Secret Avengers: Save the Empire (2014) Review

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STORY BY Ales Kot

ART BY Michael Walsh

Those goofy and out of this world Avengers gotten themselves into a sticky mess this time. Hawkguy is being chased by the evil A.I.M. before he runs in and like totally ruins Black Widow and Spider Woman’s girl day at the day spa. Meanwhile, Fury and Colson are uncharacteristically bromancing all over S.H.I.E.L.D’s damaged Satellite. Only to be attacked by The Fury. Wait there’s two Fury’s sharing the same scene? Moving on. To make matters worse, creepy M.O.D.O.K’ is trying to get his war game on with Director Hill before her lovely S.H.I.E.L.D HQ gets infiltrated. Really, the plot is just something to carry the reader from one tongue and cheek joke to the next slapstick hijinks.

It’s Ales Kot’s uncanny characterization skills which highlight the funniest moments. In addition, it’s fantastic one of Marvel’s series have finally adopted Fraction’s incarnation of Hawkeye. One of Marvel’s draw backs is writers will portray the same character an infinite amount of different ways.

Therefore, within one month Hawkeye’s personality will run the gamut with his 16 point personality profile. However, with Fraction’s Hawkeye getting nods from various awards, it’s clear which one incarnation is coming out on top. Hopefully, this means Hawkguy will no longer suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Yet, the same can’t be said for the other characters. Black Widow is less femme fatale and more valley girl. Nick Fury is less Sam L and more creepy sex predator. Agent Colson is less Agent Colson and more Maxwell Smart, and so on. Ales Kot’s characters are inconsistent with the rest of the rest of the MU series. One can’t help but wonder if they are parodies of themselves. The story spirals off in several directions and begins to have larger holes than the one bumbling Colson blasts through S.H.I.E.L.D’s satellite. Maybe this too is self referential. If it is, the story lacks focus or clear parallels to other story arcs. Because of the exaggerated situations with popular Marvel players, it’s hard not to read this as some sort of Mad Magazine parody, which is completely fine. Self referential humor and irony is always trendy, but Kot’s delivery isn’t punching through.

Furthermore, Marvel is starting to diminish the novelty of their other lines such as Superior Foes and Hawkeye. Marvel is creating a formula by taking a comic book writer known for their postmodernist and nonlinear style of storytelling and wrapping it up with minimalist artwork. When they first announced Ales Kot taking over Secret Avenger’s it should have been safe to assume this was going to be something similar to what he did with Suicide Squad or Wild Children. A thematic and cerebral plot which had fourth wall breaking characters who kept it fun and sexy the whole ride through. Instead, Kot somehow delivered a functional parody which at best is derivative and at worst a mad house.

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Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) Review

Captain_America618-618x400Directors:

Anthony RussoJoe Russo

Writers:

Christopher Markus (screenplay), Stephen McFeely(screenplay)

During the early years of Marvel, the global threat focused on weaponizing radiation testing and atomic bombs. Marvel summed up this fear with their rampaging Hulk. However, that fear has been diminished while a new fear focusing on surveillance and terrorism has grown. The writers of Winter Soldier understood this shift thus they modernized Marvel’s threats to match the current global state. Because over arching surveillance diminishes people’s privacy and freedom, it made sense why this was Captain America’s story. After all, the First Avenger only fights for his beliefs in freedom and justice.

Previously, Marvel bumped against this ideology during the Iron Man series. Stark Industries earned its fortune by manufacturing state of the art military grade weapons. After the invention of the Mach IV, Iron Patriot, and War Machines suits. The moral dilemma develops which question whether or not any government body should have access to this technology. Captain America: Winter Soldier answers the question through a domino effect. Through backdoors, governments are providing known terrorist organizations with military technology. The terrorist use this technology to create terror and chaos. This prompts other governments to use and develop more surveillance technology as a form of counter terrorism. The transparency this surveillance creates not only provides a suspect list but also diminishes privacy and freedom for everyone else. This becomes even more apparent when the suspect list is turned into a kill list for military drones. This is the antagonism of Winter Soldier.

Although most comic book movies have a clearly defined villain, it actually makes more sense for Winter Soldier to take this approach. Yes, there is the Winter Soldier, but as one can see he is merely one cog in the machine. Writers often make a mistake of throwing a more powerful doppelganger at their protagonist. This direct approach will often create forgettable antagonist. Instead, it’s better to have an antagonist who directly challenges the ideology the hero represents. This more dynamic threat is no longer a simple can the hero survive. Not only was every action scene beautifully choreographed, but also each fight usually ended with a hero limping or crawling away. They weren’t just trying to defeat their opponent but also trying to escape with their lives. Furthermore, because this is a story that revolves around deception, the protagonists never knew who the enemy was until it was too late. This dynamic will create tension because it now makes one wonder how much will be affected when the day is over and the dust settles. By the time the credits roll, it’s clear everything in the Captain’s world changes.

In addition, the production was highly detailed and orchestrated. For example, the sniper shots were brilliant pieces of cinema. First the tension would be primed with the gunshot followed by the cold industrial Winter Soldier theme. This would be followed by confusing POV camera angles which never clearly focus on where the sniper was shooting from. This combined with each shot always hitting the highest priority person created a well executed scene which accurately represents the Winter Soldier and his level of threat.

The actors all delivered top performances both physically and emotionally. There are quite a few instances where their actions and physical endurance was indeed super soldier like. It’s surprising they weren’t huffing and puffing after every twenty seconds just on the one take which made it to film. It’s hard to imagine them keeping this pace up all day. Then, these actors were also able to project the full emotional spectrum. For instance, Scarlett Johansson could make the audience laugh to breaking their hearts within one short scene.

Finally, not only was Marvel able to follow up Dark Knight but also they were able to push beyond and set the new standard for comic book movies. Although they both touched upon similar themes, the amount of depth and quality in Winter Soldier made Dark Knight seem much more shallow and less daring. From top to bottom, Marvel was able to create a super hero world which carried resonance with its beautiful set production, top notch acting, and mature storytelling. Thank you Marvel for finally making a movie for us comic book lovers.

Marvel Knight’s Hulk (2014) Review

Marvel-Knights-Hulk

Writer: Joseph Keatinge
Cover Artist: Piotr Kowalski

Much of Marvel Knight’s Hulk asks the question of can man survive his destructive nature? The story slowly builds up the realization that Hulk is just another weapon of mass destruction. By the time the run reaches it’s climax, the story shows how weapons aren’t made to be controlled, rather they are meant to be used, even if it’s against the creator, inventor, soldier, villain or whoever.

The creators, Keatinge and Kowalski, wanted to begin this story with Banner in France. In order to establish this, they relied upon different storytelling techniques as well as European comic style art in order to achieve this Mise en scene. This is why the story starts off with a slow French Noir pacing and feel. However, the pacing is broken up with flashbacks to the Hulk. Kowalski transitions between the violent gamma ray bursts of the Hulk world and the surrealist art of the real world creates a good amount of tension. As the story progresses, the surrealism is all but completely smashed out by the violence and chaos of Hulk. This is portrayed in a 3D stereoscopic art style with a violent red pallet. It isn’t until Banner finally regains control does the art slip into the tranquil blues which were more prevalent in the beginning.

Another part of the story which nails down the concept is the femme fatale Nikoleta. A eugenicist project started by AIM in order to engineer the perfect killer. Just like the Hulk, AIM’s experiment became just as destructive and uncontrollable.

The last scene is truly remarkable, and it brought the story home again. When Banner apologizes and walks away alone, there’s not only a feeling of heartbreak but also of nostalgia. It evokes the closing scenes of the TV series, and it reminds us of the unique and tragic life of Bruce Banner. At the end of each struggle with Hulk, Banner must always carry the burden of the green monster by himself.

Despite dialogue in Hulk stories usually fall or kept to a minimum, Keatinge really kept his lines of dialogue sharp and defined every character quickly, rather this be through the use of subtitles, the Yankee drawls and muted consonants, to quips from a cantankerous old man. Every conversation was fun to read and didn’t make the reader want to skip ahead to the Hulk smashing action.

Overall, although the story arc kept the theme and plot in tight focus, the art, pacing and character development was unique and stylized. This book could have easily got lost in gamma radiated psychedelia, but it kept it’s vision focused and on course.

All New Ghost Rider #1 (2014) Review


ImageSTORY BY
Felipe Smith
ART BY
Tradd Moore
COLORS BY
Nelson Daniel, Val Staples
Sadly, the All New Ghost Rider doesn’t feel very new or fresh in any way. This isn’t because the story is staying within the lines of an anti-hero Ghost Rider tale. Instead, this story uses the same tropes of many other action stories. We’re introduced to a young mechanic named Robbie Reyes who takes care of his developmentally challenged little brother. That is a warm and fuzzy hero trope used to establish Robbie Reyes being the altruistic type. This goes against the usual brooding Ghost Rider archetype we’ve become use to, and after all we want something fresh. Regardless, as the story continues the issue becomes a patchwork of other action movie tropes, and it begins to undermine the whole new take on Ghost Rider. For example, we’re quickly introduced to villainous gangbangers who are evil for evil’s sake such as robbing a little kids wheelchair at gunpoint. It doesn’t make any logistical sense other than to show a neighborhood being overrun by mean people. In fact, with the amount of death and gun violence shown in the first half of the book, it’s odd that the neighborhood is still populated.
By the time we get to the car, Felipe Smith undermines Robbie’s altruistic demeanor which he had previously established. First of all, instead of Robbie doing his job, he spends his time in the shop working on a car his boss doesn’t want him working on until next week. Then there’s a moment of confrontation which shows that Robbie doesn’t even trust his boss when it comes to his paycheck. Somehow this kid is earning money when he isn’t even doing his job and then gets upset at his boss if he wasn’t paid as much as he wanted. On top of that, it’s revealed Robbie was fixing up the car so he could take his girlfriend on a date and to the street races. In a scene ripped from other car movies, Robbie bets the car that he can win the street race. Of course he does. Why wouldn’t he? After all this is a car that Robbie stole and he has nothing to lose if he loses the race. Smith didn’t even bother using the trope of this being Robbie’s car that he saved up for and built with his own hands while trying to also provide for his brother. So, betting a strangers car on a race has no emotional impact other than Robbie being a jerk. In the middle of the race, it turns out that the car is actually loaded with drugs and a tracking device.
After a hot speed pursuit, Robbie and the car go up in a blaze while the police recover the drugs from the trunk. Then, at the moment of death, Robbie is turned into the Spirit of Vengeance. Vengeance, Vengeance for what? Is he going to take vengeance on the people who stole the wheelchair, the police for taking down a car they planted with drugs, his patient boss for accidentally withholding 23 dollars from his unearned paycheck? Why does Robbie have the Spirit of Vengeance? For a story which had very little exposition and plot and what it did have had been lifted from other stories, there are too many holes to make sense of what the writer was trying to accomplish.
With that being said. The art style also lacked cohesion. It isn’t really clear what happened, but the characters looked like melting rubber, from their drooping eyelids and cheeks to their stretched out arms and legs. Although the fighting and emotional expression had a manga feel, it’s hard not to get distracted by their rubber anatomy. However, the car race and chase was very beautiful and it was worth re reading those kinetic pages of action, and it’s a shame it was buried in the larger mess. Over all, the only impressive and fresh part of this story was the car chase.   

SIlver Surfer #1 (2014) Review

ImageSTORY BY
Dan Slott
ART BY
Michael Allred

Let’s face it the Silver Surfer was a product of his time; therefore, it makes sense why the new Silver Surfer reboot is soaked with nostalgia. Regardless, with the amount of referential detail the creators have put into this issues, the creators clearly have reverence for this series. However, if they tried to recreate those cosmic stories for the modern times, that magic would get lost in translation. Instead, this story is a more tongue in cheek with a few winks and nods to the old series. Remember, during the silver age of comics and science fiction, many writers would model alien civilization after western culture, and we see this in the reboot. For example, watching aliens ski down large flower petals, the impossible palace which scientist can’t explain, or the tiny solar system as seen to the right definitely establishes this is the sort of world Silver Surfer is taking part in. Yet, Silver Surfer pointing out the ridiculousness of these types of instances assures the readers this isn’t somebody trying to parody the classic series.

In addition, the art style is reminiscent of the time as well. Although it takes a somewhat minimalist approach that was prevalent of the time, the amount of detail and creativity jammed into each world building panel would impress even Jack Kirby. This is a creative team who knows the material and is writing an updated and clever approach who aren’t afraid of making fun of the time. With a silver skinned hero in speedos who rides a surfboard through the cosmos, that’s perhaps the best way to approach this series. Never the less, this story still retains those warm empathetic moments which have always define the Silver alien with a heart of gold. Nostalgic readers shouldn’t be worried that the Silver Surfer and his far out adventures may be turned into a joke. It’s taking an approach much like the other Science fiction Doctor Who reboot. Yes, it will make fun of the hack and slapped together Sci-fi, but it will retain the core messages and themes of their cosmic journeys.

Uncanny Avengers Season 2 18.Now (2014) Review

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Writer

Rick Remender

Artist

Daniel Acuña

Uncanny Avengers season 2 isn’t a very good jumping on point for new readers. Once again, Marvel Now’s accessibility idea of each number one being a great starting point isn’t realistic. Of course, after the phenomenal pull no punches Ragnarok Now, Remender never had a chance. This story takes place after Earth had been destroyed and all the surviving mutants created a Planet X utopia. See what I mean? The majority of this issue is a blockbuster chase scene between mutant Avenger Havok and the overly large mutant Blob which is set in a glossy futuristic utopia. However, Remender slowed the pacing down by mixing Havok’s letter to his daughter Katie with the poorly written word vomit of the Blob. Maybe it would have been better to world build Planet X with the letter before jumping into the action, especially since anyone who is trying to jump on may need a minute or two to find their bearings. This tonal inconsistency is distracting, and it’s better to ignore Blob although ignoring the pursuer in a chase scene defeats the needed tension to make it work. In fact, it’s also hard to digest how The Blob is even able to run and somehow keep up with Havok. Maybe Remender wanted to shake things up by adding new b list characters to the mix, but there are many others who would’ve worked better.

The artwork is computer glossy with cell shading. The artist really missed the chance of creating a mutant built world. Instead of keeping the sterile utopia look which has been used countless times, it would have been really interesting to see a world that represents the crazy powered mutants who inhabit the world. Then there’s the last three pages of the comic. The art took a more sketched and less polished approach complete with sloppy coloring. Instead of finishing the story at the end of the chase, they jammed three incomplete pages for a cliffhanger finish. The tonal inconsistency and the lack of plot progression or world building really made this first issue feel like a phone in. Hopefully, the next issue will have a little more focus. Until then I recommend new readers skip this one and pick up the trade or issues of the Uncanny Avengers: Apocalypse Twins saga.

X-Force (2014) Review

ImageSTORY BY
Simon Spurrier
ART BY
Rock-He Kim
Why do we have yet another incarnation of X-Force? Well, Cable gives a Mutant Without Boarders diatribe as the motive and mission behind X-Force. Mutants need to reclaim their foothold and protect and fight for every mutant regardless of political affiliation. Yeah, does it sound a little like Metal Gear? Because Psyloche thought so, and she pokes fun at Cable for it. Also, Cable believes there needs to be a unification between the mutant tribes in order to protect themselves from other nations. This is interesting because we see Cable dealing with all the leaders from various factions of mutants. This will inevitably add political elements and cameos to keep things fresh. Regardless, Spurrier lets his characters Marrow, Fantomex, and Psylocke assure us this isn’t a book to be taken seriously. Marrow’s new incarnation is a punk rocker who has an insatiable blood lust. Because Marrow’s internal monologues often break the fourth wall, it’s hilarious when Psylocke will telepathically interrupt us, so Psylocke can refocus Marrow on the mission. Also, for fans of Fantomex it’s refreshing that he is back to being his sleazy sex addict self who is constantly pining for Psylocke’s affections. I always felt that Fantomex is a character who shouldn’t take himself too seriously, and FantomexMax and Wolverine and the X Men are good examples of why. With Cable, Fantomex, and Marrow, being over the top caricatures who can’t help but get in their own way, Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock is by far the most relatable. From her bringing Marrow and Cable back through the fourth wall, to her poking fun at the metafictional humor, bizarre situations and character types, Psylocke is definitely on the readers side. When we get lost in Spurrier’s fun house, it will be Psylocke who will guide us through this freak show.
Rock-He Kim’s artwork is phenomenal. For once, what you see on the cover is what you get inside. This X Force still retains that muscular style that has defined X Force over their years. However, unlike Liefeld’s ability to invent new muscles for every new action sequence, Kim has his characters anatomy under control. It’s also interesting how Kim will contrast the hyper real depictions of the backgrounds, weapons, and machinery with his sharp and sketchy characters. This imaginative rendering makes the characters pop into the readers focus and also gives it a cyber-punk feel.
X titles are known for their heavy-handed drama and morals, but like Marrow told us this isn’t a story for over-thinking the hows and whys and instead let the boring people figure all that technical detail out. Instead, this is a story that promises to be a fun ride. So, for those who missed Simon Spurrier’s blitzed out but clever X-Men legacy run, this is a good time to jump into his new madcap adventure.