Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2010), Vol. 1-2

A second Avenger series stars Luke Cage, Dr. Strange and others as they tackle invading demons and ex-HAMMER agents.

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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 2010 Vol 1Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Stuart Immonen, Daniel Acuna, Mike Deodato, Howard Chaykin

Issues: New Avengers (2010) #1-13

 

During the Civil War era the Avengers teams were split up, leading to two ongoing Avengers series. The official team and the unofficial rebels. I guess fans liked having two Avengers series, and Marvel kept them going even when it made a lot less sense. Even when multiple popular characters are on both Avengers teams!

With the main Avengers series starring the heavy hitters of Iron Man, Bucky-Cap, and Thor, the rest of the “Occasional Avengers” decide to move into the old Avengers mansion as an official second team. For some reason.

The team is lead by Luke Cage, whom writer Brian Michael Bendis has done a fantastic job with. The series is grounded by Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ relationship as a superhero couple and new parents. Cage has grown into a wonderfully complex character and a great leader; he’s easily Bendis’ best legacy from his Avengers work (I would say the other is Spider-Woman, but she turned out to be the Skrull Queen sooo….). Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2010), Vol. 1-2”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 10-12

Brian Michael Bendis is in top form with the flagship Avengers series as they battle the Dark Avengers.

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 vol 10Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Billy Tan, Chris Bachalo, Stuart Immonen

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #48-60

 

The New Avengers (2005-2010) was really Brian Michael Bendis’ baby. Bendis has been the primary architect of Marvel’s overarching universe and event-ridden stories throughout the era I’m reading and well beyond. For that reason New Avengers could be considered the flagship Marvel series, involving one of the better team matchups and solid writing. These final three volumes before the big Siege event of 2010 represent one of the better Dark Reign stories – as it should since Bendis also penned Dark Avengers.

Volume 10, “Power” (#48-50) represents the short epilogue and transition out of Secret Invasion. It picks up immediately after the final battle and focuses on the dangling plot thread of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby daughter being taken by the skrull-Jarvis. There’s a brief man hunt that’s displayed as a fun montage. Finally Luke Cage goes to the one man with all the power to find someone – Norman Osborn, currently reigning top cop of HAMMER.

Osborn quickly tracks down the skrull hideout, Luke gets the baby, and Bullseye murders the skrull with a sniper rifle. Instead of agreeing to join up with Osborn’s Dark Avengers team, Luke Cage beats the shit out of Venom and Bullseye, then escapes. It’s a surprising and badass moment, and Bendis would continue to do a lot of cool things that really shows off Luke Cage’s character and personality.

Billy Tan does the art throughout Volumes 10-11, but Marvel uses a few other artists to fill out special scenes like backstories. I love Tan’s use of bold colors and giant, page-filling characters. The action looks great and the comic probably has more giant double-page spreads than anything else I’ve read. And they’re not all action! Bendis loves to use extended dialogue scenes with lots of panels on a full two-page spread, and it works really well thanks to the snappy, witty dialogue. Bendis excels at these team-up books with multiple characters playing off each other, and I found myself laughing out loud almost as much as a Deadpool comic. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 10-12”

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 – World War Hulk

With a much more focused, smaller story, World War Hulk presents a fun and exciting epilogue to the awesome events of Planet Hulk.

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!

world war hulk coverWriters: Greg Pak (World War Hulk, Incredible Hulk, Aftersmash, Warbound), Christos Gage (Iron Man, World War Hulk: X-Men)

Artists: John Romita Jr. (World War Hulk), Koi Pham (Incredible Hulk), Leonard Kirk (World War Hulk: Warbound) Andrea Di Vito (World War Hulk: X-Men), Butch Guice (Iron Man), Rafa Sandoval (World War Hulk: Aftersmash)

Issues: World War Hulk #1-5 & Prologue, Incredible Hulk #106-111, World War Hulk: X-Men #1-3, Iron Man #19-20, World War Hulk: Aftersmash #1, World War Hulk: Warbound #1-5

I freaking hate the Sentry. He quickly became Marvel’s de facto Get Out of Any Situation Free card ever since his introduction back in New Avengers. He’s apparently the most powerful hero on Earth but no one knew it thanks to some mind trickery. And he’s eventually the only one that can stop the Hulk when he finally returns to Earth to exact his vengeance from the end of Planet Hulk. Boo!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Planet Hulk became one of my favorite comics: an extended, crazy alien adventure for our big green hero as he fought in gladiatorial battles, forged an alliance of brotherhood with his fellow gladiators, and eventually lead a giant rebellion against the planet’s overlord. Just when things were going so well, the shuttle Hulk was unceremoniously tricked and shot off into space in explodes, destroying the entire planet, including Hulk’s new bride and unborn child.

A spaceship full of survivors including Hulk’s Warbound survives, and they vow to return to Earth to punish those that sent him there and destroyed his world. When he arrived in the Summer of 2007 – it’s World War Hulk!

As far as major events go, World War Hulk is actually pretty minor compared to previous world-altering juggernauts House of M and Civil War. Hulk and company arrive on Earth’s moon and quickly dismantle Black Bolt (in barely a panel or two), then broadcast to Earth with the promise that he’ll take down the rest of the Illuminati the same way – Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Dr. Strange. Namor and Professor X are also members of the secretive superhuman society, but the former voted against sending the Hulk away, while the latter was too busy dealing with the aftermath of House of M to even show up to the meeting.

World War Hulk #2b

Since Hulk isn’t a murderer – an important theme that’s examined throughout the arc – he gives everyone in Manhattan 24 hours to evacuate before he invades. And invade he does – having a mostly empty playground of city to destroy lends itself to some pretty epic battles and confrontations. Iron Man is first on the list, and as the then current Director of SHIELD he takes on Hulk with missiles, satellites, and his own Hulkbuster armor (which looks really dumb by the way, the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron’s looks way cooler).

Hulk defeats Stark, and he becomes his first defeated prisoner in a long line. Hulk soon tangles with the Mighty Avengers and the Fantastic Four, beating them all in turn (with the occasional help of his Warbound buddies). The five issue main event arc moves rapidly as Hulk subdues all that oppose him, with only Dr. Strange really putting up a big fight. Strange summons a portion of an ancient demon-god and goes toe-to-toe with Hulk for quite awhile (causing a ton of spectacular damage in the process). Eventually he can’t control the power and rage the demon provides, something Hulk knows all too well about, and he’s finally defeated.

world war hulk #4Hulk sets up a gladiatorial arena, enslaves the fallen heroes with the same obedience disks he was given back on Sakaar, and makes them fight each other. There’s some fun opportunity for vicious battles between Mr. Fantastic and an armor-less Tony Stark, but the art is completely tone-deaf to the material. I’ve never been a fan of Romita’s Saturday Morning Cartoon look, and for a comic that’s about 80% gigantic bloody battles, it really doesn’t mesh very well.

World War Hulk sets up some great grudge matches, like Hulk versus Thing, but Romita’s art lends itself to lots of bright explosions and childish faces rather than violent melee attacks. A hugely wasted opportunity, and one that really holds the whole event back from greatness.

The Sentry, Marvel’s annoying ace-in-the-hole, finally deigns to leave his house and unleash his full power on the Hulk. Sentry is an agoraphobic schizophrenic, something we’re reminded of constantly, with the power of a million exploding suns. Whatever. He blasts through Hulk’s arena just as Hulk reveals that no, he is in fact not a murderer and just wanted to prove a point to the world about who the real monsters are (pullin’ for you, Hulk!). Hulk and Sentry have a climactic battle, which mostly involves Sentry blasting Hulk with his full power and Hulk punching the shit out of Sentry.

Eventually the two weaken themselves enough that Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner, whom we haven’t really seen since before the Planet Hulk arc. Bruce is prepared to make nice when Miek, Hulk’s first friend and ally from Sakaar, stabs Rick Jones and in trying to get Hulk to return. He reveals in a crushing twist that he saw the loyalists from Sakaar plant the bomb on the ship, and allowed Hulk to think it was the heroes back on Earth that did it.

world war hulk #5

Naturally Bruce immediately Hulks out again and beats the shit out of his former insectoid friend, feeling a mixture of fury and shame at everything that’s transpired. A now freed Tony Stark uses the opportunity to activate his overhead satellite laser things, blasting Hulk back into Bruce and reducing him to a seeminly catatonic state. They place him in a “secure” location far beneath the New Mexico desert, and thus ends Hulk’s misplaced rage.

Planet Hulk made me fall in love with the big guy. I’d never really cared about Hulk before then but coming to grips with being a monster with the soul of a human was captivating, not to mention just how exciting and action-packed all his alien-filled battles were. World War Hulk gives us some fun battles with famous heroes but the art is nowhere good enough to make them as fun as they should be (see Thunderbolts for some worthy art of awesome fight scenes). Greg Pak (who also wrote Planet Hulk) gives us a fun epilogue to those events, and the end twist is absolutely gut-wrenching (and perfectly in line with Miek’s vengeance-fueled character). I just wish Marvel didn’t need to rely on the lameness that is Sentry to solve yet another major crisis.

I also attempted to read several World War Hulk tie-ins in chronological order during the event, giving some extra backstory and side stories during Hulk’s rampage. Hulk’s big solo series of Incredible Hulk starts off shaky, giving us mostly needless backstory on the events of Planet Hulk – useful if you hadn’t read it, but then why are you now reading Incredible Hulk? Eventually the focus shifts to Hulk’s unlikely and unasked for allies known as the Renegades, a random group of heroes that had tussled with Hulk before during another bout of misunderstanding involving She-Hulk’s origin. Angel, Hercules, and Namora are joined by newcomer Amadeus Cho, who’s adamant about getting through to the Hulk and talking him down.

incredible hulk #110

Normally this would be a tiresome storyline with some C-list heroes but Pak actually does a great job with the cast and what they can accomplish. Cho, the “seventh smartest person in the world,” is a surprisingly fun and enjoyable lead character, full of bravado, conviction, and a bit of youthful naiveté. His passion to stand up for the Hulk in spite of everything that’s happening is admirable and though the team can’t really affect the main storyline they still work to help the people displaced by the now mostly destroyed Manhattan.

Iron Man’s solo series tie-ins are less thrilling seeing as how he gets himself captured after the first issue of World War Hulk. Issue #19 basically shows that first issue from Stark’s perspective, which doesn’t really add anything, while he’s barely present in #20 since he’s captured by Hulk the whole time (the focus leads to Dugan and SHIELD trying to pick up the pieces). The tie-ins are wholly unnecessary, but at least I can go back to reading Iron Man now!

In terms of just plain fun, the World War Hulk: X-Men tie-ins do a great job giving us exactly what we want to see: the Hulk fighting the X-Men. All of the X-Men. Also a few members of X-Factor, Excalibur, and all the teenage New X-Men. In three issues Hulk shows up at Xavier’s mansion, demands that Charles turn himself over as a member of the Illuminati, and the X-Men defend him. There’s some brutal fights here (and I enjoyed Leonard’s artwork here more than Romita’s in WWH) including Hulk absolutely crushing Wolverine’s face, bending Colossus’ arms back, and surviving the X-Jet crashing into him.

World War Hulk X-Men #2

In the end Mercury of the New X-Men has an emotional breakdown in the poignant graveyard. Yes, Xavier’s has to have it’s own damn cemetery – who the hell would send their kids to a school that has to have its own cemetery?? Anyway, Cessily cries about how they’ve lost so much in the wake of the Decimation and throws the rage back in Hulk’s face. Hulk is mollified and decides to leave them alone, correctly guessing that Xavier has suffered enough.

Finally World War Hulk has its own epilogue series called Aftersmash, namely Damage Control and Warbound. I skimmed through Damage Control on Marvel Unlimited, and it looked like a fairly boring story about a few heroes getting together to clean up the mess that is New York City. Warbound, however, stars the remaining members of Hulk’s alien crew. It’s awesome for fans of Planet Hulk as they really didn’t get much to do during World War Hulk.

world war hulk warbound #3With Hulk out of the picture they attempt to get away, and find themselves in New Mexico. An old Hulk villain named the Leader harnesses Hiroim’s powers to generate a gamma-dome, trapping a number of innocent people inside. It’s a fun little story that gives our displaced crew some nice action and drama, and introduces an interesting new character in SHIELD agent Kate Waynesboro. Unfortunately only the first three of the five issue arc is on Marvel Unlimited, forcing me to look up how it ends on WIkipedia. Dang!

With a much more focused, smaller story, World War Hulk presents a fun, action-packed epilogue to the awesome events of Planet Hulk. I do wish it had used the same artist. As a crossover event it ranks as very minor, only really affecting the Hulk himself. His solo series transitions into Incredible Hercules with sidekick Amadeus Cho – I may have to give this one a chance as it lasted for nearly 30 issues! Unfortunately World War Hulk acts as the climactic ending point for the Hulk as he’s written out of the Marvel universe for the next several years. And just when I fell in love with the character! Good night sweet, misunderstood prince.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Dr. Strange: The Oath

The Oath is the perfect introduction (or further reading) into who Dr. Strange is and why you should care about the Sorcerer Supreme.

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!

Dr Strange The OathWriter: Brian K. Vaughan

Artists: Marcos Martin

Issues: Dr. Strange: The Oath #1-5

Ex-surgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Stephen Strange is not a hugely popular Marvel hero, yet he crops up nearly everywhere as the resident magic expert. Any time a superhero has to deal with magical foes or spells or summoned creatures, they call Dr. Strange.

Despite his usefulness he hadn’t warranted a solo series since the mid 90s, instead cropping up in a few limited series but mostly as a recurring guest star in Amazing Spider-Man or joining the New Avengers after the Civil War.

My options for exploring Dr. Strange’s modern, solo adventures via Marvel Unlimited are, ironically, quite limited. Thankfully there’s one fairly high regarded series that explores Dr. Strange’s background and origin in five issues called The Oath.

Acting as a bridge between Civil War and Stephen’s stint with New Avengers (though the timing of the series really doesn’t matter), Dr. Strange is carried into the Night Nurse’s secretive, superhero friendly office by his apprentice Wong. Strange has been shot! A mercenary known as the Brigand stole a magical elixir that Strange had procured to heal Wong’s brain tumor, and the foe was armed with the magical mojo of Hitler’s own gun, penetrating Strange’s defenses. All of this is told by the good Doctor himself via his famous Astral Projection even as the Night Nurse operates on him.

The series is written by Brian K. Vaughan, whom I’ve previously had the pleasure of reading in Runaways and Saga. Vaughan’s style is incredibly relateable and down-to-earth. Dr. Strange’s background as a sorcerer is effectively given the broad strokes treatment and we’re allowed to peer into the kind of person that Stephen is and has become, rather than focus on what he can and can’t do with magic.

Stephen Strange’s personality and story closely mirrors that of Tony Stark. He began as an arrogant surgeon that cared only for money and furthering his own career, until a fateful car accident ruined his hands. Seeking to repair them by any means, he traveled to Tibet to learn the mystic arts, tutoring under an old wizard known as The Ancient One.

dr. strange #1And that’s pretty much it. Dr. Strange becomes a powerful sorcerer and vows to help people. The oath that the title refers to is the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors take – Strange is adamant about saving the life of his faithful servant and friend Wong. Since he can no longer operate with his hands, he uses his mystic knowledge to research a cure and goes into a crazy dimensional realm and defeat a giant monstrosity to recover a panacea – all in the span of a few pages.

Turns out this elixir not only would cure Wong’s cancer, but all cancer and illness everywhere on Earth. Dr. Strange first has it analyzed in a lab (though he practices magic, his background as a surgeon makes him amiable to the sciences) and it’s there that his secret is betrayed and he’s robbed. Strange goes on a quest with the dying Wong and the resolute Night Nurse to recover the elixir and discover the one who sent Brigand after him.

After some nifty scenes of spell-flinging and mind-ripping, Strange learns the identity of his true foe, an old colleague of his, Nicodemous West. Dr. West had been tracking down Strange to try and bring him back to the practice, and in doing so learned the same magical arts from The Ancient One. Thus Dr. West becomes the anti-Strange, a former surgeon turned magician, only West is still concerned with himself and money as he takes orders from a shady board of directors at a pharmaceutical company.

West and Strange’s confrontation is fun and satisfying, as they both get to sling guilt-trips and regrets at each other, as well as the interesting moral and scientific ramifications of suddenly introducing a mass cure to society. Ultimately their battle takes them to the rain-soaked rooftops (as all climactic fights should) and West produces an artifact that nullifies their magic. The two go mano y mano, and Strange reveals that Wong is both his apprentice and his master. After sustaining a few blows he proceeds to kick West’s ass with his superior kung fu. West slips and falls off the building, shattering the elixir on the ground below.

dr. strange #5

Predictably there is only a single drop left and our hero is forced to make a choice – take the time to reproduce it and provide a cure for all the world’s sicknesses, or heal his dying friend. Wong’s state had deteriorated over the course of the series lending a sense of immediacy and urgency to Strange’s quest, and by the time West falls he’s completely unconscious.

Strange saves the life of his dear friend, gains the respect and love of the Night Nurse (who never reveals her name) and warms his way into my heart. The Oath succeeds in delving into Dr. Strange’s background and personality while still providing a fun, action-packed adventure. New readers worrying about delving into a psychedelic, magic-fueled ride need not fear. Vaughan uses the magic stuff sparingly and keeps it easy to follow, while the focus remains on the strong characters and excellent supporting cast.

The only real bummer is the art style. Martin’s work isn’t bad at all, I just didn’t find it very memorable. I think it tries to evoke an old, Silver Age Jack Kirby style but mostly comes off as a little plain. Still the overall series is the perfect introduction (or further reading) into who Dr. Strange is and why you should care about the Sorcerer Supreme.

Dr. Strange #4

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 6

With the death of Captain America and the passing of the Superhero Registration Act, the New Avengers are still reeling in the aftermath of the Civil War.

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 Vol. 6Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Leinil Francis Yu, Alex Maleev (#26)

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #26-31

With the death of Captain America and the passing of the Superhero Registration Act, the New Avengers are still reeling in the aftermath of the Civil War. During the time period known as The Initiative (most of 2007) many Marvel books had tie-ins that followed the fallout from the Superhero Civil War and how the registration act affected other heroes.

The Initiative affected the New Avengers more than anyone. Though Steve Rogers surrendered, many of his allies went underground and continued to oppose the Registration Act. Previous New Avengers members Spider-man, Wolverine, Luke Cage and Spider-woman are joined by Iron Fist, Dr. Strange and a different Ronin ninja who’s eventually revealed to be Hawkeye in a nifty bit of flashbacking.

Issue #26 drops in with the newly resurrected Hawkeye – last seen sacrificing himself at the end of Avengers “Disassembled” in 2004 and brought back by Scarlet Witch during the House of M event in 2005. Hawkeye goes to Dr. Strange looking for answers, then hunts down Wanda Maximoff – whom at the end of House of M we saw had magically lobotomized herself to forget her powers and who she was. Clint ends up in a romantic fling with her, and decides revenge for House of M is no longer an appropriate course of action.

New Avengers #26I really dug Alex Maleev’s art style in this one-off issue. The whole comic is drawn as if carefully constructed by water color painting, and the panels are frequently light on dialogue and heavy on intense human emotion. It works quite well given there’s very little action in the issue, and the style really carries the brief but interesting story along.

The full story of “Revolution” begins in #27, though it almost feels like a one-off as well. The previous mysterious ninja known as Ronin, Maya Lopez, was given the mission to stay in Japan and monitor the Hand while everyone else was fighting the Civil War. She gets herself captured and tortured by current Hand-leader Elektra, and it’s up to the rest of the team to save her. Eventually.

First the New Avengers have to deal directly with their underground status as rebels, and the newly christened, officially government-sanctioned team the Mighty Avengers (Final Thoughts coming soon) actively hunt them throughout the volume. The New Avengers hide out thanks to Dr. Strange’s magic, and there’s some tense moments as his magic masks them even while Iron Man and company are exploring the house they’re hiding in.

At one point the Mighty Avengers manage to draw them out using Steve’s fake body as bait (“That was dirty pool, man” – Spider-Man), and they’re able to escape thanks again to Dr. Strange’s incredibly useful and always ill-defined magic powers. The big battle they tease between the two super-teams never does happen, though to be fair we kind of got our fill of that during the whole Civil War event. The rebels quickly realize they’re no longer safe in the US, and flee to Japan where they rescue Maya and battle lots of Hand ninjas – essentially rehashing the battles of New Avengers Volume 3.

new avengers #29

While I respect that writer Brian Michael Bendis weaves the backstory of the New Avengers struggling against the Mighty Avengers with their ninja battles, it does get quite muddled and confusing to read from panel to panel. Yu’s art style is also quite unique and somewhat distracting. It’s extremely heavy on the pencils and shading. Normally I’d dig it but the characters themselves are drawn with a somewhat cartoonish and exaggerated look that I don’t quite mesh with. I like that the art is different enough to make the title really stand out from the rest (especially the bright and very traditional Mighty Avengers) but I still haven’t quite decided if I actually enjoy it or not.

Although the art is dark and the stories somewhat bleak, the dialogue is still snappy – almost jarringly so. Spider-Man, Wolverine and Luke Cage compete for biggest wise-ass as they constantly fire off comments and one-liners during every scene. It fits their personality and nicely balances the series and the team members – though I wonder what the hell Spider-Man and Wolverine are still doing on this hunted team.

At the end of the bland ninja fighting story, Maya rebels against her brainwashing and stabs Elektra. As she dies she suddenly reverts to her true form of a skrull! Dun Dun Dunnnn! Knowing what I know of Marvel continuity this must be an early and nifty tease of the next big crossover event Secret Invasion in 2008, and it’s definitely shocking and satisfying.

Even more enjoyable was the neat little twist about Hawkeye joining the team as the new Ronin. I guess training with a bow carries over to sword skills? Either way it’s cool for Clint Barton to have a nifty new role, and be an Avenger again. Even more poignant that he would choose to join the rebels after he was directly offered the role of being the new Captain America by Iron Man himself.

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I find it fascinating that Marvel kept the New Avengers team together and the series ongoing during The Initiative time period and beyond, even as multiple Avengers-focused series were being launched. New Avengers succeeds with its own distinct art style and fun team dynamic that is far, far more like-able and interesting than the Mighty Avengers’ ensemble. And who doesn’t love rooting for the rebels?

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

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

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

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

Deadpool & Cable ultimate collection book 3Writer: Fabian Nicieza

Artist: Reilly Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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