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.

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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!

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 – 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 – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 7

Volume Seven acts as a prologue to Secret Invasion as our heroes reel from the discovery of a disguised Skrull and the implications of a major Body Snatchers-style 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 2005 vol 7Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Leinil Francis Yu, Carlo Pagulayan (Annual #2)

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #32-37, Annual #2

 

Poor New Avengers. You started off as the primary Avengers trade following the events of “Disassembled.” Then Tony Stark won the Civil War and the rebels of the New Avengers went underground, refusing to register but also not wanting to disband. Stark built his own government-sanctioned Mighty Avengers team, leading to two concurrent Avengers trades for the next few years.

So far Mighty Avengers has benefited from all the big stories while our rebel team mostly picks up the pieces and ties into the story-lines of their bigger brothers, first briefly in the “Ultron Initiative” then directly during the “Venom Bomb” crisis. More importantly, this seventh volume acts as a giant extended prologue to the then-upcoming major event Secret Invasion in 2008 as our heroes reel from the discovery of a disguised Skrull and the implications of a major Body Snatchers-style invasion.

“The Trust” revels in the horror (and dark comedy) of the team suddenly unable to trust each other after revealing that Elektra was really a disguised skrull at the end of the previous story arc. Spider-Man especially gets some genuinely funny dialogue (“Maybe I’m a skrull? Or maybe all of you are skrulls and I’m on the universe’s weirdest reality show”). The first few issues involve the roster of Dr. Strange, Hawkeye (as costumed ninja Ronin), Echo, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist arguing amongst themselves.

Spider-Woman defects from the team during the violent weather attacks produced by Ultron during the first story arc of Mighty Avengers. Her plan is to take the skrull body to Tony Stark to make him aware of a possible invasion. The rest of the team is justifiably worried that Tony Stark could easily be a supplanted skrull himself. The plane carrying the team goes down in a lightning storm, leaving Spider-Woman able to take down a wounded Wolverine and escape with the body (and we later see her carry through with her plan to talk to Tony Stark in Mighty Avengers #7), and at that point she officially joins with the Mighty Avengers.

There isn’t much of an actual plot for the first few issues until we’re introduced to a new villain organization, organized by The Hood. The Hood, a dual-pistol wielding, demonic entity powering badass, gathers a bunch of D-list bad guys into trying to form a criminal organization to take advantage of the fractured superhero community.

new avengers #34

Since the Mighty Avengers are tackling bigger problems, our group takes on the Hood’s head-on. It’s also approrpriate as the New Avengers roster includes some of the more well known “street level” heroes like Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The gritty battles and dialogue scenes are accentuated by Leinil Yu’s incredibly stark, pencil-heavy art style.

Yu took over as the main artist for New Avengers after Civil War and the dark shaded art provides a very strong contrast to Mighty Avengers‘ bright, typical tones. In fact this style is more in line with experimental stuff you’d see on random solo books rather than a major Avengers tie-in series. Kudos to Marvel for differentiating their two Marvel books, and really making New Avengers a unique and fun read.

The story concludes in New Avengers Annual #2 as The Hood’s gang assaults the magically hidden sanctum of Dr. Strange that’s acted as the Avenger’s hidden base of operations. They found the location through a very uncomfortable side plot involving beating, torturing, and threatening a completely random (and mostly naked) female hero, Tigra. Heroes getting brutally beaten is nothing new, but the violence factor is suddenly ratcheted up to a degree that hadn’t been seen previously (or again, as in the final battle), and takes on a very sinister tone as our heroine is mostly naked throughout and one of the bad guys is filming it and taking pictures, so that the rest of the bad guys can cheer and laugh. Ugh.

The Hood threatens to kill her and her mother as revenge for a previous attack she had foiled, and they use her again to get the location of Dr. Strange’s base. At least in the end she does get to join in the final battle as the bad guys attack the New Avengers. Yu’s style lends itself more to moody dialogue scenes than standard comic book action, and indeed the art is best when it focuses on one-on-one fight scenes rather than grand multi-hero stagings.

Just as our heroes begin to lose the fight (they’re outnumbered at least two to one) an already wounded (like, presumed dead) Dr. Strange basically hulks out in demon form, taking everyone down but draining himself considerably. Only the Hood escapes, and Dr. Strange decides to permanently leave the group as he’s been losing more and more of himself in these events.

new avengers annual #2

Ms. Marvel of the Mighty Avengers shows up with SHIELD to help incarcerate the bad guys, and to her credit she lets our rebel heroes escape. Of the villain crew only The Hood escapes, an intriguing villain I definitely want to see more of. Initially I was worried about the villain organization plot thread to merely be a minor stepping stone between Secret Invasion but it ended up with a fun, satisfying finale, and other than the super uncomfortable stuff with Tigra, I really enjoyed it. Yu’s artwork continues to be memorable and different, and our New Avengers are a fun team to read about with lots of varying personalities and witty banter. I certainly root for them way more than Stark and Ms. Marvel’s incredibly lame team, and look forward to their tie-ins to Secret Invasion, coming up next!

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 – 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 – Mighty Avengers (2007), Vol. 1-2

Iron Man’s officially government-sanctioned Avengers team is born from the ashes of the Civil War, and it’s mostly stupid fun.

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

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

mighty avengers 2007 coverWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Frank Cho, Mark Bagley

Issues: Mighty Avengers (2007) #1-11

At the end of the superhero Civil War the rebellious New Avengers were defeated and went into hiding, spurring new SHIELD Director Tony Stark to sanction his own official Avengers team. He dubbed them the Mighty Avengers – inadvertently coined by Ms. Marvel.

Stark of course joins the team making him a bit of a Wolverine in this era in terms of how spread out he is: here in Mighty Avengers, his own solo Iron Man series, as a major character in Captain America, etc. He chooses Ms. Marvel to actually lead the team (given her military background and experience), and together the two pick and choose the best of the best.

In New Avengers the team came together organically over a major crisis – a supervillain prison breakout, and the heroes that showed up and worked together ended up forming a team amidst the chaos. None of that happens in Mighty Avengers; instead it goes the Armageddon route and simply goes around recruiting people in a page by page montage (with flashbacks to their recruitment throughout the first few issues). Carol and Tony discuss people like they’re trading cards (“we need a Wolverine”) and then go recruit them. It’s all a bit silly and not terribly interesting, but at least they select a fairly varied team in terms of power level and background.

The initial team that joins Ms. Marvel and Iron Man are The Wasp, The Sentry, Wonder Man, Black Widow and Ares (“He’s a Wolverine and a Thor!” Ugh). Before they can even get an official Welcome to the Group meeting, Iron Man is suddenly melted and transformed into a weird, naked lady version of Ultron after a seemingly random attack by Mole-man. In the “Ultron Initiative” (#1-6) Fem-Ultron hijacks some weather satellites and tries to wreck havoc on the whole planet, while our heroes unsuccessfully hurl themselves at it.

As a side note, I completely hate the Sentry. What started off as an interesting take on a Superman-level powerful hero with severe mental issues has devolved into a Get Out of Situation Free card for comic writers. He has the power of a thousand exploding suns! Great.

Mighty Avengers #1b

The story is incredibly dumb and I detest the way Bendis writes each panel. He includes the inner thought bubble of all our heroes, sometimes in the middle of them talking. This makes every page have an insane amount of words and often makes just trying to suss out a single dialogue session a confusing mess. I generally like Bendis’ dialogue and writing but this method just fails spectacularly. Trying to do the inner monologue thing (normally reserved for solo books or single character focuses) for half a dozen characters is a nightmare and doesn’t add anything to the story.

I’m also not a fan of Frank Cho’s art work. It’s not terrible but it’s just slightly worse than what I consider base-line brightly colored action-adventure comic fair, and includes a hefty does of constant T&A from the women heroes that I wasn’t a big fan of.

To put a cherry on this ill-conceived return of Ultron (who mostly just stands there for five issues and occasionally throws a charging hero to the ground), they enlist the help of Hank Pym, Wasp’s ex-husband, to create a computer virus and introduce it to Ultron.

Yep, they Independence Day Ultron. Good job guys.

mighty avengers #2

 

As a side note I really enjoy how Bendis writes Hank and his dialogue with Janet is especially delicious, but even his enjoyable guest-starring isn’t enough to save this train-wreck of an opening story.

Volume 2, “Venom Bomb” (#7-11) is a massive improvement, picking up right after the last panel of New Avengers #31. Issue #7 has Spider-Woman showing up at Stark’s bedside with the glaring body of Skrull-Elektra. The titling of the issue has the Secret Invasion stamp on it, acting as an early prologue to the upcoming event. The entire issue is mostly just Stark and Jessica Drew talking about the ramifications of a possible secret Skrull invasion, and it’s actually pretty great.

Their talks end with Spider-Woman officially joining the Mighty Avengers, effectively switching sides, and Stark grants her a slot much to many of the team’s chagrin. Before anyone can really voice a complaint, something suspicious falls to earth from the wreckage of Stark’s weather satellites from the previous story arc. It’s a venom-style symbiote! Only this one acts like a virus and beings mutating everyone in New York City into Venom/Carnage monsters.

The Mighty Avengers are on the scene, and finally we get some action-packed scenes of our heroes kicking ass. Granted they soon have to pull up once they realize that all the monsters are really just possessed people. To create more chaos the New Avengers show up also as venom symbiote monsters (save Luke Cage), and there’s a funny bit where Wolverine’s healing factor keeps trying to push out the symbiote. Poor Wolverine.

Mighty avengers #8

The whole thing is over in a single issue as Stark simply goes to his lab and synthesizes a cure, then blasts it over New York. Very anti-climactic and short, but it leads to the team discovering the “Venom Bomb” belonged to Dr. Doom, so it’s off to Latveria! As if battling hundreds of symbiotes weren’t enough our heroes throw down with hundreds of doom bots after Ares crashes a plane right into Doom’s castle.

No less than three full two-page spreads of the team fighting off doombots jump out as a lovely feast for the eyes. Mark Bagley is an improvement in the art department, and it’s very much that classic modern comic book feel that is very appropriate to the tone and feel of the series.

The attack on Doom (whom quickly becomes one of my favorite villains and I adore Bendis’ treatment of him) leads to he, Iron Man and Sentry being thrust back in time to the 60s via Doom’s time-travel device. While an opportunity for some funny and cheesy moments are mostly wasted, I did love the old Jack Kirby, Silver Age style in which the time-travel issue is drawn.

Like all their problems it’s solved with a combination of Stark’s ideas and Sentry’s insane power level and they quickly return to their time an issue later. The entire story arc of Volume 2 is a rapid fire of big events happening every single issue. If the idea was to make up for the lackluster and boring “Ultron Initiative” it definitely succeeds.

mighty avengers #9

Dr. Doom is finally apprehended as Iron Man gets his Respect Mah Authority moment. I’m annoyed that throughout these two first volumes the focus centers on Iron Man more than anyone else. I get that he’s obviously the most popular hero (although Ms. Marvel was also gaining popularity at this time with her own solo series) but as I mentioned before, Iron Man is damn near everywhere. As stupid as heroes like Ares and Wonder Man are (answer = very, very stupid) I wouldn’t mind seeing at least a bit more team dynamic, drama, in-fighting and characterization that’s in every other successful team-up book.

With too much focus on Iron Man, a silly team and a terrible first outing, Mighty Avengers is off to a very shaky start. It definitely feels like the Michael Bay of comic stories – some fun action if you can mostly shut your brain down. I did like the way that it incorporates the greater continuity and the nonstop action in the second volume is an admittedly fun ride. But, come on Tony, let the rest of the team do something every once in awhile.

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.

new avengers #30

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?