Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – War of Kings

The Marvel Cosmic event of 2009, War of Kings, is a grand payoff for several years worth of intergalactic warfare and crossovers.

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!

war of kingsWriters: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artist: Paul Pelletier

Issues: War of Kings #1-6, Secret Invasion: War of Kings, War of Kings: Who Will Rule?*

*I also read the following tie-ins: X-Men: Kingbreaker, Nova Vol. 5: War of Kings, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: War of Kings Book 2

 

The cosmic side of the Marvel Universe – which is to say, everything other than Earth, had been carefully designed by the writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning for several years before War of Kings hit in the Summer of 2009.

Beginning with the catastrophic Annihilation event in 2006, the wider universe had been in a state of flux and terror. Combined with intriguing story seeds spinning out of X-Men: Deadly Genesis and Secret Invasion: Inhumans, War of Kings represents the sweeping payoff for several different factions, series, and events. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, with the same great artwork by Paul Pelletier from previous cosmic events. But fully understanding War of Kings requires several years worth of Marvel comics stories. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – War of Kings”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Secret Invasion

In 2008 Marvel launched their biggest crossover mega-event yet, a full scale alien invasion by the shape-shifting skrulls that pulled together all the 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!

Secret Invasion coverWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

Issues: Secret Invasion #1-8

For these Final Thoughts I also included the following tie-ins and limited series:

Avengers: The Initiative #14-19
Mighty Avengers #12-20
New Avengers #38-47
Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1
Secret Invasion: Inhumans #1-4
Secret Invasion: Thor #1-3
Secret Invasion: War Machine #33-35 (from Iron Man)
Secret Invasion: X-Men #1-4

 

“He loves you.”
“Um, he who?”
“God.”
“Yeah? Well my God has a hammer!”

If Avengers Disassembled lead into the modern Marvel era of massive crossover events, then the time period in 2008 could be its pinnacle.  From ’07 the Planet Hulk revenge story/sequel World War Hulk and the cosmic sequel Annihilation: Conquest ravaged parts of Earth and the entire universe respectively. Without even catching a breath the X-Men experienced their biggest crossover in years with the epic Messiah Complex event. Directly afterward Marvel played their biggest hand yet: the skrull-powered Secret Invasion mega-event.

Spanning most of 2008, bringing together nearly every ongoing series at the time, and completely changing the ongoing structure and politics of the Marvel world for the following year, Secret Invasion was as big an event as Marvel had ever run. To pull off the long con, Marvel architect Brian Michael Bendis had to start crafting years in advance, sowing the seeds for the violent and shocking return of the shape-shifting alien skrulls as far back as 2004-05 – ironically the time period I chose to jump back into Marvel comics with.

The event had been teased and prodded in several issues of both Might Avengers and New Avengers – especially New Avengers #31, when the team kills Elektra only to find a dead skrull in her place. A similar shock occurs in the final issue of New Avengers: Illuminati. Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans is revealed to be a skrull sleeper agent. Though he fails in killing the rest of the illuminati, the seeds of distrust and concern do their damage, breaking up the clandestine group of super-leaders.

Secret Invasion #3

From there the event moves into full swing. Like most major Marvel Events before it, Secret Invasion received its own special series that brought in just about every active Avenger at the time. This leaves the actual Avengers series scrambling to include relevant tie-ins, leading to a surprisingly eloquent solution of using those series to detail more of the skrulls’ backstory. The two main Avenger trades at the time all delved into the lead-up to the Invasion and how thoroughly ingrained the shape-shifting alien goblins were in our society throughout the last few years.

The biggest skrull surprises reveal main villains Spider-Woman and Hank Pym (Yellowjacket). Spider-Woman had been Bendis’ pet project for years; a relatively minor D-lister who was elevated to an interesting and compelling character that ended up joining both active Avenger squads at various points.

It was all a lie, as she’s revealed to be Queen Veranke, leader and religious figurehead of the skrulls. I found it quite fascinating that the skrulls were not simply alien invaders but religious fanatics that truly believed the Earth was theirs by right. All the skrulls repeat the line “He loves you,” and it’s quite shocking when we learn that they are referring to God.

Secret Invasion #3bAlthough the skrulls’ main tactic was to infiltrate and take over Earth from the inside, the main series starts with a bang as they attack with a full-blown assault and invasion while the bulk of the Avengers are mired in the Savage Land. A skrull ship crashlands and out walks a bunch of Avengers in old costumes from the 70s, a classic alien abduction story-telling device that reminded me of the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Unfortunately our heroes spend way too long dealing with this weird development as both sides yell “No, you’re a skrull” before devolving into a battle royale.

Meanwhile back in New York (the only place alien invasions really take place), the defense of Earth is left up to the Young Avengers, and they have a hell of a time against the newly super-powered skrulls. Not only have the skrulls developed technology to remain completely undetected, but they can also replicate just about every superpowered person in the Marvel Universe. Apparently the costume is part of the package deal, so our heroes fight skrulls dressed as Cyclops, Thor, and even Galactus, leading to some incredibly epic and fun battles.

It helps that the art is absolutely fantastic. I’d commented before that Leinil Yu’s art was very interesting and pencil-heavy on New Avengers. Here it evolves into a nice balance between evocative, detailed faces and explosive colors. His style lends to a slightly polygonal shaping to figures which I kind of dug, making it distinct without becoming too distracting. After Secret Invasion, Yu may have become one of my favorite Marvel artists.

Our Savage Land, Avenger-skrull problem is dealt with by Agent Abigail Brand of SWORD, Earth’s liason into space (sort of a cross between SHIELD and the Men in Black). Brand was actually created by Joss Whedon back in Astonishing X-Men, an awesome half-alien, no-nonsense woman with green hair and some minor powers.

Her ship is blown to hell when the skrulls invade but she manages to get inside another one and single-handedly free the captured and tortured Mr. Fantastic. Together she and Reed Richards fly down to the Savage Land where Richards’ quickly assembled super-device (as he does) reveals all the skrulls in an area. Drama ensues, fights break out, and our heroes finally get back to New York where the real giant battle commences.

Secret Invasion #6

Meanwhile Nick Fury has finally revealed himself, and he has his own team of Secret Warriors he’s assembled himself. Fury was one of the few people on Earth that sensed the skrull threat, and had been off the radar (and written out of most Marvel comics) since his Secret War event in 2004. The twist that he’d been working on fighting the eventual skrull invasion this whole time is a neat idea, and I liked that he was just as ornery, grizzled, and unlikable as I remember him. The backstory on his ragtag team of new heroes is detailed in one of the Mighty Avengers tie-ins, and they eventually spin off into their own Secret Warriors series, which I’ll definitely be reading.

The final battle is supremely satisfying, with issue #7 just one gigantic battle between the superpowered skrulls and all the various Avenger teams, as well as Red Hood’s street-villain group and Norman Osborn’s government-approved Thunderbolts. Lots of crazy cool moments leap off the page, like The Watcher showing up, Marvel Boy crashing in, and Hawkeye wielding a bow and arrow for the first time in years to shoot Veranke in the face.

The skrulls get the last laugh, however. Remember how Hank Pym was really a skrull? He’d previously given his ex-wife Janet (The Wasp) a new growth formula that was actually a deadly biological bomb. Skrull-Pym uses his dying breath to activate it, and she suddenly grows with a strange energy. Thor is forced to put her down using tornadoes to blow her particles away to save everyone else. Our heroes are not pleased, but it’s Norman Osborn, the recovering Green Goblin turned government man and leader of the Thunderbolts that gets the killing blow on Veranke.

Secret Invasion #8

From there the skrulls finally surrender and the war is over. The government praises Norman Osborn and his team, dissolves SHIELD, and puts Osborn as head of a new world order. Osborn immediately gathers together a secret team of would-be super-villains – the anti-illuminati, as his Cabal. He tells Namor, Doctor Doom, Loki, Red Hood, and Emma Frost that they can work together, and as the man on the inside he can let everyone get away with it.

Without yet reading the Thunderbolts tie-ins, Osborn’s sudden rise to power felt a bit rushed at the end, but I am intrigued by this new world that embraces the Freedom versus Security theme that Marvel had been exploring for years. Dark Reign sounds like we go full on 1984!

While the two main Avengers trades covered various backstories, Avengers: The Initiative went in a crazy side-story direction. Delroy Garrett the, er, 3-D Man, pulls a They Live when he realizes his special hand-me-down goggles can see who’s really a skrull. Around the same time Camp Hammond, home to the main Initiative training base and recruitment is fully taken over by skrulls, led by skrull-Pym, and 3-D Man embarks on a crazy odyssey to warn the other Initiative teams around the country and fight the skrulls.

secret invasionThe weird thing about The Initiative series is that all the original characters I enjoyed all graduated and went their separate ways in the last volume. The Secret Invasion issues solve that problem somewhat by having 3-D Man meet up with many of the members, now dispersed amongst their own various state-sponsored super-teams. Most of them are incredibly dorky with some of the lamest superhero costumes and concepts you’ve never heard of.

The story goes in some weird places and eventually ends in an climactic multi-stage battle involving skrull-Pym’s plan to use a weapon of mass destruction – which you never hear about in the main Secret Invasion story. It’s completely ancillary and very skippable, though the art is quite nice and the story remains entertaining, even if it involves the most D-list of D-listers.

Like many Marvel events Secret Invasion launched with multiple limited series, allowing characters and teams to be involved without taking over their current series (a welcome strategy). Of the half-dozen or so limited series, I read X-Men, Inhumans, and Thor, as well as the end of the then-current Iron Man series which is taken over by a brief but fun War Machine arc that spins off out of Avengers: The Initiative. Whew!

James Rhodes wasn’t a big character at the time but I really enjoyed his brief spotlight, which includes using a giant mech-satellite to kick skrull spaceship ass, then going to Russia and helping out their superteam against the skrull invaders. I had no idea Rhodey was now a cyborg who needed the armor to live, and combined with brief flashes of him as a bullied but stalwart teen made War Machine a pretty fantastic character to read about. I’m looking forward to reading the official series that starts up next, though it looks like it only lasted twelve issues.

iron man war machine secret invasion #34Secret Invasion: Thor was definitely the strongest of all the limited series tie-ins I read with fantastic art and a short story that respects what J. Michael Straczynski is doing with Thor in his then-current series. Thor’s first job is to protect Asgard, and following that it’s to protect the people of Broxton, Oklahoma, where Asgard currently resides.

Thor shares a body with Doctor Donald Blake, and Dr. Blake delivering a baby amidst the stormy crisis of the skrull invasion juxtaposes wonderfully with the war the Asgards wage against the alien threat. It also brings in Thor co-star Beta Ray Bill, aka that weird alien horse Thor who’s all kinds of awesome, and they spend the majority of the comic fighting their own super-powered skrull. It’s short and sweet, but also action-packed and intense – a wonderful tie-in.

Secret Invasion: X-Men was unfortunately the weakest, with a dull, bland art that made many of the X-Men look eerily similar to the goblin-like skrulls they were battling. The skrulls invade the X-Men’s new home of San Fransisco, and they respond accordingly. Everything’s fairly boring and predictable until the final issue, when Cyclops pulls off a rather hardcore biological attack, infecting the skrulls with the same Legacy Virus plague that nearly wiped out mutants years ago. Cyke’s willingness to do whatever it takes nicely reflects his recent character evolution, but the whole adventure just came off super forgettable. Sorry X-Men, you’ve got plenty of your own problems!

secret invasion inhumans #2The Inhumans series is a bit of a mixed bag. It starts out well enough, with the royal family still reeling from the knowledge that Black Bolt was a sleeper agent skrull for some time. Just as the seeds of suspicion are planted, the skrulls openly attack the moon-based Attilan. While everyone fights, Medusa, Gorgon, Triton, Karnak, and Crystal (the only Inhumans that are ever really given any personality or recognition) mount a space-faring journey to rescue the real Black Bolt, who’s currently being tortured and weaponized by the skrulls.

Medusa ends up meeting up with Ronan the Accuser and forges an alliance, which has interesting repercussions going forward. Things get a little crazy as we split up into three teams to go to three different planets and gather McGuffins to track the skrulls. Eventually Black Bolt is rescued in the nick of time, and the Inhumans declare their official alliance with the Kree, and their continued distaste of Earth and all its problems, leading the Inhumans to enter the more Cosmic-side of Marvel stories going forward. It’s an interesting development and makes Secret Invasion: Inhumans quite important, but as its own story it’s just okay. None of the characters are interesting or compelling and the plot and action are just too much to squeeze into a four issue arc.

While Secret Invasion relies heavily on its initial surprise twists and reveals of ‘They were a skrull the whole time,’ the story of an explosive alien invasion with a lot of premeditated planning is a fun event for the Marvel-verse to tackle. The mostly lame skrulls are used in awesome and terrifying ways, though the actual consequences of the war don’t feel nearly as harsh as Civil War‘s. I loved their religious fanaticism and Queen Veranke (as Spider-Woman) is a fun villain – the quick scene where she tries to convince a sick Tony Stark that he’s their top skrull agent is absolutely delicious, and I wished the story had gone more in that direction. Instead we end up getting a fairly standard, albeit awesome battle at the end, and Yu’s art is phenomenal. I’ve generally been a fan of Marvel’s events thus far, and Secret Invasion definitely didn’t disappoint.

Secret Invasion #8 cabal

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Silent War

The Inhumans star in this follow-up to Son of M takes that takes way too long to get going and is muddled with a distractingly bizarre art style.

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!

silent war coverWriter: David Hine

Artist: Frazer Irving

Issues: Silent War (2007) #1-6

I’ve never held much interest in the Inhumans, but with the way current Marvel events are heading (especially in Agents of SHIELD), learning and reading more about them is becoming increasingly necessary. I find the Inhumans to be a poor man’s mutants – only more secluded and isolationist, with a bunch of archaic social policies and royal family drama.

Silent War is a direct sequel to the events in previous Inhumans-centric limited series Son of M, where Quicksilver stole the sacred Terrigen Crystals (which give Inhumans their powers) and Black Bolt declared war on the US after the government wouldn’t return them. What could have been an action-packed affair takes way too long to get going; Black Bolt is rendered far too impotent and uncertain, and it’s all muddled with a distractedly bizarre art style that makes every character look tiny, weak, and uninteresting.

The war begins in earnest when a small team lead by Gorgon disguise themselves and infiltrate a concert hall. With Jolen the plant master’s help they disable everyone inside and attempt to tell the world about how they were wronged and the crystals were stolen. Unfortunately Jolen ends up going a bit too far and murders a bunch of innocent people left and right, and they’re quickly subduded by the Fantastic Four.

Black Bolt teleports down with a larger team trying to reach the crystals in the pentagon, but they’re deflected to Antarctica and met by the Sentry, who talks to Black Bolt about mutually assured destruction. I’ve spoken previously about how much the Sentry annoys me as the uber-powerful hero that can solve any crisis, and I was really hoping Black Bolt would wipe the floor with him.

silent war #1Unfortunately David Hine spends the majority of the story sowing doubt and uncertainty into Black Bolt’s actions. His wife Medusa can’t read his wishes any more like she used to, and he often acts irrationally and violently. It’s difficult to interpret because Black bolt can never speak. So much as a whisper causes huge amounts of destruction. Despite his lack of characterization, I always considered Black Bolt my favorite Inhuman. A stoic leader who leads by sheer will and actions rather than words, and who has the wherewithal to know when to not use his powers. It’s incredibly annoying then to have Black Bolt portrayed in such a negative, pitying light throughout the story.

The one interesting aspect to Silent War’s writing is that each issue is written from the perspective of a different character, not unlike chapters from A Song of Ice and Fire. Most are Inhumans and most are pretty boring, like Crystal who gets zero agency outside of her jerk ex-husband Quicksilver and mysterious daughter Luna, and Medusa, Black Bolt’s wife and confidant who spends her entire issue having an emotional affair with Black Bolt’s evil brother Maximus.

silent war #5Eventually the humans, lead by Maria Hill, begin experimenting with using Terrigenesis on humans, creating temporary super soldiers with a very limited life span. The Inhumans launch a full scale attack and the Mighty Avengers are soon called to defend against them, finally giving us a satisfying battle in issue #5.

The Inhumans send in a dimensional hopping member (they’re like mutants in that they can have all kinds of interesting and random powers) to free the captured team from the first issue and retrieve the crystals. The Sentry purposefully sits out of the entire fight – credit to him for believing giving them the crystals back would stop the war.

It’s not that simple, however, and the pentagon orders the newly created super soldiers to invade the Inhuman city of Attilan, currently located on the moon. Another battle takes place that’s over way too quickly, and one of the soldiers sets off a major bomb, destroying much of the city. From the ashes Black Bolt’s manipulative brother rises, having seduced Medusa and others with his ‘powers of suggestion.’ The whole thing ends in a very weird place, with only Black Bolt and Luna immune to Maximus’ will, and the evil brother seemingly becoming the new leader of the Inhumans.

As a follow-up to Son of M, Silent War does explore the war that’s so impressively teased at the end of that series, but it takes so long to get going that the majority of the story is just boring. The Inhumans’ meeting with Quicksilver is dumb and pointless (though I enjoyed the mini-guest starring by X-Factor’s Layla and Jamie). The standard Inhumans’ infighting is limited to Maximus’s effortless rise to power, and the first four issues are just a slow plod to get to the invasion that’s over in a single issue.

Worst of all is the odd art style. Characters are washed out and tiny in every frame, and I wished the cover artist had been used to do the actual comic, as a good (or at least decent) art style can certainly save a mediocre story. With both story and art being so disappointing, it’s difficult to recommend Silent War to all but the biggest Inhuman fans.

silent war #6

 

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.