One Year with Marvel Unlimited: My Top Ten Comics (2004-2009)

After my first year with Marvel Unlimited, I list my top ten favorite comics between 2004-09.

marvelunlimited

In December of 2014 I tried out a month-long trial version of digital comic subscription service Marvel Unlimited. I immediately fell in love with the speed and voracity with which I could devour decade-old comics at a fraction of the price. I quickly signed up for the full year-long subscription.

For my birthday in July I received an iPad, which further solidified my love of the digital format. I still prefer physical media for just about everything else (and have since still purchased many collected volumes and trade paperbacks), but comics work beautifully on a tablet.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I read quite a bit of comics and write my thoughts about them here. I started at the beginning of the modern age of Marvel, defined by the era of major events beginning with “Avengers Disassembled” in 2004. In the last year I’ve made it through approximately four years of comics, through the Dark Reign period of 2009 – though I’ve clearly had to pick and choose which series and characters to cover.

For a full list of all the comics I’ve written about, see the Comics section at the top of the page. As a fun anniversary post I listed my favorite comics I’ve read in the last year below, covering that 2004-09 era. Continue reading “One Year with Marvel Unlimited: My Top Ten Comics (2004-2009)”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Moon Knight (2006), Vol. 3-4

Moon Knight tackles werewolves, Thunderbolts, SHIELD, and his own inner demons.

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

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

moon knight 2006 vol 4Writers: Charlie Huston, Mike Benson

Artists: Mark Texeira, Javier Saltares

Issues: Moon Knight (2006) #14-25

 

My initial introduction to Moon Knight was of a tortured, violently psychotic and most likely insane vigilante. As Marvel’s resident Batman, Marc Spector is a giant asshole that alienates his few friends and girlfriend and gets the shit kicked out of him on a regular basis.

It can be refreshing to read a Marvel comic that practically demonizes its own title hero but the third and fourth volumes of this series keep repeating the same self-pitying mantras, and I was ready for Moon Knight to get his shit together.

Marc continues to wallow in the hell he’s built himself, even after becoming officially registered with the Superhuman Registration Act by pure manipulation. “God and Country” (#14-19) sees the return of an old Moon Knight villain (I assume), Black Spectre. Spectre is a recent parolee and soon delves back into a life of crime, with his shtick of dressing up in full medieval plate mail and wielding maces and swords. He leaves calling cards designed to blame Moon Knight for a series of deaths, and soon the authorities are after him. It doesn’t help that Moon Knight takes out bad guys through gruesome maiming attacks – he rages against his moon god’s desire to kill but still leaves a wake of twisted and broken bodies in his wake.

Moon Knight 2006 #16

Iron Man gets wind of Moon Knight’s Punisher-style brand of violent loner vigilantism. The story builds to a climax with Black Spectre stealing some kind of goofy nanite-controlling weapon and unleashing it on a crowd. Moon Knight actually kills him by tackling him off a roof to save everyone, and Tony Stark soon shows up to raid Moon Knight’s base.

The integral tie-in to the larger Marvel world at the time (post-Civil War with Director Stark) is nifty, and I found myself enjoying Moon Knight’s supporting cast far more than the main anti-hero. His old war buddy Frenchie, damaged but trying to do better fuck buddy Marlene (“We’re not dating, we’re *****”). Even his angry young man pilot whom I can’t remember the name of is more interesting than Marc’s tiresome self-loathing. At the end SHIELD agents symbolically drop the statue of Khonshu and you think that maybe Marc will make some real advancement as a character. But no.

“In the Company of Wolves ” (#20) is a rare one-off issue in this series of giant story arcs, and it’s quite entertaining. A werewolf from Moon Knight’s rogue’s gallery has been captured, and his blood is being used to make new temporary werewolves for use in a dog fighting arena. It’s a dark but cool idea, and a great setting for Marc to unleash his inner beast when he infiltrates it.

Moon Knight 2006 #24“The Death of Marc Spector” (#21-25) is heavily tied into the Volume 3’s continuity, with Marc still on the run from SHIELD. At this point in the timeline, however, Norman Osborn is Director of the Thunderbolts and is given permission to hunt and capture Marc. Although Moon Knight has no actual super powers other than badassery and some moon knives, he’s able to withstand multiple attacks from the entire Thunderbolts team (the brief battles with Venom are especially disappointing).

In the end it comes down to the Thunderbolts’ secret weapon – Bullseye. Mike Benson does a great job picking up the Thunderbolts for their guest run here, accurately portraying their quirks, personalities, and inner drama. Bullseye had been built up as quite the badass, and he’s actually a great foil combat-wise to Marc. Moon Knight knows he can’t beat him in a straight up fight, so he lures him to an underwater hideout and rigs the whole thing to blow. Both are able to escape but Marc Spector is presumed dead, and goes into hiding.

I can definitely see Moon Knight‘s appeal. It’s interesting to see an anti-hero that’s much more realistic – he suffers from mental issues, he’s constantly bruised and bleeding from every fight, and his relationships are strained at best. But at some point it just gets to be too much. A clever plot or exceptional art style could elevate Moon Knight but neither are anything special. I did enjoy and respect the use of Tony Stark, Norman Osborn, and the Thunderbolts within the greater Marvel continuity at the time, though it probably had more to do with a lesser focus on Marc himself.

Moon Knight definitely needs an adept writer to keep him fresh and interesting and not retread the same ground. Moon Knight would go through several more series and reboots before settling on the acclaimed series that began in 2014. I’ll get there eventually!

Moon Knight 2006 #22

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – 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 – Thunderbolts Ultimate Collection

Thanks to some fantastic art, killer action scenes and wonderful characterization, this new Thunderbolts run was easily the best thing to come out of 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!

Thunderbolts ultimate collectionWriter: Warren Ellis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Issues: Thunderbolts (2006) #110-121, Civil War: The Initiative #1

House of M had created lots of interesting new series, both limited and ongoing for the X-Men and various mutant teams, but Civil War, marvel’s next big crossover event, didn’t seem to achieve the same level of success with its new series. The event itself was a resounding success and the aftermath changed the state of the Marvel universe for years afterward. The one series to receive a major post-Civil War makeover was Thunderbolts, the dysfunctional team of former supervillains that leapt at the chance to join Tony Stark’s gestapo and hunt down unregistered heroes.

The issues leading up to the Warren Ellis and Mike Dodato run were a confusing mess for someone like me that tried to jump in at issue #100, and their Civil War tie-ins were nothing special. In the one-shot Civil War: The Initiative (included in the Ultimate Collection TPB) we’re introduced and teased to this new Thunderbolts team, lead by Norman Osborne (Green Goblin), consisting of Songbird, Moonstone, Radioactive Man, Swordsman, Venom, Penance, and Bullseye. They take down their fleeing unregistered hero with ruthless efficiency and professional organization – not at all what happens during their official run when Warren Ellis takes over to jump start this series into one of the most action-packed and interesting series I’ve ever read beginning with issue #110.

“Faith in Monsters” (#110-115) actually starts off a bit slow. Ellis takes his time introducing the D-list heroes that our nanite-controlled ex-villain team are tasked with apprehending. Frankly I don’t need several pages of Jack Flagg’s emotional state, nor American Eagle talking politics. The drama bubbling up within Thunderbolts Mountain is much more interesting. These individuals are mostly volatile, conniving, and a few meds or pokes away from going crazy and murdering everyone (save for previous Thunderbolts members Songbird and Radioactive Man, the only two that seem to want the team to work).

thunderbolts #114

Each team member fills out an important role, both on the team and in the drama. Venom is the caged animal, the giant beast that’s drawn like a rippling Hulk. Penance is pure firepower, though his emotional state and character drama makes him dangerously unreliable. Bullseye is the ace in the hole – yes, Warren Ellis somehow makes Bullseye a terrifying psychopath. He’s so dangerous and unpredictable they don’t even use him on the regular team – he’s unleashed when no one else is around for when things get really out of hand.

The reason Bullseye is kept in the shadows is because Thunderbolts is a very marketable, TV friendly task force. Ellis embraces the political implications and discussions that naturally follow the state of fear in The Initiative era of a post-Civil War Marvel universe. Montage panels of political talking heads are used in nearly every issue to discuss the ethics of using former villains as a government task force. Norman Osborne and Moonstone have to constantly wrestle with running the team while also putting on an appropriate show for the TV cameras (which is ironic considering the Civil War’s inciting incident started because of a superhero reality TV show).

thunderbolts #111bThe real treat throughout the entire run is the incredible art by Mike Deodato. Artistic preference can be a difficult thing to vocalize, but most people know what they like and what they don’t. Often I come across art styles that I hate and love, but never encountered anything that completely blew me away in every other page. Deodato is a god living amongst mere mortals. The staging of panels in action scenes is brilliant and inventive – often laying them slightly askew to give a sense of motion, or layering them into a bigger, two-page spread dripping in explosions, scene-filling characters or brutal fight scenes.

Few times when comic characters fight do I believe anyone’s actually getting hurt, but Deodato excels at really putting characters through the ringer. In the first arc alone, Bullseye has his neck snapped, Swordsman is shoved through a window and into a television, and Venom tears the arm off of the Steel Spider. It’s exhilarating in a way few action-packed comics come close to achieving. I’m sure it helps that the roster is much more malleable than traditional Avengers or X-Men teams as well.

thunderbolts #115

“Caged Angels” (#116-121) switches focus from the team fighting and capturing heroes on the streets (and mostly fucking it up spectacularly) to fighting each other. A group of telepaths cleverly get themselves captured on purpose, then begin wrecking mental havoc with our already edgy anti-heroes.

Penance nearly kills a heckling prisoner before Moonstone knocks him out. Norman begins seeing the Green Goblin mask beckoning to him in his desk drawer. Swordsman goes off the deep end, shaving his head and bribing the guards and blowing up the Thunderbolts plane. Venom’s inner animal is unleashed, fully taking control of Mac Gargan’s body and devouring guards left and right.

thunderbolts #119c

 

Everything builds up to an epic climax when Norman finally dons the Green Goblin uniform and goes after Swordsman (who managed to take down Venom). He’s portrayed as very Joker-like, relishing in his insanity. Soon it’s just Songbird and Green Goblin left, and the two have a knock down, drag out fight that ends with both on the ground.

thunderbolts #120Bullseye actually saves them all. After his neck was snapped in the previous arc, he spent the majority of the comic being repaired and steps onto the stage to swiftly kill the imprisoned telepaths after all hell has broken loose. Surprisingly the team is still together in the aftermath and they manage to keep everything that happened under wraps, writing off Green Goblin’s appearance as pure rumor and conjecture.

The art throughout these action-packed scenes is nothing short of stunning. Warren Ellis does a great job making these characters interesting, and drawing a line between likeable (Songbird, Radioactive Man, Penance) and detestable (everyone else) while still making everyone fun to watch and read about it.

Penance particularly has a wonderful side story involving Doc Samson delving into his own psychosis and hang-ups (he’s indirectly responsible for the explosion at Stamford, which triggered the SRA and the Civil War). What could’ve been a sad-sack character is actually made starkly relatable and very human.

Sadly this Ultimate Collection ended Deodato and Ellis’ run on Thunderbolts; it will be interesting to see how different creative teams continue to breath success into the series, as it ran for an incredible six years (going all the way to 2012).

Thanks to some fantastic art, killer action scenes and wonderful characterization, this new Thunderbolts run was easily the best thing to come out of Civil War. My only complaint was that it really should’ve started over with a new #1 numbering system, as it’s completely different from the previous Thunderbolts team, story, and creative staff. Highly recommended if you love amazing art and interested in an unconventional super-team when some of Marvel’s most dangerous villains try to work together.

thunderbolts #111