Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Nova (2007) Vol. 3-4

Nova battles Galactus and the Silver Surfer before defending Earth during the 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!

marvelWriters: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artist: Wellington Alves

Issues: Nova (2007) #13-22

 

Note: For my Final Thoughts on Nova Vol. 1-2, see Annihilation: Conquest

Marvel’s cosmic stories hit a renaissance of high-stakes plots, epic galactic-spanning conquests, and larger-than-life heroes and villains in the mid 2000s. Nova, aka Richard Rider, aka the Human Rocket received a massive power upgrade as the sole survivor of the Nova Force after Annihilus’ army wiped out Xandar. His love/hate relationship with his Jarvis-like omnipresent collective AI known as the Worldmind became a fun and intriguing plot tool, and Nova was well utilized throughout the Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest mega-events.

There’s only the briefest of breaks in the action before Secret Invasion pulls Nova to Earth, and from there the plot quickly paves the way for the next big cosmic clash of War of Kings. While I enjoyed the Silver Age heroics of our space-faring hero, I wish he had more time to plant some roots and thrive as a solo hero rather than being whisked away from one big crossover event to the other. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Nova (2007) Vol. 3-4”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Factor, Vol. 6-7

The Secret Invasion tie-ins are awful but the rest is amazing, and X-Factor remains one of my favorite comics to read.

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!

x-factor volume 7Writer: Peter David

Artist: Larry Stroman (#33-36, 38), Valentine De Landro (#37, 39-45)

Issues: X-Factor #33-45

 

You know that TV show you love? The familiar characters that feel like long lost friends or a second family. The zany situations and clever callbacks that reward viewer commitment. The perfect blend of drama, comedy, and action.

I’ve read a lot of comics since subscribing to Marvel Unlimited digital service and I think I’m ready to declare that Peter David’s X-Factor is my favorite series to read.

As much prepared praise as I have for Volume 7, Volume 6 is actually quite terribly. Half Secret Invasion tie-in and half bringing in new characters in a regurgitated plot of bad guys experimenting on mutants, Volume 6 is also cursed with some of the worst art I’ve ever seen. Characters look like deformed alien monkeys with zero adherence to proportion or skeletal structure. It’s distractedly awful and even a stellar story would struggle to climb its way out of that mess.

The story is less than stellar. Thankfully the Secret Invasion tie-ins are only two issues long, as well as pointlessly crossing over with an issue of She-Hulk. I think it literally boils down to a random street fight with a single skrull.

It does introduce two new X-Factor members – dimensional playboy Longshot with his nebulous probability powers, and the constantly evolving Darwin fresh off the X-Men’s space adventures. Both end up as surprisingly neat characters in David’s capable hands, but in the immediate story following event tie-ins Darwin is captured and the rest of the team are hired to rescue him. It’s familiar ground that the comic has disappointingly tread before in the Complete Collection Volume 1, and wraps up all too easily.

x-factor #39It’s pretty rare for any story to go from its lowest point immediately to its highest, but that’s exactly what happens between Volumes 6 and 7. Syren is pregnant with Jamie’s baby from a drunken tryst during the Complete Collection Volume 2 that may or may not have involved one of his duplicates, and her water breaks right at the end of Volume 6.

In Volume 7, “Time and a Half,” the team rushes to the hospital for the dramatic birth. There’s an intriguing side story with Val Cooper of the O.N.E. trying to protect them. The mutants of X-Factor are understandably resentful of her involvement and fear for the baby, and once again David turns a seemingly minor throwaway character from a different comic into an interesting cast member.

Turns out the one they needed to fear was Madrox himself. In a supremely dark twist, Madrox holds his son for the first time only to absorb him like he does all his dupes. The baby was really the child of a dupe! Syren completely flips out and attacks him and the drama surrounding the event is deliciously crazy and awesome. Madrox’s unique powers and multiple personalities is fascinating, and together with his noir-ish inner monologue make Madrox one of the most compelling characters in Marvel comics.

Madrox reaches a low point and becomes suicidal as he leaves the team to search for a dupe he’d met earlier in the series (another awesome callback). John Madrox represents a life Jamie doesn’t have – a community leader and a loving family. Just when Jamie prepares to off himself, who should show up but the future-flung former member of X-Factor – the teenage psychic Layla Miller, now all grown up.

x-factor #42Layla (who’d teased earlier in the series that they’d be married some day), brings Madrox to the dystopian future of the Summers Rebellion. It picks up a lot of pieces from the Lalya Miller One-Shot but also acts decently on its own, considering there’s about four other stories happening concurrently. Syren and Val have a heart-to-heart girl bonding session over miscarriage. Guido and Rictor visit John Madrox only to be attacked by a mind-controlled Shatterstar. Darwin and Monet guard a new client who’s worried someone’s trying to kill her.

All the plot threads start coming together in a cool way, involving yet another mutant-targeting organization, but at least this one seems to tie in tons of previous events as well as drawing everyone together despite their different situations – and in some cases, timelines.

I say “seems to” because Volume 7 actually ends at a cliffhanger, to be resolved  in Volume 8. I try to organize these Final Thoughts so I’m not trying to cram too many issues in one write-up, but it was really hard not to sprint ahead and read Volume 8. Volume 7 had so many incredible moments and big plot-centric payoffs, and a big reason for that is maintaining the same comic show-runner throughout its run.

X-Factor has that perfect balance of soothing familiarity and exciting changes, all of which have been fantastic. My advice: skip Volume 6, “Secret Invasion” but read everything else, because X-Factor is nothing short of amazing.

x-factor #43

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ms. Marvel (2006), Vol. 5-6

Vol. 5-6 represent Carol’s best work as she fights off the skrulls in the Secret Invasion, then explores her past with the Air Force.

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!

Ms Marvel vol 6Writer: Brian Reed

Artist: Adriana Melo, Paulo Siqueira

Issues: Ms. Marvel (2006) #25-34, Ms. Marvel Annual, Ms. Marvel Storyteller

 

Ms. Marvel (that’s the Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel 2006-10 comic) has skirted along my reading schedule by often remaining just good enough to keep me reading regularly. The light but enjoyable tone from writer Brian Reed and decent art has kept me invested even when the series dips a little too far into typical silly comic plots and drama.

She definitely finds her groove in her fifth and sixth volumes, as we dive into her one-woman army approach to the Secret Invasion, followed by a surprisingly fun, intrigue-laden turn as we explore Carol Danvers as an Air Force Espionage Agent before she became a superhero.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ms. Marvel (2006), Vol. 5-6”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Deadpool: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

Deadpool is in good hands with a lively art style and excellent writing that explores his delightful insanity and penchant for mayhem.

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

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

Deadpool Complete Collection vol 1Writers: Daniel Way (Wolverine: Origins, Deadpool), Andy Diggle (Thunderbolts)

Artists: Steve Dillon (Wolverine: Origins), Paco Medina (#1-4, #6-12), Carlo Barberi (#4-5), Bong Dazo (Thunderbolts)

Issues: Deadpool (2008) #1-12, Thunderbolts #130-131, Wolverine: Origins #21-25

 

Ah, Deadpool. The Merc with a Mouth. Everyone’s favorite anti-hero. On the surface a GI Joe reject that constantly spouts one-liners and non-sequiturs should be the dumbest thing to come out of the 90s. Instead, Deadpool has become one of the most beloved figures in the Marvel Universe, and I’m inclined to agree. His witty retorts and likable (and somehow relatable) attitude is a refreshing change from the many brooding and angsty jerks that parade in costumes.

Coming off the very successful Cable & Deadpool run (four yeas and fifty issues, which I loved), Wade Wilson stars in his first solo series in years. While I was a bit annoyed by the constant crossovers with then-current Marvel events and other series, Deadpool is in good hands with a lively art style and excellent writing that explores his delightful insanity and penchant for mayhem.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Deadpool: The Complete Collection Vol. 1”

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.

 

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: 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