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

Bendis continues his run of Avengers with the post-Dark Reign Heroic Age, including time-travelling villains and the Infinity Gems.

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 2010 vol 1Writers: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: John Romita Jr.

Issues: Avengers (2010) #1-12, 12.1

 

Siege finally brought an end to Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign over the Marvelverse. Between the Civil War, the Secret Invasion and the Dark Reign, Marvel wanted to return to a simpler time of heroes versus villains, and so The Heroic Age was born.

The Heroic Age brought a reunion of many of our original Avengers like Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man, a team that hadn’t been together in over five years. Annoyingly, Wolverine also joined the team, despite also joining the concurrent New Avengers series and still being a member of the Uncanny X-Men and the new Uncanny X-Force. Spider-Man is also on both Avengers teams, what the crap.

The newly restarted Avengers series also gave us the old-school stylings of John Romita Jr, which I will readily admit to not liking. The heavy lines and flat faces just look odd, and the action never feels particularly dynamic. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Avengers (2010), Vol. 1-2”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Siege

Our heroes return in an explosive battle for Asgard, which also brings an end to Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign.

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!

SiegeWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Olivier Coipel

Issues: Siege #1-4, Siege: The Cabal, Siege: Prologue*

*I also read the following tie-ins: Dark Avengers #13-16, New Avengers #61-64 + Finale, Thor #607-609, Siege: Loki One-Shot, Siege: Secret Warriors One-Shot

 

Finally we come to the end of what I’ll call the Bendis Era of Big Marvel Events. It began with 2006’s Civil War (and really you could go back further to House of M or Avengers: Disassembled), continued into 2008’s Secret Invasion, which gave way to 2009’s Dark Reign, and finally ends with 2010’s Siege.

This age of near constant mega-events would continue to define Marvel comics throughout the next decade, and with the recent success of Secret Wars, I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.

As an event, Siege is heavily embedded in Marvel continuity, specifically the cool but not exactly new-reader friendly Dark Reign. Dark Reign put Norman Osborn as leader of the initiative that was initially created by Tony Stark in the post-Civil War world. He built his own Dark Avengers team, a surprisingly awesome comic that further explored the bad guys-as-heroes dynamic that made Thunderbolts so great.

The political events have largely been a heavy-handed reflection of our culture of fear, and the dichotomy between freedom and security. Drawing parallels between 9/11 and America’s War on Terror is pretty low-hanging fruit to grasp, and nowhere is that more painfully obvious than Siege. Norman invades Asgard under manufactured pretenses, and starts an unpopular war that ultimately brings his reign to an end. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Siege”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – War Machine, Vol. 1-2

A satisfying and exciting arc unfolds in James Rhodes’ first real solo series as a badass cyborg soldier of justice.

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 Machine 2008Writer: Greg Pak

Artists: Leonardo Manco, Carlos Magno

Issues: War Machine (2008) #1-12

 

On again, off again Iron Man sidekick War Machine literally took over Tony Stark’s solo series during the Secret Invasion. Stark’s whole world fell apart during the event, and his story was told in the main Secret Invasion trade.

Meanwhile War Machine actually received his first ever solo series following those events, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t amazing. James Rhodes had barely been used at all in the least few years of comics.

This relatively short, 12-issue series does a fantastic job explaining his character, developing a satisfying arc, and using the events of Dark Reign to weave together a compelling narrative. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – War Machine, Vol. 1-2”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Mighty Avengers (2007), Vol. 5-6

Inconsistent art, boringly typical comic storylines, and a C-list cast makes Mighty Avengers an ultimately pointless series during Dark Reign.

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!

marvelWriter: Dan Slott

Artists: Khoi Pham (#21-23, 27-31), Rafe Sandoval (#24), Stephen Segovia (#25-26)

Issues: Mighty Avengers (2007) #21-31

 

Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign officially took over the Avengers team in 2009, replacing most of them with his own ex-villains and creating the Dark Avengers. Instead of canceling the Mighty Avengers series, Marvel soft-rebooted it, whipping up a whole new team that exists as a mostly pointless international task force (since they’d be hunted down by Osborn in the US). The C-list heroes serve to elevate the status of the unlikable Hank Pym, who’d been one of the main skrull infiltrators during the Secret Invasion.

The roster is pulled together from a current list of available heroes, some starring in their own series, others in diaspora during Dark Reign. Scarlet Witch (who’s later revealed to be Loki in disguise – a neat twist), gathers them together to create a team to mostly deal with omega-level threats outside the US.

The team initially consists of Hank Pym (awkwardly calling himself The Wasp), Stature (slain Ant-Man Scott Lang’s daughter and current Young Avenger), Vision, Ronin (Formerly Hawkeye and New Avenger), Hercules and Amadeus Cho, US Agent (borrowed from the failing Omega Flight), Jocasta, Hulk (who leaves after the first story, cause he’s the fucking Hulk and screw you guys), and uh the real Edwin Jarvis, loyal Avenger butler. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Mighty Avengers (2007), Vol. 5-6”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – The Invincible Iron Man: World’s Most Wanted (Vol. 2-3)

Matt Fraction weaves my new favorite Iron Man story as Stark is on the run from Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign.

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!

marvelWriter: Matt Fraction

Artist: Salvador Larroca

Issues: Invincible Iron Man (2008) #8-19

 

In 2008 Marvel had not yet realized the beginning of a whole new era of superhero film making was just beginning. They did put all their eggs into the Iron Man basket by starting up their own film studio instead of selling more of their rights off to others (which should be pointed out, is a big reason they survived the comic collapse of the 90s).

Thus it was obvious that a brand new Iron Man comic would launch in 2008 to draw in new fans from the movie, as well as furthering the expanded role that Tony Stark has enjoyed in the Marvel Universe for the last few years.

The first arc, “The Five Nightmares,” was a fun, self-contained story. Unfortunately due to the heavily event-driven modern era (which still kind of continues to this day), newcomers might be super confused in this next massive story arc. Stark resigns as Director of SHIELD, while Norman Osborn has become the most powerful man in the world. Welcome to Dark Reign! Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – The Invincible Iron Man: World’s Most Wanted (Vol. 2-3)”

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 – Invincible Iron Man, Vol. 1

“The Five Nightmares” introduces the son of Obediah Stane out for revenge against Tony Stark.

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!

Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1Writer: Matt Fraction

Artist: Salvador Larroca

Issues: Invincible Iron Man #1-6

 

The first Iron Man film released in 2008, setting the stage for the incredible Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s seemingly taken over most of Hollywood, and cemented superhero films as the defacto Blockbuster genre.

To coincide with the film’s release, Marvel did the smart thing and started a brand new Iron Man comic series – Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. The timing was a bit weird – it actually started while Iron Man’s previous self-titled series was still wrapping up before ending with a brief War Machine Secret Invasion tie-in (which was quite enjoyable).

The previous Iron Man series was a bit hit or miss but ultimately came away glad I read it. I was never a big fan of Iron Man growing up (or the Avengers really). I’d go as far to see that Iron Man was teetering on C or D-list fame until 2006’s Civil War catapulted him to the spotlight. Suddenly Stark was Director of SHIELD and one of the most important people in the Marvel Universe, a theme that would continue to this day. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Invincible Iron Man, Vol. 1”

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 – Thor (2007), Vol. 1

Thanks to a fantastically heroic and bright art style Thor’s return to Earth leaps off the pages and becomes a captivating and fun quest to restore Asgard.

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!

thor volume 1Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Artist: Olivier Coipel

Issues: Thor (2007) #1-6

 

I’d never before read a Thor comic nor had any interest in the character growing up. I saw him as just a silly founding member of the Avengers that was based on a Norse god. When the Thor film released a few years ago I was surprised as anyone that this goofy figure would receive his own stand-alone big screen debut and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the earnest, likable character full of his own unique lore and background.

Comics-wise Thor has been out of commission throughout the entire era I’ve been reading so far (2004-2007). Sometime around the events of “Avengers Disassembled,” Thor’s story went through Ragnarok, the life and death cycle of the gods, and ended with all of Asgard dying in an attempt to stop the endless cycle.

Thor is gone for a solid three years (an eternity in comic book time) before being reintroduced in this 2007 series written by J. Michael Straczynski (Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four) and drawn by Olivier Coipel (House of M). The timing couldn’t be better for being introduced to the God of Thunder as he’s awakened by his old human host Dr. Donald Blake and summoned back to Earth. Thor quickly works to restore Asgard and find his fellow Asgardian warriors hidden away within stalwart human bodies. Thanks to Coipel’s fantastically heroic and bright art style Thor’s adventure leaps off the pages and becomes a captivating and fun quest despite the patient build-up and pacing.

thor #1

Instead of following a standard six issue story arc, each issue of Thor is given its own titling, and feels more like progressive episodes of a television show rather than a constant stream of finales like most comics. While never fully explained, Thor is inhabiting the same body as Donald Blake, the man that originally became Thor. Blake has the power to turn into Thor by slamming a stick against the ground dramatically, and Coipel plays with this fantastical transformation in some fun, flashy ways (I’m getting fond flashbacks of He-Man – I HAVE THE POWER!).

By issue #2 Thor knows what he needs to do. Since he’s the last Asgardian left, he decides to build a new Asgard in a giant empty field near a small town in Oklahoma. Straczynski has a lot of really fun and funny scenes with the locals that mostly manage to steer away from country bumpkin stereotypes and just focus on the craziness of suddenly having the mythical space-city floating above the ground just down the street.

Not everyone is happy to see the God of Thunder back on Earth, and much has happened since Thor left, as Iron Man is quick to remind him. There’s a poignant scene where Thor visits a post-Katrina New Orleans (not the first hero to do that) and reflects on his absence and the things he could have done to help. Iron Man shows up to explain the then-recent Civil War and Thor’s need to register with the U.S. government (and also that the whole floating Asgard thing is viewed as a threat).

thor #3Thor responds by kicking Iron Man’s ass in a flashy battle of lightning bolts and lasers. Thor’s power has never been greater and he easily dispatches Stark, ripping off his helmet and threatening him to his face. While I’ve enjoyed Stark’s solo series, he still definitely comes off as a total asshole in everyone else’s comics and events and it’s very satisfying to see somebody simply stand up and say Nope, and Don’t Come Back. Stark saves face by declaring Asgard an embassy on U.S. soil and leaves it at that, at least until Asgard takes center stage in the Siege event in 2010.

Of course Thor isn’t content to roam the halls alone. His next order of business is to find and free his fellow Asgardians, now also sharing mortal bodies. He finds Heimdall in New Orleans after sensing his grief-stricken soul, and finds The Warriors Three in Africa as volunteer soldiers at a Doctors without Borders campsite. There’s a fun battle when Dr. Blake and company are attacked by a neighboring tribe, and he He-Mans into Thor and kicks everyone’s ass.

The concept of a normal person able to transform into a superhero is as old as the genre itself, but it’s amazing how fresh and fun it feels here. I also love how Coipel draws Thor with his super flat, broad, serious face, giving him an exotic and interesting look along with his iconic armor.

Thor’s search for Asgardians leads him into a battle with the Destroyer (the same robot thing from the Thor film, though much smaller here) and he finds yet another soul trapped in the monster, fueled by regret and rage. He also finds Loki whom he originally mistakes for Lady Sif – it’s female Loki! A fun twist on a classic character, though I imagine this transformation doesn’t last given Tom Hiddleston’s incredible performance and popularity to the big screen persona.

thor #5

At the end of issue #6 Thor flies up into the atmosphere and releases a powerful blast, releasing all the Asgardians on Earth at the same time, for better or for worse, and draining himself in the process. Other than a brief scene showing Loki talking with Dr. Doom and a cabal of other villains there really isn’t much of a conflict yet.

Straczynski’s pacing feels like a slow, deliberate build up as he gathers all the pieces and sets the stage for future events. Because of the enjoyable writing and fantastic art I’m completely on board with this approach. I never though a Thor comic would become one of my favorites, but I’ll be damned If I’m not loving this series.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Iron Man: Haunted

“Haunted” successfully ties plot threads and seeds from Stark’s previous stories while sending him on an emotional journey filled with mystery, political intrigue, and an action-packed finale.

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!

iron man hauntedWriters: Daniel Knauf, Charles Knauf

Artists: Butch Guice, Roberto De La Torre, Carlo Pagualyan

Issues: Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #21-28

“How do you feel, sir?”
“How do I feel? I saved 97.5% of the human race. Proved everyone who doubted me wrong…and I kicked the living crap out of The Mandarin. I feel great.”

Considering Tony Stark became an even bigger asshole during the whole Civil War event, his solo series during that time has been surprisingly fantastic. As the Director of SHIELD Stark’s resources and reach have never been higher, yet neither has the emotional and psychological toll. In the massive eight part story arc, “Haunted,” the writing father/son team of Daniel and Charles Knauf successfully tie together the story elements and seeds that Warren Ellis planted back in the first arc while giving Tony Stark an emotional journey filled with mystery, political intrigue, and an action-packed finale.

Don’t be fooled by the trade paperback’s terrible decision to use the Iron Man: Director of SHIELD Annual issue as its cover – neither the art nor tone is reflective of the darkened styling and patient pace of the story, and it’s a completely separate, one-shot issue. “Haunted” begins like an episode of a murder-of-the-week TV show, as a pair of registered heroes in Omaha Nebraska are exploring a disturbance in an abandoned building. They stumble upon a minor villain named Gravitron, he says some cryptic stuff, and one of them is killed while the other lands in the hospital. Stark visits the hospitalized hero and villain to try and get some answers, and it’s there that he starts seeing dead people from his past like Happy Hogan, Sal, and Steve Rogers.

iron man #25Stark begins to piece the puzzle together and the comic takes on a forensics and investigative format, which is both familiar and yet a fun way to approach a comic book story. The art also compliments the tone perfectly with a dark, painted look that somehow achieves consistency despite three different artists being used throughout the run. Dialogue scenes and faces look especially fantastic, while the few action scenes suffer somewhat as colors and characters blend together a bit too much.

Stark’s investigations are stymied by his own Superhero Initiative. As he’s been displaying erratic and questionable behavior, including leaving his suit on for days at a time, psychologist and perennial guest-star Doc Samson is called in to treat him. Stark is forced to wear a power-inhibiting ankle bracelet and about to be put under house arrest until he proves to Samson that there is in fact a major cover-up going on. Dr. Maya Henson, the woman from the “Extremis” story line that created the virus (and later administered it to Stark), had faked her suicide and gone to work for a pharmaceutical company to continue Extremis’ research and development.

Unfortunately for everyone, the company is run by The Mandarin, Iron Man’s old nemesis. The Mandarin’s return was teased in Iron Man’s previous story arc, and in a classic comic book clash only Stark believed that he was back. The Mandarin is a fun villain in how he manipulates Dr. Henson, and in the end his desire is to unleash Extremis upon the world, forcing humanity to evolve with it even if ninety-seven point five percent of the world will die in the process.

With a massive eight issues to explore a fairly simple story, “Haunted” really takes its time diving into Stark’s stressful investigation, as well as the political ramifications of being the Director of SHIELD. When they finally discover The Mandarin and his plan, Stark battles him in an older, non Extremis-powered armor and has SHIELD deploy a special self-contained nuke on the entire research facility.

iron man #27

It’s an effective measure (though Mandarin escapes, it’s only issue #26!) but I liked that Stark has to then answer for dropping a nuclear weapon on American soil. The government is not pleased and just as he’s rendered guilty, his SHIELD supporting cast of Maria Hill and Tim Dugan bail him out, letting him escape to hunt down the Mandarin and prove that he’s still out there with a biological weapon.

iron man #26The end wraps up rather quickly in the final two issues as Stark is able to pinpoint Mandarin’s location relatively quickly to the exact company he happens to be at in China, then flies right through the building and begins the final melee showdown that lasts several brutalizing pages. It’s a violent final battle that ends when Iron Man rips Mandarin’s trademark rings that were embedded in his spine right out, and taps into the Extremis-filled missiles to make them harmlessly detonate up in the stratosphere where the cold kills the virus.

Tony Stark saves the day and is vindicated of all charges. For a long story arc containing a minimum of supporting cast, “Haunted,” captured my attention throughout each issue. My only complaint is that Maya Henson is reduced to a manipulated damsel in distress, and in the end is rescued by Stark with a kiss (so she believes it’s really him), which is a cheesy cliché that the comic had otherwise managed to avoid.

If Iron Man were an ongoing TV show this story would’ve made a great half-season or mini-series, and the writing sensibilities definitely reflect a television format. I especially enjoy that it integrated Stark’s past characters and stories into a strong culmination that includes his oldest and greatest foe, even if he defeats him a bit too easily.