Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – House 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!

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis House of M cover

Artists: Olivier Coipel

Issues: House of M #1-8

While Avengers Disassembled may have kicked off the current era of massive crossover events that continue to dominate Marvel comics ten years later, I think it was House of M that really solidified the months-long event series as a viable and popular story-telling device.

House of M centers around the fallout following Avengers Disassembled – the Scarlet Witch had gone a bit insane and several Avengers had lost their lives in the battle with her reality-shifting powers. In the very first issue we get a fun crossover as the X-Men visit the Avengers to basically decide what to do with her. Wanda Maximoff is currently being guarded and treated by Professor Xavier, Magneto and Dr. Strange in the ruins of Genosha (as detailed in the final two issues of Excalibur – read my Final Thoughts), but they’re unable to help her.

There’s a neat scene where some of the most popular heroes in the Marvel Universe get to argue about whether to ‘take care of’ Wanda; some are horrified at the concept (Captain America) while others are more than ready to do what’s necessary (Wolverine: “How many more of you need to die?”). When our heroes arrive on Genosha, however, something strange happens as Wanda’s powers reach a height we’ve never seen before – she reshapes the entire world to give them all their hearts’ desires.

A new reality is created where the previously persecuted mutants are now the dominant species on the planet, and a benevolent Magneto is the supreme ruler. Mutants openly walk (and fly) the streets with all manner of powers, abilities and unique appearances and the world is littered with House of Magnus propaganda – referring to Magneto and his family.

house of m avengers

The second issue gives us a fun look at this strange new world and where our heroes fit. Dazzler is a talk show host, Captain America is just an old man (never frozen), Kitty Pryde is a teacher, Gambit is a petty thief, Falcon is a detective, Dr. Strange is a psychologist. Wasp and Beast (sans fur) are scientists working for Tony Stark, while S.H.I.E.L.D. is Magneto’s (and thus the world’s) personal police force – with sentinels! It’s a super fun alternate reality glimpse.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis writes the majority of the story from Wolverine’s perspective. Since his heart’s desire is to regain his memories, Scarlet Witch accidentally started the chain reaction that would eventually bring about the downfall of her fantasy world. Logan wakes up in bed with Mystique – both operatives of the new S.H.I.E.L.D., and seemingly the only person that knows that this world isn’t right.

The story then follows Wolverine’s mission to seek out the others and make them see the truth, which is greatly accelerated thanks to the introduction of a young teenage girl that also knows the truth, Layla Miller. Her powers, from what I understand, are a specialized telepathy that allows her to reveal the true memories to everyone.

Once Wolverine meets up with the Resistance (mostly comprised of non-mutants, or as this world derogatorily calls them, Sapiens, such as Luke Cage and Hawkeye) they quickly move to a montage of visiting all their former allies, like the happily married Emma Frost and Cyclops, and a Spider-man that’s enjoying life with the not-dead Gwen Stacy and Uncle Ben. It was these moments that were the most intriguing, as for many of our heroes that have faced innumerable hardships in their life to suddenly have their perfect fantasy world revealed as a lie is heartbreaking (Spider-Man’s is especially brutal – he has a son in this world).

Since I read the months-long event in a matter of days things seemed to move very quickly to me, as Wolverine and company gather more allies and find a way to strike at Scarlet Witch by directly attacking the House of Magneto at a summit meeting. It definitely paints our heroes as the bad guys in terms of launching an assault at a peaceful political meeting (with other global leaders like Black Panther, Storm and Dr. Doom).

However, Bendis goes out of his way to show that this world is far from perfect. Tensions between mutants and sapiens are as strained as ever, and now a terrorist group called The Sapien League strikes out at the mutant population. It’s an interesting and satisfying concept that even if the roles between mutants and humans were reversed the result is still the same: hatred, fear and death.

Eventually our heroes mount a massively awesome attack against Magneto and company, and Dr. Strange discovers the truth. While previously Wolverine had blamed Magneto for using Scarlet Witch to create this world (seeing as he’s the new head honcho), Strange finds out that it was actually his son and brother to Wanda, Pietro (Quicksilver) that convinced Wanda to reshape reality to avoid being imprisoned or executed.

house of m magnetoMagento is furious when he learns this and goes on one of the more satisfying rampages I’ve seen. The combination of dialogue, art and lettering meshes together into an amazing climax as Magneto turns on his son. When Quicksilver falls, Scarlet Witch, who was finally convinced that her toddler children are nothing but figments of her imagination (made sort-of real by her powers), cradles him in her arms on the cover of the 7th issue. At the end she utters three of the most powerful (and now legendary) words the Marvel Universe has ever heard: No More Mutants.

The final issue sets up the future of the universe as things revert back to normal – only not quite. The Scarlet Witch obliterated the mutant gene from most of the world’s population, reducing the number of mutants from millions to less than 200 (most of our main heroes and villains are still powered, of course). This ended up creating a huge shift and world state change in every Marvel book, but especially all the X-Men series, and helps make House of M one of the more beloved and interesting events to happen in the last two decades.

I’d been hyped up to read House of M ever since I began this grand Marvel comics catch-up, and can satisfyingly report that it more than lived up to it. The alternate reality world is incredibly fun and interesting, Wolverine plays an awesome starring role, and the final climax and fallout are some of the greatest scenes I’ve read in any comic. It helps that I’m a huge X-Men fan and this series directly affects their future for years to come, especially in the months following (known as Decimation).

house of m no more mutants

Bonus: I read a few House of M tie-ins, and though not enough to write a full Final Thoughts for each I’d like to mention them here (I did mention Cable & Deadpool’s tie-in issues in my Cable & Deadpool Book 1 Final Thoughts).

Issue #10 of Captain America takes place right in the middle of the Winter Soldier arc (Final Thoughts here), and is a super boring, fairly pointless issue about what old man Steve Rogers is doing while Wolverine and friends are gathering allies. It was poignant I suppose, but ultimately awkward as Cap has absolutely nothing to do and no role to fill in the House of M world.

Wolverine #33-35 acts as a minor backstory to Logan’s character and situation in the House of M world, though it’s a little strange as his story in House of M begins with him waking up and realizing the truth. The three issue arc centers on Logan’s past joining up with S.H.I.E.L.D., being trained by Nick Fury and having a relationship with fellow agent Mystique. The story is just okay and unfortunately barely takes any advantage of the unique setting. Not terrible but easily forgettable.

I read the five issue Mutopia X without realizing it stemmed from another ongoing Marvel series, District X (which I need to check out since I adore Bishop). Now this series very much took advantage of the unique world state of mutant domination, and it was super interesting seeing the world’s politics and people from the common man’s viewpoint, human police detective Ismael Ortega and his new partner Lucas Bishop. Izzy is married to a mutant and has mutant children, and the implications create some great dynamics and dramatic moments. It all ended a bit confusingly however, as I was unaware it tied into a larger series at the time. Still a fun tie-in and probably the best one I read.

 

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Rogue’s Adventures Season Four Recap

For more on my backlog group, click on the Rogue’s Adventures tab at the top.

Season 4 collage

Hope everyone had a very happy holiday season, and soon a happy new year. I’m having to sneak my latest recap right between Christmas and New Year’s as I only just finished my latest backlogged game – Saints Row IV, mere days before Christmas.

For newcomers this is the bi-annual recap I give for Rogue’s Adventures, my social backlog group. I create a schedule of games from my backlog (usually about six months worth), writing my Final Thoughts for each game I complete, as well as live tweeting and streaming my gameplay. At the end of each season I write up a recap to go over each game I played, link to each Final Thoughts, rank the games and break down some fun stats.

If Season Four had a theme, it was mostly joined by more recent games. Other than Beyond Good & Evil, a cult favorite from 2003, every game was released in the last few years. The Banner Saga was even released earlier this year. This made Rogue’s Adventures much more relevant and interesting compared to the first season when I mostly played old 90s adventure games. I was also able to play two of the games on here cooperatively with friends, which was an absolute blast, and two more a friend of mine played them right before so we were able to discuss while playing them. Live streaming and videos were obviously a bit more popular as well.

Thankfully I’ve gotten to the point were most of my backlog are newer games. I have nothing to buy on GoG sales because I feel comfortably caught up on most older stuff from the 90s and early 2000s, but I can and do take advantage of Steam sales rewarding my patience for games that are only a few years or few months old.

For example, with the current Steam holiday sale running right now, I was able to grab Assassin’s Creed IV ($10), South Park The Stick of Truth ($13), Might & Magic X ($7) and Portal 2 ($4) among others. Two of those were released earlier this year and are now crazy cheap with just a bit of patience. Gotta love PC gaming.

Read the full Recap on my blog on Gamer Informer >>

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Deadpool & Cable Ultimate Collection, Book 1

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: Fabian Nicieza DeadpoolCable

Artists: Patrick Zircher

Issues: Cable & Deadpool #1-18

Maybe my 90s is showing a bit, but when I walked into a comic store in 2004 and saw a new series starring two of my favorite 90s-created characters, I had to jump on board. I bought the first six issues, encompassing the entire “If Looks Could Kill” story arc, which puts our titular heroes crossing paths while battling a cult and they wind up dissolving into each other from a virus that is contracted through light (comics!) and crossing DNA.

In plain terms it means they can teleport together and continue to have ridiculous adventures. In the first issue alone Cable telekinetically explodes Deadpool’s head (which he eventually heals from) and later Deadpool shoots Cable in the head (where he telekinetically stops the bullet). Both characters are deliciously overpowered and ridiculous, and the entire series revels in it.

Now ten years later as I jump back into comics I had to dig up this series and was delighted to find that it ran for a whopping 50 issues! These Final Thoughts cover the Ultimate Collection Book 1 (which is listed as Deadpool & Cable, no doubt Deadpool’s doing), which includes the first three volumes, or 18 issues of the series.

Cable, aka Nathan Summers is the son of Cyclops and Jean Grey (actually a clone of Jean Grey but let’s just leave it there for now) that gets infected with a techno-organic virus and sent into the future where he wages war in a war-torn Earth ruled by Apocalypse. Eventually he comes back to our time and he’s all kinds of powerful. Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson is a crass mercenary with Wolverine’s healing ability but in a less elegant state – and his constantly shifting molecules also makes him a bit insane, but in a totally hilarious way.

Together they make for one of Marvel’s oddest odd couples, and one of the most pure silly fun I’ve had reading comics. Writer Fabian Nicieza co-created these decidedly over-the-top badasses back in the early 90s and he successfully straddles the line between interesting plot lines and story-telling and silly jokes and conceits.

cable & deadpool issue 1

Deadpool’s shtick, for those unaware, is to constantly break the fourth wall. He often knows he’s in a comic book and will reference the reader and the action going on. Normally this would be incredibly jarring but Deadpool owns his role as the motor-mouthed jokester so much that it just works (though humor is entirely subjective and your mileage may vary). By contrast Cable is super stoic and serious and they act as wonderful foils for each other.

The second story arc, “Burnt Offering,” sets up the main story of the first chunk of the series – Cable constructs a floating island paradise named Providence and invites anyone to come join him in his Eden, which pisses off every major power. He fends off attacks from a silly SHIELD team named Six-Pack full of D-list superheroes and villains and generally sees himself as a savior attempting to make the world a better place. His philosophy is refreshingly plain – in order to change the future (and avoid his war-torn apocalypse) we need to change the present.

Once he threatens to throw everyone’s guns into the sun, however, even the X-Men get involved to try and stop him, but it’s not until Nick Fury calls in the Silver Surfer that Cable finally gets his ass kicked. Deadpool’s mostly along for the ride in these first two arcs, helping Cable and cracking jokes when he’s not trying to kill him.

A big reason the series works as well as it does is the constant rotating cast of cameos. It’s like a television sitcom with a constant stream of fun guest-stars. From random D-lister’s like Thunderbolts’ Fixer and Six-Pack there’s the X-Men, Silver Surfer, MODOC, Forge, Cannonball, Syren and Mr. Sinister. Using guest-stars is not exactly a new concept in comics but Cable & Deadpool uses everyone in a way that adds to the story and never feels tacked on.

Cable & Deadpool is also not afraid to use smaller story chunks in the midst of the bigger tales. After Cable is knocked out of commission at the end of “Burnt Offering,” Deadpool goes on a quest to save him in “Thirty Pieces,” enlisting the help of Fixer, Forge and others while killing hordes of random soldier dudes along the way. If action heroes are known for spouting one-liners, Deadpool is known for going full-blown soliloquy.

“A Murder in Paradise” is the only story that feels a bit pointless, as Deadpool helps investigates a murder in Cable’s island which – spoiler alert – discovers he did (he’s a bit crazy in the head, and also someone kinda brainwashed him). As the story builds to this new brain-washing villain, however, House of M happens in the Marvel Universe, and Cable & Deadpool tie in by having Cable jump through dimensions while Deadpool (joined by Cannonball and Syren) follow in “Enema of the State.”

This was by far my favorite storyline in Book 1 as Deadpool travels to an apocalyptic future (where they battle the Four Horseman of Archangel, Blob, Spider-Man and Cable), an Eloi-style utopian future where no one fights (and Deadpool hates, naturally), a scary future where the TO virus has assimilated everyone, and finally the House of M universe, where Deadpool has a fun chat with Mister Sinister on a farm with a genetically engineered baby Cable. At one point Deadpool explains to Sinister why he’s there while our merc takes a long leak in the bathroom (he’d been holding it for several issues). It’s just the best scene ever, and ended up as my favorite House of M tie-in.

Deadpool Sinister House of M

The writing stays fresh and funny, the action is always bombastic and entertaining and Patrick Zircher’s crisp art style meshes perfectly with the tone of the book (ignore the Rob Liefield cover art of the first six issues, it’s pure nostalgia and the comic looks nothing like it, thankfully). Cable & Deadpool has such a fun time with its own cast and its crossovers that I just can’t help but devour every issue. Highly recommended to comic fans looking for a bit of silly fun.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Saints Row IV

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.

SR4

If I were to write this in the guise of a typical Steam review, it would be something like:

“Plays Stan Bush’s “The Touch” during an epic climax near the end before the hero and villain trade classic banter from The Transformers: The Movie. 10/10″

Seriously though, the quickest way into my heart is to love the ’86 animated Transformers movie as much as I do. Clearly the folks at Volition love and celebrate all things nerdy and game-y, and in many ways Saints Row IV is a grand example of today’s AAA gaming scene as it cribs gameplay elements and concepts from other successful franchises into something that’s just pure fun.

If Saints Row: The Third was Grand Theft Auto minus all the *** with a whole lot of loving goofiness, then Saints Row IV builds upon that formula (literally with the exact same open-world city of Steelport) with a layer of Matrix-style story framing and outlandishly awesome superhero powers.

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

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Excalibur

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: Chris Claremont excalibur 1

Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Igor Kordey

Issues: Excalibur (2004-05) #1-14

2004 was a huge year for X-Men (and the original time period I attempted to jump back into comics). The X teams were split into three ongoing series (X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, and the decades running classic Uncanny X-Men), though technically Excalibur could be considered a fourth.

Excalibur (not to be confused with the British Marvel superhero team and series) ties directly into the aftermath of Morrison’s run on New X-Men in the early 2000s, which eventually culminated in the destruction of half of New York City by Magneto and the subsequent obliteration of Mutant city-haven Genosha by an army of sentinels. Jean Grey is killed (again) and Wolverine brutally murders Magneto.

All of this I read about on Wikipedia and heard from a comic-savvy friend, as I’m jumping on now with the glorious return of beloved X-Men writer Chris Claremont. Claremont is responsible for many of the best X-Men storylines in the 80s such as “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” He helped create many of the best mutant heroes and villains (Gambit, Rogue, Mystique, Emma Frost, etc) and developed Wolverine into the badass we know and love of him as.

So you can imagine my disappoint upon reading Excalibur and finding it to be a hot mess.

The story picks up with Professor Xavier poking through the post-apocalyptic ruins of Genosha looking for survivors and having lots of monologues. He meets some new friends (Wicked, Freakshow, Callisto) and some new foes (more random survivors that are more pissed off than relieved) but mostly it revolves around Magneto’s inexplicable return and friendship reunion with Xavier.

The first four issue story arc “Forging the Sword” starts off promising enough with our ragtag heroes, and I really enjoyed the dialogue between Xavier and Magneto, two of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe, but both deeply troubled and conflicted men. Magneto especially is super mopey and depressed throughout most of it as a tortured man and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

excalibur teamI also enjoyed the new heroes for the most part. Freakshow was a young kid who could shapeshift into terrifying elder god-style monsters, while Gothy Wicked could tap into all the ghosts surrounding Genosha. Callisto was easily my favorite; the former leader of the Morlocks is completely badass with giant tentacle arms and a fun and confident fighting style with knives.

Unfortunately the overarching storyline never quite decides on what it wants to be. After the events of Avengers Disassembled when Scarlet Witch goes crazy and half the Avengers are slain, Magneto opens a rift (they spend a good deal of time talking about how Magneto’s powers may not have any upper limit) to rescue his unconscious daughter and bring her to Genosha to watch over. Marvel fans will know that the fallout from the attack and Scarlet Witch waking up eventually leads to the phenomenal Marvel event House of M (look for my Final Thoughts soon!), so the latter half of Excalibur acts as a prelude.

But that story is sidelined until the final two issues, and even then it’s mostly Xavier failing to help Scarlet Witch on a mental level (Dr. Strange even pays a house call at some point), and as any kind of intriguing set-up to House of M, it fails completely.

Excalibur’s own story gets terribly convoluted as well, involving a looting pirate lord and his band of four-armed trolls and at some point even some random villains from Age of Apocalypse (Dark Beast is a super fun character, though). They’re not terrible plot-lines and lead to some fun fight scenes (at one point Callisto’s arms are ‘turned off’ and she still kicks ass), but things soon get even messier.

The plot shifts to a nearby city in…Africa? And involves Angel and Husk? And there’s a terminator-style sentinel that Xavier and Magneto are able to transform into an ally at some point? There’s a lot going on and it gets a little crazy and soon you forget all about Genosha. In fact every issue has to have a scene or two that’s basically “Hey where’s Magneto,” as he builds a force-field around the sleeping Scarlet Witch.

As an entry into exploring the ruins of Genosha Excalibur starts off interesting but devolves quickly into a series of crazy characters and battles (then shifts focus away completely toward the end). As a prelude to House of M, Excalibur fails to do anything that you don’t already get from the first issue of that event. Really its only saving grace is in the writing of Xavier and Magneto, which is almost completely sidelined by the second half of the book.

Unless you’re desperate to know where Xavier is among all the various X-teams at the time, or absolutely need to know how Scarlet Witch goes from Avengers Disassembled to House of M, I would recommend skipping Excalibur altogether. I do hope Callisto finds a home somewhere else as I adored her character, writing and powers.

I don’t necessarily blame Claremont, as the series is wedged uncomfortably between major Marvel events and it’s very possible he was hamstrung with what he could do, and the individual character moments and fights are entertaining, but as a cohesive story it’s just too sloppy to be memorable.

excalibur magneto

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Captain America: Winter Soldier

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: Ed Brubaker winter soldier cover

Artists: Steve Epting, Michael Lark

Issues: Captain America (2004-2011) #1-9, #11-14*

*Issue #10 is a one-off House of M tie-in, and I’ll discuss it when I write about House of M.

Aside from being the obvious major storyline that inspired the latest Captain America film, the massive 13 issue “Winter Soldier” arc also serves as an excellent jumping-on point for Captain America (as it should be considering it’s #1). Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe I’m very interested in reading more about Captain America, and these issues provide a ton of World War II backstory, Cap working with SHIELD, Nick Fury and Agent 13 and several fun guest stars like Tony Stark and Falcon.

The biggest shocker comes at who the Winter Soldier actually is, which obviously I already knew thanks to the film (and the fact that this story is 10 years old). Being armed with that knowledge is a bit unfortunate and causes the big buildup in the first issues (“Out of Time”) to lose some of its edge.

The comic does do an excellent job exploring Steve Rogers’ past in the war and particularly his relationship with Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, which is easily the best hero-sidekick relationship I’ve seen (it helps that Bucky is only a few years younger and they’re both equal soldiers – Cap just has the super soldier serum). Entire flashbacks and pages (and really an entire issue) is spent painstakingly delving into Cap’s past with Bucky and the war, but it all works really well, and is especially helpful and entertaining for someone like me that hadn’t really read a Captain America comic before.

Unlike the film, the comic arc doesn’t involve the dissolution of SHIELD and the uprising of HYDRA. Instead the Red Skull is murdered by an unknown assassin and the main villain is a Russian corporate schmuck that gets his hands on the cosmic cube, that useful little all-powerful McGuffin device that even MCU fans will recognize by now. His main weapon is the Winter Soldier, whom we learned was originally Bucky Barnes – previously thought dead, and captured and psychologically programmed by the Soviets.

There’s a neat bit where they discuss the Winter Soldier’s programming, and how too much time in the field causes him to go off the grid and start subconsciously exploring his past, to where they can no longer use him in the US, and only activate him every few years for short bursts at a time. The idea that a lot of major assassinations and killings were done by this sleeper agent is pretty nifty, and the fact that it’s Cap’s oldest and dearest friend takes a huge toll on our hero, one that writer Ed Brubaker does an excellent job with.

winter soldier moment

The art and action are really fantastic as well, and I really enjoyed the darker tones of the entire book, almost coming off Noir-ish in most scenes. The realistic art style meshes well with the action sequences, as Cap is a natural fighter that jumps, dodges and punches (with the occasional homing shield-boomerang throw). Fans of over the top action or Cosmic level entities blasting each other may feel something missing here, but I really enjoyed the much more down to earth butt-kicking of our heroes and villains.

The supporting cast is also done decently well, though this is first and foremost Captain America’s (and Bucky’s) story. Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter (descendant of the original Agent Carter) is Cap’s primary partner in the field, and though they’ve got some romantic history their relationship is built out of mutual respect and that of soldiers working together, which I enjoyed (even if she’s annoyingly damsel’d at one point). Nick Fury also plays a big role as our primary info-dumping character, and someone we sympathize with as he tries to keep the harshest truths away from Cap for as long as he can.

Cap’s fellow superheroes are utilized sparingly; Tony Stark has a brief scene but ultimately he’s unable to help Cap in the finale. Falcon does show up to help (literally in a ‘hey I’m here to help,’ way) towards the end but he’s not given a whole lot to do. The story’s sharp focus on Cap and Bucky remained the primary hook for the entire run, and though I felt a bit too much time was given to flashbacks (it feels like at least half the panels were in the past) overall it worked really well.

winter soldierThe climax itself was a slight letdown though. There’s not much of a final fight (similar to the film, Cap drops his guard and just talks to the Winter Soldier after a brief scuffle) and ultimately uses the cosmic cube to ‘fix’ Bucky’s mind and restore his memories. After that Bucky teleports himself away by shattering the cube, and then we get a tease that the Red Skull is somehow living on inside our evil Russian friend.

Overall it’s a fun if subdued adventure, and I love the tight focus on the mystery behind the Winter Soldier and Cap’s guilt-ridden past with losing his friend. It’s a fantastic intro to Captain America and the writing and art are both top notch. I definitely plan on continuing the series, which eventually leads right up to Civil War.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Runaways Vol. 1

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: Brian K. Vaughan Runaways_TPB

Artists: Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa

Issues: Runaways (2003) #1-18

I’ve always been a fan of the Young Adult genre. It’s full of clichés, archetypal characters and super tiresome sci-fi plot devices, but damn it if most of them aren’t super fun and full of some neat ideas and memorable characters.

Runaways was basically Marvel’s version of a YA comic series. It stars a fresh batch of teens with a decidedly YA hook – they find out their parents are all super villains and part of their own secret cabal known as The Pride. Being a comic book the kids band together, discover their own latent powers and abilities and have a series of adventures before culminating in a final showdown with their evil folks.

Writer Brian K. Vaughan has become one of the most beloved original writer in comics. By original I mean he specifically likes to write his own created characters, such as Y: The Last Man and Saga (the latter of which I recently purchased). Having a single writer tackle their own creation is immensely rewarding for a reader, creating a cohesive flow with the both the characters and overarching plot.

The initial plot hook is fun but relatively slow compared to most comic storylines. It takes several issues for the kids to formulate a plan and go on the run once they witness their parents killing a young girl in ritualistic sacrifice, and even more time to go to their various homes and reveal who they really are.

The Runaways are refreshingly diverse and pleasantly mostly female: there’s Chase the typically sarcastic teen and son of inventors (his powers are one of the lamest as he simply equips his parent’s mechanical fist things that spew fire), Karolina the haughty daughter of two movie stars that turn out to be extraterrestrial light creatures (she can fly, shoot energy and blind people, and her powers are inhibited by a special bracelet she removes), Alex the de facto leader who has no natural powers but makes up for it in charisma and leadership skills (I guess), Nico who absorbs her parents’ magic staff and can summon it when she cuts herself (bit of a weird message there), individualistic Gertrude who’s time-traveling parents give her a pet velociraptor that she’s psychically linked with (at this point I’m completely on board with the series), and little Molly who’s only just hit puberty and realizing she’s a mutant with super strength.

Runaways_h1

The entire first arc is spent introducing our new heroes and their situation, but it’s their dialogue that really makes everything shine. Vaughan has a keen grasp on how teenagers react to situations and with each other, and the way the runaways handle these sudden extraordinary events are supremely entertaining. It’s also interesting to see a comic book set specifically in Los Angeles; nearly all superhero stories take place around New York City and New England (if set in USA).

The entire 18 issue series begins and ends with The Pride but in between the runaways have a few side adventures, mostly in uncovering the mystery behind what the hell their parents are up to. Some side plots work better than others – D-listers Cloak and Dagger show up at one point for a meaningless but fun battle (which The Pride shows up and mind-wipes them afterward, literally making the whole thing pointless) and the runaways run afoul of a lame teenage vampire that nearly takes the whole group down from within.

Silly side stories aside, the main plot is still engrossing as we discover the world-changing plans behind The Pride, and like any classic villains they bicker and conspire amongst themselves. While it’s incredibly silly that all their parents wear coordinated costumes it’s neat that they remain a major force in the storyline.

The end has our young heroes infiltrate their parents’ hidden sanctum (of sorts) and come face-to-face with the giant demon-god-things that The Pride is working for. In a neat twist (though it’s kind of predictable) Alex betrays the group and reveals himself as the mole that’s been undermining the team the whole time! He quickly gets his just desserts as the Pride’s plans are still ruined, and the parents end up sacrificing themselves so the rest of the kids can escape. Then Captain America shows up and tells them everything will be alright.

Overall it was a fun read and a neat way to introduce a new generation of readers and superheroes. The ‘our parents are evil’ hook is fun and remains relevant throughout the series, though it’s a shame the side plots couldn’t quite keep up. The real seller is the excellent writing and relationships between the characters. All the kids feel like real people that love, cry, fear and hate. Most of them also had some really inventive powers and abilities (namely Gertrude, Karolina and Nico). By the end there are 4 women and 1 man on the team, which is pretty much unheard of in comics, and supremely cool.

This initial 18 issue series run nicely concludes the main storyline but due to popularity Runaways was resurrected in 2005 and penned by Joss Whedon (Astonishing X-Men – read my Final Thoughts). I haven’t decided if I want to continue following these young heroes as their actions and adventures have very little to do with the larger Marvel Universe (which is perhaps one of its greatest strengths), but I can definitely recommend this first adventure to anyone looking for a standalone YA adventure in the Marvelverse.

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