Tag Archives: comic review

January Bonus Review: Maximum Carnage

Maximum Carnage was a fourteen issue Spider-man event from ’93. It was written by Tom Defalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh & David Michelinie. It’s a rather divisive event with some calling it one of the last good comic events and others calling it the start of the era of trash events. So, I’ll give my thoughts on it as part of hero month.

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Story:

We open with Cletus Kasady being taken for therapy at Ravencroft Asylum. Everyone assumes he’s powerless since the Carnage symbiote was destroyed. What they don’t know is that the symbiote mutated his very blood, allowing him to summon a copy. Which he does, breaking loose and massacring the staff. He runs into another inmate named Shriek, who he breaks out. The pair recruit some other villains and their little “family” goes around New York, while Spidey and several other heroes try to put an end to their killing spree.

My biggest issue with the event is that there are a lot of scenes that seem kind of repetitive. Yeah, I get what they’re going for. They’re trying to show how all of this is wearing at the heroes and how much difficulty they’re having. It just doesn’t have the best execution. The civilian casualties are also kind of weakly handled. Carnage and his group are basically killing a bunch of nameless fodder we have no reason to care about. On one hand, it is better than having them kill off characters we know and love, which is what would happen in a modern event like this. On the other hand, I’d like to see some mourners to give it some more impact and add some humanity to the victims.

There are definitely things I appreciate about the narrative too. I like that we don’t lose any of our heroes for a cheap, shock moment. I also like the general theme of holding onto hope when times are dark and finding the strength to overcome. Particularly when various heroes step forward to bring out the best in humanity when facing a group of violent rioters. That is a powerful scene. The back and forth with Spidey and his wife while they argue because she doesn’t want him to risk himself but he knows he can make a difference is really good. The way they foreshadow major events is solid.

Then there’s the whole element the story is about. Namely: should heroes stoop down to the level of villains in extreme circumstances? It’s important to remember that this was made in the early 90s when the trend of more “extreme” and dark heroes had already started. And this is a story that plays with that trend but also, ultimately, rejects the whole idea of it. Spidey questions the idea of just how far he and his comrades should go throughout the event and consistently argues against taking lethal action. Then he reaches his lowest point and he almost asks his amazing friend, Firestar, to take Carnage’s life. But he pulls back and realises that it’s the wrong approach. As heroes, they have to stand for something greater. Even when facing a mass murdering psychotic like Carnage. And that’s an uplifting epiphany. I like the way the topic gets explored a lot.

Characters:

I’ve already mentioned how well Spidey & MJ’s marital discussions work. Although I haven’t said fuck modern Marvel for retconning that out of existence yet. There are other characters to discuss though. There’s an effort to humanise our villains, in spite of all the murder and mayhem they’re responsible for. Which is a nice touch but it’s one of those cases where the execution is the lazy “they had rotten childhoods” types for both Carnage & Shriek. Doppelganger, Demogoblin and Carrion have the same basic motives they do in the regular comics. One is overly simple-minded, one has a misguided view of being on a holy crusade and the other is the victim of a virus. Which is something.

Our major heroes are Spidey, Venom, The Black Cat, Cloak & Dagger. We also get appearances from Firestar, Deathlok (nice to see Deathlok being used), Morbius, Iron Fist, Nightwatch and Captain America before modern Marvel made him a Nazi. Fuck modern Marvel for that too. The heroes are handled pretty well. The point where Cap makes his appearance is kind of brilliant since he’s kind of used as a beacon of hope and heroism when things are looking bleak but it’s not heavy-handed and he doesn’t just fix everything. I will say, Nightwatch is kind of pointless in this. His entire reason for being around seems to be to participate in two fight sequences and rescue Morbius before escaping. Although it’s still far better than what he was subjected to when modern Marvel decided he needed to be resurrected and turned evil. Fuck modern Marvel.

Art: 

One issue I have with the artwork is that it’s not consistent and some of the artists who worked on it are clearly better than others. Mark Bagley’s work is good. Tom Lyle’s work is good. Sal Buscema’s work is more than a little awkward looking. This guy might get the facial expression right once in every three panels where you can see a face. And that’s generous. It also does have some of the bad 90s art tropes starting to emerge at various points, like everyone being on their toes so the artists don’t have to draw feet properly or scenes being covered with shadows to an absurd degree but there aren’t that many moments like that all things considered.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Some work to humanise the victims. Like I said, I’d show some scenes with mourners. Maybe have that instead of some of the more repetitive scenes.
  2. Cut out Nightwatch and Morbius. Honestly, these two don’t do much in the event and it’s a bit annoying to have scenes where Morbius has to abandon a rescue mission or fuck off for multiple issues because it’s day time.
  3. Develop the humanity of the villains a bit more. I like the idea they were going with, but the execution was mediocre and you know these writers could have done better because they did with so many other elements.

Final Thoughts:

I will say, without any question, I agree more with the people who absolutely love this event than I do with the ones who hate it. It takes emerging trends and it tackles them in a way that’s subversive and clever. Its themes are, largely, well handled. There’s a lot about it that’s just good. It does, however, have its definite flaws. Its moments of lazy writing, 90s art and good ideas they don’t bother developing. So, I wouldn’t put it nearly on par with something like The Secret Wars but I would go so far as to call it good. I’ll give it a 7/10.

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December Bonus Review #1: Star Trek: Next Gen/ X-men Second Contact

Some crossover ideas just don’t work even when you hear them. Like combining Final Fantasy with random Disney worlds or having The Looney Tunes, Muppet Babies, Ninja Turtles, Smurfs, Winnie The Poo, Chipmunks, Garfield and Alf all combine forces to talk about Marijuana or having Archie meet the Ninja Turtles. On the surface, this seems slightly better than those but not like something that could work well. I love Star Trek: Next Gen and I have a great fondness for the X-men. The book was brilliant for that decade when Chris Claremont was writing it. However, they just don’t seem like they’d mesh well. But let’s take a look, maybe it’s better than it sounds.

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Story:

We open with the Enterprise crew returning to their time after the events of First Contact. But something goes askew and they end up in the past. They detect Shi’ar technology and realise that, not only shouldn’t it be there, but it’s their only hope of repairing their ship and returning home. This leads them to the X-men who happen to recognise the Enterprise name from that time they met the original series crew.

The two groups are approached by Kang who warns them that there are anomalies thanks to the Enterprise crossing over from another time and universe. They decide that even though he’s known to be evil, they can’t take the risk and set out to fix things.

Therein lies the first big problem with this crossover, Kang is lying. Yeah, that’s perfectly in keeping with his character but the Enterprise crew has Counsellor Deanna Troi on it. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with Next Gen, Counsellor Troi is half Betazoid. They’re an alien species that can read the minds of most species. As a half blood, she can’t read minds properly but she is an empath and she can sense things like, say, when someone’s deceiving her. There are several episodes where that comes up as an important plot point and she should sense immediately that Kang is lying to them but she doesn’t cause the whole plot of them travelling to Wolf 359 from Star Trek and the X-men’s Days of the Future Past wouldn’t happen if her abilities were working as they should. Shadowcat gets the same kind of treatment. At one point she phases through a Sentinel and they forget that she short-circuits machinery when she phases through it.

Another issue is just that the whole situation is a bit boring. They meet, decide to work together, fight some threats that should be kind of menacing but come across as kind of weak given how easily they’re dispatched. It all comes across as more than a little rushed. Although I will give them some credit for trying to give both teams equal time in the spotlight.

Characters:

Both of these casts should be great, in theory. Unfortunately, the writing from Abnett and Edgington doesn’t do them justice. They come across as pretty bland. And some characters, like Angel, don’t get to do or say anything. I’m not even kidding. Angel is there, but he seems to spend all his time in the background just standing around. I don’t recall him even getting a line of dialogue. Doctor Crusher doesn’t fare much better. They also don’t do much with the characters interacting. They go on missions together, sure, but they don’t talk much beyond very strict, business stuff. If I were someone who really wanted to read this crossover thinking it might be good, I would be very disappointed.

Art:

The artwork has its moments. The characters in general look decent enough. As do the backgrounds and action sequences. One issue with it is that the dialogue balloon placement isn’t the best and it can be challenging to figure out who’s supposed to be talking in large group shots. Maybe that’s where all of Angel’s dialogue is. There’s also a big artwork fail in a panel with Banshee and Commander Riker. To put it simply, they’re exchanging some dialogue while Banshee is clearly using his powers. For those who don’t know, Banshee’s power is a sonic scream. He literally can’t use it and talk at the same time. It would be like Cyclops shooting his optic blasts while reading.

Areas of Improvement:
This one is going to be a challenge, because I honestly don’t know how to make this a good crossover using what’s presented as a base. If I was writing something completely on my own, maybe I could manage it. So, I’ll kind of have to settle for suggestions that might have made it somewhat passable.

  1. Reworking Kang’s Villainy. Honestly, I would have him use a combined force of Sentinels and Borg drones to steal the Shi’ar tech. You could keep the same villains, give both teams a reason to go after him and you wouldn’t need to drag a bunch of extra characters in just so they could have a cameo.
  2. Let the Teams Chat. This comic could be way more interesting if the X-men and Enterprise crew had some real banter. Wolverine and Worf could talk about what it means to be a warrior. Storm and Captain Picard could talk about what his future’s stance on mutants might be. Shadowcat could talk tech with Geordi, or at least try to because I doubt he’d give her any real information even though she’s an enthusiastic nerd when it comes to technology. Having more banter would really liven the story up.
  3. Give Angel and Doctor Crusher something to do. Seriously, if you’re going to be bothered putting them in, let them do something.

Final Thoughts:

Second Contact isn’t dreadful. It has pretty decent art, mostly. And there’s clearly effort put into making it an equal crossover. Unfortunately, the details are off, which puts in some pretty significant plot holes. The teams have weak interactions which, in turn, makes the characterisation come across as weak. But hey, maybe the actual novel they advertise at the end as a continuation is better. This comic is pretty bad though. I give it a 3/10.

July Bonus Review: Secret Six- Villains United

The original Secret Six goes all the way back to the late 60s and used a bunch of characters who most people wouldn’t recognise. The team was revived two decades later for its second arc. But we’re looking at the third incarnation from the mid 2000s written by Gail Simone. This particular collection includes Villains United #1-6, Villain United: Infinite Crisis Special #1 & Secret Six #1-6. 

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Story:

We open with a bunch of big name villains, including Deathstroke, Talia Al Ghul, Lex Luthor & Black Adam, gathering everyone they possibly can into a Society of villains. Their purpose is simple, prevent any heroes from crossing over the line and erasing their minds like they did to Doctor Light in a stupid retcon for a shit comic.

We’re introduced to the first of our major characters, Catman, when he refuses an offer from Doctor Psycho and Talia. Psycho is furious since Catman’s been basically a joke for years. We cut to a small group: Deadshot, Scandal Savage, Cheshire, one of Darkseid’s Parademons, Ragdoll & The Fiddler, fighting some H.I.V.E agents. They complete the operation and the Fiddler is deemed unworthy, resulting in Deadshot straight up murdering him. They need a sixth member, which turns out to be the aforementioned Catman. Now these six less than well known villains under the guidance of the mysterious Mockingbird find themselves at odds with a massive society of villains.

At least, that’s the first arc of the collection. The second deals with Vandal Savage deciding that it’s time for his daughter to pump out some babies. Because he wants those grandchildren. Neither she nor her girlfriend, Knockout, take kindly to the notion.

The writing in this  is, frankly, really stellar. Especially considering it’s working off of something as shit as Identity Crisis. In a sense, it’s the ultimate underdog scenario. Not only are these villains fighting against much bigger villains, but they’re villains who are largely regarded as C-list, at best. And the situations they find themselves in don’t have the usual, obvious comic solutions. Things happen that you would never expect especially if you’re used to comic conventions. I guess that’s the advantage of using unconventional characters. And these aren’t twists that come out of nowhere, Simone does a good job of building up to them. She just makes it vague enough that you aren’t sure what exactly the build up is for until you see it.

About the only thing I take some issue with is the use of character death. This is something I’m critical of in comics as a whole. I don’t like seeing characters die cheaply. I don’t like seeing them resurrected cheaply. In this case, we see quite a few characters killed off. To be fair, most of them are characters who weren’t being used and were unlikely to show up in anything else. In some cases, like The Fiddler, we even see their legacy passed on. I still can’t help but see it as taking part in a very negative trend, even if it handles it better than the vast majority of comics.

Characters:

Simone has a difficult task in this story. She has to build up these characters that you probably don’t give a shit about going into the story in a way that keeps them villainous but also makes them relatable enough for you to have some investment in what happens with them. Fortunately, Gail Simone is easily one of the best comic writers out there and she does a fantastic job of doing that.

The characters are heavily flawed. They do some very questionable things but they have enough complexity to them that they are interesting to read about and, perhaps more importantly, they have likeable traits. And one of them is a freaking nameless Parademon.

They also have strong dynamics. Deadshot and Catman start developing a strong friendship that neither one will likely ever call a friendship. Scandal and Knockout are kind of adorable in their relationship. The Parademon and Ragdoll have an interesting dynamic. Cheshire and Catman have a lot of intrigue betwixt them. And those are just the stand out dynamics. really, any two major characters who are part of the six together will have something interesting to their interactions.

Art: 

The artist changes throughout. We have Dale Eaglesham, Val Semeiks & Brad Walker for the pencillers. All three do great work. this is a well drawn series of comics. The colourists, including Paul Mounts, Rob Schwager & Guy Major also deserve credit because the colours in this are also damn good. The action sequences are dynamic with a strong sense of flow. The characters look great, it’s just strong work all around.

Final Thoughts:

Secret Six- Villains United is pretty phenomenal. Thirteen comics and they’re all great reads. I would certainly recommend it for any comic book fans and my final rating is going to be a 9/10.

December Bonus Review #2: Civil War

 

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I’ve talked about two big comic events, not including Marvel vs DC. One was average, the other really damn good. Since I talked about DC for the more average event and Marvel for the really superb one, it seems only fair to talk about Marvel again for the event that’s actively shit. Wouldn’t want to be accused of favouring one company over the other. Back in mid ’06, Marvel started an event headed by writer Mark Millar. It went on for about half a year and it has a lot of severe problems. Some of which relate to continuity while others are just with the content of the story even when divorced from all those issues it has in the context of the greater Marvel universe. I’m talking, of course, about Civil War. Why is this event such hot garbage? Let’s take a look. Like with Blackest Night, I’m not going to cover all the tie-ins, just the main event itself. So, keep that in mind.

Story:

In the light of a tragedy the American government decides to curtail some freedoms and force people with super human abilities to register and work for the government in an official capacity. This results in heroes being split with those who believe in surrendering freedom going head to head with those who want to keep it. Stupid shite follows.

Let’s start with the very first narrative problem. The reasoning behind the registration act is nonsensical. So, we have an accident when the New Warriors are being completely out of character and they get into an altercation with Nitro, resulting in him going boom and killing a bunch of kids. And the American government decides that the best way to prevent accidents like this is through superhuman registration. First off, the New Warriors have identities and powers that are known. They’re on reality television. As does Nitro. He’s certainly been arrested enough. It’s almost like knowing the real names and powers of super humans does nothing. Secondly, there have been super human battles in the Marvel universe with a lot more civilian casualties. Remember Maximum Carnage? How about Inferno? It’s almost like this incident is turned into a massive deal for incredibly flimsy reasons to excuse a really stupid event. That’s exactly what’s happening.

Another issue is with the extreme over reactions on the part of the pro-registration side. First, we have the head of SHIELD decide to have Captain America arrested when he hasn’t done anything wrong. He seriously just says that he will not hunt down his friends who refuse to register. At that point he hasn’t even decided to fight against it himself. As strange as that is, given how much Cap loves freedom. The same thing happens with Spidey later on. He tells Tony off and says outright that he’ll still work with SHIELD, but that he won’t fight Cap’s team or be a part of the Avengers. So, they open fire on him and send super villains to beat the shit out of him. Even though he’s already registered and is in full compliance with the law.

Speaking of the registration law, let’s talk about that mess. This event tries to turn it into an actual debate by comparing registering super powers to getting a gun license. The problem is that it fails to work on multiple levels. First of all, someone chooses to buy a gun. Most heroes in the MU didn’t choose to get super powers.. Secondly, they don’t just want to register them, they also want to force them to work for the government. At that point it would be like getting licensed to carry a gun and then being forced to work for the military because you own a gun. And we see with those aforementioned examples of Cap & Spidey that the heroes actually have no choice in the matter of working for the government. Because if they fail to follow orders they’ll have agents ordered to arrest them and get shot at. I’m pretty sure there’s a term for being forced to do labour against your will and that term is slavery.

In other arenas where the pro-registration side is made up of rusty old cock rings, these guys come across as cartoonishly evil. They build a robotic clone of Thor, which murders Bill Foster in cold blood. They keep using the damn thing too. Yeah, use the unstable construct that just killed one of your friends. That’s a great idea. They construct a prison in the Negative Zone. For those of you not familiar with the Negative Zone, it’s a dimension in the Marvel Universe where exposure to it causes severe depression. Yeah, let’s give our friends and comrades severe depression with all the trauma that comes with. They also bring in a bunch of psychotic super villains to work with them and hunt down the resisting heroes.

You want something else extremely stupid? We’re told that ninety percent of the American people support this measure. There is nothing out there that ninety percent of people will support. You could have an initiative to give everybody some free chocolate and you’d get more dissenters than that. If the measure was just about registration, you might be able to manage a high number, but even then ninety percent would be absurd. Once you add the forced labour, there’s no fucking way. I have to give Americans credit enough to assume that ninety percent would not support slavery.

Let’s talk about Bill Foster’s death a bit more because this is absolutely atrocious. First off, he dies pointlessly for cheap shock value. Secondly, they wrap his body in chains. So, in an event about forcing super humans into slavery they kill off a black guy and then wrap him up in chains. Either this is a really unsubtle visual metaphor or the people behind this are really stupid and clueless. It’s probably both, given the general quality. In the event they try to excuse it because “they couldn’t get him shrunk back down to his normal size” but I call bollocks on that. They have Hank Pym on their side. A man who invented a particle that makes things and people shrink. Couldn’t get him back to normal size my well-toned bum.

The event also ends with a complete anti-climax. There’s weird semi-incestuous stuff with The Invisible Woman & Human Torch. Their new identities are a married couple and the way he carries her when they’re fleeing is super questionable. So, they couldn’t have gotten new identities that were just unrelated? I knew that Bendis had a weird ass incest fetish but I didn’t know there were more people at Marvel with one.

Let’s go on the subject of follow up stories for a moment. When I discussed Secret Wars I mentioned that a lot of good stories came from the event, including the classic symbiont story for Spidey. So, what did we get from this event? A bunch of other horribly written comics, including the notorious One More Day. Thanks, Civil War, for giving us one of the worst Spider-man stories ever written.

Characters:

If I cover how each and every character in this event is taken out of character, we’ll be here for ages. So, instead, I’ll focus on a few of the more egregious examples. Let’s start with Iron Man. A lot of the more evil moves on the part of the pro-registration side come, at least in part, from Tony. He’s involved with the robot Thor débâcle. The Negative Zone prison is partially his idea. The event just consistently portrays him as a fascist . Captain America doesn’t come across as much better. He’s not fighting the good fight for any ideals. He’s just angry because the idiot at the head of SHIELD tried to have him arrested for not enforcing the registration act for them. When Tony tries to talk through things with him, he refuses to listen and acts like an ass. He actively insults people because he doesn’t like their choices. This is Captain America, before Marvel decided he should be a Nazi because modern Marvel is the worst. He should be giving inspirational speeches that have his comrades’ loins swelling with idealism, not throwing a tantrum.

We also have Bishop. I know, Bishop is a weird character to bring up since he’s barely present in the event proper but, for as little as he appears, they manage to royally fuck him up. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bishop, he’s a time traveller who journeyed to our time from a dystopian future where Mutant registration passed and mutants, as well as other super humans, were rounded up and either killed or forced into camps by Sentinels. Then, with them out of the way, the Sentinels quickly dominated ordinary humans turning everything into a horrific mess. Bishop chose to come back to our time to try and prevent those atrocities from repeating. So, he must see the registration act as a terrifying precursor to this future, right? Maybe, but he decides to join the pro-registration side anyway. Even though it goes against everything he’s ever stood for and everything that’s ever motivated him. Did Mark Millar never read a single issue of the X-men? Or maybe he only read Grant Morrison’s run.

Art:

There are a lot of problems with Steve McNiven’s artwork. The faces look terrible at least half the time. The posing is uncomfortably awkward, including the Human Torch/ Invisible Woman incest flying formation and that panel where She Hulk’s ass talks to you. I don’t imagine that Mark Millar put that in his directions. “Show the siblings flying chest to chest while she makes an ‘o’ face. Make sure She Hulk’s bum is in the foreground talking to us.” The proportions are frequently borked. Morry Hollowell’s colouring has a lot of issues too. The colours of things shift from issue to issue with She Hulk looking olive green sometimes and her regular shade others.

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Final Thoughts:

Civil War is an absolute, bloody mess. The writing has holes so massive that Unicron could easily slip through them. Not to mention a whole lot of things that are so massively stupid that you feel a bit dumber just from having read them. The characterisation is garbage. The art looks bad. There is nothing in any of these seven issues that’s remotely redeemable. My final rating is going to stand at a 1/10. This event can go fornicate itself with something long, thick, sandpaper textured and spiky.

December Bonus Review #1: Secret Wars

Back in October I talked about DC’s Blackest Night .  It was an event comic that suffered a lot of the pitfalls that modern event comics always seem to suffer from: cheap character deaths, tie-ins that are five times longer than the event itself, & characters who don’t serve much of a purpose to the event being a part of the whole thing just to make it seem bigger. So, what would an event look like if it had none of those problems? For the answer, let’s turn to a Marvel piece I’m very familiar with, The Secret Wars, and not the shit one from a couple years back. We’re going way back to the mid 80s for this one. 

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Story:

We open with a group of Marvel heroes finding themselves aboard a strange ship, floating through space. They introduce themselves and notice another ship nearby, this one full of villains. It turns out that both groups have been taken from Earth by the Beyonder, a cosmic entity who’ fascinated by Earth’s super beings. So, he’s chosen two teams to pit against each other. One team made up of those with selfless motivations. The other made up of those with selfish motivations. Can our heroes stop the villains who have been promised anything they desire, should they triumph? 

I actually only have one criticism of the narrative here. There’s a bit of a tryst betwixt the Wasp & Magneto. Which comes out of nowhere, doesn’t really do anything and ends pretty quickly. I think it’s just here to establish that Janet is a strong independent woman who doesn’t need her abusive ex-husband.

Aside from that, I like that the division for the characters is based on relative selflessness instead of something overly simplistic like “good vs. evil.” I also appreciate the way that the series gives all of the participating characters a chance to shine. The conflicts in this story are very interesting as well, particularly those that arise from philosophical differences within the ranks. Seeing James Rhodes tell off the Human Torch for being a racist fuck is pretty damn magnificent.

Looking back on it, this event also established a lot of elements that led to interesting stories later on. This was where Spidey got his black suit, events started that led to Colossus and Shadowcat having a falling out, The Thing got to have solo adventures in space, She Hulk joined the FF and there were other things too. And, thanks to the event being self-contained, the pacing is able to proceed at a good, steady pace without anything feeling left out or time skipping ahead awkwardly. We also don’t have any elements being mentioned but nothing really happening with them in the main event. It’s almost like writing a story that doesn’t include a bunch of supplementary materials leads to a stronger story. 

Characters:

Here’s another area where I have to give the Secret Wars complete credit. Jim Shooter doers a good job of naturally & concisely introducing our colourful cast. So that those readers who don’t pick up every title in the Marvel universe can keep up without any problems. He also does a fantastic job of showcasing those factors that make the characters who they are, in spite of having a pretty big cast and only twelve issues. He also does a good job of introducing us to some new characters, the second Spider Woman, Titania & Volcana. 

To use an example, let’s look at what is quite possibly the best explanation for Magneto’s character. Magneto is, naturally, put with the selfless group. This leads to him being confronted by Ben Grimm & Monica Rambeau (The Thing and Captain Marvel). After she calls him a murderer he becomes indignant and says this: “I am many things. A mutant, master of magnetism, an avowed enemy of humankind, but a murderer? A slayer of innocents? Never! I fight in defence of my race! My cause is just…” He goes on from there but that is actually a perfect explanation of Magneto’s character. I also like that, in the comic itself, there are a lot of pauses in that bit to illustrate how carefully he’s choosing his words. I also think it’s very telling that the pauses stop shortly before he declares that he has never been a slayer of innocents. 

The dialogue in this is very well crafted, is where I’m going with that. 

Art:

The pencilling for this series was mostly done by Michael Zeck with a couple issues being drawn by Bob Layton. There are times it can be a bit under-detailed, especially in large panels that have a lot going on. But, as a whole, it looks pretty damn good. The grand, alien imagery is really nice. The action flows well. The colours by Christie Scheele, except for that one issue in which they were done by Nelson Yomtov, are really nice. They’re vibrant and bright so they really pop.

Final Thoughts:

The Secret Wars was a superb event. It’s so good that it’s hard to believe it was crafted to try and sell super hero toys. It was dynamic, introduced the beginnings for a lot of stories and it didn’t need to cheaply kill off a bunch of good characters just to show that it was “for serious.” My final rating is going to be an enthusiastic 9/10. If you want to see a comic event done right, look no further. Now, I’ve talked about comic events done right and events done averagely. Next week’s bonus review will focus on how to fail at them really horribly. Because you guys deserve to see the whole gamut. 

In closing, I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Hearth’s Warming, Hogswatch, the Solstice, Yule, Christmas or any other holiday. Consider this month of bonus reviews a token of my esteem for all of you. 

October Bonus Review: Blackest Night

Death is cheap in Western super hero comics. It’s like there’s a revolving door between the worlds of life & death that the popular, marketable heroes & villains can just pass through whenever they like. Turns out, fans aren’t the only ones who noticed this. In mid-’09 an event started based on the idea that the doorway had been left open deliberately. All for nefarious purposes. The event ran for almost a year and had a huge number of tie-ins in addition to the main event issues themselves. To keep things concise, I’m just going to look at the eight issues, nine if you include #0, of the event itself. This is Blackest Night, written by Geoff Johns. A man who did have a pretty good run on the Titans.

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Story:

We open with Hal Jordan & Barry Allen at the supposed grave of Bruce Wayne, this was back when Bruce was presumed dead but he was actually mucking about with history. They talk about death, the things that have happened while Barry’s been dead. With an emphasis on the heroes who have fallen. We end our prelude with a foreboding look at a figure in back clutching skulls while black rings float around. We then start the event properly. Black rings fall from the sky, attaching to corpses, mostly of heroes, and bidding them to rise. Before long, several heroes have been murdered. Because this is a company wide event and they always have to have pointless character deaths to show that things are serious.

But I’ll get back to that later. Basically, the rings are trying to use corpses to get emotional responses so that they can consume the emotional powers of people with their deaths. All as part of a plan to feed off of their emotional energy and gain power for the black lanterns so that everyone can be dead together.

There are some things I appreciate about the event. I like the idea that a doorway betwixt life & death was left open deliberately. I also like the way it tries to basically put a stop to further resurrections. Even though we all know that DC was never going to follow through with that one. I also do appreciate that the series ends with a bunch of resurrections as a part of everything drawing to a close, supposedly the last of them but we all know better. The black rings possessing heroes who had died but come back makes for a really strong dark turn. I also like the lighter turn where certain heroes & villains get deputised into different Lantern corps.

That being said, the whole scenario is cheapened a bit just because we do know that DC isn’t going to stop bringing characters back to life. It also does annoy me that some characters who died cheaply for the event, Tempest & Gehenna being two obvious examples, just stay dead. Because they can bring back a bunch of characters who have been dead for years but these ones died entirely pointlessly just now and they’re staying dead. The entity at the centre of this event is fickle that way.

It’s also established that the character Dove has an immunity to the black rings and is very strong against the black lanterns but the reasons why are kind of stupid and it barely comes into play. The Lantern deputation is also a bit clumsy. Most of the choices make perfect sense. Barry as a Blue Lantern, Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire, Scarecrow as a Yellow, Lex Luthor as Orange. Then we have Mera. Throughout the event Mera comes across as calm and collected. She’s keeping her emotions in check and doing what needs to be done. But, I guess we were supposed to read her as barely containing her rage because she gets a Red Lantern ring. The problem is that that never comes across. For that matter, Ray Palmer as an Indigo comes across as kind of contrived. It’s also established that a Black Lantern’s bite does nasty things to you but they only use it with Donna Troy & they never really go anywhere with it. My guess is that some of the tie-ins used it to make the Black Lanterns more like zombies & the main event just barely mentions it to pay lip service to that.

Characters:

You’d better know the DC universe really well for this one. I say that about half of the ring choices that work, Wondey & Lex, depend on knowledge of the characters that extends beyond the event itself. Wonder Woman is barely in the event & Lex spends most of the event trying to hide from the corpses of people who might come after him. Johns does do a good job of showing why Barry Allen represents hope and he tries to show why Ray Palmer would embody compassion but the results are kind of meh. The main characters we follow are Mera, Barry, Hal, Ray & the villains. Aside from them, we have a lot of characters who are there as a part of the DC universe and because the big climactic fight needs to have a lot of characters involved. If you don’t know who they are, you’ll just have to ask yourself who is this and why are they even here? Then you might elect to look them up.

To Johns’ credit, he does do a superb job with Barry & Hal and that does lead to the strongest moments in the event.

Art:

The artwork was done by Ivan Reis. This is one area where I can completely praise the mini-series. It looks amazing. The action posing is dynamic. The characters consistently look good. The creepy, uncomfortable atmosphere is definitely there. Reis did a stellar job. This wouldn’t have worked with a bullshit artist who traces their stuff like Greg Land.

Final Thoughts:

In some ways, this is a pretty typical massive company-wide event. It has cheap, pointless character deaths. It features a bunch of characters it’s not really doing anything with solely for the sake of making it appear grander. It has easily five times as many tie-ins as issues. It has… let’s loosely call them “plot points” that don’t really go anywhere. However, it also elevates itself above the average company wide event by having some solid ideas, doing a good job with some of its characters. This might also be the only event where more characters are resurrected than die, in all fairness. But we also get shitty trades like losing Tempest but getting Maxwell Lord back. Because that’s who we want. The villain of a kind of shit company-wide event.

Ultimately, Blackest Night is better than most company wide events but that’s not saying a whole lot. And, compared to comics as a whole, it’s just average. My final rating is going to be a 5/10.

August Bonus Review: Jem and The Holograms Volume 1

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I’ve briefly talked about IDW’s Jem comic before and some things that it improves on when compared with the cartoon. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the cartoon, it ran from the mid to late 80s as part of Hasboro’s line of cartoons based off of toys. It followed the outrageous adventures of the titular Jem and the Holograms, a band made up of four sisters and their conflicts with their rival band, The Misfits. In 2015, IDW began releasing a comic based off of the franchise the comic saw its final issue in June but the characters are still going in a couple of mini-series. So, I’ll be taking a look at the first collected volume of the comic. Which includes the first six issues written by Kelly Thompson with artwork by Sophie Campbell and colours by María Victoria Robado. 

Story:

We open with our heroines trying to record a video for a “Misfits VS.” competition. It’s not going well. Jerrica can’t bring herself to sing in front of the camera crew, all four of them. She hears her sisters venting their frustrations about her stage fright and goes home. A storm knocks out the  power which results in the holographic Synergy’s systems being rebooted. She shows Jerrica and her sisters the amazing technology their father was working on, prompting Kimber to ask if he was a super hero. Using Synergy’s holographic technology and the Jem persona that lets Jerrica overcome her performance anxiety, our Heroines are successfully able to enter the competition. Thereby kicking off their rivalry with the Misfits. Things become somewhat complicated when Kimber and Stormer meet at an event and there’s an immediate attraction. This prompts Pizzazz to forbid Stormer from dating “the enemy.” 

In terms of story-telling, the worst I can say about the comic is that the dialogue can get repetitive at times. we get such nuggets as “Saw your video. It was great. It was beyond great.” Or there’s also “They always get my bad side. Every time.” Which I can’t criticise too much because it is dialogue and it’s not exactly unusual for someone to say something redundant. 

There are a lot more praise-worthy things about the writing. Having the Holograms as an upcoming band entering a competition against the veteran Misfits is a good way to kick off the animosity. Having members of the opposing bands who are trying to make a fledgling relationship work, in spite of that, is a nice method of adding some dramatic tension. Jerrica suffering from performance anxiety and using Jem to disassociate from it provides a compelling reason for her to have a secret identity and Rio being a reporter, and one she meets after they enter the contest, gives a strong motive for not telling him the truth. As opposed to the cartoon where she couldn’t tell her long term boyfriend that they were the same person because… glamour & glitter and she needed a secret identity because… fashion & fame. the comic is also really superb about stopping each issue at a really good point. We get the first appearance of Jem at the end of one issue. The Misfits about to confront Stormer when they see her on a date with Kimber ending another. A light array about to fall on Jem ending yet another. They’re all moments that give the reader a reason to pick up the next issue while also stemming naturally from the events of that issue. There’s nothing that feels contrived or rushed about it. The comic is also very charming and funny. Aja throwing shoes because she wants to keep sleeping while Kimber tries to wake her up is hilarious. There’s a really funny scene where the Misfits argue before going on a television show and those are just a few examples. There are a lot more. 

Characters:

This may very well be the strongest aspect of the comic. Unlike the cartoon, where the villains were just causing trouble because they were the antagonists and it was their job, in the comics there’s a coherent motivation behind everything they do. It’s also nice that the Misfits in this never resort to attempted murder. The worst thing that happens comes from Clash acting on her own because she thinks it’ll please Pizzazz and Clash really wants some mutual pleasing betwixt herself and Pizzazz. The Misfits even react negatively when they find out what Clash allegedly (as far as they’re concerned) did. Pizzazz stops her from admitting to it, though, because she wants to keep the Misfits out of any possible legal issues. The Misfits, in general, just come across as the antagonists because they’re abrasive and needlessly competitive because they see the Holograms as a threat.

The sisterly dynamic among Jerrica, Kimber, Aja & Shana is excellently handled. Which is another improvement over the cartoon where Jerrica and Kimber acted like sisters while the other two acted more like friends. The budding relationship between Kimber and Stormer is, even in this early stage, shaping up to be the best romance I’ve seen in a comic and I find myself highly invested in what’s happening with it. None of that is hyperbolic either. 

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Art:

Campbell’s artwork is gorgeous. The facial expressions are highly expressive. The outfit, make-up and hair designs are consistently appealing. The way she makes up for the lack of music, because it’s a comic and doesn’t have sound, with lively panels surrounded by lyrics makes for some amazing visuals. The action flows nicely. The colours are vibrant and aesthetically pleasing. There are Rainbow Dash and Sunset Shimmer plushies. Yes, this is the same comic company that puts out the Friendship is Magic comic… Which I may have a lot of issues of on my shelf. 

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Final Thoughts:

The first volume of IDW’s Jem does exactly what it needs to. It establishes the characters, scenario and the underlying source of tension between the bands. It demonstrates a deep understanding of those elements that people liked about the cartoon while also establishing what it’s going to do differently. As a whole, it even uses those elements better with more thought and greater care going into it. It is a damn good comic and I do recommend it for anyone who likes slice of life works. Regardless of whether or not you watched or enjoyed the old cartoon. My final rating for the first volume of this comic is going to stand at a 9/10. It’s truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. Maybe I’ll look at the second volume at a later point. But next month I want to look at something a bit different. Preferably not super hero related because I  don’t want my bonus reviews to be too fixated on people running about in tights.