Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Son of M

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Son of M #1Writer: David Hine

Artist: Roy Allan Martinez

Issues: Son of M #1-6

Though I’m still constantly adding new series and comics to my reading list, I’ve learned to become much more choosy about where to apply my precious comic-reading time. I was originally going to skip the Decimation tie-in Son of M, which dealt with the now powerless Quicksilver.

One of the big twists at the end of House of M revealed that it was Pietro Maxmioff (Quicksilver) that convinced his sister Wanda (Scarlet Witch) to make the House of M world, which eventually lead to its destruction and the decimation of nearly every mutant on the planet. Pietro rightly comes off as a huge asshole and it’s karmic retribution that he’s one of the powerless mutants in the new world. When Issue #1 starts with him feeling super sorry for himself and longing for his speedy powers, he gets no sympathy from me.

But I’m glad I dived into it, as Son of M is deeply wrapped up in the Inhumans, a large isolationist group of superpowered people that gain their abilities by exposing themselves to their sacred Terrigen Mists. It’s increasingly looking like Inhumans may replace mutants in the MCU with both an upcoming film and major hints and teases in Agents of SHIELD. I knew very little about them, so when Crystal shows up at the end of the first issue (via their giant teleporting dog, Lockjaw) asking for her husband, I was intrigued (still kinda wish Spider-Man had just let him kill himself by jumping off a building).

The Inhumans have moved their city onto Earth’s moon – doesn’t get much more isolated than that, and generally stay away from anything to do with Earth. Pietro and Crystal have a daughter, now a little girl named Luna, and Peitro continues to be a huge jerk to everyone. We get some fun glimpses into Inhuman society as well as the bigger characters such as Videmus, Gorgon, Medusa and Black Bolt.

Son of M #6

Quicksilver takes two seconds to decide that he should sneak in and use the Mists on himself, which does allow him to regain his powers – sort of. Now he can move so fast he can travel through time, which always makes a plot that much more convoluted and strange to follow. In this case it’s even worse as Pietro makes a copy of himself when he does and frequently talks to a slightly older version of himself, which is even more confusing. Eventually he decides to steal the mists and kidnap his daughter (semi-willfully, she wants to see Earth but he’s totally manipulating her). His goal – to return to Earth and use the Mists to restore lost powers to mutants.

Pietro and Luna arrive in the ruins of Genosha where he meets up with the mutants from Excalibur. This is one of the first times where I was delighted to have prior knowledge of another comic as I recognized who they were. Unfortunately they don’t do all that much aside from take some hits of Mist that is a heavy-handed way of painting Quicksilver as a drug-dealer on top of everything else (oh and he exposes his too-young daughter to the mists and gets her hooked on them. Great guy, Quicksilver).

Magneto is also on Genosha and also depressed, but he correctly sees his son as a dangerous threat. Quicksilver uses his time-teleport power to beat the crap out of his old man and he’s only saved by his granddaughter intervening. Despite Magneto’s offensively fast resurrection between Morrison’s storyline of the early 2000s and the events of Excalibur, I’ve enjoyed his characterization as an older, wiser mutant filled with regrets and reflection, and generally still wanting to help his people, even without his powers.

son of m #6 black boltOf course the Inhumans weren’t going to stand idly by, and they reach Genosha around the same time as the Office of National Emergency. The Inhumans battle the Genoshan mutants and promptly kick their ass, while the O*N*E take down Quicksilver and grab the mists. The final confrontation occurs as the Inhumans demand the Mists returned and the US government refuses. In a rather awesome scene, Medusa says that Black Bolt will give his answer shortly, and the rest take off. The O*N*E commander starts freaking out, for Black Bolt’s voice is so powerful he can never speak lest he destroys everything around him. He whispers one word, “War,” and the entire army is utterly demolished. As someone that’s read about Black Bolt’s power but never seen it in action, it’s incredibly satisfying.

Thus the Inhumans officially declare war on the US, and the series ends as they have a final meeting with the Fantastic Four. Chronologically Civil War happens next, which would’ve been a great time for the Inhumans to attack, but they nicely waited until that mega-event was done to begin the limited series, Silent War that acts as the followup to this one.

If you couldn’t tell I despise Quicksilver even more after reading this comic. He’s easily my most hated person in the Marvel Universe after these events, essentially starting a horrible war and hurting his own daughter (most of the mist effects on mutants restore powers but only temporarily, and in undesirable ways). The real treat was seeing the Inhumans in action, and I very much look forward to Silent War to see even more.

The writing was well crafted and the art style had an interesting, washed-out, pencil-heavy look to it that I kind of dug. It’s just too bad our protagonist is such a horrible douche canoe.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Black Panther (2005), Vol. 1-2

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Black Panther coverWriter: Reginald Hudlin

Artist: John Romita Jr., Scott Eaton

Issues: Black Panther (2005) #1-6, #10-13

There are dozens of semi-major and major Marvel characters that I know next to nothing about. They tend to pop up in stories I’m reading as well-respected and powerful, but I’d never really seen them do anything or explore their own stories. Dr. Strange, Ms. Marvel and Namor are all good examples (which I hope to rectify soon).

Then there’s Black Panther. T’Challa is the king of his own technologically advanced country in the middle of Africa (where they mine Vibranium, the metal Cap’s shield is made out of) and his fighting skills, hi-tech gadgets and outfit make him very similar to Batman. He’s always treated as one of the biggest players in the Marvelverse but I’d never read a single one of his comics. With Marvel announcing a new Black Panther movie coming out in a few years, I figure I better add at least one series to my reading list. Given the era I’m currently reading (mid 2000s) I found a newly launched Black Panther series that began in 2005, written by BET president Reginald Hudlin (and later adapted to a six episode motion comic series that aired on BET in 2011).

The first six issues, collected as “Who is the Black Panther,” are written as a psuedo-origin story and introduction to the character. We get lots of background information on Wakanda as a fiercely independent warrior nation that’s never been conquered. The Black Panther is less a man and more of a mantle to be worn by the most powerful Wakandan, though it seems to primarily pass though the same bloodline.

In a flashback T’Challa accompanies his father to a peace summit, where his father (the then Black Panther T’Chaka) is assassinated by Ulysses Klaw. T’Challa’s only a child but picks up his father’s gun and rips off Klaw’s arm, mortally wounding the soon to be supervillain. The revenge background is horribly cliché and to see C-list, dorky villain Klaw used in such a menacing and personal manner is a bit strange.

Klaw’s arm is rebuilt by the Belgium government and he starts putting together a team of villains to invade Wakanda and take down the Black Panther, by enlisting other C-listers like Rhino and Radioactive Man (though not even the same Radioactive Man that was a member of Thunderbolts). Despite all their technology and defenses the villains manage to break through with the assistance of a neighboring African country (everyone is kinda super jealous of Wakanda, including the USA, and constantly looks to exploit them).

Black Panther #4The plot ends predictably as T’Challa rushes back from dealing with the neighbor country and defeats Klaw in his own home. There’s an odd side plot with the US government sending in zombified soldiers to “assist” Wakanda in its defenses but otherwise it’s just these handful of lame villains. It’s fun to see the inner workings of Wakanda, including T’Challa’s cabinet of family and advisers (the highlight being his spunky and strong sister Shuri). T’Challa himself is pretty awesome, a cool and calm hero that has no real weakness or mental hangups. It also makes him a bit boring.

I was bummed that I didn’t enjoy the first arc more. As an introduction it does its job giving us some background information on Black Panther and Wakanda, but as a story it just falls flat with lame villains and not a whole lot going on. Far too much time is spent gathering the villains together and showing us the history; T’Challa doesn’t even really appear in the first issue!

Black Panther #12I was originally going to stop there, but decided to explore just a bit more of this series. I skipped the House of M tie-in as well as the dubiously reviewed X-Men crossover “Wild Kingdom,” and jumped right into Black Panther’s next major story arc, “Two the Hard Way” (also collected in the trade volume Bad Mutha, which I’m going to refer as Volume 2).

In that four issue story Hudlin goes black superhero crazy, teaming T’Challa up with Luke Cage, Falcon, Blade, Brother Vodoo and the former Captain Marvel, and it’s all kinds of awesome. Luke Cage’s everyman street-level superhero status is a great foil to the high and mighty Black Panther, whether they’re talking at a dance club or fighting endless waves of ninjas. Eventually the pair head down to New Orleans to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort and run afoul of some newly awakened vampires. I’d never read a Blade comic but as a big fan of the first two movies it was incredibly fun to see Blade kicking vampire ass in his own anti-social way.

I’m glad I didn’t stop with “Who is the Black Panther,” as I found the “Two the Hard Way” arc infinitely more enjoyable (though it wrapped up a bit too quickly). Black Panther seems tricky to write; he’s basically Batman with his own country and zero mental hang-ups or issues. I’d love to see a story where he’s dropped in the middle of nowhere and has to survive/succeed without his near infinite resources and entourage. I look forward to how the big movie adaptation will handle it. For now I’m going to stick with it as T’Challa’s next arc involves marrying Storm of the X-Men before getting all tied up in Civil War.

Black Panther #11

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New X-Men: Childhood’s End, Vol. 1-2

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

new x-men #20 coverWriters: Craig Kyle, Chris Yost

Artists: Mark Brooks, Paco Medina

Issues: New X-Men (2004-2008) #20-27

Though I’ve made tons of progress in the relatively short time since my comeback into comics (which began in early December), I also find myself adding new series all the time. With Marvel Unlimited giving you just about every Marvel comic at your fingertips, it’s kind of addicting to explore and browse everything.

I’m continually blown away by just how many ongoing series there are at any one time. What initially began as reading the major events and series like Uncanny X-Men and New Avengers has quickly evolved into discovering new teams and series such as X-Factor and New X-Men.

With no less than three major X-Men series going on at the time (and numerous limited series), I was definitely feeling fulfilled on my mutant quotient. But my best friend and comic connoisseur suggested New X-Men as a surprisingly great take on the younger generation of mutants that were being trained at Xavier’s Institute.

I decided to start with issue #20 for a couple reasons: 1) Good starting point taking place during the Decimation (after the catastrophic events of House of M), 2) Though I have access to all the comics, I still want to prioritize my time and have become much more cavalier about skipping story arcs or jumping ahead, and 3) New creative team of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost start with issue #20, who would lead New X-Men to nearly fifty issues before rekindling X-Force in 2008 (fun note: they continue to have success to this day and just got tapped to write Thor 3 for the big screen).

Issue #20 serves as both a good jumping-on point and an exciting event, as our teens reel from the aftermath of the Decimation. Several of the New X-Men are no longer mutants (though most of our cast still are, just like the main X-Men) and headmistress Emma Frost is understandably freaked out over the whole ordeal. The first four issue story arc, “Childhood’s End,” dissolves the previous practice teams of the series in favor of an all-out brawl between the students, with only the strongest survivors becoming a single new team: Hellion, Rockslide, Surge, Dust, Elixir, Mercury and X-23.

new x-men #23 roster

Woo, diversity! I don’t know if it’s more painfully noticeable because of our previous white-bread, male-centric teams but this is the second teenage superhero book I’ve read (see Runaways)  with a wonderfully diverse team. Four of our seven main heroes are women and Dust is the exceedingly rare Sunni Muslim that dresses in a traditional burka (Dust: “You are familiar with my home?” X-23: “Yes, I have killed in Afghanistan”).

Like any teenage series our heroes get involved in dramatic romantic entanglements, fierce rivalries and make immature mistakes, but they learn to grow up quickly. Even amongst the drama the team still has a little fun, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes where they dress up as the adult X-Men and relive various adventures in the Danger Room (Rockslide: “Colossus again? They really need more big guys on the X-Men”).

new x-men #21

The drama of having fellow team members that are suddenly no longer mutants and forced to leave is heartfelt, though as a newcomer to the series it didn’t have quite the same effect on me (apparently Tag/Brian was a major character in the previous comics). The arc ends as our new team waves goodbye to their now merely human friends as they leave on the school bus, before the bus suddenly explodes killing everyone inside.

New X-Men gives us the return of William Stryker, who’s been portrayed on the big screen in both X2: X-Men United and as a young man in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Throughout “Childhood’s End” we get glimpses of Stryker’s rise from suicidal to the leader of his own extremist anti-mutant religious movement. Thanks to Nimrod, the poorly named but powerful mutant-hunting sentinel from the future dropping down in front of him in a church, Stryker suddenly has access to the future and goes on a recruiting montage.

He’s also able to recruit Icarus, one of the former New X-Men who didn’t lose his powers but still feels deep regret at being a mutant. Stryker cuts off his wings and uses him as a manipulative tool to start getting rid of the New X-Men. I loved how this dark storyline played second fiddle to the main drama that was unfolding amongst our leading cast, and not until the final page (with the exploding bus) did Stryker’s horrifying plot finally emerge.

Each subsequent trade volume is called New X-Men: Childhood’s End Volume 1, 2, etc (from Issue #1 to #20 they were called New X-Men: Academy X), and for the sake of these Final Thoughts I’m covering the first two volumes, which includes the second story arc, “Crusade.” Stryker and his cult the Purifiers move into center stage after the bus attack at the end of the previous arc. He sends a sniper to kill Wallflower, another of the new X-Men that didn’t make the final team and Elixir’s on again off again girlfriend (she’s shot in the head right in his arms for extra dramatic effect).

new x-men #20Icarus, more a victim of Stryker’s manipulation than anything else, attempts to lure Sooraya (Dust) away from campus as Stryker has ‘seen’ that she’s the next most dangerous mutant. X-23, quickly becoming one of my favorite new characters, knocks her out and takes her place, burka and all. When Stryker’s men open fire on her she gets back up and kills them all. Did I mention she’s the cloned daughter of Wolverine, complete with healing factor and adamantium claws? She’s pretty damn awesome with severe social skill issues that reminds me quite a bit of Shaw from Person of Interest. Her backstory as a test-tube baby to little girl killing machine is revealed in the excellent X-23: Innocence Lost limited series.

“Crusade” spends much of its time exploring the toll all these terrible deaths and events have had on our budding heroes, and it’s their interplay and dialogue that really makes the series shine. The story builds up to an all-out invasion by Stryker and the Purifiers on the mansion and while other resident X-Men are shown in brief montages, the spotlight remains on our teenage heroes and how they deal with the crisis.

It’s powerful and satisfying, and even a bit gruesome as we get to see just why the Purifiers wanted to assassinate Dust beforehand – her sand form rips the flesh from their bones. The exciting battle peaks when Elixir, a sensitive young man that only wants to heal people with his power, goes a little nuts and grabs Stryker, causing him to bubble up all over with sores and pus. The gold-skinned Elixir then turns black before passing out. Even victory takes its toll, and our heroes survive the assault even further hardened against the humans that despise them.

A series about the mutant teenage X-men in training had no right to be this awesome, and I’m especially satisfied that I jumped in just as the plot took some dark turns and, well, shit got real. The art style, like Runaways, is bright and very modern-looking without going over-the-top silly and fits the youthful but serious nature of the series very well. The comics are also heavily tied into the continuity of Marvel at the time, including lots of nods and mentions to The 198, Astonishing X-Men and the Sentinel Squad, which I very much appreciated. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, which eventually culminates in the grand Messiah Complex crossover.

new x-men #23 fight

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Portal 2

I’ve finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts on my gaming blog, and enjoy the excerpt below.

It’s tough to make sequels to beloved games, especially clever puzzle games with an intriguing, mysterious world that’s peeled back over the course of several hours. I loved Portal when I first played it last year to kick off Season Four of Rogue’s Adventures, and now I began Season Five with the even more beloved Portal 2.

Portal 2 shoves you, the mute protagonist that might as well be Gordon Freeman (side note: I find it funny when Chell is propped up as a great heroine, she has zero lines or personality, and same thing with Gordon Freeman as a hero – both are simply camera lenses for the player), back into the massively underground Aperture Laboratory. You’re given a rude awakening by new character Wheatley, who’s eventually revealed to be the personality core you forcibly removed from GLaDOS in the first game in a funny bit of retconning.

Wheatley, fantastically voiced by the very British Stephen Merchant, serves as your initial guide in trying to escape the lab. The illusion of the lab as anything other than a creepy science prison was shattered in the first game, so the story delves further into the history of Aperture and lets us see even more of the cool behind-the-scenes machinations that were teased so effectively in Portal.

Read the full Final Thoughts on my Game Informer blog >>

New Article – 12 Upcoming Family-Friendly Games in 2015

Kirby-Rainbow-1End-of-the-year lists are always a fun grab bag of arguments and criticisms over our favorite games, but nothing reflects our passion quite like looking ahead at new games on the horizon. Specifically when it comes to family-friendly games, we’re looking for upcoming titles that emphasize teamwork and cooperation, have minimal objectionable content, and most of all should be fun to play. Here are 12 such family games we’re looking forward to in 2015.

Real the full article at Pixelkin >>

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Captain America: Red Menace

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Red Menace coverWriter: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Mike Perkins, Steve Epting

Issues: Captain America (2004-2011) #15-21

Writing a follow-up adventure to the excellent Winter Soldier story that kicked off Captain America’s gritty and personal run that began in 2004 could’ve easily crashed and burned under the weight of high expectations. The newly crafted Winter Soldier could’ve been exploited to rehash more of Steve Rogers’ tumultuous emotions and responsibilities toward his former sidekick turned brain-washed villain turned questionable outlaw. What we get instead is a nice story that includes Bucky as a piece of a much larger tale involving the not-quite-so-dead Red Skull that was teased at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Red Menace contains two main story arcs, though the trade itself is much shorter than Winter Soldier’s, clocking in at seven total issues. In the first story Cap and Agent 13 visit a small town as part of their ongoing search for Bucky Barnes, who’s seemingly on a personal vendetta against those who used him. Something’s not quite right, and eventually they stumble upon a hidden AIM base underground.

Captain America crossbones & sinThose events almost make up the ‘B’ story to the bigger focus on our villains – Crossbones and the newly deprogrammed Sin (Red Skull’s daughter). During one of the issues in Winter Soldier, Crossbones stole a somewhat rehabilitated Sin from a government facility, and he spends the entire first issue here deprogramming her with physical and verbal abuse. It never veers into crazy dark territory but it did make me a bit uncomfortable at times, and when Sin ’emerges’ to embrace her captor it’s all the more heartbreaking. It’s a bold start to a new story to focus completely on the villains – Cap doesn’t even make an appearance in issue #15!

At the AIM laboratory our heroes and villains finally cross paths, but our evil duo manages to escape, hoping to track down Red Skull’s killer. The Skull, as teased in Winter Soldier, now inhabits the body of the villainous Aleksander Lukin, and the two share some neat Jekyll and Hyde scenes together.

The plot leads Captain America to London in the four part “21st Century Blitz,” where he meets up with British heroes Union Jack and Spitfire as they untangle the dark threads that Lukin has crafted. The story remains straightforward and fun as Cap and company spy on Lukin and follow leads, eventually battling against a new version of the Nazi’s Master Man, and culminating in an epic battle against a giant reawakened robot from World War II. Spitfire and Union Jack are used effectively as both witty allies and powerful combatants, and we finally get to see an awesome team-up and reunion between Rogers and Bucky to defeat the gigantic foe.

Unfortunately the intriguing criminal duo from the last story arc are sidelined a bit here to make room for our multiple heroes and menacing Red Skull/Lukin mixture.  Crossbones and Sin show up in London with intent to blow up Lukin’s building, eventually capturing Agent 13. It’s annoying that as strong and responsible as Sharon is in these stories, she manages to get herself captured in just about every story arc.

Red Menace isn’t quite as tight as or as personal as Winter Soldier but it does offer a fun plot and continuation of the Lukin/Red Skull villain, and the climax with Cap and Bucky is very fun and rewarding. Ed Brubaker continues to make this run of Captain America absolutely phenomenal, and the art work remains as consistently great as the previous story. Bring on Civil War!

captain america #20


Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – The Road to Civil War

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

road to civil war coverWriters: Brian Michael Bendis, J. Michael Stracynski

Artists: Alex Maleev, Ron Garney, Mike McKone, Tyler Kirkham

Issues: Amazing Spider-Man #529-531, Fantastic Four #536-537, New Avengers: Illuminati

Though House of M had several tie-ins and shook up the world for mutants and X-Men, it was Civil War, Marvel’s next big event that hit in the Summer of 2006, that really became the premiere Marvel crossover event, with just about every single ongoing series having an appropriate tie-in or story arc.

With big events comes big responsibility, er, numerous trade paperbacks. Marvel knew they had a grand story to tell and planted some early seeds of the Superhuman Registration Act in New Avengers and other series. The Road to Civil War is a stand-alone trade paperback that collects three issues of Amazing Spider-Man, two issues of Fantastic Four and a special one-shot issue called New Avengers: Illuminati (which would later become a limited series).

Though I’ve recently become quite the Marvel connoisseur (see, um, all these Final Thoughts on my blog) I actually haven’t read two of Marvel’s most famous and longest-lasting series, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Jumping into Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t too harsh – after all Spider-man is a member of the New Avengers (at the time). In issue 529 Tony Stark builds our friendly neighborhood sass machine a custom spidey suit with all kinds of fancy cybernetic enhancements, including four additional arms! All Stark wants in return is for Peter Parker to become his right-hand man in the political storm that’s brewing in Washington D.C. – the Superhuman Registration Act.

What follows is a nifty little arc where Mr. Stark and Mr. Parker go to Washington for a Senate hearing, discussing the pros and cons of forcing masked superheroes to reveal their identity to the world and be held accountable for their actions (like for example, all the property damage their battles cause). The lengthy scenes have all the potential of being long-winded and heavy-handed but Brian Michael Bendis does a superb job making good points on both sides and generally making the actual politics interesting rather than hand-waving.

ASM #530

Of course since it’s a comic as soon as they walk outside they’re attacked by the Titanium Man, a Russian mercenary in his own fancy suit, and Tony flees while Spidey battles the surprise attack. At the end it’s revealed that Stark actually paid the Titanium Man for the attack to remind everyone why superheroes are important, and Parker begins to doubt his trust in Tony.

In New Avengers: Illuminati Stark visits the secret organization that was first revealed back in New Avengers – a clandestine meeting of the world’s most powerful superpowered leaders: Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt, Namor and Professor X. The extra-long one-shot issue dives into the murky past of the Illuminati, including their formation after the Kree-Skrull War. Fascinatingly the whole comic adapts a very retro 70s/80s art style and actually sticks with it throughout (despite catching up to modern events leading to Civil War). It works quite well and lends the story an air of authenticity.

When the group is first formed they invite Black Panther to join, but he instantly refuses, being the only one to have the foresight to see where this collusion will lead to. The group meets again to discuss shipping off Hulk into space after a particularly violent battle – which is a fun way of tying together the beginnings of “Planet Hulk,” the major storyline that takes over the Incredible Hulk series throughout Civil War. Namor has a huge problem with this agreement to simply get rid of the Hulk and ends up fighting Iron Man and leaving the group in a huff. I’m unfamiliar with Namor other than he was the very first Marvel superhero and thus far all I’ve learned is that he’s a huge asshole.

Our secretive leaders meet again to discuss the Superhuman Registration Act, and Stark suggests moving in front of it to support it so it doesn’t get out of hand. He also has the creepy foresight to predict almost exactly what ends up happening in the actual Civil War storyline, including a masked hero attacking a villain near a school and causing a horrific number of casualties. That part gets a bit heavy-handed but it’s still fun seeing this group of major players in the Marvelverse come together and discuss the big issues (as well as squabble amongst each other). Dr. Strange leaves, Namor curses them all while Mr. Fantastic supports Stark. The lines are being drawn and it’s a cool way of leading to Civil War.

The two Fantastic Four issues are much less of a direct tie-in than the others. The story revolves around Thor’s hammer crashing to Earth after the “Ragnarok” events in Thor, which I’m wholly unfamiliar with (I can only read so many comics!). The Fantastic Four are called in to investigate but Dr. Doom shows up with a legion of Doombots to stake his claim. Apparently he was in hell last we saw him, and hitched a ride when Mjolnir ripped through space on its way to Earth. For being completely lost on the goings-on of the Fantastic Four it was a pretty decent little story with lots of action and Doom chewing up the scenes as he does so well. How it ties into Civil War I haven’t the foggiest idea, other than further explaining what the situation is with Thor at the time.

The entire trade is ancillary reading to Civil War but it does provide a lot of nice background information, especially on Spider-Man leading up the grand event. If you have Marvel Unlimited I would definitely recommend reading the Amazing Spider-Man issues but as a whole the trade is only okay as a tie-in, and harmless fun as an overall collection of comics.

FF #537 edit

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Iron Man, Vol. 1: Extremis

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Warren Ellis IronManExtremis cover

Artist: Adi Granov

Issues: Iron Man #1-6

I’ll be the first to admit that I was not exactly a big Iron Man fan growing up. It wasn’t until Robert Downey Jr.’s perfect portrayal in the astonishingly good 2008 Iron Man film that I began to take notice. Even so I’d been planning to get most of my Iron Man fix from the Avengers series (which in the era I’m currently in – 2006, is in New Avengers), but heard such positive remarks on this particular Iron Man story that I decided to give it a shot.

“Extremis” is the six-issue story arc that centers on Iron Man’s new solo series that picks up right after the events of 2004’s Avengers “Disassembled.” The entire arc is told in a very cinematic style as it opens with some unknown ne’er do-wells injecting some kind of serum they got off the black market. One of them freaks out and begins to transform, and by the end of the first issue we still don’t know entirely what’s going on.

The story takes its time by giving us a cross section of who Tony Stark is and where he is in his life, most notably in one of his early scenes where he sits down with an exposé style reporter and verbally jousts about his past, present and future with technology and the military. We get a nice glimpse back into the inciting incident that changed him from a war profiteer into a vigilante, and it’s very similar to how it’s portrayed on the big screen – imprisonment by terrorists (updated from Vietnam, heh) and building a prototype Iron Man suit out of spare parts to escape.

Eventually the plot unfolds as our new villain has gained superhuman powers and is running amok, and the lead at a research lab gives Tony a call, an ex-girlfriend naturally. A secret super-soldier formula called Extremis has been stolen out of the lab, and scientist Maya Hensen needs Tony to track it down. Stark is able to find him relatively quickly as our low-life tears apart an office building, at one point breathing fire on a bunch of innocent people.

ExtremisIron Man promptly gets his ass kicked in the ensuing battle on a highway. The battle doesn’t happen until issue #3, but over half the issue is dedicated to panel after panel of fight scenes, until the villain finally throws a car at Iron Man, pinning him underneath after his power’s drained. It’s decently exciting but the jarringly realistic art style makes it look more like action movie stills than carefully constructed panels of a comic.

I found the art to be extremely distracting throughout. Adi Granov uses a unique style that I’ve never seen before. Numerous close-ups of characters look pretty fantastic with tons of detail, shading and lines, but at the horrible detriment to the background and everything else. Much of the backgrounds are filled with nothing but grays and browns and while the characters do pop in each panel it makes everything else just fall flat, particularly the few (but long) action sequences. It also hits some frightening Uncanny Valley level weirdness that, again, made the art more distracting than in service to the story.

Paced like a film, Iron Man proceeds to get an upgrade in the form of injecting himself with a modified version of the formula to better adapt his body to his suit. And also to save his life, since his battle tore him up pretty bad. There’s something you don’t see too often – the aftermath of a brutal battle with a non-immortal hero. The new upgrade allows him to sheathe himself in his Iron Man undies and reconstruct a suit electromagnetically out of a suitcase – hello Iron Man 2!

Stark catches up with our right-wing skin-head extremist villain Mallen and the two fight on even terms. Tony holds back as much as he can but just as Mallen is about to get the upper hand, Iron Man is forced to blow a hole in his chest (then slice off his head, just to be sure). It’s a brutal end and not terribly satisfying, as our villain had very little agency and a cliched backstory.

iron man extremis #3

I’ve come off pretty negative so far but I actually enjoyed “Extremis” over all. The insight into Tony Stark was fascinating, and I really got the concept of a character that both wanted to succeed within the system (being head of a major company) and without (being a tolerated vigilante). The cast is so sparse – Stark, Maya, Mallen, Stark’s aging hippie friend Sal – that it really feels like one character’s internal battle with himself as much as the actual crisis at hand. It also seems to happen so quickly that I guess it makes sense that Stark doesn’t even have time call in his new Avenger buddies (a constant irksome conceit when these characters have multiple ongoing series).

The next story arc uses an entirely new writer and artist so I’ll definitely give it a try. It’s fun seeing so many elements from all three Iron Man films ripped from this one story arc and it’s an easy, self-contained story to follow. For those reasons I’d give it a recommendation, though so far New Avengers has been the superior Iron Man experience.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Annihilation

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Annihilation_Prologue coverWriters: Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Simon Furman, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Stuart  Moore

Artists: Andrea Di Vito, Ariel Olivetti, Kev Walker, Mitch Breitweiser, Renato Arlem, Jorge Lucas, Greg Titus, Giuseppe Camuncoli

Issues: Drax the Destroyer #1-4, Annihilation Prologue #1, Annihilation: Nova #1-4, Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1-4, Annihilation: Super-Skrull 1-4, Annihilation: Ronan #1-4, Annihilation #1-6, Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus #1-2

One of the biggest reasons for my return to Marvel comics was seeing the very excellent Guardians of the Galaxy last Summer. I fell in love with the characters and setting but knew absolutely nothing about Marvel’s Cosmic Universe outside of the Thanos and Phoenix stories of the 80s.

So I was stoked to find that there was an appropriate jumping-on point into the vast, crazy world of Marvel’s expanded sci-fi setting only a few years into my initial starting point. Annihilation was the first big event to occur to the Marvel Cosmic setting in the new era of Big Crossover Events All The Time that started with Avengers “Disassembled” and House of M. It ran for a solid year thanks to a ton of tie-in limited series, from 2006-2007.

For the sake of these Final Thoughts, I’m covering the entire event: all three trade paperback books, 29 total comics over eight different series.

Book One combines two preview series to the event – Drax the Destroyer and the aptly titled one-shot Annihilation Prologue, as well as the first of the character tie-in series, Annihilation: Nova.

Drax’s 4 issue mini-series “Earthfall” stars the green, rage-happy badass (sounds familiar) on a prison convoy that crash lands in a small Alaskan town on Earth, along with a few not-so-nice alien prisoners. It has very little to do with the actual Annihilation event other than to set Drax up with a head-strong young teenage girl. The story of Drax and Cammi fighting against the other aliens is surprisingly fun, and Cammi’s a great character, but in the larger backdrop of Annihilation it’s extremely thin, and ultimately forgettable.

Annihilation Prologue is when the real fun begins. Supreme insectoid lord Annihilus invades our universe from the Negative Zone with a giant armada – think Starship Troopers but all the bugs have spaceships. They first attack Xandar, home to the intergalactic peace-keeping folk the Nova Corps (which I believe is the same force at the end of the Guardians film).

annihilation prologue

The Nova Corps are completely blind-sided and obliterated, leaving only Richard Rider, Cosmic hero from Earth known as Nova, as the survivor. It’s an utterly badass way to start a new giant event-series and I instantly fell in love with Nova’s plight, especially once he merged with the Nova supercomputer, which gave him a ton of power that he could barely control (and a funny AI he could argue with). The Prologue also has the tough job of including the starting points for all the following character-specific tie-ins: Silver Surfer, Super-Skrull, Nova and Ronan. It’s a gigantic one-shot issue and does its job setting the state for an epic event very well, though the art is the weakest of the series.

After Prologue Marvel simultaneously launched four different limited series runs of four different characters that were directly involved in Annihilation, and they acted as further lead-up to the event itself. Nova’s four issue mini-series is definitely the highlight, involving his aforementioned supercomputer merging as well as meeting up with Drax and Quasar and eventually even fighting Annihilus himself (briefly; everyone knows you can’t fight the Big Bad too early, and usually ends up with a minor good guy dying. Sorry, Quasar). It was a fantastic story that felt like a natural extension of the epic events in Annihilation Prologue.

The other character tie-ins were not so fortunate (all three make up Book Two of the Annihilation trades). Silver Surfer was okay, and one of the few Cosmic characters that I’d actually heard of. Essentially he returns to Galactus to serve him once again and become a herald (I didn’t know he was an ex-herald at the time) in order to fight the newly-dubbed Annihilation Wave. It doesn’t go well as the Wave had destroyed a kyln, a fancy space prison (like the one in Guardians) that held two ‘proemial gods’ (like Galactus). Aegis and Tenebrous were super pissed off and after some smooth words by Thanos, they attacked Galactus and Silver Surfer along with Ravenous, the only real villain given any substance under Annihilus (and he basically looks like Drax).

It’s not terrible and actually has a ton to do with the main event going on, but I’m just not a big fan of Silver Surfer and his whole situation with Galactus, thus the series didn’t really do it for me. Even worse was the Ronan series – here’s a character I only recognized from the recent movie (like Drax) but took place on an alien planet with minor Cosmic characters that were completely lost on me. At one point he and Gamora fight because reasons and that’s about it. Side note: Gamora is VERY different from her on-screen counterpart, she’s basically the token ‘hot chick that also kicks ass’ – very disappointing. The four issue story had very little to do with Annihilation and left me with such a bitter taste that I actually just completely skipped Annihilation: Super-Skrull (assuming it to be similarly fashioned) to get right into the main Annihilation trade.

annihilation draxSo if you’re paying close attention, the actual six issue event series Annihilation doesn’t start until Book Three of the trade paperbacks! The main event is thankfully fantastic as all our various heroes and anti-heroes come together to battle the vast armies of Annihilus. Thanos becomes a bigger player as he strikes a deal with Annihilus, and the two capture Galactus after the events of Annihilation: Silver Surfer and weaponize him to create a Death Star style planet-destroying beam. Cool! Ronan, Gamora, Super-Skrull, Starlord, Nova and Drax all fight together against the onslaught of swarms of alien insect creatures. Awesome! Ronan and the skrull get to team-up as an intergalactic odd-couple (skrull and kree hate each other) to overthrow the current ruling kree and use the army to attack the Wave. Nice! Nova and Gamora have a fling. Nova and Starlord are good buds (and Starlord is pretty funny, though older and more cynical than his lovable on-screen persona). Drax punches Thanos through the chest and rips out his heart. Wow! They free Galactus and he destroys the Wave, woo! Nova fights a weakened Annihilus and rips his spine out through his mouth. Holy crap!

If you’re going to do a giant epic Cosmic event, Annihilation really delivers with so many crazy fun and over-the-top moments that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Nearly every issue was like Act Three of a big budget space opera, and it was amazing that the relatively large cast all had interesting things to do, from joining forces to survive to splitting up when it came time to fight back.

Book Three also includes the two part Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus, which serve as mostly unnecessary epilogues to a few loose threads involving Silver Surfer and the other ex-heralds. As I mentioned before I don’t really care about Silver Surfer and his goings-on, so these stories really didn’t do much for me.

Due to the way Marvel structured the various limited series tie-ins and the eventual trade paperbacks, I felt coerced to read everything involved with Annihilation compared to the events back on Earth, such as House of M, where I could simply pick and choose which character tie-ins I was interested in. For that reason, Annihilation as a whole comes off as a very mixed bag.

annihilation issue 2

Trade paperback wise I would recommend completely skipping Book Two (unless you’re really into those particular characters). If you can pick and choose (such as on Marvel Unlimited) I would read the massive and awesome Annihilation: Prologue and spiffy Annihilation: Nova before diving into the six issue event itself. The actual event is pretty awesome, and I appreciate putting together all these various Cosmic characters, but most of the tie-ins just ended up pretty flat.

Unfortunately looking ahead it looks like Marvel would do the exact same thing with the next Cosmic event which starts up almost immediately afterward – Annihilation: Conquest. The good news is, Conquest paves the way for the Guardians of the Galaxy comic run, and I’m super excited to get there (especially as I already bought the first trade paperback).

2014: My Year In Gaming

Two Thousand Fourteen! I spent most of the year editing and writing for gaming site Leviathyn, got through another two seasons of Rogue’s Adventures, did a ton of live streaming and video content, began freelance writing for multiple game sites and finally bought a Wii U – all while still blogging here on Game Informer (I also started my own personal blog at

2014 was a weird year for games. I predicted a huge year with exciting new franchises a la 2007, but instead we got mostly middling disappointment and sequels. However the indie game scene is stronger than ever, and thanks to platforms like Kickstarter and Steam Early Access, more and more developers are finding success making some really wonderful games. And I played a ton of ’em.

I’m also a big organizational nerd, which is to say I love making charts and lists, and this end of year recap is the grand daddy of them all. Or rather, it’s the love child of a year’s worth of note-taking of games I acquired, played, beat and/or 100% completed. Sites like and help immensely, and you can see my year-end breakdown from Backloggery below:

That’s 68 New Games versus 50 Beaten and/or Completed ones – Not great! Interestingly I beat almost the same number of games as last year, but I acquired many, many more. I’m presuming it’s a combination of steam sales and review copies. Either way, despite playing through my backlog dutifully via Rogue’s Adventures, I ended up adding even more onto the pile. What a terribly glorious problem to have.

Anyway, let’s get to the month by month breakdown! As always I’ll give a brief rundown of the games I played, as well as the backlogged games I finished for Rogue’s Adventures (as well as links to my written Final Thoughts).

Read the full month-by-month breakdown over on Game Informer >>