My Thoughts on Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War successfully combines all the winning elements and characters from the MCU into a satisfying sequel.

When I was growing up, Marvel was X-Men. The 80’s comic storylines like The Phoenix Saga, Dark Phoenix, and Days of Future Past defined Marvel for years. The amazing X-Men: The Animated series of the early 90s cemented my love of superheroes that continues today.

Meanwhile the Avengers were nothing to me. I had a bad NES game where you could play as the incredibly lame Captain America and Hawkeye. Iron Man was a D-list joke. I couldn’t tell you a single Avengers villain.

I am continually amazed by how things have changed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel successfully adapted to the loss of many of their key franchises to other studios (the 90s were a rough time for comics).

Suddenly the Avengers are the hottest shit around, and while Marvel Studios still has a bit of a villain problem, Captain America: Civil War represents exactly what the studio does best: big screen heroes. Continue reading “My Thoughts on Captain America: Civil War”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Moon Knight (2006), Vol. 3-4

Moon Knight tackles werewolves, Thunderbolts, SHIELD, and his own inner demons.

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!

moon knight 2006 vol 4Writers: Charlie Huston, Mike Benson

Artists: Mark Texeira, Javier Saltares

Issues: Moon Knight (2006) #14-25

 

My initial introduction to Moon Knight was of a tortured, violently psychotic and most likely insane vigilante. As Marvel’s resident Batman, Marc Spector is a giant asshole that alienates his few friends and girlfriend and gets the shit kicked out of him on a regular basis.

It can be refreshing to read a Marvel comic that practically demonizes its own title hero but the third and fourth volumes of this series keep repeating the same self-pitying mantras, and I was ready for Moon Knight to get his shit together.

Marc continues to wallow in the hell he’s built himself, even after becoming officially registered with the Superhuman Registration Act by pure manipulation. “God and Country” (#14-19) sees the return of an old Moon Knight villain (I assume), Black Spectre. Spectre is a recent parolee and soon delves back into a life of crime, with his shtick of dressing up in full medieval plate mail and wielding maces and swords. He leaves calling cards designed to blame Moon Knight for a series of deaths, and soon the authorities are after him. It doesn’t help that Moon Knight takes out bad guys through gruesome maiming attacks – he rages against his moon god’s desire to kill but still leaves a wake of twisted and broken bodies in his wake.

Moon Knight 2006 #16

Iron Man gets wind of Moon Knight’s Punisher-style brand of violent loner vigilantism. The story builds to a climax with Black Spectre stealing some kind of goofy nanite-controlling weapon and unleashing it on a crowd. Moon Knight actually kills him by tackling him off a roof to save everyone, and Tony Stark soon shows up to raid Moon Knight’s base.

The integral tie-in to the larger Marvel world at the time (post-Civil War with Director Stark) is nifty, and I found myself enjoying Moon Knight’s supporting cast far more than the main anti-hero. His old war buddy Frenchie, damaged but trying to do better fuck buddy Marlene (“We’re not dating, we’re *****”). Even his angry young man pilot whom I can’t remember the name of is more interesting than Marc’s tiresome self-loathing. At the end SHIELD agents symbolically drop the statue of Khonshu and you think that maybe Marc will make some real advancement as a character. But no.

“In the Company of Wolves ” (#20) is a rare one-off issue in this series of giant story arcs, and it’s quite entertaining. A werewolf from Moon Knight’s rogue’s gallery has been captured, and his blood is being used to make new temporary werewolves for use in a dog fighting arena. It’s a dark but cool idea, and a great setting for Marc to unleash his inner beast when he infiltrates it.

Moon Knight 2006 #24“The Death of Marc Spector” (#21-25) is heavily tied into the Volume 3’s continuity, with Marc still on the run from SHIELD. At this point in the timeline, however, Norman Osborn is Director of the Thunderbolts and is given permission to hunt and capture Marc. Although Moon Knight has no actual super powers other than badassery and some moon knives, he’s able to withstand multiple attacks from the entire Thunderbolts team (the brief battles with Venom are especially disappointing).

In the end it comes down to the Thunderbolts’ secret weapon – Bullseye. Mike Benson does a great job picking up the Thunderbolts for their guest run here, accurately portraying their quirks, personalities, and inner drama. Bullseye had been built up as quite the badass, and he’s actually a great foil combat-wise to Marc. Moon Knight knows he can’t beat him in a straight up fight, so he lures him to an underwater hideout and rigs the whole thing to blow. Both are able to escape but Marc Spector is presumed dead, and goes into hiding.

I can definitely see Moon Knight‘s appeal. It’s interesting to see an anti-hero that’s much more realistic – he suffers from mental issues, he’s constantly bruised and bleeding from every fight, and his relationships are strained at best. But at some point it just gets to be too much. A clever plot or exceptional art style could elevate Moon Knight but neither are anything special. I did enjoy and respect the use of Tony Stark, Norman Osborn, and the Thunderbolts within the greater Marvel continuity at the time, though it probably had more to do with a lesser focus on Marc himself.

Moon Knight definitely needs an adept writer to keep him fresh and interesting and not retread the same ground. Moon Knight would go through several more series and reboots before settling on the acclaimed series that began in 2014. I’ll get there eventually!

Moon Knight 2006 #22

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers: Illuminati

Professor X, Iron Man, Namor, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic – Marvel’s Illuminati take us on a tour of history as they deal with the infinity gauntlet, Secret Wars, and the Skrull Secret Invasion.

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!

new avengers illuminati coverWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Jim Cheung

Issues: New Avengers: Illuminati #1-5

 

The concept of Marvel’s Illuminati – a think tank of the most powerful heroes, leaders, and figures, first appeared back in New Avengers Vol. 2 in 2005. Iron Man goes to the group (which is more of a casual get-together than a clandestine secret society) to seek advice on The Sentry, and brings together the Inhumans, Mutants, Fantastic Four and other heroes to help reign him in.

The Illuminati then spun off into a one-shot issue that helped set up the Civil War event in 2006, as well as showing the group deciding to exile Hulk in the Planet Hulk event.

It wasn’t until 2007 that New Avengers: Illuminati transitioned into a five issue limited series. The overall goal seems to act as a precursor and lead-in to 2008’s Secret Invasion, though only the first and last issue center on the Skrulls. By giving us various retcons we get a fun little tour of some of Marvel’s bigger events throughout history, as told by some of its biggest players.

It was shown back in that one-shot issue of Illuminati (which in Marvel Unlimited is listed as issue #0) that Black Panther (which would’ve been T’Challa’s father T’Chaka I believe) was initially asked to join but quickly refused, leaving the group with Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, Namor, Professor Xavier, Iron Man and Mister Fantastic. You’ve got representatives of all the major factions of Marvel heroes, as well as the mystical and science avenues.

Get a group of people together with wildly different viewpoints and backgrounds and it can spark some interesting conversations, as well as lots of heated arguments. To their credit the group functions surprisingly well together, with only Namor being the primary dissenting voice in most of their decisions and deliberations. The king of the oceans is a total asshole and overly aggressive (in a fun way), but I’ll be damned if he’s not correct in just about every situation: “Hey guys, maybe not shoot the Hulk into space because he’ll come back and be super pissed off!

new avengers illuminati #1The first issue has our group meeting after the Kree-Skrull War of the early 1970s. Our heroes decide to take a stolen alien ship to go talk with a Skrull warlord. It doesn’t go well as these leaders of men are eventually reduced to pithy threats, and they’re soon captured and tortured. The story is told mostly from Tony Stark’s perspective as he escapes and frees the rest of them, but not before the Skrulls may have gained some valuable technology from their experimentation.

The next few issues take us on the aforementioned tour of history, as our group is shown dealing with important Marvel events like the Infinity Gauntlet (early 90s), Secret Wars (80s) and the attack by Marvel Boy (no clue). Most of them seem like an odd but enjoyable excuse to revisit and provide epilogues to these events.

In issue #2 Mr. Fantastic reveals that he’s been gathering Infinity Gems in an attempt to destroy them. After their initial freak-out the group agrees to go after them in a mostly danger-free montage sequence. Reed can’t will them to disappear, so they split the gems up amongst each other. Issue #3 involves the awkward attempt to explain the terribly conceived sequel to Secret Wars – Secret Wars II, and ends up just further muddying the waters with continuity errors.

Those were big events, so it was strange to see Issue #4 focus on a character I’d never heard of – Captain Marvel/Mar-Vell’s son Noh-Varr (would that be Quasar/Phyla-Vell’s brother?) and didn’t much care for their extended scenes of trying to convince him to become a hero rather than rot in prison after his failed attack. More enjoyable was the first third of the book which centered on the various members’ women trouble when Dr. Strange announces a recent break-up. It’s a funny, grounded moment that takes all these grand men down to our level, though it also highlights the fact that there are no women on the Illuminati.

new avengers illuminati #3

Issue #5 finally takes us to the present day with the group deliberating and arguing over the sudden appearance of a disguised Skrull. The body of Skrull-Elektra, which was shockingly discovered at the end of New Avengers Vol. 6. is brought to the group by Iron Man after he was given it by Spider-Woman in Mighty Avengers Vol. 2. This body gets around!

While the group decides how they want to handle a possible body snatchers-style Skrull invasion, Black Bolt is revealed to be a Skrull in disguise! The Skrulls are not only undetectable by scanners (and powers like Wolverine’s scent) but can apparently reasonably mimic the powers of their shapeshifted persona, as Skrull-Black Bolt quickly demonstrates. Iron Man is able to defeat the Skrull while the others escape, but the implication that one of them was the enemy in disguise rocks them to their core, and the group is disbanded.

While that last issue is an important lead-in to Secret Invasion (and would help explain Black Bolt’s odd behavior in Silent War and his quick defeat in World War Hulk…) the overall series is a mostly unnecessary but somewhat fun look back at older Marvel events. The concept of a secret meeting of Marvel’s most powerful heroes and leaders is neat and I particularly enjoyed Jim Cheung’s art and penchant for two-page spreads with heroes taking center stage. To get the most out of Secret Invasion I’d definitely recommend the last issue, but at five issues you might as well enjoy the whole series.

new avengers illuminati #5

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

For a blatant Batman knock-off, Moon Knight is surprisingly interesting and enjoyable as it delves head-first into psychological issues and bloody violence.

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!

moon knight the bottomWriter: Charlie Huston

Artists: David Finch (#1-8), Mico Suayan (#9-12), Tomm Coker (#13)

Issues: Moon Knight (2006), #1-13

 

“Where to?”
“The city.”
“What do we look for?”
“Trouble.”

Despite thinking of myself as a Batman fan, I’ve barely read any actual Batman comics. I grew up with the early 90s, award-winning Batman: The Animated Series, not to mention the rise of Tim Burton’s Batman films and most recently the fantastic Batman Arkham games. The rich guy with all the toys and a traumatic past devotes his life to being a hero – who doesn’t like Batman? Even Marvel wanted to get in on that, and thus Moon Knight was born.

I’d never even heard of Moon Knight until he was listed as a playable character in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Surprisingly created back in the 70s, the character enjoyed his first solo series in the 80s and throughout the 90s, never reaching the massive success of his DC counterpart. And make no mistake, Moon Knight is very much a Batman rip-off – he’s got the money, the underground lair, the moon-shaped weapons and vehicles. He operates at night and primarily takes out street criminals, and he enjoys making a statement and causing fear and pain even more than rescuing people.

In 2006 a new Moon Knight series was launched for the first time in years, chronicling the character’s return to action after a crippling attack with a villain. As a jumping on point it’s a bit heavy and confusing, layered in with lots of backstory and character details regarding Marc Spector, his past, and his allies and enemies.

moon knight #8b

The actual story is told in a supremely cool, gritty, and dark style. At the end of issue #1 it’s revealed that the action-packed opening scene was really just  Marc Spector reminiscing while he lay in a wheelchair popping pills and wallowing in self-pity. Psychological torture is a major theme of the series as Marc wrestles with who he is and whether or not his moon god is real or just a part of his fractured psyche.

Marc’s legs were blown out during a nasty encounter with Raoul Bushman, his nemesis and former fellow mercenary from his past. During the horribly blood encounter, which is told through flashbacks, Marc is near death but finds the strength to take Bushman down by ripping his face off with a crescent knife. This becomes a major catalyst for Marc as he begins seeing the horrifyingly faceless Bushman constantly. The grotesque ghoul identifies as Khonshu, the moon god that first resurrected Marc and bestowed his gifts.

Much of the first arc, “The Bottom,” (#1-6) is saddled with setting up Moon Knight’s new status as a retired, former vigilante and his new supporting cast of friends and enemies. Marc doesn’t even wear the costume and become Moon Knight again until issue #6 as he comes to grips with his violent and frankly sadistic personality. The theme of whether or not Marc is crazy is explored throughout, and the consensus seems to be that he’s pretty damn crazy – a surprisingly refreshing take on a Marvel hero.

moon knight #4Moon Knight’s friends and relationships are particularly well done. He still pines for ex-girlfriend Marlene, and his best friend is still his other merc buddy Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul is French and gay, and his supportive relationship with Marc and romantic relationship with another man (who later becomes Marc’s physical therapist) are handled with a refreshing amount of maturity, and given plenty of time to develop and grow.

My favorite character was one that I had to look up on wikipedia what his actual name was – Profile, who can read people instantly, learning their fears, wants, desires, etc. The hilariously quippy, chain-smoking Profile is first used by a shadowy organization who wants to get rid of Moon Knight once and for all, and they act as the primary villains for the first arc. Really though, Marc is his own worst enemy as the focus remains on his own inner demons thanks to the many taunts of faceless not-really-there Bushman.

I loved the dark-but-heroic art by the fantastic David Finch (New Avengers). It presents an effective combination of noir-ish blacks and grays with sharp punctuations of Moon Knight’s white costume. I love the emphasis on extreme close-ups and the use of sweat, tears, blood, and smoke to convey the dark themes. The effects of Profile’s abilities in reading people is also presented in a very clever, fun format as he sees neon words and signs floating around people, literally shaping who they are. Marc Spector is drawn like a chiseled, scarred 80s action-hero, which combined with his violent outbursts and mental breakdowns make him a frightening person for anyone to interact with.

The second volume, featuring the story arc “Midnight Sun,” (#7-12) technically act as tie-ins to the then-ongoing superhero Civil War and afterward the Initiative. Marc (who spends a great deal of the comic series not in costume) is visited by a rotating cast of guest-stars, including Captain America, Iron Man, and Punisher. Mostly it’s a fun way to see how the rest of the Marvel Universe views Moon Knight, and in turn allow Marc to push everyone away and generally be a violent asshole to everyone. It should come as no surprise that he and Punisher have a mostly friendly chat while Punisher is busy murdering people, heh.

moon knight #10

The story falters a bit when it tries to do a Pulp Fiction, out of order narrative involving another villain from Moon Knight’s past. His former sidekick has become the villain Midnight, a very talkative, admittidly funny Joker-type that is obssessed with his former mentor. The later issues all jumble together with Moon Knight finding his lair in the sewers, attacking him, being captured and fighting back all told in a confusing, out or order style. The comic was heavy enough as it is in exploring mental issues and a very unstable protagonist; having to flip back and forth between multiple pages to try and piece the story together was a bit too much.

David Finch unfortunately left after eight issues. The new artist did a reasonable job in replicating the dark, moody style but it wasn’t quite the same. The story wraps up in issue #12 but the volume contains a final one-off in issue #13 with a completely new artist with a very bizarre style. The art becomes impossibly dark and even abstracted in parts, making it quite difficult to discern what is happening in a lot of panels. The story involves Marc going in to register for the Initiative, and it’s a fun example of how Profile’s powers can be used to manipulate others.

For a blatant Batman knock-off, Moon Knight is surprisingly interesting and enjoyable. The singular focus on Marc as a fairly horrible person who happens to be a vigilante is fascinating, and the focus on dark, bloody action separates it from most of the bright and glitzy Marvel fare. Despite some confusing story moments I’m definitely enjoying this series. I look forward to catching up on Moon Knight as apparently he sticks around permanently this time.

moon knight #3

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Avengers: The Initiative, Vol. 1-2

Avengers: The Initiative was a lot more fun that I expected but still not nearly as enjoyable as New X-Men when it comes to super-powered teenage drama and action.

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!

avengers the initiative coverWriters: Dan Slott, Christos Gage (#11-13)

Artists: Stefano Caselli, Steve Uy (#12-13)

Issues: Avengers: The Initiative #1-13, Annual #1

Out of the literal ashes of Stamford, Connecticut, the site of the devastating superhuman bomb that claimed hundreds of innocent lives, rose a new hopeful training facility for registered super-powered people. The Civil War was over. Tony Stark won, and his Fifty States Initiative plan was going into full effect – a super-powered team in every state to combat the many threats of the Marvel Universe. These teams needed a place to train and recruit, and thus Avengers: The Initiative was born.

Avengers: The Initiative was originally crafted as a six issue limited series depicting the drama and complications of the training facility. Before the first issue was even published, Marvel decided to make it an official ongoing series, making it the third Avengers title at the time (New Avengers, Mighty Avengers).

Like New X-Men, Avengers: The Initiative centers around young, inexperienced teens with extraordinary powers and the drama that ensues when you throw them together. While I enjoyed the characters and writing of New X-Men more, Initiative does have an immediacy to its plot and pacing that I found compelling.

The story begins with a new busload of recruits coming to the training facility (with some of the dorkiest superhuman names I’ve ever seen): Hardball, Cloud 9, Trauma, MVP, and Komodo. They are later joined by a few others like the Eric O’Grady version of Ant-Man (Irredeemable Ant-Man), Thor Girl, and Ultra Girl, as well as the cast of the New Warriors, though none of them are given much time to develop. Our first team is our central focus, though much of the focus is also on the training facility’s instructors: Gauntlet, Hank Pym (Yellowjacket), War Machine, Henry Gyrich, Baron Von Blitzschlag, and later Taskmaster.

avengers initiative #4For me this was a ton of mostly new characters that I had to adapt to, and Dan Slott does a decent job making me care about them. Hardball and Komodo develop an adorable teenage romance, Trauma is trained by temporary instructor Dani Moonstar (depowered and coming from New X-Men) to become a healer and therapist rather than a frontline fighter, and Cloud 9 is given the wide-eyed uncertainty that makes her the most relatable in this whole mess.

In the very first issue MVP is killed by Armory, a woman with an alien gun that washes out of the program. Trauma is able to shapechange into your deepest fears (making him a Boggart from Harry Potter). When he turns into a giant spider she freaks out and starts firing everywhere, and MVP saves Cloud 9 but takes a shot in the head. His death and subsequent cloning go from mysterious side plot to action-packed main plot in the second volume.

The first volume, “Basic Training,” is mostly concerned with introducing our characters, the facility, and how the Initiative works to capture registered heroes like Spider-Man (they fail) and fight bad guys like Hydra (they win). Issue #4 suddenly ties in with World War Hulk – one of the few ongoing series to do so, and it’s actually a lot of fun. Most of the original Initiative team is sent to help clear the streets, but they get a bit high and mighty and decide to take on the Hulk and his alien buddies, which doesn’t end well.

In Issue #5 we’re introduced to the Shadow Initiative, Henry Gyrich’s personal hit squad that doesn’t exist in any records – consisting of Constrictor, Bengal, Trauma, Mutant Zero, and the Scarlet Spiders. None of them are really given any time to develop (and barely introduced) but it still manages to be a really fun issue, ending with Trauma trying to harness Hulk’s fears into various forms (Abomination, Juggernaut, Bruce Banner). It doesn’t go well, and Trauma is hospitalized for several issues. Don’t mess with Hulk.

avengers initiative #9The second volume picks up with the dead MVP thread that had been effectively layered in earlier. Cloud 9 and former instructor and New Warrior Justice had seen that he was alive and well back at home, and it’s revealed that the triplet Scarlet Spiders are also all clones. MVP is described as the Ubermensch, the perfect human who doesn’t have any actual superpowers, so he’s cloned recklessly by Blitzschlag. Eventually this leads to Pym and Blitzschlag outfitting a newly cloned MVP with Armory’s old tactigon alien weapon that they’d surgically removed. Problem is the weapon is semi-sentient, and drives the new clone insane. The newly created villain calls himself KIA (clever) and goes on a murderous rampage, putting the entire facility under attack.

KIA kills one of the Scarlet Spiders, Trauma, and Slapstick, and seriously wounds War Machine and Constrictor. The exciting plot brings together the bloated cast of the former New Warriors, our new recruits and instructors, and even Iron Man and the Mighty Avengers into a final showdown against KIA. Cloud 9 is able to stun him with a kiss (not sure if that was part of her gas powers or if the clone remembers he had a thing for her) and they slap a head device on him that scrambles his brains. By the end most of the New Warriors leave to form a Counter Initiative to make sure this kind of thing happens again.

“Killed in Action,” ends up being a really fun story with a satisfying ending, but there’s just too many characters to keep track of and care about. I liked our original recruits just fine but the New Warriors just seemed like they were in the way. The Annual issue is made up of several short stories that delve into the backstories of some of the recruits and instructors. It was interesting but mostly unnecessary – like, one of the stories is about Armory who got kicked out back in the first issue.

avengers initiative #12

Avengers: The Initiative was a lot more fun that I expected but still not nearly as enjoyable as New X-Men when it comes to super-powered teenage drama and action. Stefano Casselli’s art has a bright, youthful tone that matches well with the series, though I wasn’t a fan of the temporary art change for the last two issues in Volume 2. Everyone looked completely different, and it was horribly distracting. Issue #13 also seemed like a pointless one-off that included a whole other busload of recruits in a minor adventure.

The Initiative continues for a solid 35 issues and does tie-in to all the major Marvel Events that happen throughout the next few years, including Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and ending with Siege in 2010. I’ll probably stick with it but seeing as how our initial team of recruits graduated in issue #12 (and are dived up into various states and teams) I don’t know how much I’ll care about future recruits.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Black Panther (2005), Vol. 4-5

T’Challa and his new temporary team of half the Fantastic Four are dropped into increasingly insane scenarios and situations that range from crazy stupid to crazy fun.

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!

black panther cover four the hard wayWriter: Reginald Hudlin

Artist: Francis Portela

Issues: Black Panther (2005) #26-34

The young but resolute Wakandian king went through a flurry of activity in the previous two volumes: a largely publicized but loving marriage to Storm of the X-Men, joining with Captain America and the anti-SRA rebels in the Civil War, and going on a globe-trotting political world tour to several major powers and factions.

Unfortunately these next two volumes illustrate that nobody really knows what to do with Black Panther when there’s not a major crossover event happening for him to join and lend his incredible resources. Reginald Hudlin puts T’Challa and his new temporary team of half the Fantastic Four in increasingly insane scenarios and situations that range from crazy stupid to crazy fun.

In “Four the Hard Way” (#26-30) T’Challa and Ororo join the Fantastic Four as the new husband-wife replacements for Reed and Sue (who are taking a little vacation after their spat during the Civil War). I don’t read Fantastic Four, and issue #27 takes place after an arc in FF that leaves the group with these weird golden teleporting frogs. A monstrous insect figure breaks out of Stark’s Negative Zone prison and terrorizes the Baxter Building, and the team gets teleported away during the fight.

black panther #26

They land on a skrull planet in the crazy alternate Marvel Zombies Universe. I don’t mind zombies but there’s a weird disconnect with the gore-less Marvel. Also the zombies were far more verbose than I had assumed they would be, making it more silly and dumb than anything. For my first foray into the Marvel Zombies, it was not great, and we spend far too much time with them as they eat all the poor skrulls.

“Little Green Men” (#31-34) starts with the tiresome mind-fuck villain of Psycho Man that gets into T’Challa’s head, but his love for Storm is too strong to turn them against each other. Cheesy, sure, but I do appreciate their genuinely solid relationship.

black panther #32The story picks up considerably as the frogs teleport them again – this time to the correct universe but a different planet. A skrull planet that has modeled itself after 30s era gangsters on one half, and 60 eras Civil Rights movement on the other.

Apparently the Fantastic Four have been here before, and Thing fought in the gladiatorial battles. Just to recap – alien world with anachronistic prohibition era gangsters in flying cars with alien gladiators. Most of the team is captured save for Storm, who joins up with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to lead the revolution. It’s completely insane and wacky, but at least a lot more fun and interesting than the zombie thing.

Francis Portela’s style isn’t bad but it’s mostly forgettable. The bright colors and lack of shading fit the tone of the light-hearted silliness of their alternate world/universe adventures, though it also exacerbates the problem with the Avenger Zombies. The action sequences are a lot of fun though, particuarly T’Challa fighting in the alien arena, and the team fighting the skrull (and later skrull-zombified) Fantastic Four. Storm is also given several opportunities to unleash the awesome destructive potential of her powers, and it’s pretty damn satisfying.

Both volumes are incredibly forgettable and pretty dumb. It’s a disappointing follow-up to what I thought was an increase in Black Panther becoming more of a major character in the wider Marvel Universe. Joining the Fantastic Four is an interesting move, but immediately puts them in situations that remind me why I don’t read FF – silly plots (even for comic standards) involving alternate universes and golden teleporting frogs that may or may not be malevolent. As far as solo series go, Black Panther is becoming increasingly skippable. This whole series would only last another six issues, ending during the 2008 crossover event Secret Invasion.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ms. Marvel (2006), Vol. 3-4

Ms. Marvel puts together her own strike force to hunt down bad guys, and the series hits its stride thanks to a fun supporting cast, numerous action-movie set-pieces and the wonderful art of Aaron Lopresti.

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 vol 3Writer: Brian Reed

Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Robert De La Torre (#11-12)

Issues: Ms. Marvel (2006) #11-24

Around the time of the Superhero Civil War in 2006, Carol Danvers was enjoying a successful revival. She had her own solo series (not exactly common for any female superhero at the time) and in 2007 was hand-picked by Tony Stark to lead the new Mighty Avengers team.

The first 10 issues (Volumes 1-2) of Ms. Marvel were a mixed bag as the series struggled to find its footing while dealing with the Civil War event. In volumes three and four we get a more proactive Carol as she puts together her own strike force to hunt down bad guys, and the series hits its stride thanks to a fun supporting cast, numerous action-movie set-pieces and the wonderful art of Aaron Lopresti.

Most of Volume Three includes the subtitling of The Initiative – referring to the period directly following the Civil War. Tony Stark wants Carol Danvers to lead his new official Avengers team. Carol agrees on one condition: that she be given her own special SHIELD taskforce. Carol’s a natural born leader but she’s also full of self-doubt and constantly pushing herself to be better, creating an interesting dynamic between her dialogue and her inner monologue.

Ms. Marvel’s desire to hunt bad guys before they become a threat stems from the first two issues, which revives old Avengers, AIM-baddie Doomsday Man. It mostly involves a lot of straightforward fighting, including against a bunch of zombified agents as well as the giant mech-body of Doomsday Man, and it’s fun as hell. Unfortunately Ms. Marvel’s spunky teenage sidekick that we met back during the Civil War issues in Volume Two (Araña) loses her fight and gets her carapace brutally torn off. Carol vows to hunt down villains before they can become major threats.

ms marvel #17 punch

Her first task is actually a selfish one, but it does tie up the loose end that is Arachne (Julia Carpenter), the superhero Spider-Woman that she apprehended during her Civil War tie-ins. Julia agrees to register and is released from the Negative Zone prison, and Carol helps her find her daughter. It’s fairly boring and unnecessary – I had enough of Arachne’s woes in the previous volume, but the side plot involving AIM and a DNA bomb nicely sets up the next exciting arc, and the first real test of Operation Lightning Storm.

In “Ready, A.I.M., Fire!” (#15-17) Ms. Marvel and her crew of SHIELD agents (and her frequent ally and co-star, the incredibly lame Wonder Man) go after a leader-less AIM group. Some of them are trying to protect and restore a dying MODOK, while others want to bring AIM into a new era. We’re introduced to some interesting inner workings of AIM and MODOK is always a fun, old-school mustache-twirling villain, but the real antagonist comes in the surprise form of MODOK’s son, the usurper of AIM.

ms marvel #17Ms. Marvel is able to defeat MODOK though she’s blasted with the DNA bomb, and once again we see her turn blue and miraculously heal, just as she did did while fighting zombies in the earlier story. She begins to suspect that something fishy may have happened in her encounter with the powerful blue alien named Cru in the very first volume. Brian Reed has a knack for rewarding his readers, weaving in numerous previous plot threads, characters, and events.

Volume Four, “Monster Smash,” includes two action-packed and fun stories that effectively showcase Ms. Marvel’s team and their globe-trotting agenda. “Puppets” (#18-20) trots out a very old Fantastic Four villain, Puppet Master.

He’s currently living out his retirement in a South American country doing what he does best – enslaving people using his clay voodoo statues. Though it’s not explicitly explained, it’s heavily implied that he’s keeping an inordinate amount of enslaved women for human trafficking. This doesn’t sit too well with Ms. Marvel, and she lets loose with an awesome fury, though first she has to battle through a few of Puppet Master’s enslaved superheroines.

The real treat is the introduction to Ms. Marvel’s new team additions. Since her run-in with AIM put one of her field agents in the hospital (and she’s still not comfortable with Araña joining her), she’s requested some super-powered help and receives the snarky android Machine Man and alien Sleepwalker. Sleepwalker is an alien host that lives in the dreams of Rick Sheridan (meaning he can only come out when Rick’s asleep or passed out) while Machine Man is basically Bender from Futurama. They’re both fantastic and entertaining and along with Agent Sum, Araña, and even Wonder Man create quite the motley crew.

ms marvel #20In a dark twist, Ms. Marvel defeats Puppet Master by actually letting him commit suicide via explosion (Dear villains: You can’t kill Ms. Marvel with explosions, she absorbs energy). She’s incredibly angry about what he did to those women and she ends up lying about what went down in her report. It’s a fascinating moment that makes her character all the more human, and I can’t help but continue to root for her every step of the way.

Her blue healing powers finally get explained in the incredibly action-packed second arc, “Monster and Marvel” (#21-24). The blue alien Cru from way back in her first issue had been partially absorbed, and she (it’s a she apparently) spends a lot of time inside Carol’s mind. She shows her destruction of her homeworld by the Brood and Ms. Marvel is taken to Monster Island where the two team-up to defeat the Brood that have made a nest there.

Once again Ms. Marvel is separated from her team, as she and Cru do a bunch of mind-melding stuff while they hunt the Brood Queen while the rest of the team plays catch-up only to fight a swarm of Brood. Brian Reed does his best Aliens impression with the Brood Queen, and Cru unlocks Carol’s cosmic-level powers, temporarily turning her into her goddess-like Binary persona.

ms marvel #24

The action is satisfyingly large-scale and epic, and a wonderful finale to Ms. Marvel’s Operation Lighting Storm adventures (assuming they come to an end – the next volume are her Secret Invasion tie-ins). I generally enjoyed Reed’s story-telling and characterization of Carol Danvers. She’s a very public and powerful hero but she’s also extremely relatable and grounded. Her strike force helps give her something to do rather than just fall into a random series of adventures and I liked the large variety in locations and villains.

It also helps that I adore Aaron Lopresti’s art, who seems particularly well-suited to drawing aliens like the Brood (I loved his work on Planet Hulk). The same can’t be said of Greg Horn’s sexy Barbie-doll cover art, however. Thankfully it’s just the cover art but it also gives off the wrong impression both to the comic’s style and tone. If you enjoy Avengers-style action and want to see more of Ms. Marvel at her highest and lowest points, her solo series has proven more than satisfactory.