The Fearless #1

Fearless 1

Fear Itself: The Fearless #1; Marvel Comics

The Fear Itself comic event that spewed across Marvel Comics in 2011 was more or less a disaster.  The helmsman, Matt Fraction, made a mess of things for a miserable, confused event that grew even bigger than the sweeping events of World War Hulk and Civil War.  The tragedy of this event caused me to avoid Marvel Comics titles for a long time. Finally, well past the event itself, I decided to just muscle my way through everything.  I whipped through one issue after another. The Tony Stark storyline was interesting. The rest? Ugh.

That Marvel/Fraction began dragging out the Fear Itself abomination even further with this 12-issue expansion called Fear Itself: The Fearless caused many fans to just drop all Marvel titles from their pull lists. Many critics complained that Marvel was milking it, but I suppose that presumes there was anything to milk in the first place. Fear Itself was poor. Of that event, I bought the seven core issues. I bought subseries with Namor, Wolverine, and Deadpool. And I bought #7.1 and #7.3.  Frankly, the .1 and the .3 issues were probably a lot better than anything Fear Itself contained.  I am still harboring a bit of animosity toward Fraction’s writing.

Anyway, The Fearless is a twelve issue limited series that I bought just for semi-completist-sake. (paradox) I liked the concept of the story being contained in twelve issues. Also, since I suffered through Fear Itself, I wanted to see if this epilogue story could salvage anything for the event…and Fraction. This past week I picked up issue #11 of The Fearless. Today, I finally read issue #1. Yes, that is how dreadful Fear Itself was – it actually made me very much avoid Marvel titles, which, I suspect, is the antithesis of what Marvel wants their events to accomplish.

Fear Itself encompassed many, many issues. But on the opening splash page of The Fearless #1, there are three short paragraphs that introduce the background to the reader. Frankly, they actually, in three short paragraphs, sum up the entirety of Fear Itself.  Eight mystical hammers smashed into earth.  They were wielded by eight warriors called The Worthy. The Worthy were avatars of the Norse god of Terror: the Serpent. Odin, father-god of Asgard, planned to destroy the earth in order to stop The Worthy (and therefore, the Serpent). Iron Man and Captain America and some other heroes save earth. The hammers were scattered around the world. There, you now know what happened in Fear Itself – don’t bother reading it, unless you are truly comics obsessed.

Now, I admit the bar was set quite low for this series. Nevertheless, despite Fraction’s name on the cover, I opened the issue. And I kept on turning pages and enjoying the artwork and the story right until I reached the back cover. I was, obviously, pleasantly surprised. If Fraction can write so well for the Invincible Iron Man title and can assist with the writing for The Fearless, what on earth was he doing with Fear Itself? Needless to say, I was so surprised, I read the issue again. Okay, to be honest, it’s not the greatest issue ever published, but altogether a vast improvement over the event itself.

The issue opens with the introduction of Brunnhilde in the year 1945. It’s a nicely drawn and colored introduction for the warrior – and her fight scene against the snow wyrm is clear and concise. Simple warrior action story on those pages. Then, the comic jumps ahead in time to present day Washington, D.C. where the Avengers are cleaning up after the massive destruction [sic!] wrought by Fear Itself.  Brunnhilde is arguing with Captain America over the property rights of the hammers. The dialogue on these pages is well-written and the artwork complements the discussion.  The artwork is framed really well, with snippets of other heroes (superheroes and regular humans) working in the area. In the end Captain America tells Brunnhilde to forget it because he is determined to keep the hammers in mankind’s possession and hidden.

Next few pages detail the villain Crossbones using a criminal network to obtain the location of the hammers. He provides this to Sin (the daughter of the Red Skull and formerly, one of The Worthy).  Sin, is drawn and written very nicely in her appearance here:  she’s caustic, arrogant, and sinister – which is how we like our Sin!  The last few pages detail Brunnhilde standing before one of the hammers in custody.  War Machine, who I have not seen in awhile, finds her there and attempts to dialogue with her. Unfortunately, Brunnhilde does not feel the need to converse and takes matters into her own hands and steals the hammer!

So here is an issue with interesting dialogue, good fight scenes, exciting characters, and good artwork. Everything a comic ought to have and everything Fear Itself did not have. I have higher hopes for issue #2, but I still have not forgiven Fraction.

4 stars

** Also, as a warning do not look at Sin on the cover too much…. or you’ll see the oddest thing.

Avengers #19

Avengers 19

Avengers #19 cover; Marvel

I have not read an Avengers comic in awhile.  There are several reasons for this, but the biggest is that I have been more excited about DC Comics than Marvel lately.  The second reason, by no means insignificant, is that Fear Itself really slogged a lot of the Marvel titles. It was a not a good event and because so many Marvel titles were tie-ins or caught up in that event, it messed up the energy and momentum of a number of titles.

Anyway, #19 is the second to come from the event without the Fear Itself banner. #18 was okay, but honestly, by the time I read this one, I had long forgotten the contents of #18.  The cover for #19 was done by Daniel Acuna; the writing continues to be done by Brian Michael Bendis.  When I first glanced at the cover, I thought the art had been done by Howard Chaykin (whose art I do not like.)  However, I learned that it was done by Acuna and I have given it some deeper examination. I like the white background. I realized that the white background really stands out among other issues because it looks so clean and bright.  However, the characters are actually outlined in a light blue color. I’m not sure what this is about – maybe to make the transition from white to the other colors better? I am no artist, but somehow these outlines look odd to me. Also, well, I don’t like the layout of the cover, although Captain America is in a rather traditional pose.

The issue starts off in Rikers Island Maximum Security Penitentiary – the Raft – where Norman Osborn has recently escaped. I confess that I do not remember this from previous issues, but it’s not exactly a surprising thing.  Anyway, we are introduced to Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Daisy Johnson who has been specifically assigned (by Captain America) to root out the situation at The Raft.  Again, I know better, but I thought this was Maria Hill. Oops. Do all female S.H.I.E.L.D. agents look the same and have the same attitudes?

Meanwhile, the media has gathered outside of Avengers Mansion for an announcement by the Avengers regarding the roster of the team.  We see Captain America trying to recruit Black Panther, who turns him down but suggests that his wife (Storm) be included. Storm gets a full-page entrance, surrounded by the falling leaves of the back courtyard of the mansion. She should, I think, be given a nice entrance, but I find the odd “confetti” leaves a bit odd.  Tony Stark has a surprise, too.  He reintroduces The Vision – the robot of the old, old Avengers teams.  Everyone is surprised, but happy to see Vision.  But the best moment is when Vision sees Red Hulk; Red Hulk’s reaction to Vision is also funny.  It’s fun to see Red Hulk in these awkward moments. All of these frames, drawn out of doors in sunshine, make the comic have a lighter, brighter appeal to it. After all, Fear Itself (and plenty of other storylines) have been very dark and heavy. It’s nice to not be reading a comic taking place in a basement-bunker at night.

Victoria Hand is there to “liaison” and the team steps out in front of the media on a stage.  The frame with all of the Avengers there before the media is pretty standard – I feel like every so often we see some variant of this frame. It would actually be sort of interesting to collect and look at all the frames that have the Avengers on the stage before the media. Anyway, this one is done fine, nothing too remarkable about it.  However, guess who is in the crowd? None other than Norman Osborn!

Easter Egg:  Last frame – on the microphone the newsman holds out toward Norman Osborn are the letters CBR – presumably standing for Comic Book Resources (www.comicbookresources.com).

Overall, the issue is standard fare – nothing at all amazing to it. The art is clean and matches the story.  Acuna does draw a good Captain America. He also uses bold primary colors, which gives the issue a solid feel to it. The writing? Well, again, we’ll just have to see where Bendis is going to take this storyline.  However, on its own, there’s nothing remarkable that makes me know it’s Bendis as opposed to someone else.

3 stars

Captain America #1 (2011)

Captain America 1
Captain America #1 cover

In 2011, Marvel Comics released the Captain America live-action blockbuster movie.  Marvel Comics was also in the middle of one of their all-title-encompassing “events” (Fear Itself) which was occupying most of the the continuity of the titles.  So, I suppose the marketing division decided to release a new title, Captain America, which starts numbering at 1 and features the talents of Ed Brubaker and Steve McNiven – neither are rookies to the Captain America mythos.  In other words, for those inclined to read the adventures of Captain America after having seen the movie, this was the title that was made available for them.  The “regular” Captain America title was changed to Captain America and Bucky and continued with the numbering – #620+.

The release of this new title was a good move. Frankly, a lot has happened to Captain America in the last five or so years – including his death, his rebirth, and his refusal to carry the shield and wear the Captain America costume. (Bucky took over for Captain America after Steve Rogers died.)  So, for newcomers who want to follow Steve qua Captain, this new title is directed at them.  However, Marvel smartly did not just make this a title for “newbies” and put some B-level creators to work on it just to pump out another comic.  Brubaker and McNiven are well versed in the Captain America mythos and are solid respected creators.

This issue begins with Steve Rogers not fighting evil Nazis, but rather dressing for a funeral.  The dialogue opens with Steve contemplating that he forget he is a “man out of time.”  He forgets that he should be an old man by now – however, is reminded of this when people he knew in the 1940s die.  This time, Peggy Carter has died and Steve and Peggy’s niece, Sharon, are attending the funeral in Paris, France.  Also at the funeral are Dum Dum Dugan and Nick Fury.  As the group departs the cemetery the action begins, Steve tackles Dum Dum after noticing a red laser sight. Rogers takes off in pursuit after the shooter, whom he recognizes as someone he has not seen since 1944. The last two pages of the issue set up the storyline for the villains, which include Zemo.

The writing is clear and concise, not heavy-handed and not too sappy.  The artwork is perfect for new and old readers alike, it’s very clean and open.  The frames are not overly inked or cluttered. In some sense, the framing and artwork has a very traditional-comic book feel to it.  Large frames, lots of shots of Captain America’s shield, and plain open backgrounds make the artwork accessible to readers.  Overall, it’s clear that this title’s main purpose is to entertain new readers, however, the storyline (particularly with the villains) shows the potential to give long-time readers plenty to enjoy.  I feel the storyline is not going to be hurried and will not involve threads from every previous Captain America story.  This is good, because Captain America is one of Marvel’s major characters who does not need a lot of complications to be a successful read.

3 stars

 

Avengers (2010) # 7 – 9

In 2010, Marvel started a new several new Avengers titles, including The Avengers and New Avengers. This is some of the aftermath of Marvel’s several years of universe-wide events like World War Hulk, Civil War, Dark Reign, etc. I was rather excited about a new Avengers title for a number of reasons. First, the Avengers are Marvel’s “team.”  The Avengers represent the main core team of superheroes in the Marvel Universe and regardless of anything else that is going on, the Avengers have the history, the clout, and the job of being the driving force in the Marvel universe.  Second, I felt that Dark Reign and Siege struggled as major events and its a good feeling to come out on the other side with a new title starting from issue #1.  Marvel was touting it as “The Heroic Age,” but whatever one calls it – it feels like a step forward with some good direction.

The Avengers title is written by Brian Michael Bendis, who has been one of Marvel’s main architects for the last several years.  He is joined on the title by John Romita, jr. who is the son of famous John Romita, the comic book artist of Captain America and Spider-Man fame.  JRJR (as John Romita, jr. is often designated) is an artist who has worked on a variety of titles to include Iron Man, Thor, Amazing Spider-Man, and Daredevil.

After issue #3, I was ready to drop The Avengers from my pull list. At $3.99 per issue, it was making my forehead hurt way too much. I have no idea what the heck issues #1 – 6 are about. I think there is some time travel / alternate reality stuff going on. Kang the Conquerer is involved – and you know what that’s like! Sheesh! Anyway, I really hated the cover for #1, I really did not like the storyarc for #1 – 6.  But I kept it on my pull list. Like I said above:  this is The Avengers. In other words, you don’t just drop Avengers because of a bad arc or because you didn’t like the cover. If you want to be “in the know” in the Marvel Universe, you’re pulling at least one Avengers title.  In my world, the first six issues don’t really exist – or, they do, but only in the alternate future of Kang the Conquerer.  So, let us never speak of them again.

Avengers 7

Avengers #7 cover

The Avengers title starts off with issue #7.  The whole story starts with some criminal activity like murder and theft in some dark snowy place.  Who’s doing all this?  Looks like the ex-The Hood. You may remember him from Dark Reign or by his name, Parker Robbins. (I really don’t like this character’s names. He wore a red hood – which makes me always want to call him Red Hood Cp. DC’s Jason Todd. Also, Parker Robbins is like some amalgam of Peter Parker + Red Robin in my head. I wish The Hood was just called Bad Guy and his real name was Bob Smith.)  Most of the first issue is follows Robbins as he gathers two of the Infinity Gems. This is great, because I liked some of the cosmic Marvel stuff dealing with the Infinity Gems, particularly in the Infinity War, Crusade, Gauntlet.

So this loser criminal gets a hold of two Infinity Gems – the yellow and the red. One of the first things he happens to do with these gems is beat the hell out of Red Hulk. (Or Rulk if you prefer)  Anyway, in this issue there is a very charming centerfold piece of artwork showing Robbins in his hoodie, sneakers, and shorts socking Red Hulk directly in the eye. I like the way Red Hulk is drawn in this “frame” and it definitely gives a title like The Avengers a superhero feel to it. (What would an Avengers book be without someone punching a Hulk?) Don’t ask me who Red Hulk is – its a long story and I’m not certain I’m the one to tell it.

The last pages of the issue take place at the Avengers Tower in NYC. The Avengers team is having a get-together, including Spider-Woman, Noh-Varr, Thor, and many others. Red Hulk crashes the party – literally. He smashes in the window and lands on the floor in a mess. I like here how Thor takes such a leadership role by being one of the first heroes to react to the situation.

Avengers 8

Avengers #8 cover

Issue #8 has the tag “Return of the Illuminati” written on the cover, which is very cool because the sneaky and conflict-driven “Illuminati” has been one of the cooler, more interesting threads in the last several years of Marvel history.

Upon seeing the cover, I had no idea who the chick front and center is.  (But, boy doesn’t she have a lot of hair?!)  This issue begins with the members of the Illuminati gathering at the request of Iron Man. Most of the members are vexed because the group did not part happily previously.  We also learn that this is Medusa, wife of the deceased Black Bolt (former Illuminati member). This is good stuff and the dynamic between each of the characters is done well.  By way of explaining things to the members of the Illuminati, Iron Man tells us the story that Red Hulk brought to Avengers Tower regarding Robbins.

The problem is with JRJR’s drawing of Steve Rogers. Really. In one frame, I spent a few solid minutes trying to determine if I was looking at Steve Rogers or Noh-Varr.  I still have my doubts. Red Hulk is drawn very well. Professor X (one of the assembled Illuminati) looks a lot like DC’s Martain Manhunter – just without the green skin. I know Xavier uses his brain but I don’t think that means his forehead and brow need to look cro magnon.

Avengers 9

Avengers #9 cover

Issue #9 moves the storyline along by taking us back to Robbins in prison. We get some glimpses of how Robbins escaped, how he might be able to be collecting the Infinity Gems, and who might be working with him. In the present, we witness a confrontation between most of the major superheroes and the Illuminati.  Steve Rogers is really annoyed with Tony Stark. I have some problem with this because Steve takes the matter up with Tony, but honestly, the other Illuminati are as much to blame for the secrecy. After all, it’s not like Doctor Strange is just some tool that Tony uses.

The storyline is excellent. I am loving the Infinity Gems and Red Hulk and the Illuminati. However, again, I am really annoyed by the depiction of Steve Rogers. There are some frames where he looks out and out rotten. This simply does not look at all like any incarnation or rendering of Rogers. At all. Frankly, when I look at some frames, I see the main character from the anime Bleach, Ichigo Kurosaki.  The extreme youthfulness and the hair and even posture of Steve Rogers is not reasonable. And I really need JRJR to do better with this character. Medusa could be interesting, we’ll have to see. The writing for Thor is subtly good – once again he comes across as a wise leader. And Thor looks like Thor.

Ichigo

Ichigo

I give all of these issues 4 stars. The storyline is interesting and fun. Most of the artwork is great. I cannot, however, accept Ichigo as an Avenger.

Avengers #235

Avengers @35

Avengers #235

So, I started going through  my Avengers issues.  The earliest issue I have that has surrounding issues and makes sense to start with is #235. Its kind of a random place to start, but its also what I have to work with.  I have #234, but I’ve already gone over that issue in a elsewhere – specifically focusing on the Scarlet Witch.

#235 was written by Roger Stern with art by Bud Budiansky for September 1983.

The issue begins with repairmen working at Avengers Mansion.  (Apparently, this is the result of something that occurred in Fantastic Four #257).  Wasp is flitting around nagging and bossing the workmen.  Captain America is there as well, and he seems to be in a sour mood.  We soon learn why he’s so sour:  he is worried about the Avengers.  Thor has left the team temporarily to attend to a personal mission in space (Cp. Thor #334).  Iron Man has recently given up the suit because he has fallen into his alcoholism.  The reservist Avengers, Scarlet Witch and Vision, are both in the medical lab – the Vision is in a medical bed in some sort of “coma” while the Witch hovers over him.  Vision had been injured in a battle with Annihilus, which occurred in Avengers #233.  Basically, Wasp is chairwoman of the Avengers, and the Avengers now consist of Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Captain Marvel, Starfox, and She-Hulk.

She-Hulk has been called in from the West Coast and she is jogging through NYC where she meets up and banters with Spider-Man.  She relates to him that as an Avenger, she gets paid $1,000 a week.  Of course Spider-Man is awed and regrets having passed up the chance to be an Avenger himself – back in issue #221.

The National Security Council contacts the Avengers and requests their help.  The Wizard has escaped from the Vermont Federal Penitentiary and the NSC asks the Avengers to help relocate the criminal mastermind.  Wasp gathers her team and divides them into two groups.  Captain America will lead the Witch and She-Hulk to check out The Wizard’s home.

Of course The Wizard is at his home and has been devising defensive measures.  And, actually, that’s the biggest reason I like this issue.  I really like traps and puzzles for heroes to contend with.  She-Hulk is “trapped” in a room with two doors, when she goes through one door, the room “spins” and so she just, basically, walks back across the room to the first door. And then she repeats. Finally, she gets wise and makes marks on the wall to help her ascertain what is happening.  Naturally, when she finds out, she just starts knocking walls down.

The trap for Captain America seems pretty intense, honestly.  He enters a room wherein zero-gravity has been established.  As soon as he enters, he floats into the air.  This isn’t so terrible, however there are also a lot of high-intensity lasers installed on the walls which shoot beams at Captain America. So he has to time his movements in zero-gravity to avoid these beams.  In order to escape, he uses his shield to knock out a few lasers, and then he finds a working laser and shoots the rest.  There is a frame depicting this where there are 15 lasers shooting at him. This is rich!  Good old 1980s comics!!!! Woot!!!

The Scarlet Witch enters a room which, I think, is the most creative and interesting.  Her trap is a room that a field effect that generates a pocket of non-causality.  We are told that all actions have an equal chance of occurrence inside the room – nullifying Witch’s powers. I won’t give any more away, but suffice it to say, the Avengers capture The Wizard.  They also realize that Wasp is quite a cunning Chairwoman for teaming them up as she did.  The mission made the Witch feel better about Vision, made Captain America focus on more than woes, and made She-Hulk feel participatory in the team.

Originally this comic issue cost .60¢.  I think that was a steal. Even though I didn’t have any of the background story (e.g. what happened with Annihilus? why is the Mansion a wreck?), I was able to read along and enjoy the story.  We saw Captain America worried and intent on training and missions.  We saw Wasp, as the oldest Avenger on the team, making wise decisions as their leader.  Finally, we had a cameo by Spider-Man.  The villain was stubborn, smart-until-dumb, and the challenges he presented were interesting.   My world as a kid was very DC and not very Marvel.  So its kind of fun to return to these older issues and read a good story that I didn’t have to get lost in backstory with.  And even though this team is not the original, traditional Avengers, there is plenty of character dynamism involved to make the team engaging.

4 stars

March 2011: Cover of the Month

Lots of nice covers to choose from this month. I finally selected these from which I had to pick just one!

  • Batman #706
  • Captain America #614
  • Batman & Robin #19
  • Uncanny X-Force #4
  • Daredevil: Reborn #1

And I picked Captain America #614 by Marko Djurdjevic as the winner. This was a tough call, but this cover is chilling and scary and very remarkable. (I hate the Nomad blurb on it, though.)

Captain America 614

Captain America #614 cover

Deadpool #26 – 28

Deadpool 26

Deadpool #26 cover

I recently finished reading Deadpool #26 – 28 and I have to say that they are better than the previous few issues. I have written many times that Deadpool is a character that is very unique and that readers either love him or hate him.  There really is no middle ground with Deadpool, which, well, is just another facet of his character.

These issues all focus on Deadpool’s personality.  While there have been plenty of issues in the past that have emphasized Deadpool’s comic relief and his mercenary skills, these issues present insight into the background and development of his personality.  Sure, we all know that Deadpool has been genetically-enhanced and used as a tool.  But these issues take a quick look at why Deadpool is as “insane” as he seems to be.

Issue #26 was actually somewhat heart-tugging, particularly with the Ghost Rider being part of it.  Deadpool leaves Las Vegas (and the “job” that he had taken on there). As he leaves, the Ghost Rider chains up Deadpool and hauls him out into the desert.  The Ghost Rider, in these frames, is drawn very nicely – just as imposing, hardcore, and scary as he ought to look. The Ghost Rider attempts to use the Penance Stare on Deadpool, but it knocks Deadpool out and it changes the Ghost Rider into Johnny Blaze – who is confused as heck.

Deadpool 27

Deadpool #27

The next pages of the story show how Deadpool, as a youth, tried to hang himself, but gets selected into Oscar Zero – a clandestine group operating under the CIA.  They want to use Deadpool as a mercenary. Eventually its discovered that Wade has thirty-four tumors and they present him the option of going to Canada to take part in a “project” that might help him.  The next frames show Wade strapped to a table and screaming in pain like some sort of Frankenstein.  When Wade regains consciousness in the desert – he punches Johnny. He asks him: “You’re the Ghost Rider?”  Johnny replies: “Sometimes” and Wade responds: “Well, I’m Deadpool. All the time. An’ I don’t need to be reminded of it!”

Johnny asks Deadpool what he saw during the Penance Stare, and says that the Ghost Rider wanted Deadpool to see something, because if it had wanted him dead, Deadpool would be dead. Deadpool asks Johnny if he thinks Deadpool deserves to die… Johnny says “yeah,” and Deadpool thanks him.

In issue #27, there are several flashbacks to Wade as child.  Wade is watching the news and he clearly idolizes Captain America. His father, however, tells him harshly that he won’t be just like Captain America and that he should stop dreaming. In issue #28, Dr. Bong, the evil villain of the storyarc, tells his underlings that Deadpool used to be a psychiatric patient of his. He says that if there’s one thing that Deadpool hates more than himself, its his friends. Throughout the issue we see Deadpool not understanding the circumstances that he is in, but reacting with anger when his so-called friends are just trying to use him.

Deadpool 28

Deadpool #28

The conversation continues as Dr. Bong explains that Deadpool’s advantage is not that he isn’t afraid to die, but that he does fear living.

While these aren’t the most amusing of Deadpool issues, they are significant because the backstory of Deadpool is seen from an angle that is not too often presented.  Most of Deadpool’s mental issues are not his own fault; he is insane, but not because of any of his own faults. In fact, the sense that I got reading these issues is that if Deadpool has a main fault – its that he is too trusting. He trusted every person who got involved with him and the majority were just trying to use him.  Deadpool’s inability to distinguish between friend and foe is a major concept used in his character development.  In fact, throughout all of the recent Deadpool titles, his inability to comprehend friendship is at the root of his problems.  Looking ahead to issue #29, I expect to see the same psychological subtleties in the storyline.

4 stars

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