Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2

The X-Men go to war with Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers, and the fate of mutantkind leads to a creation of yet another new home.

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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!

uncanny x-men complete collction vol 2Writer: Matt Fraction

Artists: Yanick Paquette, Greg Land, Terry Dodson, Marc Silvestri, Luke Ross, Alan Davis

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963) #512-519, Dark Avengers (2009) #7-8, Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men Utopia One-Shot, Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men Exodus One-Shot*

*I also included relevant tie-ins X-Men Legacy #226-227 and X-Men: Nation X #1-4

 

“Hello again. My name is Scott Summers and I’ve been an X-Man since I was fifteen. And like everyone else here, I’ve been a mutant all my life.”

I was originally going to open with “It was a time of upheaval for our beloved mutants,” but honestly it’s always a damn time of upheaval. From House of M to Emperor Vulcan and the Shi’ar Empire to Messiah Complex, the X-Men have barely had a chance to tell more character-focused, one-off stories before being whisked away to the next major event.

If you can’t already tell from the cavalcade of artists and issues included in this collected volume, this is yet another major event. To Marvel’s credit, most of these events do change the status quo of X-Men and mutants quite a bit, from destroying Xavier’s school to moving the X-Men West to San Francisco.

The Complete Collection Volume 2 covers the Dark Reign era – circa 2009. The X-Men are involved in a growing escalation of anti-mutant hatred in the not-so-progressive city of San Francisco, eventually clashing with Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers. A new Dark X-Men team is temporarily created by Emma Frost, and Scott shows off his Wartime Consigliere skills when he creates yet another new home for mutantkind by dredging up a surprising location. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Dark Avengers, Vol. 1

Norman Osborn leads his own team of ex-villain Avengers as part of his Dark Reign takeover of Marvel.

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: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Issues: Dark Avengers #1-6

 

“My name is Norman Osborn, and I approve these Dark Avengers.”

The time period around 2009, Dark Reign, was Marvel’s not so subtle attempt at The Empire Strikes Back – a dark middle chapter where the villains seemingly win and the good guys go into hiding.

The political and social waves hit a crescendo during the skrull Secret Invasion. As then Director of SHIELD, Tony Stark was blamed for much of the disaster, while Norman Osborn and his team of Thunderbolts saved the day in the end. Thanks to some savvy manipulations, the former Green Goblin is given Stark’s job, dissolves SHIELD and creates HAMMER (“We’ll come up with what it stands for later”).

As part of his newly expanded role, Osborn creates his own Avengers squad. He has the keys to Avengers tower and brings in most of his Thunderbolts and a few new faces to create a villainous squad masquerading as heroes – which is exactly what the Thunderbolts were minus the literal donning of hero costumes. (Interestingly the Thunderbolts series would continue with a different team full of D-listers).

Most of the original Mighty Avengers squad get the hell out of dodge, with the exception of the easily manipulated, mentally disabled Sentry and aggressive God of War Ares. They’re joined by former Thunderbolts Venom (with drugs that allow him to look like black-suited Spider-Man), Bullseye (wearing Hawkeye’s costume), and Moonstone (dressed as Ms. Marvel’s Binary costume). Osborn brings in Daken (dressed as his father, Wolverine) and Noh-Var (Marvel Boy, pretending to me Captain Marvel). Finally Osborn himself suits up in one of Iron Man’s armors, calling himself Iron Patriot.

Dark Avengers #1

Whew, confused yet? That’s quite the roster, and pretty awful when it comes to diversity. Like Thunderbolts this is a team of not-quite reformed villains. The in-fighting and drama is high in every issue, though with so many members it’s often a montage of one-liners and quick scenes.

The first Volume highlights one major story arc in the first four issues. Dr. Doom returns to Latveria only to be attacked by a pissed off Morgana Le Fay. The two engage in a heated magical battle that leaves Doom disabled, and the Dark Avengers are flown in to help him.

Mike Deodato’s artwork is absolutely breathtaking. I’m pretty sure he’s my favorite Marvel artist of everything I’ve seen thus far. The colors are deep and vibrant, characters look amazing while avoiding the glossy look (cough Greg Land cough) and action sequences are just incredible. Deodato loves the two-page spreads – even with scenes that are little more than extended dialogue sequences. Scenes are given dynamic poses and interesting panel construction that make everything that much more exciting to read. It’s a visual feast in every issue, and Deodato’s art absolutely elevates the otherwise so-so storytelling.

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Eventually Osborn works with Doom to defeat Morgana. The whole story boils down to one big action sequence with Morgana’s magic demons, and because the art is so great it’s fun as hell.

Afterward the Dark Avengers are given a whole issue to lick their wounds and explore the team’s volatile dynamic – Venom is fed victims of each battle, Bullseye is still a barely hinged psychopath, Moonstone has her own agenda, and Noh-Var has disappeared. The most interesting is Osborn’s interaction with the Sentry. He goes full on psychotherapist and uses his own very real inner demon to help Sentry cope with his. It actually paints Osborn in a favorable, sympathetic light, even though he’s using the Sentry as a powerful weapon.

Osborn soon has need for his ultimate weapon when a random Atlantean terrorist cell attacks. Namor is brought in as a brief but delicious cameo as someone that doesn’t take any of Osborn’s shit. Instead of seguing into another action-packed battle with the team, they send Sentry to basically kill them all.

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Osborn only barely holds the team together and his grasp is constantly paper thin. I enjoy the way Bendis writes Osborn and focuses on his political savvy when it comes to public relations, like in a scene where the real Hawkeye denounces Osborn publicly on air, and Osborn is forced to make a statement. His interaction as babysitter and general for the team remains enjoyable throughout the volume, and ends with his own inner demon – the Green Goblin, calling to him.

Dark Avengers is a neat idea, though this first volume mostly plays it safe and retreads much of the same road walked by Thunderbolts (who’s Ultimate Collection was also drawn by Deodato). As the Dark Avengers their profiles are much higher, but the implication that they’re pretending to be the heroes they’re not is sadly not fully explored. I definitely hope Bendis gives these cool concepts a chance to grow. As it is this first volume is still a fun romp, made extra awesome with Deodato’s fantastic art.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Thunderbolts: Secret Invasion, Burning Down the House

The major status-quo shifting Thunderbolts issues are fun, but sadly feel the abrupt blow of multiple creative team shifts since the exemplary run of Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato.

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!

thunderbolts coverWriters: Christos Gage (#122-125), Andy Diggle (#126-129)

Artists: Fernando Blanco (#122-125), Roberto De La Torre (#126-129)

Issues: Thunderbolts (2006) #122-129

 

The biggest change in the Marvel status quo after Secret Invasion lie within Thunderbolts. I was eager to jump in with its tie-ins and see just how Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) would go from the leader of his own quirky villains-on-a-leash super team to leader of his own SHIELD-like government security force.

Osborn’s leadership cast a shadow over the entire Marvel universe in 2009, known as Dark Reign. First he had to manipulate events around the Secret Invasion in his favor, painting his team and technology as the main rescuers of the event. He used the Invasion to come out as a hero, and convince the American government that they needed to crack down on security – with Osborn in charge of course. The lead-up events in Thunderbolts are decently fun, but sadly feel the abrupt blow of multiple creative team shifts since the exemplary run of Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato.

The four issue Secret Invasion tie-ins present a much muddier, less detailed art style that immediately made me pine for Deodato’s phenomenal work in the previous collected volume. The story explains how the Thunderbolts crew escaped from the skrull-Captain Marvel attack on Thunderbolts Mountain – basically Norman Osborn just sits down and talks with the already confused and doubting alien.

Afterward the team packs up and goes to Washington D.C., where Osborn correctly presumes they can not only fight lots of skrulls, but do it while on camera and while protecting important monuments. At one point, Osborn actually stabs a skrull with the American Flag.

thunderbolts #123

There’s the usual team tension that’s always threatening to divide them, especially since the insane events at the end of “Caged Angels.” Songbird and Radioactive Man are the few veteran Thunderbolts that predate Osborn’s takeover and really do want to redeem themselves. Moonstone and Swordsman are veterans but also still very manipulative and evil. Venom and Bullseye are completely evil and mostly insane, and present a constant problem for everyone else.

It’s a delicious team dynamic that makes the series fun, and this drama persists nicely during their war with the skrulls. Swordsman’s sister comes back mysteriously and everyone thinks she’s a skrull. Venom gets loose and looks like he’s going to kill a bunch of innocent people – then they turn out to be skrulls! And Songbird realizes that Norman has far grander plans than leader of the Thunderbolts.

thunderbolts #125In the main Secret Invasion story it’s revealed that Norman Osborn gets the final kill-shot on Skrull Queen Veranke, becoming the symbolic hero. Osborn quickly uses the spotlight to denounce Stark, the Avengers, and SHIELD. Eventually he sets up HAMMER, brings together a Cabal of supervillains, and creates a new team of Thunderbolts as his personal hit squad.

What does that mean for the old team? The aptly named “Burning Down the House” has Osborn and Moonstone pulling the switch to burn and dismantle the rest of the team. Songbird has been our primary protagonist since the beginning, and she’s an effective point of view for the dramatic events that explode around her.

Moonstone drugs Penance and has him locked up. Bullseye and Venom are both cut loose. Radioactive Man is deported back to China. Songbird is all alone and hunted, but she still gets the better of them by taking the Zeus plane and escaping in a fiery wreckage with a little help from Swordsman.

It’s a great way for a massive shift in story and roster, and the two-issue event leads into the next one, “Hammer Down,” starring Osborn negotiating for his new position with the President on Air Force One.

Here we really get to see what a brilliant mastermind Norman Osborn is, as he sets up an elaborate multi-pronged mid-air attack on the plane. Once again he paints himself as this grand patriotic hero, and cleverly has someone else wear the Green Goblin suit to further exonerate himself from the events of “Caged Angels.”

Roberto De La Torre’s artwork (which I recognized from his work on Iron Man: Director of SHIELD) is a lot darker and more shaded, a style I really enjoy. The action is explosive, and we’re introduced to the new Thunderbolts team of Headsman, Ant-Man, Ghost, Paladin, and Black Widow II in a pretty fun way.

thunderbolts #129

Despite the fun events surrounding Norman Osborn’s rise and the former team’s complete dismantling, I’m not sure how on board I am with this suddenly all new crew of villains working for the government. I felt like the old team barely had enough time to get some real story and growth before the skrull-shit hit the fan, and now all these big changes may have completely changed what the Thunderbolts series is.

Or maybe I’m worrying for no reason, as the series would last for nearly fifty more issues, all the way into 2012! If anything the series has been able to successfully adapt to the craziness that is the constantly shifting Marvel Universe, and made Songbird one of my favorite heroines.