New Article – Starbound Preview

Starbound is one of the most famous of these upcoming sandbox games. It’s available on Steam in an Early Access version. However, recent updates to the game have made it a title that families should definitely keep their eyes on.

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Eric_Watson-Starbound_dreadwingMinecraft‘s runaway indie success has nearly single-handedly spawned an entire genre of games—commonly called “sandbox.” They’re all light on structure and story, instead emphasizing open-ended gameplay such as exploration, crafting, surviving, and building with friends.

Starbound is one of the most famous of these upcoming sandbox games. It’s available on Steam in an Early Access version. However, recent updates to the game have made it a title that families should definitely keep their eyes on.

 
Real the full article at Pixelkin >>

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Deadpool & Cable Ultimate Collection, Book 3

While the previous collected volume had its ups and downs trying to give our unlikely duo things to do, the final Ultimate Collection almost solely focuses on Deadpool’s wacky adventures, to the great benefit of the series.

With 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!

Deadpool & Cable ultimate collection book 3Writer: Fabian Nicieza

Artist: Reilly Brown

Issues: Cable & Deadpool #36-50, Deadpool/GLI Summer Spectacular #1

It’s the Cable & Deadpool show! Starring Nathan Summers and Wade Wilson, but mostly everyone’s favorite fourth-wall breaking, pop culture referencing, Merc With a Mouth Deadpool! While the previous collected volume had its ups and downs trying to give our unlikely duo things to do, events to crossover with and guest stars to battle, the final Ultimate Collection almost solely focuses on Deadpool’s wacky adventures, to the great benefit of the series.

Although the series retained its Cable & Deadpool titling (which then gets changed to Deadpool & Cable for these Ultimate Collections – I like to think that was Deadpool’s doing), Cable only actually appears in three total issues among the final 15 issues. Cable has a major role to play in the adjective-less X-Men series as he joins Rogue’s team in the Supernovas volume of stories.

Cable’s “Fractured” story in Cable & Deadpool (#40-42) act as a bit of an epilogue to those adventures, as well as writing him out of his own series in preparation for the mega X-Men crossover Messiah Complex. His island of Providence is attacked and he’s forced to sacrifice himself to keep Gambit and Sunfire (see “Blood of Apocalypse“) from learning any of Apocalypse’s secrets. It leads to some exciting moments, and its fun to see Cable flashing back (or is that forward?) to his past life in the future as a soldier and commander making the tough decisions.

cable & deadpool #41

That just leaves Deadpool, whom Nicieza excels at writing and definitely feels most comfortable with. Deadpool’s solo adventures first have their seeds properly planted in the first few issues of Book 3. In “Unfinished Business,” (#36-39) Deadpool is steel reeling from the physical and emotional ass-kicking he got from Civil War, and ends up grappling with Taskmaster and then the Rhino. In the latter fight he’s shrunk down with Pym particles, which leads to another few issues of tiny Deadpool hilariously taking on an entire Hydra base and holding a Hydra agent hostage with a plastic card.

That Hydra agent would go on to become Deadpool’s new sidekick Bob in one of the more brilliant and hilarious characters I’ve ever seen. Together they rescue Agent X, a previous guest-star and regular Deadpool supporting cast-member whom has been hit with an obesity ray and is now an overweight cream-puff. Deadpool gets hired on by X’s company Agency X after Cable’s ordeal, and his first mission is to rescue his previous sidekick Weasel from the Hydra base where he accidentally left him.

cable & deadpool #47

In these final eight issues Deadpool and Bob (and later Weasel) get paired with a different Marvel character every issue – literally on the cover Cable’s name is crossed out and replaced with Wolverine, Dr. Strange, the Fantastic Four, etc. Rescuing Weasel sends Deadpool and Bob hurtling through time due to Weasel’s new teleporting suit, and they team up with Captain America and Bucky in the 40s before getting into an appropriately confusing and messy time-travel plot with the Fantastic Four.

Upon returning to their proper time, Dr. Strange enlists the help of Agency X to help with some mystical mumbo jumbo, leading to more excitingly random battles, including battling Brother Voodoo’s Zombies in Louisiana. Bob’s strategy of Run and Hide nearly steals the show from Deadpool’s own wise-cracking and violent antics and I was pretty much grinning throughout the entire arc.

cable & Deadpool #50It all ends with a trip to the Savage Land. In a neat tie-in to his former compatriot, Deadpool goes to the dino-infested jungles to get a power source for Cable’s former liberated country of Rumekistan and ends up battling Brainchild and some random mutate villains. The fun part comes at the end as they attempt to teleport an army of dinosaurs away. Deadpool picks Genosha as the destination, forgetting that Genosha was destroyed about five years ago. The dinosaurs thus get dropped into the Genoshan embassy in Manhattan, crash into the Mighty Avengers and unleash the Venom symbiote – leading to an epic final issue where Deadpool joins forces with the Avengers to defeat a bunch of dinosaur symbiote monsters rampaging New York!

This run of Cable & Deadpool marks the first time I’ve ever read a series to completion. All fifty issues, four years worth of comics, in a few months. Having the same writer and generally consistent, satisfyingly action-packed art style throughout helps immensely in rewarding loyal readers. Cable’s semi-frequent tie-ins to other ongoing Marvel events created some problems, but the series treated them amiably and mostly succeeded on Deadpool’s everlasting charisma and unique charm that makes him more lovable than irritating.

The latter half of Book 3 creates a worthy finale full of exciting scenarios and awesome guest-stars, but it never loses the funny. I was always fan of future-soldier and all-around badass Cable, but Cable & Deadpool definitely made me a huge fan of Deadpool. I look forward to exploring both characters’ solo series next.

cable & deadpool #48

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Iron Man: Director of SHIELD

The new era of the Initiative stems from the world-changing results of the superhero Civil War: namely that Tony Stark is the new Director of SHIELD and pushing forward with his grand plans of a government sanctioned superhero squad in all fifty states.

With 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!

iron man director of shield #15 coverWriters: Charlie Knauf, Daniel Knauf

Artist: Robert De La Torre

Issues: Iron Man: Director of Shield #15-18

The primary solo Iron Man series at the time of the mid to late 2000s was a wee bit confusing, changing names from The Invincible Iron Man to Iron Man, then Iron Man: Director of SHIELD until War Machine takes over to end the run and begin a new one. Thus although the volume is titled Iron Man: Director of SHIELD, it uses the same numbering that first started with the excellent Iron Man: Extremis back in late 2004.

I don’t usually write my Final Thoughts after a single short story arc, but seeing as the next two Iron Man issues are World War Hulk tie-ins, I’d better tackle these now. The new era of the Initiative stems from the world-changing results of the superhero Civil War: namely that Tony Stark is the new Director of SHIELD and pushing forward with his grand plans of a government sanctioned superhero squad in all fifty states.

While various Avengers titles have cropped up or changed to suit the still split superhero community at the time, Iron Man’s solo series focuses solely on his dealings with SHIELD, and works as a great continuation of his previous storylines. I actually skipped the story arc after Extremis, then dropped back in for his Civil War tie-ins – which were pretty meh (like most of them). Director of Shield brings back genetic researcher Maya Henson as Stark’s former colleague and ex-lover, and co-creator of the Extremis formula (which now runs through Tony, allowing him to shed and gather his suit at will).

iron man director of shield #16Maya and Tony are concerned about the increased level of attack and sophistication level of various random terrorist cells, just the thing that SHIELD deals with on a fairly constant basis. Former SHIELD director Dugan has concerns about Stark’s ability to run SHIELD, accusing him of running it like a company and micromanaging at every level. Indeed Stark feels the need to jump in and save the day as Iron Man in just about every situation they find themselves in.

Eventually their research and investigation leads to one of Iron Man’s oldest foes – the Mandarin. The Mandarin strikes at Tony and SHIELD by cleverly planting an organic bomb in the body of their lead, and when the dead terrorist is brought up to the helicarrier for autopsy, it explodes in a suitably creepy Alien-style moment, attacking and infecting everyone on board. Meanwhile Iron Man is down at the prison facility fighting off waves of cyber-modified zombie creatures and has to race up the helicarrier to save the day again.

All of issue 18 is one big battle, and it’s pretty damn fun. The tentacled organic thing is an exciting and creepy foe that results in the death of a semi-major character in Tony’s life, his aging hippie friend Sal. There’s a neat moment where Tony briefly flashes to the other recent deaths in his life, namely his bodyguard and friend Happy and of course Steve Rogers. Stark is only able to defeat the creature by learning that Maya’s Extremis virus (which he forbade her from researching further) would be able to cure it. He sheds his suit, gives his best Come at Me Bro line, and lets it infect him.

About a third of the helicarrier is destroyed and Stark and SHIELD have been built a huge blow, but Stark’s plan works and the dangerous creature melts off of him. He correctly surmises that the attack was a simple diversion as they never did find Mandarin, nor I believe even learn of his involvement in the plot. Dr. Maya Henson is shown at the end going to a previously offered research facility so she can further her work – away from Stark – and it’s run by Mandarin! Dun Dun DUNNNN!

iron man director of shield #18

Despite Stark coming off like a complete asshole from Civil War, I really enjoyed his first outing as SHIELD Director. The father and son writers effectively layer in the politics and implication of how SHIELD’s run in this new era under Stark while also providing a fun and decidedly comic book-y villain and climax. The heavily shaded artwork is quite a bit darker than artist Torre’s other work on Ms. Marvel; I really dug the very Earth-y tones of brown and red, interestingly making Iron Man blend in rather than stand out and giving the sci-fi plot and elements a very dark feel. Director of SHIELD isn’t quite yet required reading for what’s going on during the Initiative time frame (aka the year between Civil War and Secret Invasion), but so far it’s a fun romp starring a very driven and conflicted Tony Stark.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America

The death of a major character isn’t exactly treading new water. It’s happened countless times and become a bit of a running joke. Still, Captain America is just about the highest-profile character that Marvel had targeted in some time, and his death is treated with all the emotional gravitas and status-quo altering implications you would expect.

With 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!

fallen son coverWriter: Jeph Loeb

Artists: John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita, Leinil Francis Yu

Issues: Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #1-5

Captain America’s famous death at the end of the superhero Civil War presents a bit of a tricky problem in the way I organize my Final Thoughts. I typically read a collected Volume (or several) or omnibus of a single series, then write about it.

The problem is that Cap doesn’t actually die at the end of Civil War he’s arrested after he willingly surrenders to prevent more devastation. A few months go by in Early 2007 before his trial in Captain America #25, and it’s there that he’s gunned down by a combination of Crossbone’s sniper rifle and a brainwashed Sharon Carter. That crucial issue is part of a massive collected omnibus (also titled The Death of Captain America) that begins with issue #22 (Cap’s Civil War tie-ins) all the way to #42, which covers nearly two years.

Thus I would either have to break up that omnibus into multiple Final Thoughts, or wait and talk about Cap’s important death far into the future. Neither are great options. Thankfully the solution presents itself quite nicely in the form of this lovely limited series.

Fallen Son was written as a tribute to Steve Rogers’ legacy, allowing some of the biggest heroes in Marvel to reflect and deal with his tragic death in their own ways. Each of the five issues includes a different artist, showcasing a myriad of styles (from fantastic to okay). Each issue was cleverly written to represent the classic five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Fallen son #2“Denial” stars Wolverine (perfect!) who just can’t believe Cap is really dead. With the help of Dr. Strange’s magic, he and Daredevil infiltrate the SHIELD helicarrier, interrogating Crossbones and finally seeing Cap’s body for themselves. The reeling New Avengers and newly formed, government-sanctioned Mighty Avengers crossover in the interesting “Anger” issue. Most of the issue is constructed with the two very different stories going on side-by-side, as each group supposedly works through their emotions. Iron Man’s team fights off Tiger Shark and a bunch of sea monsters, while the New Avengers tackle a less action-packed but far more intriguing poker game that nearly comes to blows between the arguing heroes.

Spider-man leaves the group in a huff, segueing nicely into the fourth issue where he visits a graveyard; all his personal losses come bubbling up in a fantastic rain-soaked cemetery. The only one that really fell flat for me was the third issue, “Bargaining,” which stars a recently resurrected Hawkeye as Iron Man offers him the job of wearing the shield and uniform of Captain America. It crosses over with some of the super lame Young Avengers and the art is the worst of the bunch.

The final issue pays off in the form of Captain America’s funeral, an impressive set-piece in Washington D.C. filled with most of the winning side of the war. Falcon, Cap’s longtime partner, gives a stirring speech that lasts nearly the length of the issue, cutting away nicely to various famous scenes of Captain America, both old and new. Tony Stark meanwhile continues to look like a complete and utter asshole, event when he’s supposed to be remorseful and guilt-stricken.

fallen son #5

The death of a major character isn’t exactly treading new water. It’s happened countless times and become a bit of a running joke. Still, Captain America is just about the highest-profile character that Marvel had targeted in some time, and his death is treated with all the emotional gravitas and status-quo altering implications you would expect. It flows out naturally from Civil War and helps set the state of the fear-mongering, government-controlled era in the Marvelverse that would persist for the next three years (Cap himself comes back in two, still an impressively long time for any hero).

Civil War is about as required reading as you can get, and Fallen Son acts as both a wonderfully somber epilogue to those events, as well as a fitting tribute to one of Marvel’s greatest all time heroes. Rest in Peace, Cap.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ms. Marvel (2006), Vol. 1-2

With 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!


Ms. Marvel #1Writer:
Brian Reed

Artists: Robert de la Torre, Mike Wieringo

Issues: Ms. Marvel (2006) #1-10, Giant-Size Ms. Marvel #1, Ms. Marvel Special #1

Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel, aka Captain Marvel, aka Warbird, aka Binary, has had a fairly complicated and confusing history, most of which I know absolutely nothing about. Thankfully her solo series, launched in 2006, doesn’t bother with all the hand-wringing and complex backstory, and instead focuses on the confident woman that earnestly strives to be the best damn superhero she can be.

As an Air Force pilot, Danvers was given her powers from a Kree DNA-altering blast with Captain Marvel in the 70s, and her buxom blonde looks and can-do, all-American attitude definitely reflect that Silver Age of comics she was born into.

My only real knowledge of Ms. Marvel came from Rogue’s famous encounter, where she permanently stole her powers of flight and super strength – leaving Carol Danvers in a coma, and creating the Rogue character most recognizable in the 80s/90s and the animated series. At some point Professor X restores Ms. Marvel’s mind and she ends up gaining cosmic-level powers and becoming Binary, then joining the Avengers in the late 90s as Warbird.

Carol’s had a rocky road but with a new Marvel movie coming out in a few years I wanted to know more about her. Thankfully this solo series (her first since the 70s) was launched a few months after House of M. “Best of the Best” introduces us to the stalwart superhero who’s just come off the high of that alternate world. She was the world’s most popular and beloved superhero, and that’s given her motivation to actually try and achieve that goal. She turns down Captain America’s official offer when recruiting for the New Avengers and strikes out on her own, though her numerous Avengers contacts certainly help.

Her first adventure has her responding to a crashed alien ship full of Brood that have unleashed hell on a small town. She battles them off in spectacularly cool fashion, and we quickly learn that Ms. Marvel is easily powerful enough to take on most foes by herself. A new player to the field, weird blue alien Cru arrives and steals a crystal from a military base, which also gets destroyed – Ms. Marvel is a day light and a dollar short throughout this story.

ms marvel #3

She ends up absorbing the crystal blast and sends him reeling into space, and it’s all over in three quick issues. The next two deal with a returning villain – the Traveler (apparently UK’s answer to Dr. Strange) a mystic wielding time-traveling sorcerer. He’s a bit more interesting, and his previous run in with Ms. Marvel is pretty funny (she threw a cat at him, sending them hurling across space and time). They spend the two issues hopping through alternate dimensions and getting help from Dr. Strange, and it’s mostly a confusing mess.

Things get back to normal in the second collected Volume, which includes her Civil War tie-ins. Ms. Marvel famously sides with Tony Stark and the pro-Registration team as she strongly desires to set an example to other superheroes. She’s even hired a professional publicist to help her with her image, not exactly an endearing quality. “Battle Lines”  is one of the weaker Civil War tie-ins and a pretty easy throw away story. Carol and Simon (the incredibly boring Wonder Man) team up to bring in unregistered heroes, and set their sights on Arachne and her boyfriend Shroud.

There’s some solid action scenes, including a high speed chase with doors being ripped open and people being flung out, and the art stays consistently solid and high quality throughout. Eventually Carol is forced to arrest Julia Carpenter before she can flee with her daughter to the Canadian border, and attempt to reconcile the horror of separating a mom from her daughter. From my experience with Civil War and beyond into Mighty Avengers and The Initiative, it’s easy to hate on Ms. Marvel as she’s such a strong believer in the Superhero Registration Act. These events do help paint her as more of a human being with remorse and uncertainty for the things she’s had to do to uphold the law.

ms marvel #8

The last two issues of the second volume were my favorite, involving a confrontation with Rogue and an alternate universe-hopping version of Ms. Marvel (as Warbird). Inthat universe she felt sorry for herself, drinking constantly and letting her world be destroyed while she moped and didn’t answer the call from the Avengers. She ends up spinning through various Earths, always hunting down and killing Rogue for revenge, and later reveals that she’s had to kill the alternate Ms. Marvel each time as well, for forgiving Rogue.

Granted it’s a pretty ham-fisted way to represent Ms. Marvel’s fears and repressed demons so literally but it makes for some great dialogue and action-scenes, as the two Carols blast energy at each other and fling each other into various destructible objects. Both Rogue and Beast are fun and effective guest-stars. I can’t say the same for the art however, as guest artist Mike Wieringo’s style is a bit goofier than I would have liked (and his Beast is straight-up terrible).

ms marvel #10These first two volumes of Ms. Marvel end up as a pretty mixed bag. They also include the Giant-Size Ms. Marvel issue which acts as the launching point of the series and includes the first Traveler attack, as well as an interesting one-shot Ms. Marvel Special, including a clever way of retelling her Binary/Cosmic adventures through a mutant (or something) that can manifest stories.

I appreciated how Brian Reed grounds Carol Danvers as a real person with hopes, desires and flaws. She gets a date with the cute owner of a restaurant she wrecks! She’s best buds with Jessica Drew, New Avengers‘ Spider-Woman (well until Civil War I guess). Robert de la Torre’s art is also really fantastic, evoking a modernized look of a Silver Age heroine. I’m definitely hoping for some steady improvement in Carol’s solo adventures, as the series would go on to last an impressive 50 issues and four years.

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 1

With 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.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Saga #1Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #1-6

The story of Romeo and Juliet is the classic tale as old as time. It’s note quite as cliché and overused as Man Gets Revenge for Murdered Family, and the actual tale of Love Conquers All usually takes a backseat to the tragedy and hardships that both characters face. In Saga, comic superstars Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples successfully craft the timeless tale of two star-crossed lovers in a wildly creative sci-fi universe by grounding all the characters and events in very human emotions.

The biggest wrench that Vaughan throws into the story serves as both the opening hook and brilliant past-tense narrator: the birth of Hazel, the love child between former prison guard Alana and prisoner of war Marko. Alana is a winged native of Landfall, the largest planet in their galaxy and technologically advanced. Marko hails from Landfall’s only moon, Wreath, home to a race of horned magic-users. Both races are distinctively different yet still very humanoid, and I especially liked that there’s a lot of racial diversity within the groups (different kinds of wings and horn styles).

With two such different people in relative close proximity, war was inevitable. Since directly annihilating one side could send the other spinning out of orbit, the war between Landfall and Wreath has been mostly been outsourced to other planets, and other races.

Saga #1 actionThe first six issues follow Marko, Alana and Hazel as they attempt to find a spaceship and get off the backwater planet of Cleave. While making their way through hostile territory they are also being hunted by both sides. Landfall sends Prince Robot IV, a humanoid creature with a decidedly retro-sci-fi look of a tv screen for a head (who’s softcore sex with his robot wife should cement the series as Mature Audiences Only). Wreath hires an infamous bounty hunter from the Freelancers called The Will (a generally normal looking dude) with a giant hairless cat called Lying Cat. It can, uh, tell when you’re lying, and has some great scenes with The Will despite its very limited vocabulary.

Neither of our hunters quite reach our fated pair; that honor goes to another freelancer and former love interest of The Will, The Stalk, one of the most inventive and unsettling alien creatures I’ve ever seen. Half-spider woman wouldn’t even come close to doing the creative art work justice. Fiona Staples’ heavy shading and pencils take a few pages to get used to but I absolutely loved her emotive facial expressions and character focus as much as the violent action scenes.

A sci-fi world full of wonderfully bizarre creatures could easily get lost in its own spectacle, but Vaughan keeps everything incredibly grounded by focusing on Marko and Alana’s very human survival stories, both in keeping their relationship together and surviving the hostile world around them. The casual and strong language is also refreshing and keeps everyone in the story much more realistic.

By the end of the first volume, Marko took down an entire platoon by himself (then swore off violence…again), Hazel is bonded with the upper torso of a teenage ghost named Izabel (her first babysitter!) and they find passage off of Cleave in a tree-like spaceship. A fun cliffhanger suddenly adds Marko’s parents into the mix as they’re summoned onto the ship, and I can’t wait to read more of their adventures.

saga-no-killing

Saga came highly recommended and I can easily see why. The world is incredibly interesting and adheres wonderfully to the ‘show, don’t tell’ creed as it teases out information and characters only as needed. The small cast keeps the focus tight, and it’s an interesting balancing act keeping the A-B-C stories of Marko/Alana, Prince Robot IV, and The Will hovering around each other. Vaughan’s writing is wonderfully human and real, and I absolutely adored Staples’ art work. If you enjoy character-driven sci-fi adventures, especially the struggles that a new relationship and a child can bring layered into a new universe, Saga is an absolute delight.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire

With 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!

rise and fall of the shi'ar empireWriter: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Billy Tan, Clayton Henry

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963) #475-486

“We have to end this threat…he has to die. And X-Men don’t kill, so I guess we aren’t X-Men anymore. We’re what my brother turned us into.”

The X-Men return to space! Some of them anyway. In fact, the X-Men have been in and out of space for decades, ever since Chris Claremont first introduced the Phoenix Force and Shi’ar Empire back in the 80s. Having at least vague knowledge of the triangular-coifed Shi’ar would help immensely toward understanding the events of this book, as beloved comic writer Ed Brubaker takes over Uncanny X-Men beginning with this epic space adventure.

The massive twelve issue story arc, titled “Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire,” is actually a follow-up to Brubaker’s limited series story, X-Men: Deadly Genesis, which was by far the best story to emerge from the ashes of House of M and the Decimation of mutants on Earth. I won’t rehash it here since you can read my Final Thoughts on Deadly Genesis, but suffice to say it’s very much required reading to know what the hell is going on.

The end of Deadly Genesis had a very pissed off Vulcan, the third Summers brother that Professor X tried to use to save his original team, flying off into space to get his revenge on the man that had murdered his mother and made him into a child slave – Emperor D’ken of the Shi’ar Empire.

Having been frozen in space for quite some time, Vulcan isn’t quite up on his Shi’ar current events. D’ken is in a coma, and the Empire is ruled by the much kinder Lilandra, former lover and bride of Professor Charles Xavier. The seeds of discontent have grown for years, however, and Vulcan’s arrival in Shi’ar space sparks the growing dissidents to make their move and depose Lilandra.

The story arc is told in an awkward A-B style, with the X-Men’s journey into space taking up the brunt of the time, while every 3rd or 4th issue focuses on Vulcan’s personal journey to the Empire. Vulcan kills entire spaceships and commandeers another, but when the rebels of the Shi’ar send the Imperial Guard after him, it equals an insane battle that ends with Vulcan getting his eyeball punched out by Gladiator. After he’s imprisoned they engineer his own escape along with Lilandra and D’ken’s long-lost sister Deathbird, and the two fall in love over mutual love of hatred and destruction (I’m sure that’ll last).

uncanny x-men #475 team

Meanwhile the X-Men take their sweet time finding a spaceship, getting into space and creating their own stargates to travel. The new team that Xavier chooses includes Rachel Grey, Havok, Polaris, Nightcrawler, Warpath and Darwin. Darwin was introduced in Deadly Genesis as part of Vulcan’s team, and whose mutant power is what kept Vulcan alive all these years in space. He’s both guilt-ridden over his former friend and teammate and armed with a desire to help everyone even though he’s pretty green when it comes to combat. His ability to quickly adapt to any situation becomes quite invaluable, especially in as hostile environment as space, and I enjoyed his earnest and selfless demeanor.

Warpath is Brubaker’s attempt at bringing in an old character and making him relevant again, but he never quite worked for me. As the team’s brawler he comes off as a poor man’s Wolverine (armed with heightened senses and vibranium daggers). He’s full of rage and super aggressive in every situation, which mostly just comes off as immature and tiresome, especially with cooler heads like Nightcrawler around.

Brubaker excels at relationships; maybe not to the extent of Joss Whedon’s phenomenal writing of Kitty Pryde/Colossus and Emma Frost/Cyclops in Astonishing X-Men, but he does attempt to repair the relationship between Havok and Polaris (one of those cute ‘kiss me you fool’ scenes) as well as giving us a new love interest for Rachel Grey in the Shi’ar phoenix hunter Korvus.

uncanny x-men #479

Korvus is armed with a silly Final Fantasy-esque giant sword, and unleashed by the Shi’ar to hunt down Rachel Grey. From the events in previous story arc “The End of Greys,” Rachel was hunted by a Shi’ar death squad and though survived, was branded with a mystical tattoo, acting like a beacon for the Shi’ar in their constant attempt to eradicate all possibility of the deadly Phoenix Force’s return. Their battle ends with some typical mind-linkage that’s involved with engaging telepaths, and Korvus’ change of heart (in more ways than one) is a nice evolution and addition to the team.

The story is filled with crazy cool action sequences and Billy Tan’s art style excels at giant two-page spreads involving an orgy of character battles and explosions. I don’t quite want to call it the Michael Bay of comics as lots of folks hate on Bay, but I definitely felt like the art and action helped elevate the otherwise okay story-telling. Tan’s style doesn’t bother much with facial features or emotions, in fact most of the eyes in combat tend to be white or glowing and most of the emotions that are displayed are of the RAAARRGGGHHH style.

uncanny x-men #484Despite lots of fun action sequences to keep the story hopping – the X-Men fighting Skrulls, Vulcan fighting the Imperial Guard, the X-Men teaming up with the Starjammers to assault a Shi’ar prison, Vulcan and Deathbird fighting off waves of Shi’ar – everything is building to a final showdown between the X-Men and Vulcan. Deathbird actually succeeds in quelling Vulcan’s adolescent and frankly lame and tiresome rage-induced revenge, and Vulcan is eventually convinced to repair D’ken’s mind and wake him up. D’ken responds by letting Vulcan and Deathbird wed and have them serve under him as Shi’ar’s returning mad emperor.

The climax involves the wedding and subsequent torture and death of Xavier, who was captured early on in the adventure (Darwin spends quite a bit of time sneaking in and mounting a rescue but it amounts to nothing as they’re both captured anyway). The X-Men, allied with Corsair (Papa Summers) and the Starjammers, attack in an enormously cool action setpiece that includes spaceships exploding in the background, lots of redshirt Shi’ars dying, and everyone getting their assess kicked.

Just when D’ken has the upper hand, Vulcan surprises no one and murders him (brutally, slowly cooking and melting his flesh). Corsair attempts to intervene when Vulcan is poised to do the same to Lilandra, and Vulcan murders him as well, causing Havok to go ape shit and the action starts getting even crazier as half the X-Men mount a rescue of Professor X and the rest take on Vulcan.

With the combined powers of Rachel Grey (able to manipulate telekinetic energy on a molecular level – hot damn she’s powerful), Polaris (powers restored and augmented by Apocalypse during the “Blood of Apocalypse” story), Havok and Korvus they’re finally able to subdue Vulcan and he’s forced to flee with Deathbird. At the epilogue he crowns himself emperor of the Shi’ar, and would go on to become a major player in future cosmic events, making Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire have less of an ending and more of a change in the status quo.

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The other important fallout is that our team is separated. Lilandra programs their ship to take them back to Earth after they rescue Professor X, along with Warpath, Nightcrawler, Darwin and Starjammer cat-lady Hepzibah (and former lover of Corsair). Xavier gets his telepathic powers back thanks to exposure to the M’kraan crystal, but otherwise our heroes are left with a profound sense of loss and defeat. Those left in space join the Starjammers, effectively writing Havok, Polaris and Marvel Girl out of X-Men for awhile while they continue to hunt Vulcan, and Havok radios home with that rather badass message I quoted in the beginning.

Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire is a neat idea and a fun culmination of the seeds planted in  Deadly Genesis. Putting a new X-Men team through some massive battles in space with super-powerful cosmic characters like the Starjammers and Imperial Guard are a ton of fun, and Billy Tan crafts some mind-blowing artwork. Individual character moments are used sparingly, and the whole story seems very unlike what I was used to seeing from Brubaker from his excellent work on Captain America (which is much more subdued and introspective).

The focus is always on the action, and it works because the action is so damn exhilarating. The climax is over-the-top and satisfying and I like that it separated the team in the end, but it’s a shame that the whole adventure is left without a real ending or resolution. Vulcan and the Starjammers would continue in X-Men: Emperor Vulcan and X-Men: Kingbreaker, and I believe Vulcan is also involved in the cosmic event War of Kings – all of which spill out over the next two years.

If you’re okay with turning off your brain and focusing more on the action, not unlike many Summer blockbuster movies, Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire can be a lot of fun – though I highly recommend reading X-Men: Deadly Genesis for some much-needed background on Vulcan and Darwin.

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