Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Thor (2007), Vol. 3 + Latverian Prometheus

Loki teams up with Dr. Doom when the Asgardians move to Latveria, requiring Thor to save the day.

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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!

Thor Volume 3Writers: J. Michael Straczynski (Vol. 3), Kieron Gillen (Latverian Prometheus)

Artists: Marko Djurdjevic (Vol. 3), Billy Tan (Latverian Prometheus)

Issues: Thor (2007) #601-606, Giant-Size Finale

 

I’ve realized a common theme in my enjoyment of Marvel comics – if Dr. Doom shows up, everything gets better. Every Marvel writer has a great concept of Dr. Doom as a megalomaniac narcissist, and he makes every damn series or story he’s involved in that much more enjoyable and fun.

Thor is no different. We left off last volume with Balder becoming king of Asgard while Thor has been banished for having to put down his grandfather Bor (whom was monstrously resurrected by Loki, naturally).

Loki brokers a deal with Dr. Doom to allow sanctuary for the restless Asgardians, currently still housed in a floating, remade Asgard in Oklahoma. Things go predictably bad and Thor has to return to save the day, but the action at the end is a lot of fun, and Doom’s unyielding confidence is just the best. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Thor (2007), Vol. 3 + Latverian Prometheus”

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.

marvel

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.

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 3

For 18 issues now Saga has refused to disappoint and Volume Three finally brings our various storylines and characters together in a tense, dramatic moment.

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!

saga volume 3 coverWriter: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #13-18

Saga continues to blow me away with every volume; soon I shall catch up to its current issue and experience the agony of having to wait for the next volume. For now I’m still catching up on back issues, and Volume Three finally brings our various storylines and characters together in a tense, dramatic moment that’s deliciously spread out between issues #17 and #18.

The end of Volume Two featured an epilogue that we now know took place a bit in the future – Prince Robot IV meeting with D. Oswald Heist, the cyclopean, eccentric author that wrote the star-crossed romance book that so infatuated Marko and Alana. The two start with verbal jabs, then relax into a casual interrogation, then go to full blown standoff. Volume Two ended with the ‘camera panning up’ to reveal that Marko, Alana, Klara, Izabel, and Hazel had already been there for weeks, and currently hiding from their robot pursuer.

Volume Three jumps back in time a bit to have out heroes first landing on the planet Quietus, and the remote lighthouse that Heist lives in. First they’re attacked by bone-creatures in a very Dungeons & Dragons moment, and Klara (Marko’s recently widowed mom) loses an ear in the fight. Artist Fiona Staples has never shied away from explicit sex or violence, but always in service to the story and never particularly gory or gratuitous. In both the strong language and portrayal of mature themes I’m constantly reminded that I’m not reading a mainstream Marvel comic, in a good way.

Our heroes make it to Oswald Heist’s and the slightly crazy but lovable old author instantly becomes a delightful character, if he wasn’t already from his introduction at the end of Volume Two. The universe is filled with all manner of inventive alien creatures, and thus far Vaughn and Staples have done an excellent job creating a truly memorable supporting cast. This creates a constant state of anxiety as, like Game of Thrones, you never know when they’re going to actually kill someone off! In fact, most of my favorite characters have been slain (The Stalk, Barr), and sadly Heist also does not survive the end of this Volume.

Saga #16

You can tell Brian K. Vaughn really loves the Heist character, as he’s an obvious cipher for many of his thoughts and opinions on being a writer, and a writer’s relationships with artists, other writers, and the audience. Much of Marko and Alana’s scenes in Volume Three are mostly just them hanging around Oswald’s place talking books, relationships, or the nature of war, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t riveting.

Of course that story is only part of the Volume. Our other team, The Will and his partner Lying Cat, has grown over the course of 12 issues to include a rescued slave girl from the sex planet Sextillion and Marko’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn. The Will was hired to track down Marko and Alana, and Gwendolyn arrived with a personal vendetta and a desire to keep The Will focused and on target, despite his recent loss of his ex-girlfriend, The Stalk, back in Volume One.

After the climactic star ship battle at the end of Volume Two, The Will and crew have been stranded on a lovely grassy planet. The Will begins to have doubts about the mission, wanting to hang up his life as a bounty hunter, but Gwnedolyn will have none of it. We get a few nice scenes of her learning to use his exotic lance-saber weapon and dealing with repair guys, but it all comes crashing down for them when they learn (too late) that the food on the planet contains a powerful hallucinogenic. The slave girl is coerced by the planet’s visions of her mom to stab The Will in the neck. Gwendolyn realizes what’s happening (thanks to Lying Cat) and saves them all, though now ironically she renews their pursuit of Marko, this time to learn a healing spell to save The Will.

Saga #14

Like the end of Volume Two our stories intersect in an exciting way. The timeline finally matches up with that scene of Prince Robot IV and Heist. A wounded Heist was just about to get through to Prince Robot IV when Klara, spurred by her feelings for Heist and her general passionate demeanor charges from their hiding spot and attacks, leaving both her and Robot IV wounded.

At this point Gwendolyn, dressed in The Will’s magical bullet-proof cloak, barges in the front door. Lying Cat pounces on Klara, and Gwendolyn and Heist see each other with weapons drawn. Gwendolyn reacts first by slashing him through the eye with The Will’s lance, killing him instantly. Nooo! Gwnedolyn’s reaction is equally incredulous as issue #17 comes to a crazy close.

In the final issue, a very distraught and upset Gwendolyn advances on Marko and Alana on the top of the lighthouse. Marko doesn’t exactly say the right things and Gwendolyn attacks, causing him to push his wife and newborn off the edge. Turns out Alana’s wings do in fact work – and she blasts Gwendolyn and everyone escapes. For a volume that was mostly talking and not a whole lot of action, these two final issues were exhilarating and fantastic, a very satisfying payoff to all the events thus far.

Saga #18

Even so, our characters are split up again and most end up surviving (save for poor Oswald). Both Prince Robot IV and The Will are very wounded and I’m not sure if Lying Cat permanently lost one of her eyes when Klara gouged it. We’re introduced to another viewpoint in a pair of journalists on Landfall asking questions and seeking the truth about Marko and Alana’s escape and possible union. Their queries get them attacked by another freelancer, The Brand, that poisons them and prevents them from continuing their investigation. At the end it’s revealed that The Brand is The Will’s sister, so our roster may be expanding even more.

So far Saga has focused almost entirely on the relationships and situations of our main and supporting cast without pulling back the scope to the greater war around us. The political implications of Marko and Alana having a baby haven’t really been explored yet, other than our two pursuers being hired to catch them. I’d love to see that make headway, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice the excellent plot and pacing that Saga has provided so far. For 18 issues now Saga has refused to disappoint and it’s quickly becoming one of my all time favorite comics.