Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Dark Avengers, Vol. 1

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

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

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

marvelWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Issues: Dark Avengers #1-6

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dark Avengers #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Rat Queens, Vol. 1

Witty dialogue, intriguing world-building, amazing art, and just plain fun action and characters make Rat Queens the best start to a new series I’ve ever 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.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

image comicsWriter: Kurtis J. Weibe

Artist: Roc Upchurch

Issues: Rat Queens #1-5

 

Over the last few months I’ve been branching out from my Marvel bubble of comic reading – mostly into the open arms of Image Comics. Saga was my first love, but even its alien star-crossed love story greatness pales in comparison to my new all time favorite comic – Rat Queens.

It may be a tad of a knee jerk reaction considering I’ve only read the first five issues that compromise the first collected Volume, Sass and Sorcery. Never before have I been so pleasantly delighted by a combination of witty dialogue, intriguing world-building, amazing art, and just plain fun action and characters. Rat Queens may just be the best start to a new series I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few. Continue reading “Image Comics Final Thoughts – Rat Queens, Vol. 1”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ghost Rider (2006), Vol. 1-3

Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider so effectively embraces its campy grindhouse themes that I can’t help but love it.

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

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

marvelWriter: Jason Aaron

Artists: Roland Boshi, Tan Eng Haut, Tony Moore

Issues: Ghost Rider (2006) #20-35, Annual #2

 

Next Issue: Death Race on Ghost Cannibal Highway OR Cycle Nurses Kill! Kill! Kill!

There’s a moment near the end of Volume 2, when Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) confronts his misguided brother Danny Ketch. Ketch had been absorbing the power of other Spirits of Vengenace around the world, and was prepping for a final battle against the last few holdouts. He challenges Johnny to a race around the world, and Johnny points out the absurdity of going on a silly race in the middle of a giant battle. Then they promptly race, which includes soaring past pyramids and over oceans, complete with Ketch picking up a shark and hurling it at Johnny.

Your reaction to that last sentence is a good indicator of whether or not you would enjoy Jason Aaron’s run on Ghost Rider circa 2008-09. I try not to throw the phrase Ridiculously Awesome around too much but Ghost Rider so effectively embraces its campy horror-grindhouse themes that I can’t help but love it.

My previous experience with the motorcycle-ridin’, skull-flamin’ vigilante was limited to Nicholas Cage. I never had much motivation to actually read a comic, but my best bud and comic aficionado recommended this run as a good jumping on point for an awesome arc – and I couldn’t agree more.

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Our first story picks up after Johnny Blaze had just been given a startling revelation about his past – his powers come not from Hell, but from Heaven. Specifically directly from God as avatars of justice, overseen by the archangel Zadkiel. Zadkiel acts as a mostly off-screen but menacing super villain throughout the arc as he storms heaven’s gates to usurp God.

“Hell Bent and Heaven Bound” (#20-23) eases us into the life and times of Johnny Blaze by having our anti-hero get mixed up in a creepy small town filled with undead ghouls, hillbilly cannibals, and busty cycle nurses. Blaze ends up following a lead on a young man that experienced a near death experience – and actually saw Zadkiel. The plot leads to multiple factions literally running into each other in an explosive finale in the town square. It’s super campy and a hell of a lot of fun, particularly how Blaze simply gets caught up in these crazy events.

The plot slows back down when Blaze puts himself in prison to follow yet another lead on Zadkiel in “God Don’t Live on Cell Block D” (#24-25). It mostly serves to introduce the gigantic villainous Deacon, a monstrous tattooed man with daggers that spews Bible verses as he kills the unbelievers.

Ghost Rider #29

In “The Former Things” (#26-27) we’re introduced to the new important character of Sara, a nun that finds out her long lost grandfather is the Caretaker of the Ghost Riders. The old caretaker is slain by a motley crew of villains (presumably from Ghost Rider’s rogue’s gallery) and Sara gains all his knowledge, eventually going through a nice character arc from meek nun to Sarah Connor-esque badass.

We’re first teased with Danny Ketch – Blaze’s long-lost brother and former Ghost Rider in the first Volume. “The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance” (#28-32) continues Ketch’s quest to absolve all the Ghost Riders and absorb their powers. He’s funneling the power directly to Zadkiel, which is bad, and Blaze and Sara have to meet up with the few remaining survivors to battle him.

Ghost Rider #31Seeing other people as Ghost Riders is a lot fun, and Aaron really gets inventive as we go international, with brief glimpses of Ghost Riders riding bears, elephants, and even a shark! Such greatness.

In Issue #33 we even get a fun history lesson on past, present, and future Ghost Riders, from World War II vets with hellfire tanks to the Prohibition era Undead G-Man. How about some cybered-up Ghost Riders from the future? Hell Yeah!

The last stand is gloriously action-packed, but Ketch, along with an army of Zadkiel’s angels, ultimately wins. Zadkiel storms the golden city, but we’re only teased about what happens next.

The final Volume (“Trials and Tribulations” #33-35) acts as an epilogue of sorts, each issue starring one of our main cast (Ketch, Sara, Blaze). It’s surprisingly entertaining with good old fashioned horror stories, especially Danny Ketch battling a satanic ghoul-trucker on the highway. The major plot and the battle for heaven concludes in the six-part mini-series Ghost Riders, which I’ll save for later.

I honestly didn’t think I’d love Ghost Rider as much as I did. It also helped that the art steadily improved with each new artist on each volume. Volume 1 had a cheap, simple look that I wasn’t quite into (though it fit the campy theme well enough) but by the end the art looked great without ever getting too glossy or polished. The major exception being Ghost Rider Annual #2, a one-shot about Blaze battling a demonic sheriff in a small town, with super glossy, ill-fitting art.

Jason Aaron effectively combined campy B-movie supernatural horror with memorable characters and an impressive overarching plot that lasted nearly two years. Blaze’s quest to find Zadkiel and meeting up with Sara and other Ghost Riders is just as entertaining as the random creepy side adventures they get into. For someone that wasn’t into Ghost Rider or really into horror or supernatural stuff at all, I absolutely loved it.