing a lot of interesting stuff with them.

The one small complaint I have is the fact that the Hulk and Betty have to transform into their human forms at one point in the story to get past some of the Knights’ defenses. Since the impetus for Banner to go after Betty is that her next transformation may be her last, this one feels a bit too flippant. Sure, the world is in peril, but a single line of dialogue might have given us the reason why Banner is so willing to risk Betty’s long-term well-being at that moment.

That niggle aside, this is another great issue and well worth tracking down. It is a story that is moving the characters forward and giving us a great adventure to go along with it. Most importantly, it is pure fun.

Incredible Hulks #627 Review

by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer

Incredible Hulks

Issue #627

Written by Greg Pak, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: June 2011

The first issue of The Spy Who Smashed Me was good, but it’s in The Incredible Hulks #627 that this story really kicks into high gear. Even though the Hulk is out of his element and into soy thriller intrigue here, the is never any doubt who this guy is and that this story suits him perfectly.

Through most of his run, Greg Pak has focused either mostly on the Hulk or mostly on Banner. Here he shows that he can get the two interacting seamlessly together when he needs to. Banner has some excellent foils here, including the wise-cracking Amadeus Cho (who loves it as much as I do when Bruce introduces himself as, “Banner. Bruce Banner.”) and the mythology expert Dr. Sofia di Cosimio. The latter is especially handy to have around, as she accompanies Banner into the lair of Tyrannus, who has stolen Pandora’s box. Due to the various hazards, Banner and the Hulk transform back and forth repeatedly, constantly talking to Di Cosimio about the other and their feelings about Betty. It’s a great way to show off how different the two sides of the character are even when they’re working together toward a common goal.

Tyrannus seems to have taken a shine to Betty, which would make him the second Hulk villain in recent stories to do so (the Leader seemed to have a thing for her during Fall of the Hulks). Betty seems to be stringing him along mostly so she can mess with Bruce, which makes him angry, and you all know what happens when Banner gets angry.

Unfortunately for Tyrannus, his dating plans go awry along with his plans for world domination when a mysterious magic-wielding group breaks in and steals him away along with Dr. di Cosimio and Pandora’s box. So that leave the Hulk and the red She-Hulk forced to work together to save the world. Should be interesting in the next issue.

If there was any doubt left that Greg Pak is the perfect guy to be writing the Hulk, this issue dispels that doubt. It is pretty much spot-on dialogue-wise for both Banner and the Hulk. Moreover, this story is a great fun time that is too rare in comics these days. While it’s nice to have a serious story here and there, many comics seem to be a bit too pretentious and self-important, rather than enjoying the weirdness of the setting. The break in tone is also a nice way to unwind after the serious storylines we’ve seen since the Hulk has returned.

Art-wise, Tom Grummet continues to shine, and his facial expressions are especially terrific. It’s great to see the Hulk’s look of disgust when he’s talking about Banner or Dr. di Cosimio’s nervous reaction as she realizes that the guy she’s traveling around with is, as she puts it, “Insane. From a clinical standpoint, I mean.”

While it’s a stretch to call The Incredible Hulks #627 the best issue of Greg Pak’s run (that distinction has to go to something from Planet Hulk), this is one of the ones I look at most fondly and is definitely an issue worth tracking down.

Avengers Academy #39 Review

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Avengers Academy

Issue #39

Written by Christos Gage, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: January 2013

This last month or so of reading Marvel comics has been pretty slow-paced and uneventful. As all of these series wrap up to re-launch in the new NOW universe that means no big shocks or changes. Everyone lives and nobody becomes horrible scarred.

After the big crossover it is an acceptable approach but after reading so many series wrap ups it gets redundant. I will give Christos Gage credit here; the Avengers Academy turned out to be a very solid run. He took the kids that weren’t future stars, but potential problem children, and delved right into what made them tick. He created plenty of relationships, explored growth, and did well to deliver a great tone about how it must be to grow up with powers and not understand where their place is in the world. By that same token he does a very nice graduation wrap-up issue. It actually makes me wish that Gage had control over this ‘team’ in the future.

But alas it seems that the group will head off into the universe into other comic opportunities. The future stories that Gage could bring out will hopefully be brought out by another.

The art has been tremendously solid by Tom Grummett and I was very glad he finished out the run. His style is a bit old school and I will keep saying how well it meshes with younger characters who are not overblown with their powers yet. He does a nice job displaying emotion and solid work all across the board for so many issues.

This issue rated a very solid 8.5 out of 10. Regardless of my overall feeling of being sick of wrap-ups, Gage did a very nice job wrapping this series up and deserves credit for that. If you have been following this series then this issue is a proper send off.

Avengers Academy #38 Review

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Avengers Academy

Issue #38

Written by Christos Gage, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: December 2012

After the giant throw down in the Avengers versus X-Men crossover this issue has to be labeled as, “…and on the lighter side of things…” In many ways it seems like Avengers Academy has tapped into the old West Coast Avengers roots by not only using their old HQ but also some of the lighter style moments we used to get in that book. For those who never read the WCA books they would occasionally play a baseball game, which was funny considering the super-power additions brought to the game. It was a way to humanize guys wearing half a set of super-hero tights and eating hot dogs. Christos Gage has done a great job issue after issue in this series doing exactly that and he has done it again magnificently with this issue.

The mood is lighter, fun even. Gage takes a very relaxed tone with this book going for more relaxed hi-jinks than anything serious which is a great break after the heaviness of the last issue. At the same time he still delves into post-traumatic issues people had from the fallout of A vs. X in a very honest way. To start with the flag football game between the Academy Kids and Wolverine’s students was a nice way to introduce characters to each other and then allow moments to develop. Plus we get lighter moments of humor.

Tom Grummett’s art is solid but not spectacular. He has a whole new cast of characters to deal with and a few things are off here and there but nothing is bad in a major way. Yes I am giving him a slight pass due to the huge roster he has to pen and because for the most part he does it well. Also I still really dig the classic style he employs that fits these ‘kids’ so well.

Overall we have a robust 9 out of 10. This issue is funny, interesting, and a well written change of pace from the entire crossover. It is an excellent palate cleanser and possibly the best way to handle things before heading off into any new arcs. For that, I applaud Christos Gage.

Avengers Academy #37 Review

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Avengers Academy

Issue #37

Written by Christos Gage, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: November 2012

Wow what a great ending to this arc. It was dark and gritty with just enough of everything to keep me interested and happy. Props to Christos Gage for sticking to his guns and ending the arc in a powerful way that covered the spectrum of emotions and possibilities.

When this series started (not the arc) it was a bit different because of how it focused on the growth of each character and what they struggled with coming to grips with their powers and place within the world. Each one handled things differently and it was nice to see Gage let that develop as things went on. In the end of this issue we can look back and see what the characters have become which gives you an idea of where they might go in the future. I was especially impressed with how Veil and Finesse were almost forced into making life-changing decisions for themselves during the heat of battle and intensity. The scenes were fast and furious with lots of action which was fantastic but the plot was very strong and didn’t wrap everything up in a pretty bow. Of course in my opinion that is good because now there are plenty of possibilities of where you can go from here. Well, expect for the Briggs character…too bad because I liked how he was depicted. As usual I try not to get too in-depth in what happens in a issue to make sure this doesn’t cross into spoiler territory.

The art was solid by Tom Grummett as he came back to the fold for the end of the arc. I have enjoyed how he depicts the characters in a way that captures their youth. The battle scenes were mostly strong with good details.

This issue continues the strong run for Avengers Academy over the last 10+ book and gets another solid 9 out of 10. This year it has definitely been one of my Top 10 books to read and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone. I am interested to see how the next issue will go and if they can maintain the dark moodiness in the plot that I have enjoyed so much.

Avengers Academy #34 Review

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Avengers Academy

Issue #34

Written by Christos Gage, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: October 2012

Yes! Tom Grummett is back on the pencils! Not that the previous art was bad, but I really have enjoyed how Tom portrays the Academy Kids and have gotten used to seeing them that way. Consistency is a big thing for me as a reader because when I get used to a look I like to keep seeing it. Constant artist change is usually a bad thing because it distracts from the story; but back to the issue at hand.

There was some anticipation about what is going to happen with this series. Will it be over? The buildup has actually been very clear and straightforward so it is nice when the issue delivers what is expected and then a little bit more. Jeremy Briggs pops back into action and the way Cage wrote the story to include and use him was excellent. He really did a fantastic job in this issue tying everything together. The pace was great and entire story was very interesting from cover to cover.

Tom Grummett did his normal solid job on pencils. His art is never over the top or splashy, but instead is very consistent. I really like the way he draws this cast of characters because they have a ‘younger’ look to them which fits so well to the actual characters. Plus there is a certain level of polish you can expect on every panel that he brings to the table.

This is another great offering in this series and again gets a 9 out of 10 rating. It is a nice addition to the A vs. X series as well as being part of a great storyline in its own right. Most readers should be happy with this book as well as the recent issues in the series.

Avengers Academy #31

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Avengers Academy

Issue #31

Written by Christos Gage, Art by Tom Grummett

Published: August 2012

In a masterful (in my opinion) turn of events, Christos Gage has utilized the kids in the Academy to prove a great point about war; it’s an old man’s game. The Avengers versus X-Men is just a face-off between guys like Captain America and Cyclops. The kiddy Avengers and junior mutants really want no part of this fight they don’t understand. Oh, and I guess Sebastian Shaw isn’t that bad of a guy after all.

Overall this is a nice book. I like the way Gage has utilized this issue as a platform to show the difference between youth and the ‘grown-ups’ in the opinions about the difference of having opposite views but not necessarily being enemies that need to fight. He does a great job showing the difference between the academy kids and instructors and how they perceive what is going on around them.

Then we have Shaw who is being painted as more misguided than some evil force which I like. Shaw is an old character who has been around for quite some time and it is nice to see him on his own and in a slightly different light. Hopefully he will become more of a character in future books with this current type of personality.

The art is solid again by Tom Grummett. He just does a good job with all of the characters giving them individuality but also in a manner that seems ‘age appropriate’. By that I mean it is obvious they aren’t fully grown into who they might become and have a more slight appearance which fits the tone perfectly. Sometimes younger characters get over-developed early which hurts the ability of a writer/artist to show growth as they mature and change.

Overall this book pushes it up to a solid 9 out of 10. Much like last months’ work, this one is a strong issue for the A vs. X series that shows a nice level of consistency within what Gage is trying to accomplish. It doesn’t seem to play a huge part in the crossover yet, but who knows how Shaw might factor into the end result. I recommend picking it up either way as it is a good read.