Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 10-12

Brian Michael Bendis is in top form with the flagship Avengers series as they battle the Dark 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!

New Avengers vol 10Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Billy Tan, Chris Bachalo, Stuart Immonen

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #48-60

 

The New Avengers (2005-2010) was really Brian Michael Bendis’ baby. Bendis has been the primary architect of Marvel’s overarching universe and event-ridden stories throughout the era I’m reading and well beyond. For that reason New Avengers could be considered the flagship Marvel series, involving one of the better team matchups and solid writing. These final three volumes before the big Siege event of 2010 represent one of the better Dark Reign stories – as it should since Bendis also penned Dark Avengers.

Volume 10, “Power” (#48-50) represents the short epilogue and transition out of Secret Invasion. It picks up immediately after the final battle and focuses on the dangling plot thread of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby daughter being taken by the skrull-Jarvis. There’s a brief man hunt that’s displayed as a fun montage. Finally Luke Cage goes to the one man with all the power to find someone – Norman Osborn, currently reigning top cop of HAMMER.

Osborn quickly tracks down the skrull hideout, Luke gets the baby, and Bullseye murders the skrull with a sniper rifle. Instead of agreeing to join up with Osborn’s Dark Avengers team, Luke Cage beats the shit out of Venom and Bullseye, then escapes. It’s a surprising and badass moment, and Bendis would continue to do a lot of cool things that really shows off Luke Cage’s character and personality.

Billy Tan does the art throughout Volumes 10-11, but Marvel uses a few other artists to fill out special scenes like backstories. I love Tan’s use of bold colors and giant, page-filling characters. The action looks great and the comic probably has more giant double-page spreads than anything else I’ve read. And they’re not all action! Bendis loves to use extended dialogue scenes with lots of panels on a full two-page spread, and it works really well thanks to the snappy, witty dialogue. Bendis excels at these team-up books with multiple characters playing off each other, and I found myself laughing out loud almost as much as a Deadpool comic. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 10-12”

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 – 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?

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America

The death of a major character isn’t exactly treading new water. It’s happened countless times and become a bit of a running joke. Still, Captain America is just about the highest-profile character that Marvel had targeted in some time, and his death is treated with all the emotional gravitas and status-quo altering implications you would expect.

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!

fallen son coverWriter: Jeph Loeb

Artists: John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita, Leinil Francis Yu

Issues: Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #1-5

Captain America’s famous death at the end of the superhero Civil War presents a bit of a tricky problem in the way I organize my Final Thoughts. I typically read a collected Volume (or several) or omnibus of a single series, then write about it.

The problem is that Cap doesn’t actually die at the end of Civil War he’s arrested after he willingly surrenders to prevent more devastation. A few months go by in Early 2007 before his trial in Captain America #25, and it’s there that he’s gunned down by a combination of Crossbone’s sniper rifle and a brainwashed Sharon Carter. That crucial issue is part of a massive collected omnibus (also titled The Death of Captain America) that begins with issue #22 (Cap’s Civil War tie-ins) all the way to #42, which covers nearly two years.

Thus I would either have to break up that omnibus into multiple Final Thoughts, or wait and talk about Cap’s important death far into the future. Neither are great options. Thankfully the solution presents itself quite nicely in the form of this lovely limited series.

Fallen Son was written as a tribute to Steve Rogers’ legacy, allowing some of the biggest heroes in Marvel to reflect and deal with his tragic death in their own ways. Each of the five issues includes a different artist, showcasing a myriad of styles (from fantastic to okay). Each issue was cleverly written to represent the classic five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Fallen son #2“Denial” stars Wolverine (perfect!) who just can’t believe Cap is really dead. With the help of Dr. Strange’s magic, he and Daredevil infiltrate the SHIELD helicarrier, interrogating Crossbones and finally seeing Cap’s body for themselves. The reeling New Avengers and newly formed, government-sanctioned Mighty Avengers crossover in the interesting “Anger” issue. Most of the issue is constructed with the two very different stories going on side-by-side, as each group supposedly works through their emotions. Iron Man’s team fights off Tiger Shark and a bunch of sea monsters, while the New Avengers tackle a less action-packed but far more intriguing poker game that nearly comes to blows between the arguing heroes.

Spider-man leaves the group in a huff, segueing nicely into the fourth issue where he visits a graveyard; all his personal losses come bubbling up in a fantastic rain-soaked cemetery. The only one that really fell flat for me was the third issue, “Bargaining,” which stars a recently resurrected Hawkeye as Iron Man offers him the job of wearing the shield and uniform of Captain America. It crosses over with some of the super lame Young Avengers and the art is the worst of the bunch.

The final issue pays off in the form of Captain America’s funeral, an impressive set-piece in Washington D.C. filled with most of the winning side of the war. Falcon, Cap’s longtime partner, gives a stirring speech that lasts nearly the length of the issue, cutting away nicely to various famous scenes of Captain America, both old and new. Tony Stark meanwhile continues to look like a complete and utter asshole, event when he’s supposed to be remorseful and guilt-stricken.

fallen son #5

The death of a major character isn’t exactly treading new water. It’s happened countless times and become a bit of a running joke. Still, Captain America is just about the highest-profile character that Marvel had targeted in some time, and his death is treated with all the emotional gravitas and status-quo altering implications you would expect. It flows out naturally from Civil War and helps set the state of the fear-mongering, government-controlled era in the Marvelverse that would persist for the next three years (Cap himself comes back in two, still an impressively long time for any hero).

Civil War is about as required reading as you can get, and Fallen Son acts as both a wonderfully somber epilogue to those events, as well as a fitting tribute to one of Marvel’s greatest all time heroes. Rest in Peace, Cap.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Civil War

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

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

Civil War #1Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Steve McNiven

Issues: Civil War #1-7*

*I also cover the following tie-ins: Iron Man: Civil War, Civil War: Thunderbolts, The Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War, Civil War: Choosing Sides, Civil War: The Confession

 

“Was it worth it?”

In the excellent one-shot issue Civil War: The Confession, written a few months after the main events of Civil War, Tony Stark visits Captain America on the helicarrier and spends about a dozen pages trying to justify why he did what he did, eventually breaking down crying. The last panel reveals that Stark had been talking to the body of the murdered Steve Rogers, and he quietly sobbed the reply that Cap had asked him when he was first arrested – “It wasn’t worth it.”

Civil War marked a huge turning point in Marvel comics production. While House of M successfully pulled together many of Marvel’s heroes and included numerous tie-ins, it had the distinct advantage of taking place in an entirely different reality (though it did have long-lasting consequences).

The events of Civil War built upon the longstanding X-Men plot hook of the Mutant Registration Act, only this time applying it to all costumed superheroes (and oddly enough leaving the X-Men pretty much out of it). A young group of reality TV starring superheroes attack a villain hideout, only to get in over their head when they try to apprehend Nitro near a school. Nitro unleashes his explosive attack, killing hundreds of innocent people, including dozens of kids.

The public is understandably outraged in the wake of this tragedy and the Superhuman Registration Act, which requires all super-powered people to officially register with the government (divulging their secret identity among other things) swiftly passes through Congress. Tony Stark had seen this coming in his crossover with Amazing Spider-Man (see The Road to Civil War) and tried to fight it, but with public and political opinion so strongly swayed he immediately decides to switch gears and become the leader and figurehead for registration in an attempt to make the transition as easy as possible.

Captain America is not so easily convinced it’s a good thing, and believes the Act is a gross infringement on the civil rights of superheroes. In the first issue he escapes the SHIELD helicarrier and becomes a wanted man. Soon he gathers together a resistance formed of many of his allies in the New Avengers and Young Avengers to create an underground rebellion, and the core of Civil War is about the two opposing sides.

Civil War is unique among my Final Thoughts as the one TPB and event that I’d actually read before. The story of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 depicts most of Civil War (albeit with a much different final act) and as someone that’d been out of the comic loop for awhile I was interesting in reading about it. I was fairly lost on many points – why is Thor a robot clone, who are the Young Avengers, where are the X-Men, why is Tony Stark such a dick, etc. But as a single seven issue event, it does tell an epic, heart-wrenching story about friendship, politics and the horrors of war.

Re-reading it this many years later and armed with all the rapid comic knowledge I’ve acquired has been immensely rewarding. I get a better understanding of where Stark’s coming form (though he still comes off as a cocky, manipulative jerk in the main story) and I recognize many of the faces that show up to the big battles.

Civil War #6

There are only two direct battles in the main story; the first has the anti-registration team stumbling into a trap set by Stark, and Goliath is killed by Stark’s and Mr. Fantastic’s secret weapon – a clone of Thor called Ragnarok. Many are horrified by the events of that battle (which spans issues #3 and #4), and Sue Richards suddenly switches sides and protects them with a forefield so they can escape. The Fantastic Four are split down the middle as Sue and Johnny flee to join the resistance, while Reed remains a major player for the pro-registration side, designing a prison in the Negative Zone to house all the captured superheroes and villains.

The biggest side-switcher in the conflict is Spider-Man. In the events leading up to Civil War it’s clear he wants to help Stark fight it, and when Stark decides to join up Parker follows suit with his Stark-built spidey-suit. Tony convinces Peter Parker that unmasking on national television would galvanize both the public and the superpowered community into supporting registration, so Spider-Man finally reveals himself as Peter Parker in a memorable scene at the end of issue #2.

Unfortunately this reveal pretty much ruins his life, which is detailed in the excellent Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins. He and his family (Aunt May and Mary Jane) are attacked by mobs of people (both fans and protesters). J. Jonah Jameson blows a gasket and The Daily Bugle sues him for millions. Aunt May is shot and put in a coma. Parker makes Stark take him to the Negative Zone prison, and he’s horrified to learn that they’re imprisoning people permanently for not registering (plus, Reed and Tony are making billions in government contracts).

civil war spider-man editAll this adds up and Peter Parker switches sides, battling Iron Man (after fighting Cap earlier in a fun one-on-one melee) and going on the run before sneaking onto national television to declare his new intentions. I was originally going to skip the Spider-Man tie-ins, as the Spider-verse has a fairly dense continuity and I’ve honestly never been a big spidey-fan, but Civil War really gives him plenty of room to shine and squirm, and he becomes the defacto protagonist trying to do the right thing during a war with terrible things happening on both sides. Even if you’re not a Spider-Man fan, I would highly recommend reading his Civil War tie-ins (including the issues leading up in Road to Civil War) to get a bigger picture of the whole event.

The main trade ends with the epic final battle between the two sides. Cap and company get inside the Negative Zone prison thanks to Black Panther and Punisher sneaking into Stark and Baxter buildlings. Tigra had been spying on the rebels for Stark, so they were there to meet them, but Cap pulls his own ace in the hole, and Hank Pym (Yellowjacket) reveals that he’s been a shape-shifted Hulkling all day, and was able to free everyone that was imprisoned. The giant slug-fest we’ve been waiting or is unleashed in the final issue, but when Cloak tries to teleport everyone out of the prison, he drops them in the middle of New York City and the resulting battle causes widespread collateral damage – exactly the catastrophe this new registration was working to avoid.

Lots of cool little fight scenes break out: Spider-man is faster than Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman fiercely retaliates against Taskmaster when he shoots Reed, Iron Man punches Human Torch in the face, Captain America is beaten up by nanite-controlled supervillains consisting of Lady Deathstrike, Venom and Bullseye, Namor shows up with a bunch of atlanteans to even the odds for the resistance, Vision punches Iron man through the chest while Hercules smashes the Thor clone.

civil war #7It finally ends just as Cap is about to deliver the final blow to a disabled and broken Iron Man. A bunch of civilians tackle Captain America to the ground and beg him to stop. Cap takes a look around at the devastation this war has wrought and weeps, surrendering to nearby authorities and putting an end to the war. In fighting for the values and rights of the people he recognized that it was a costly battle, and he was unwilling to pay the price in innocent lives. It’s a poignant, heart-breaking end as Iron Man’s new Initiative comes to fruition – a registered super team in all fifty states.

Like House of M, Civil War had a massive impact that rippled throughout the Marvel Universe for years to come. The New Avengers series kept going, but centered on the surviving members of the anti-registration resistance who continued to operate in secrecy, while a new official Avengers team was launched in Mighty Avengers. New registered superhero teams would be trained in Avengers: The Initiative. Captain America would be shot and killed a few months after his arrest, though his fantastic solo series would continue on as friends and allies help take up the mantle. The ex-villain Thunderbolts would be gutted and reconstructed as an official supervillians-working-for-superheroes team (with interesting ramifications in the future).

The massive one-shot issue Civil War: Choosing Sides acts similarly to Decimation: The Day After in launching many of the new series in the emerging era, including Irredeemable Ant-Man, Immortal Iron Fist and a new Canadian team to replace Alpha Flight (which was slain during the events of New Avengers Vol. 4) – Omega Flight (which ran for an embarrassing five issues). Oh, and also a randomly funny story involving Howard the Duck trying to register. It was a fun one-shot that was made up of several different stories written and drawn by different people, serving as a nice springboard to multiple new series.

Another massive one-shot issue was written at the end of Civil War, called The Initiative. Like Choosing Sides this comic also included a lot of mini-stories introducing the new teams that emerge from the Superhero Registration Act – namely Omega Flight, Thunderbolts and Mighty Avengers. These one-shot issues helped cement Marvel’s new era of massive events as global game-changers to the status and situations of every character and series.

civil war the initiative omega flight

I really enjoyed the event itself, and many of the tie-in issues cleverly incorporated interesting background information or side-plots. But other series suffer for it as their own plots are sidelined to deal with the events of Civil War, such as the first few issues of The Death of Captain America trade and the official Thunderbolts tie-ins (which centers around Baron Zemo’s team of reformed villains working with Iron Man to capture heroes). Iron Man’s two-issue solo tie-ins are similarly pointless, though they do paint a slightly better picture of Tony as a conflicted man rather than a self-imposing asshole (the TPB also includes The Confession, which is amazing). I also had to skip some tie-ins just for the sake of my own sanity, including Wolverine’s solo series tie-ins (can’t stand that manga/cartoony art style) and a mini-crossover between Young Avengers and Runaways.

Plus, my beloved X-Men aren’t anywhere to be found, other than a single brief scene where Tony Stark visits the X-Mansion and tries to get them to help (there is a mini-series tie-in that shoehorns them in involving Bishop, which I skipped). Being used to hunted and hated Emma Frost quickly refuses, but agrees to remain neutral in the conflict (and they’re still pretty much licking their wounds from the Decimation). It makes sense for the x-Men to stay out of it, and frankly the war is full of enough superheroes as it is, but as a big X-Men fan it’s still a bummer, and forever makes Civil War just not as interesting to me as other events and stories that star my favorite mutants.

civil war the initiative

Civil War was a massive critical and commercial success. The storyline was recognizable and very human – civil rights and the endless debate between freedom and security. It lasted over half a year beginning in the Summer of 2006 and, according to Marvel Unlimited, including nearly 100 official tie-in issues from nearly every ongoing series at the time. The age of events was here to say, and has continued on in varying degrees of great to horrid in the years since. Civil War is still considered one of the best events they’ve ever done, and clearly important enough to even warrant its own big screen adaptation in the upcoming third Captain America film.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – The Road to Civil War

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

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

road to civil war coverWriters: Brian Michael Bendis, J. Michael Stracynski

Artists: Alex Maleev, Ron Garney, Mike McKone, Tyler Kirkham

Issues: Amazing Spider-Man #529-531, Fantastic Four #536-537, New Avengers: Illuminati

Though House of M had several tie-ins and shook up the world for mutants and X-Men, it was Civil War, Marvel’s next big event that hit in the Summer of 2006, that really became the premiere Marvel crossover event, with just about every single ongoing series having an appropriate tie-in or story arc.

With big events comes big responsibility, er, numerous trade paperbacks. Marvel knew they had a grand story to tell and planted some early seeds of the Superhuman Registration Act in New Avengers and other series. The Road to Civil War is a stand-alone trade paperback that collects three issues of Amazing Spider-Man, two issues of Fantastic Four and a special one-shot issue called New Avengers: Illuminati (which would later become a limited series).

Though I’ve recently become quite the Marvel connoisseur (see, um, all these Final Thoughts on my blog) I actually haven’t read two of Marvel’s most famous and longest-lasting series, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Jumping into Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t too harsh – after all Spider-man is a member of the New Avengers (at the time). In issue 529 Tony Stark builds our friendly neighborhood sass machine a custom spidey suit with all kinds of fancy cybernetic enhancements, including four additional arms! All Stark wants in return is for Peter Parker to become his right-hand man in the political storm that’s brewing in Washington D.C. – the Superhuman Registration Act.

What follows is a nifty little arc where Mr. Stark and Mr. Parker go to Washington for a Senate hearing, discussing the pros and cons of forcing masked superheroes to reveal their identity to the world and be held accountable for their actions (like for example, all the property damage their battles cause). The lengthy scenes have all the potential of being long-winded and heavy-handed but Brian Michael Bendis does a superb job making good points on both sides and generally making the actual politics interesting rather than hand-waving.

ASM #530

Of course since it’s a comic as soon as they walk outside they’re attacked by the Titanium Man, a Russian mercenary in his own fancy suit, and Tony flees while Spidey battles the surprise attack. At the end it’s revealed that Stark actually paid the Titanium Man for the attack to remind everyone why superheroes are important, and Parker begins to doubt his trust in Tony.

In New Avengers: Illuminati Stark visits the secret organization that was first revealed back in New Avengers – a clandestine meeting of the world’s most powerful superpowered leaders: Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt, Namor and Professor X. The extra-long one-shot issue dives into the murky past of the Illuminati, including their formation after the Kree-Skrull War. Fascinatingly the whole comic adapts a very retro 70s/80s art style and actually sticks with it throughout (despite catching up to modern events leading to Civil War). It works quite well and lends the story an air of authenticity.

When the group is first formed they invite Black Panther to join, but he instantly refuses, being the only one to have the foresight to see where this collusion will lead to. The group meets again to discuss shipping off Hulk into space after a particularly violent battle – which is a fun way of tying together the beginnings of “Planet Hulk,” the major storyline that takes over the Incredible Hulk series throughout Civil War. Namor has a huge problem with this agreement to simply get rid of the Hulk and ends up fighting Iron Man and leaving the group in a huff. I’m unfamiliar with Namor other than he was the very first Marvel superhero and thus far all I’ve learned is that he’s a huge asshole.

Our secretive leaders meet again to discuss the Superhuman Registration Act, and Stark suggests moving in front of it to support it so it doesn’t get out of hand. He also has the creepy foresight to predict almost exactly what ends up happening in the actual Civil War storyline, including a masked hero attacking a villain near a school and causing a horrific number of casualties. That part gets a bit heavy-handed but it’s still fun seeing this group of major players in the Marvelverse come together and discuss the big issues (as well as squabble amongst each other). Dr. Strange leaves, Namor curses them all while Mr. Fantastic supports Stark. The lines are being drawn and it’s a cool way of leading to Civil War.

The two Fantastic Four issues are much less of a direct tie-in than the others. The story revolves around Thor’s hammer crashing to Earth after the “Ragnarok” events in Thor, which I’m wholly unfamiliar with (I can only read so many comics!). The Fantastic Four are called in to investigate but Dr. Doom shows up with a legion of Doombots to stake his claim. Apparently he was in hell last we saw him, and hitched a ride when Mjolnir ripped through space on its way to Earth. For being completely lost on the goings-on of the Fantastic Four it was a pretty decent little story with lots of action and Doom chewing up the scenes as he does so well. How it ties into Civil War I haven’t the foggiest idea, other than further explaining what the situation is with Thor at the time.

The entire trade is ancillary reading to Civil War but it does provide a lot of nice background information, especially on Spider-Man leading up the grand event. If you have Marvel Unlimited I would definitely recommend reading the Amazing Spider-Man issues but as a whole the trade is only okay as a tie-in, and harmless fun as an overall collection of comics.

FF #537 edit

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 1-3

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

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

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis new avengers issue 1

Artists: David Finch, Steve Mcniven, Frank Cho

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #1-15

The Avengers have disassembled – long live the New Avengers!

I was honestly never a big Avengers guy until the Marvel Cinematic Universe came along and suddenly made me care about the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. In 2004 Marvel kicked off what would be the first of many large-scale events and shake-ups with “Avengers: Disassembled,” a story arc that would finish off the then prolific Avengers series after some notable deaths.

Of course no way Marvel actually goes without an ongoing Avengers series, and thus the New Avengers were started, with now main Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis at the helm. Our new team comes together by sheer happenstance in the first story arc, “Breakout,” when a high-tech supervillian prison known as The Raft is shut down by Electro and dozens of villains begin escaping. Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and Luke Cage are there to meet up with an unknown superhero that may be imprisoned there, The Sentry (which foreshadows the next story arc), while SHIELD Agent Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman) escorts them. When the prison begins its exciting breakout, Captain America arrives with more SHIELD agents, Spider-man tags along to help out, and finally Iron Man shows up to see what all the hubbub is about.

While it leads to some silly comic moments of “Hey! I’m here to help out and fight bad guys with y’all,” the prison scene is still an exciting backdrop and a fun opportunity for some harrowing fights. Carnage was one of the escapees, and begins kicking the crap out of Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and Daredevil before The Sentry mysteriously grabs him and flings him into space. Spider-man gets thrown into the prison and literally surrounded by various minor and random villains, savagely beaten and left with a broken arm before Cap and company can fight their way in.

new avengers issue 2

By the end of the ordeal they tally that over 40 supervillains have escaped the prison. Based on the way this group of heroes were able to quickly lock down the situation, Cap proposes that they form a new Avengers team to help track down the loose ends. Their first lead takes them to the Savage Land and Karl Lykos, a.k.a. Sauron. The team stumbles upon Wolverine who’s there because of reasons and the whole group is swiftly captured, and then fights a bunch of Savage Land Mutates. Other SHIELD agents show up and there appears to be a vast conspiracy with something they’re mining in the Savage Land before it all blows up.

“Breakout” serves as an exciting jumping on point for this new team of Avengers that includes a few fresh faces as well as a hodgepodge of famous heroes. The team itself isn’t super balanced ability-wise. Cap, Cage and Wolverine are all melee fighters, while Iron Man provides the only real firepower (Daredevil turns the team down during the official recruitment issue, presumably to stick with his own successful solo series at the time). Spider-Man provides all the comic relief you’d expect while Spider-Woman fills the role of the token woman…at least until her ongoing shadowy side plot is further explored in the third story arc, “Secrets and Lies.”

New avengers issue 9After “Breakout” the team digs into the mystery surrounding the superhero The Sentry in the next story arc, aptly titled “Sentry.” Turns out the Sentry is an extremely powerful hero that had his mind wiped by Mastermine, as well as the minds of anyone that ever meets him. The New Avengers want to recruit him into the fold, but first they have to unlock his mind. They call in Emma Frost of the X-Men, and we’re treated to a cavalcade of cameos as the X-Men, Inhumans and Fantastic Four help battle The Sentry’s terrifyingly manifested demons as Emma works to heal his mind.

“Sentry” also introduces to the Illuminati, a group of the world’s most powerful figures (all men, sadly) that make major decisions in secrecy. The Illuminati is composed of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Professor X, Black Bolt and Namor, and we get some fun scenes as Iron Man attempts to explain his new Avengers team.

new avengers issue 7 illuminati

Volume 3, “Secrets and Lies” follows the trail of one of our villainous escapees from the Raft, The Silver Samurai. The evil ninja clan The Hand brought him back to Japan and wants to prop him up as their figurehead, but Harada was simply imprisoned without trial or explanation by SHIELD and wants no part of it. The plot is mostly our heroes fighting a bunch of ninjas as they introduce a new mysterious ninja-hero known as Ronin, but quickly takes a backseat to exploring where Jessica’s loyalties lie as she seemingly makes contact with HYDRA.

Turns out she’s working for an off-the-grid Nick Fury directly and implanted as a mole to help HYDRA, even though HYDRA were able to restore her waning powers. By the end of the arc we’re still not completely sure if she’s playing both sides or ultimately working for one and betraying the other, but the double agent duty certainly takes its toll on her psychologically, and there’s a touching scene between her and Captain America where he’s both firm and sympathetic. I fully expected Spider-Woman to be nothing more than the eye-candy token female hero and was pleasantly surprised to find that she’s by far the most interesting character on the roster.

Despite using three different artists in the first fifteen issues, the art remains consistent and pleasantly comic book-y, that is with just enough exaggerated cartoon style that I dig it. The art and writing together aren’t anything to write home about but the New Avengers provides a wonderful baseline experience for simple fun comic book action and character development. I’m perfectly fine with other series’ experimenting with art and storytelling or delving deep into individual character psyche’s, but New Avengers is definitely more of a fun Summer blockbuster, and a big reason why comics are just plain fun in the first place.

With writer Bendis at the helm the series was lovingly mired in current Marvel events and continuity, making it one of the main ongoing series to read throughout the years it was active (an impressive six years and 64 issues). I definitely plan on sticking with the entire run, and using it when I want to turn my thinking cap down a few notches and just enjoy the ride.

New Avengers issue 15