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Posts tagged “Brian Michael Bendis

Cataclysm – The Ultimates’ Last Stand # 1 Review

cataclysmheader
Last week I reviewed the 0.1 issue of Cataclysm that set the stage for what would come in the event series that, supposedly, will herald the end of the Ultimate Universe. This week I took a look at the first issue of the series, based almost entirely off of the fact that Brian Michael Bendis was on scripting duties with Mark Bagley handling the art. These are the guys who defined the Ultimate Universe, for me at least, and seeing them pal back up to possibly bring it to a close put a measure of confidence in the project for me on a personal level. Bendis feels like the person who should be writing this. As much as Millar and Hitch shepherded The Ultimates through two volumes and revolutionized comics in a very substantial way, Bendis sustained Ultimate Spider-Man as the tentpole of the universe and that book is, to many (myself included) the heart and soul of the Ultimate universe.

So how does the book measure up?

Like I admitted last week, I haven’t been knee deep in the Ultimate Universe for a while. I fell of off Ultimate Spider-Man around the third arc of Miles Morales’ time as the ultimate webspinner, and I’m only remotely aware of the goings on in the rest of the line. If we look at the book as a real game changer for the universe, even if it isn’t meant to be the end of the line, it holds up quite well. Compare it to say, Ultimatum, and you notice right away that the character beats of the book hold up much better. The action is a bit understated, considering that it is Galactus essentially destroying New Jersey, but the reaction of Miles Morales to such an overwhelming threat is in line with what you expect a young hero to exude during a crisis.

Bagley’s art is what we have come to expect from him, though it looks more finely finished than when he was working on Ultimate Spider-Man on a monthly basis. There is definition and scale that really works in the book’s favor.

I wasn’t entirely sold on the event based on last week’s debut, but this issue has me intrigued and I truly do want to see where things go. Right now I don’t have the slightest clue. Just a bunch of wild speculations bouncing around in my brain.

Rating: 4/5

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Revisiting The Avengers pt. III

I’ve been reading The Avengers on a monthly basis since a little before Bendis pulled the whole Disassembled thing. Looking back on it, that’s a lot of time to invest into a title. Couple that with the fact that I stuck with Bendis’ handling of the team through both the New and Mighty Avengers titles and then the “Heroic Age” relaunch and that’s a lot of time spent reading his take on the franchise. I’ll admit that for me, Bendis is the name I will probably always associate with Avengers. I’ve gone back and read most of the pivotal runs and I think only Kurt Busiek’s run matches it in density and enjoyability. Though there are some classic Silver Age moments that I quite enjoy.

I had to drop both of the Avengers titles shortly after the relaunch because of monetary issues. A lot of really good books got chopped, actually. But with the movie recently in theaters I thought it would be a good idea to re-examine some prominent Avengers stories once again and so here we are.

AVENGERS v. III

I officially dropped this book at the end of volume two. I just needed to trim the fat and what followed the end of the last volume was a smattering of crossover issues with Marvel’s Fear Itself event. I still have yet to read those issues, as both the Avengers and New Avengers storylines were condensed into a single hardcover and it didn’t look interesting enough at a glance to pick up for the purpose of this retrospective. Instead I moved on to the recently released third hardcover collecting the storyline immediately afterFear Itself and would attempt to go from there.

The story picks up with Thor and Bucky dead and Steve Rogers once again in the uniform of Captain America. In the aftermath of what has been dubbed “Blitzkrieg USA,” Steve had decided to restructure the Avengers and the age-old trope of the team selection and press conference gets trotted out. I have to admit that I have nothing against the team selection and presentation idea. It works remarkably well when done right. See Busiek’s run for a good example. Here however I have to say that it feels like nothing at all has truly happened since the team formed. I know that technically a major crossover event happened, but its times like these that the complaints of decompression really come back to bite Bendis on the butt. Having read the series from the start, it feels as if there is no real weight or passage of time to necessitate this restructuring. The weight of losing Bucky and Thor isn’t properly conveyed on page in a way that makes the severity of the situation apparent.

As soon as the team is cemented, we get the return of Norman Osborn and what amounts to the spiritual sequel to Siege, which launched this title in the first place. Perhaps that is why the restructuring bothered me so much. This arc seems like events have come full circle and yet in between there has been only what seems like two days worth of adventure. It doesn’t help that after the quest for the Infinity Gems, this story seems somewhat small and misguided by comparison. Osborn’s plan is well developed, but it seems hard to swallow that the Avengers would have such trouble dealing with him following their bouts with gems that can alter the face of reality and an invasion by literal Gods of fear.

Had this story taken place two arcs later, it may not have felt so misplaced but that’s not how Bendis wanted to play it and that is my issue with this particular title. Unlike something like the first volume of New Avengers or his work on Powers, Bendis seems unwilling to play the long game here. He’s rushing from place to place trying to do everything that he feels he needs to do when writing an Avengers title and as a result it feels hollow. Compared to his original New Avengers run or something like Busiek and Perez’ years on Avengers, it just doesn’t have much in the way of true substance and that’s disheartening to say the least.


Revisiting The Avengers pt. II

I’ve been reading The Avengers on a monthly basis since a little before Bendis pulled the whole Disassembled thing. Looking back on it, that’s a lot of time to invest into a title. Couple that with the fact that I stuck with Bendis’ handling of the team through both the New and Mighty Avengers titles and then the “Heroic Age” relaunch and that’s a lot of time spent reading his take on the franchise. I’ll admit that for me, Bendis is the name I will probably always associate with Avengers. I’ve gone back and read most of the pivotal runs and I think only Kurt Busiek’s run matches it in density and enjoyability. Though there are some classic Silver Age moments that I quite enjoy.

I had to drop both of the Avengers titles shortly after the relaunch because of monetary issues. A lot of really good books got chopped, actually. But with the movie recently in theaters I thought it would be a good idea to re-examine some prominent Avengers stories once again and so here we are.

AVENGERS v. II
Written by Brian Michael Bendis with artwork by John Romita Jr.

This volume collects issues 6-12 of Brian Bendis’ 2010 Avengers relaunch. This time around the team is already assembled and they get thrust headfirst into the adventure. This arc, like the first six issues, has a lot of what some people would call “classic” Avengers fare. The crux of the story revolves around a villain attempting to collect all of the Infinity Gems. This time around however, the story contains a lot of the hallmarks of Bendis’ favorite tropes and schemes. For example, the villain of this piece isn’t an old schooler like Kang but a more recent invention in Parker Robbins, aka the Hood.

While our antagonist is most definitely from the new blood of Marvel, the threat of the Infinity Gems recall Avengers tales of the past. Bendis does revert to his usual shenanigans of playing around with Marvel history, drawing heavily from his Illuminati storyline. This reads almost as a mini-sequel to that event and as a result it doesn’t feel quite as new-reader friendly as the first volume. That’s not to say that the things this arc references aren’t adequately explained because they are and readers willing to go with the flow will be able to easily keep up.

The big shakeup this time around is the addition of the Red Hulk to the team. Parts of the arc seem to work as a redemption of the character who in the early days of his own title was written as so omnipowerful that he became unimaginably boring. With this story, Bendis manages to use the fact that Rulk was written as unimaginably powerful to elevate the threat level of the Hood and his quest for the Infinity Gems. It’s quite effective.

Honestly, I enjoyed this arc much more than the first. Even the artwork seemed better developed this time around. It may be a bit of personal preference, but the title seems to have found its balance with this story and the addition of the Red Hulk to the team. I can’t say everyone will have the same reaction, but this volume seems to have the right mix of the classic style with the fresh perspective of Bendis’ writing.


Revisiting The Avengers pt. I

I’ve been reading The Avengers on a monthly basis since a little before Bendis pulled the whole Disassembled thing. Looking back on it, that’s a lot of time to invest into a title. Couple that with the fact that I stuck with Bendis’ handling of the team through both the New and Mighty Avengers titles and then the “Heroic Age” relaunch and that’s a lot of time spent reading his take on the franchise. I’ll admit that for me, Bendis is the name I will probably always associate with Avengers. I’ve gone back and read most of the pivotal runs and I think only Kurt Busiek’s run matches it in density and enjoyability. Though there are some classic Silver Age moments that I quite enjoy.

I had to drop both of the Avengers titles shortly after the relaunch because of monetary issues. A lot of really good books got chopped, actually. But with the movie recently in theaters I thought it would be a good idea to re-examine some prominent Avengers stories once again and so here we are.

AVENGERS v. I
Written by Brian Michael Bendis with artwork by John Romita Jr.

The 2010 volume of Avengers begins in the wake of Marvel’s “Siege” storyline where Norman Osborn’s reign as the leader of SHIELD/HAMMER comes to a close and the status quo reverts to something more akin to what longtime readers were familiar with, this time with Steve Rogers in the role previously filled by Nick Fury and assembling two separate Avengers teams. This volume deals with the more “traditional” Avengers featuring Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor, etc. with holdovers from the previous volume of New Avengers in Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine.

The book still maintains much of what made Bendis’ run on the first volume of New Avenger such a success, ie. his dialog. He’s especially gifted at writing witty banter and makes good use of characters like Hawkeye, Spider-man, and the more garrulous members of the team. This time around however, there is less focus on grounded street level action and the plot is driven by BIG ideas that the Avengers series seem to thrive on. In this particular volume, we get a broken timestream and alternate realities. We get classic Avengers villains like Ultron and Kang. It’s everything longtime fans of the book should love.

The principle complaint against the book is that Bendis cannot write with his trademark style and manage that sort of plotting. I would argue that this isn’t true. Working with John Romita Jr, the layouts and flow seem to work as well as they ever have with a story of this type. While the artwork does seem more sketchy and rough around the edges than I would really like out of Romita, he does a serviceable job making sure that Bendis’ story comes to life on the page.

My major issue with these six issues is that the book does seem to have too much going on for its own good. The chaos in one timestream seems to suck the energy from the parallel plot and as such the story reads somewhat uneven. It’s not a bad story, it just isn’t very even. In regards to assembling a new team, the book sets up the new status quo quite well. We get a very good idea of what the book is going to do very quickly. You just have to decide for yourself whether it is up your alley.


Weekly Comic Reviews

I Do Not Actually Look Like Jesse Custer

It’s that time again! And lucky for you this time the reviews are on time. I hope you appreciate how much effort goes into that because I really don’t feel like being analytical at 8:00 am on a Thursday morning. I’m doing this all for you. Really. Because I sure as hell am not getting paid to do this.

BATMAN AND ROBIN # 1

I’m apologetically pro-Damien. I think he’s one of the best things to come out of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. There’s something about him that sets him apart from all the other Robins and I would say that it’s mostly the fact that he’s what Jason Todd could have been. The whole “Sidekick with an attitude” thing works for some and doesn’t for others and Damien works. Now, I will admit that too much of his schtick can be tiresome. But the same can be said for any character. I love me some Deadpool but I got some serious DP burnout following the 87 series he had going on at once last year. Luckily, DC seems to realize that Damien provokes strong reactions and therefore uses him with a deal of finesse. What I mean by this is that usually his personality is either downplayed or dialed up depending on the context of the story. In this debut issue, he’s far more antagonistic than usual because we’re being reintroduced to his dynamic with Bruce. That level of mutual respect that we had seen in previous stories seems to have been scaled back because of this new timeline and as such we get some interesting character beats from both Bruce and Damien in regards to their views on the sentiment of death and the ethos of fighting crime.

Like some other books this week, it’s clear that some holdover elements from the old continuity will be front and center for certain characters. In this case, it’s the worldwide enterprise of Batman, Inc. The fact that Batman has only been around for five years in this continuity doesn’t seem to hinder that storyline at all. We’ve yet to see exactly what parts of Batman’s history are still relevant. I don’t know if Knightfall, No Man’s Land, Murderer/Fugitive, etc. have happened in this timeline but we do know that Damien is still around and Batman Inc is still happening around the globe. Again I have to point out how troublesome this is to new readers if that’s truly what DC is trying to draw in with this relaunch. Someone picking up Batman and Robin # 1 without a prior knowledge of Morrison’s work on the character might be a little perplexed as to when exactly Batman had a son and what the hell Batman, Inc. is. Fans of those particular storylines will not be let down however, as this is a pretty direct continuation of those themes in a similar sort of style.

Overall Rating: 3/5

DEMON KNIGHTS # 1

I’ll just go ahead and say upfront that this is my favorite title of the bunch so far and if you haven’t already you need to go buy a copy and read it right now. The rest of this review is just going to be me gushing over how amazing the book is and how lucky we as readers are to have someone like Paul Cornell writing a book like this. Seriously, if there is one thing that I have to applaud DC for in this whole stunt it’s giving good writers chances to work on books that otherwise would have never seen the light of day. There are a lot of people who are going to pick this up just because of its connection to the “new 52” and they’re going to find one of the most fun, well-written fantasy adventure comics to come along in a long damned time.

I’ve always been a fan of Etrigan. I think he’s one hell of a character and he really hasn’t been given his due in the last few years. That changes here and I think it’s mostly due to the fact that Cornell knows how to write him and that he is a character that works best when he has appropriate characters to bounce off of and he gets that here with Madame Xanadu, Vandal Savage, and a whole host of medieval side-characters. The fact that this is set entirely in the middle-ages allows Cornell to go wild and do whatever he pleases without worrying about bumping up against someone else’s plans. The recent dust-up with Gail Simone being displeased about Batgirl’s appearance in Birds of Prey without her prior knowledge comes to mind. I don’t think anyone is going to try to appropriate anybody in Demon Knights anytime soon. There is an artistic freedom that comes with a book like this that I really can get behind.

Seriously, go buy the book. It’s the shining pinnacle of what this relaunch has to offer.

Overall Rating: 5/5

SUPERBOY # 1

This one is hard to review. It’s not a bad book. It’s actually quite an interesting read. It’s just so hard for me to disconnect this version of the character from the previous incarnation. Even more so than last week’s Green Arrow, not a whole lot of this book felt like what I would associate with Superboy. That having been said, what we’re presented with is a fresh take on the character. The scientific procedural element of the story is interesting and provides an excellent framework for progressing the issue. My only problem with the book has been that Superboy’s personality is defined by NOT having a personality. That can only last for so long before it becomes a chore to read through. I think that Scott Lobdell knows this, but he’s trying to match the character’s personality to the expected tropes of the genre he’s presenting the character in. He’s a clone, so he needs to be a blank slate at the beginning. That’s how these stories work. I think he’s trying to play with expectations a little bit and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes with it.

Superboy is a title that I’m cautiously optimistic about. The final page seems to indicate that this storyline somehow informs the new Teen Titans, which doesn’t look very interesting at all to me. I can’t really say for sure how much I’ll enjoy this past the first issue. I’ll just have to keep reading to find out.

Overall Rating: 3/5

SUICIDE SQUAD # 1

I am very tempted just to write *facepalm* and leave it at that. There really are no words to express how much I disliked this book. Anything not involving King Shark (he’s a shaaaaarrrk!) was pretty much terrible. Deadshot has lost his mustache and Amanda Waller is a young, thin slice of bland. This was just…well, a mess. I don’t imagine any other DC book has missed the mark as hard as this one has. Or let us hope, at least. I’d hate to see what could be worse than this slap in the face to what was once an amazing title.

I don’t want to sound like a cranky fanboy, but seriously…I just can’t imagine how anyone would find this interpretation of the title appealing. It’s generic, bland, and brings nothing new to the table while disregarding the elements of the characters involved that made them interesting in the first place. It’s just one big ball of missed opportunity, because these characters in their pre-reboot forms on the same team would have been interesting to see. Now? not so much.

Overall rating: 1/5

ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN # 1

So, controversy, huh? We’ve got an African-American/Hispanic Ultimate Spider-Man and that has some people angry and other people bored and other people happy as hell. Emotions! Does any of that have any bearing on how good the book is or isn’t? Not really. The initial PR stunt nature of the book is a bit disheartening because I think it might have been a little bit better received if it had come out of the box as a surprise. It’s actually a pretty decent book. It doesn’t feel like a continuation of the old series as much as it feels like an entirely new story where someone who isn’t Peter Parker somehow winds up getting spider-based powers. It’s got Bendis’ usual sense of story-flow, that is to say that it begins a bit slowly, but the slice-of-life soap-opera elements of Bendis’ writing were what made that book work so well in the early days.

I’m not going to call this one better or worse than the Parker years because it’s only been one issue and it’ll be another twenty-three or so until I’m able to see what sort of book this is really going to be. All we know right now is that Miles is going to have a little bit of a different power-set from Parker judging from that final page cliffhanger, and that he probably won’t have a costume until around issue six if Bendis keeps to his usual pace. But if everything between then and now is well written as it was back when he first launched USM, then I doubt we’ll really care.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

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And that’s our show everybody. Join us next week for another round of my telling you what you should do with your money. See you then.


DC Comics Announces Line-Wide Reboot

I know that this year has been a bit different when it comes to the content I’ve posted on the blog. After leaving my job at the comic shop back in December I had to make the painful decision to alter my comic buying habits to accommodate my new lifestyle. As such, I’ve been getting my comics from an online retailer, mailed out once a month and as such I haven’t had much luck posting real reviews on a timely basis. It’s just a sad byproduct of my current situation. Another byproduct has been the steady decline of my interest in the mainstream comics scene. I have, sadly, been dropping titles I once considered vital with each passing month and have instead been focusing on creator-owned work that manages to resonate with me more than anything that DC or Marvel sends down the chute every month.

I never thought I’d see the day that I’d say this but I may just be done with DC comics. Lately the only books that I can say I’ve enjoyed fully are Morrison’s Batman Inc., Palmiotti & Gray’s Jonah Hex, Cornell’s Action Comics and Gail Simone’s Secret Six. Roberson’s handling of the Superman book has also been admireable. But that’s five books out of a line that will see 52 titles jump started with a new # 1 issue.

Dan Didio was quotes in the USA Today article as saying:

In September, more than 50 more first issues will debut, introducing readers to stories that are grounded in each character’s specific legend but also reflect today’s real-world themes and events. Lee spearheaded the redesign of more than 50 costumes to make characters more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old.

“We looked at what was going on in the marketplace and felt we really want to inject new life in our characters and line,” says Dan DiDio, who co-publishes DC with Lee. “This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today’s audience.”

Fans around the internet have been in an uproar over this and I have to say that I understand where some of them are coming from, in light of this news coupled with the rumors that have been coming out that have not yet been substantiated such as Lois & Clark’s marriage being lost in the new continuity as well as several creative team changes that are less than exciting including a possible loss of Gail Simone from Birds of Prey. The last time that happened it sucked just about all the energy from the book and it was left to die a slow death. On the other hand Grant Morrison is rumored to be taking over the central Superman title and it is confirmed we will be getting a Justice League book written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Jim Lee, in a move that clearly parallels Marvel’s decision to put Bendis on New Avengers several years ago.

The problem I have with the Justice League book being handled by Johns & Lee, aside from the fact that the creative team is almost begging for publishing delays, is that it seems like they’re aping Marvel’s formula several years after it has already gotten stale. Granted, DC could never make such a move any time after Marvel does anything similar because it’s either too soon or too late after the fact for it not to seem like a stunt or playing catch up. My philosophy when it comes to the DC v. Marvel debate comes down to the way Marvel treats its writers. They sell the writers in a way that makes them out to be superstars. Marvel presents their writers as the A-list. The cream of the crop. Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Dan Slott, Jason Aaron, Nick Spencer, et. al are sold as being equal commodities to the characters they write. DC does not seem to do the same for their writers outside of Morrison or Johns. They have a SMATTERING of amazing talent in people like Chris Roberson, Matt Sturges, Gail Simone, Paul Cornell, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, and so many others. But you don’t see DC publicizing them like walking gods of creativity the way Marvel does with their stable.

The whole line-wide reboot thing reads like a desperate stunt. DC loves to pull stunts. The repeated weekly series plan alone shows that. This stunt in particular will alienate a great deal of the fanbase and probably lose them for a good long time. They say that the point of all this is to garner new readers by eliminating the confusion surrounding certain characters and their continuity but they are failing to understand the simple reason why the comics market isn’t viable to younger readers and that’s that comic books are not cost effective to the consumer.

The article in USA today also mentions that beginning in September, DC comics will be going same-day release with digital and print copies. This is a major leap forward in the digital market but raises even more questions. Are the digital comics going to be significantly cheaper than the print counterparts? If DC wants to make me pay full price for a copy of the new Superman # 1 at $2.99 when I can get it from an online retailer for anywhere from a 10-40% discount, then what is the impetus for me to switch to digital? The price debate is probably the most important hurdle that the comics industry will have to face in the coming years. I bought a blu-ray movie yesterday for $8.99. That’s two plus hours of entertainment plus special features for roughly ten dollars with tax applied. A comic book is 20 pages of content for about $3.25 after taxes are applied and the best case scenario is usually a ten minute read-time if there’s actually any dense content to the book. If you’re trying to attract new readers, you have to give them more bang for their buck. I respect DC for trying to lower the cost of buying comics, but the content provided for the price is a huge turnoff to people who aren’t already hooked. Add to that the fact that comics aren’t readily available anywhere outside of specialized shops and you’ve got a major dilemma. All the continuity stunts in the world will not save you from that pitfall. Comics are being displayed at Barnes and Noble now, but I’ve seen that selection and it’s not very impressive and not too well organized.

I don’t want to sound like a doomsayer, foretelling the end of comics or anything like that. The industry will adapt and survive in some manner, because too much money stands to be lost if they don’t. But the logic that has gone into DC’s latest stunt boggles the mind of anyone who takes the time to look at it carefully. Perhaps this whole article will be rendered worthless when more information becomes available. I hope everything does work out for the best. I still have friends who work in the retail level of the industry, and all the writers and artists who I’ve developed a rapport with since developing this blog don’t deserve to see their chosen profession crumble because the companies don’t know how to adapt. All I can do is sit and wait and see if what DC has to offer is worth paying for.


Review – Takio

I’d been wanting to read this one for a while now. It caught my eye back when it was solicited because it seemed pretty far outside of Bendis’ usual comfort zone. Sure he’d written age-appropriate superhero stuff with Ultimate Spider-Man but this felt different, mainly because of the graphic novel format and the fact that he was bringing along his Powers co-creator Michael Oeming for the ride. The plot was supposedly hatched in cooperation with Bendis’ daughter Olivia and the characterization of the two leads is indicative of some input from people their age. The bickering, the energy, all of that adolescent experience seems quite genuine despite the outlandish story where they wind up getting superpowers in a freak accident.

The story doesn’t break any new ground. To anyone who has every read a superhero story the tropes are there and evident in spades. The humor is reminiscent of Bendis’ work on USM, which I don’t have a single problem with because I loved USM until the wave of Ultimatum came crashing down and destroyed not only the character’s world but my own interest in the title. That having been said, the early issues and just about anything written featuring the high school environment was quite entertaining and that really carries over here, with the two sisters having a relationship that anyone with a sibling will be able to identify with. Superpowers or not.

As for the book itself I can say that it reads rather quickly, but for the price tag it feels like a good value. I think I was expecting more in the style of Powers where we get much more dialogue crammed in than is probably necessary which makes the narrative feel vibrant and constantly moving. Instead we get a narrative structure that allows for the artwork to tell the story for good chunks of time, which is fine because Oeming is one of the finest working artists we have right now, but it does make it feel as if the book is travelling in slow motion at certain points. But once again I say that with what they charged for a hardcover edition of the book, the value is superb. If only Marvel could learn to translate some of that value into their monthly books maybe I would be able to do weekly reviews of their books again. But if it comes down to $3.99 for a regular sized book or $9.95 for an occaisional hardcover digest, the digest comes out looking much more appealing.

I’m not sure when the next volume is set to hit, but when it does I’ll be the first to rush out and get it because at the end of the day the book entertained me and I felt like it was a good value, which is something that is becoming more and more of a rarity nowadays.