Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – 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!

Civil War #1Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Steve McNiven

Issues: Civil War #1-7*

*I also cover the following tie-ins: Iron Man: Civil War, Civil War: Thunderbolts, The Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War, Civil War: Choosing Sides, Civil War: The Confession

 

“Was it worth it?”

In the excellent one-shot issue Civil War: The Confession, written a few months after the main events of Civil War, Tony Stark visits Captain America on the helicarrier and spends about a dozen pages trying to justify why he did what he did, eventually breaking down crying. The last panel reveals that Stark had been talking to the body of the murdered Steve Rogers, and he quietly sobbed the reply that Cap had asked him when he was first arrested – “It wasn’t worth it.”

Civil War marked a huge turning point in Marvel comics production. While House of M successfully pulled together many of Marvel’s heroes and included numerous tie-ins, it had the distinct advantage of taking place in an entirely different reality (though it did have long-lasting consequences).

The events of Civil War built upon the longstanding X-Men plot hook of the Mutant Registration Act, only this time applying it to all costumed superheroes (and oddly enough leaving the X-Men pretty much out of it). A young group of reality TV starring superheroes attack a villain hideout, only to get in over their head when they try to apprehend Nitro near a school. Nitro unleashes his explosive attack, killing hundreds of innocent people, including dozens of kids.

The public is understandably outraged in the wake of this tragedy and the Superhuman Registration Act, which requires all super-powered people to officially register with the government (divulging their secret identity among other things) swiftly passes through Congress. Tony Stark had seen this coming in his crossover with Amazing Spider-Man (see The Road to Civil War) and tried to fight it, but with public and political opinion so strongly swayed he immediately decides to switch gears and become the leader and figurehead for registration in an attempt to make the transition as easy as possible.

Captain America is not so easily convinced it’s a good thing, and believes the Act is a gross infringement on the civil rights of superheroes. In the first issue he escapes the SHIELD helicarrier and becomes a wanted man. Soon he gathers together a resistance formed of many of his allies in the New Avengers and Young Avengers to create an underground rebellion, and the core of Civil War is about the two opposing sides.

Civil War is unique among my Final Thoughts as the one TPB and event that I’d actually read before. The story of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 depicts most of Civil War (albeit with a much different final act) and as someone that’d been out of the comic loop for awhile I was interesting in reading about it. I was fairly lost on many points – why is Thor a robot clone, who are the Young Avengers, where are the X-Men, why is Tony Stark such a dick, etc. But as a single seven issue event, it does tell an epic, heart-wrenching story about friendship, politics and the horrors of war.

Re-reading it this many years later and armed with all the rapid comic knowledge I’ve acquired has been immensely rewarding. I get a better understanding of where Stark’s coming form (though he still comes off as a cocky, manipulative jerk in the main story) and I recognize many of the faces that show up to the big battles.

Civil War #6

There are only two direct battles in the main story; the first has the anti-registration team stumbling into a trap set by Stark, and Goliath is killed by Stark’s and Mr. Fantastic’s secret weapon – a clone of Thor called Ragnarok. Many are horrified by the events of that battle (which spans issues #3 and #4), and Sue Richards suddenly switches sides and protects them with a forefield so they can escape. The Fantastic Four are split down the middle as Sue and Johnny flee to join the resistance, while Reed remains a major player for the pro-registration side, designing a prison in the Negative Zone to house all the captured superheroes and villains.

The biggest side-switcher in the conflict is Spider-Man. In the events leading up to Civil War it’s clear he wants to help Stark fight it, and when Stark decides to join up Parker follows suit with his Stark-built spidey-suit. Tony convinces Peter Parker that unmasking on national television would galvanize both the public and the superpowered community into supporting registration, so Spider-Man finally reveals himself as Peter Parker in a memorable scene at the end of issue #2.

Unfortunately this reveal pretty much ruins his life, which is detailed in the excellent Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins. He and his family (Aunt May and Mary Jane) are attacked by mobs of people (both fans and protesters). J. Jonah Jameson blows a gasket and The Daily Bugle sues him for millions. Aunt May is shot and put in a coma. Parker makes Stark take him to the Negative Zone prison, and he’s horrified to learn that they’re imprisoning people permanently for not registering (plus, Reed and Tony are making billions in government contracts).

civil war spider-man editAll this adds up and Peter Parker switches sides, battling Iron Man (after fighting Cap earlier in a fun one-on-one melee) and going on the run before sneaking onto national television to declare his new intentions. I was originally going to skip the Spider-Man tie-ins, as the Spider-verse has a fairly dense continuity and I’ve honestly never been a big spidey-fan, but Civil War really gives him plenty of room to shine and squirm, and he becomes the defacto protagonist trying to do the right thing during a war with terrible things happening on both sides. Even if you’re not a Spider-Man fan, I would highly recommend reading his Civil War tie-ins (including the issues leading up in Road to Civil War) to get a bigger picture of the whole event.

The main trade ends with the epic final battle between the two sides. Cap and company get inside the Negative Zone prison thanks to Black Panther and Punisher sneaking into Stark and Baxter buildlings. Tigra had been spying on the rebels for Stark, so they were there to meet them, but Cap pulls his own ace in the hole, and Hank Pym (Yellowjacket) reveals that he’s been a shape-shifted Hulkling all day, and was able to free everyone that was imprisoned. The giant slug-fest we’ve been waiting or is unleashed in the final issue, but when Cloak tries to teleport everyone out of the prison, he drops them in the middle of New York City and the resulting battle causes widespread collateral damage – exactly the catastrophe this new registration was working to avoid.

Lots of cool little fight scenes break out: Spider-man is faster than Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman fiercely retaliates against Taskmaster when he shoots Reed, Iron Man punches Human Torch in the face, Captain America is beaten up by nanite-controlled supervillains consisting of Lady Deathstrike, Venom and Bullseye, Namor shows up with a bunch of atlanteans to even the odds for the resistance, Vision punches Iron man through the chest while Hercules smashes the Thor clone.

civil war #7It finally ends just as Cap is about to deliver the final blow to a disabled and broken Iron Man. A bunch of civilians tackle Captain America to the ground and beg him to stop. Cap takes a look around at the devastation this war has wrought and weeps, surrendering to nearby authorities and putting an end to the war. In fighting for the values and rights of the people he recognized that it was a costly battle, and he was unwilling to pay the price in innocent lives. It’s a poignant, heart-breaking end as Iron Man’s new Initiative comes to fruition – a registered super team in all fifty states.

Like House of M, Civil War had a massive impact that rippled throughout the Marvel Universe for years to come. The New Avengers series kept going, but centered on the surviving members of the anti-registration resistance who continued to operate in secrecy, while a new official Avengers team was launched in Mighty Avengers. New registered superhero teams would be trained in Avengers: The Initiative. Captain America would be shot and killed a few months after his arrest, though his fantastic solo series would continue on as friends and allies help take up the mantle. The ex-villain Thunderbolts would be gutted and reconstructed as an official supervillians-working-for-superheroes team (with interesting ramifications in the future).

The massive one-shot issue Civil War: Choosing Sides acts similarly to Decimation: The Day After in launching many of the new series in the emerging era, including Irredeemable Ant-Man, Immortal Iron Fist and a new Canadian team to replace Alpha Flight (which was slain during the events of New Avengers Vol. 4) – Omega Flight (which ran for an embarrassing five issues). Oh, and also a randomly funny story involving Howard the Duck trying to register. It was a fun one-shot that was made up of several different stories written and drawn by different people, serving as a nice springboard to multiple new series.

Another massive one-shot issue was written at the end of Civil War, called The Initiative. Like Choosing Sides this comic also included a lot of mini-stories introducing the new teams that emerge from the Superhero Registration Act – namely Omega Flight, Thunderbolts and Mighty Avengers. These one-shot issues helped cement Marvel’s new era of massive events as global game-changers to the status and situations of every character and series.

civil war the initiative omega flight

I really enjoyed the event itself, and many of the tie-in issues cleverly incorporated interesting background information or side-plots. But other series suffer for it as their own plots are sidelined to deal with the events of Civil War, such as the first few issues of The Death of Captain America trade and the official Thunderbolts tie-ins (which centers around Baron Zemo’s team of reformed villains working with Iron Man to capture heroes). Iron Man’s two-issue solo tie-ins are similarly pointless, though they do paint a slightly better picture of Tony as a conflicted man rather than a self-imposing asshole (the TPB also includes The Confession, which is amazing). I also had to skip some tie-ins just for the sake of my own sanity, including Wolverine’s solo series tie-ins (can’t stand that manga/cartoony art style) and a mini-crossover between Young Avengers and Runaways.

Plus, my beloved X-Men aren’t anywhere to be found, other than a single brief scene where Tony Stark visits the X-Mansion and tries to get them to help (there is a mini-series tie-in that shoehorns them in involving Bishop, which I skipped). Being used to hunted and hated Emma Frost quickly refuses, but agrees to remain neutral in the conflict (and they’re still pretty much licking their wounds from the Decimation). It makes sense for the x-Men to stay out of it, and frankly the war is full of enough superheroes as it is, but as a big X-Men fan it’s still a bummer, and forever makes Civil War just not as interesting to me as other events and stories that star my favorite mutants.

civil war the initiative

Civil War was a massive critical and commercial success. The storyline was recognizable and very human – civil rights and the endless debate between freedom and security. It lasted over half a year beginning in the Summer of 2006 and, according to Marvel Unlimited, including nearly 100 official tie-in issues from nearly every ongoing series at the time. The age of events was here to say, and has continued on in varying degrees of great to horrid in the years since. Civil War is still considered one of the best events they’ve ever done, and clearly important enough to even warrant its own big screen adaptation in the upcoming third Captain America film.

 

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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