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

Invincible Iron Man #511

Invincible Iron Man

Invincible Iron Man #511; Marvel Comics

I have been reading Invincible Iron Man for several years now, I think since the Extremis armor storyline.  The numbering of this particular title has, of course, changed but this is actually the 46th issue in this volume (2008).  For the most part, this volume has been above average, but nothing has been really awesome amazing.  In other words, this is a solid Marvel title with one of the classic characters.

I am not a big fan of writer Matt Fraction; in fact, I am not really a fan at all, but I am trying to be kind. Last year, Fraction’s event Fear Itself was a bloody mess and aggravated a lot of Marvel readers. Fraction’s been writing this volume since issue #1, however, and has done a decent job.  Every issue that I read is good – but the writing is not the strong part, the art is. Salvador Larroca’s artwork is phenomenal and perfect. I love it. Every issue I look at I find myself saying things like: “Hey, that’s a really good frame” or “This art is really quite good.”  So, ultimately, I am not sure where this title would be without Larroca.

The above holds true for issue #511.  The storyline is good enough, albeit a little tired. I feel after 46 issues, we are still in the same exact arc as issue #1.  Now, I know that Iron Man has his particular villains that he constantly battles and that contained storylines are something of a rarity in today’s comic industry. However, I feel like we are having some sort of groundhog day stuck-age where we are moving forward and moving forward, but just not going anywhere. The thing is, it’s interesting (fighting Ezekial Stane and the Mandarin), but we have been doing it for 40 issues. Looking at the whole volume, it’s easy to see developments and progression, but at the same time, I feel there is this lack of anything happening. It’s a very odd read – which is why I was complaining about Fraction.

However, as long as Larroca keeps drawing, I am going to keep reading. His artwork is fantastic and, honestly, not enough readers/critics are talking about it. It really ought to be praised more than it is. Maybe after all these issues, everyone has started to take it for granted. I haven’t though, because reading this issue I was still impressed with the art.

Pepper Potts by Larroca

angry Pepper Potts by S. Larroca

Here are two of my favorite frames from this issue. The first is of Pepper Potts. Potts is angry and frustrated. Maybe even a little hurt. And Larroca is able to display all of these emotions on her face in such a way that it doesn’t make Pepper look silly, constipated, or blah.  You can look at this frame and almost empathize with Pepper.  It may seem like a “simple” facial drawing, but it actually conveys Fraction’s storyline better than Fraction’s words.

Sasha Hammer by Larroca

Sasha Hammer by S. Larroca

Another frame that really, really caught my eye was of Sasha Hammer. She’s standing in front of the Detroit Steel tech and the media, with dozens of cameras, is eating the scene up. I was trying to imagine a shiny piece of armor as a backdrop for a saavy, catty chick like Sasha. I then imagined all the camera’s flashing and the media crowded around her while she basks in the attention.  When I stopped imagining, I found that Larroca had been in my brain had had drawn precisely the image that I had imagined. Really. I mean, I love how her hair looks, I love the incline of her head, I love the sunglasses. Of course, Larroca’s art here is perfectly completed by colorist Frank D’Armata. The “blurry” colorful background with the flashbulb reflections in the sunglasses is awesome. Really. I mean, you feel like you are right there in the scene at Hammer Industries’ Hanger with the arrogant Sasha Hammer.

4 stars

Avengers #10 – 12

Avengers 10

Avengers #10

Continuing onward in the storyline that started in issue #7, the Avengers seek to chase after the Infinity Gems – racing Parker Robbins to acquire them.  The Avengers (and X-Men) have divided into three teams.  One team has followed Professor X to the site of the old X-Men school. Another, larger, group has gone to Area 51. Finally, three very powerful heroes (Namor, Red Hulk, and Thor) are traveling deep underwater to obtain the gem that Namor had been in charge of.

Several interesting things occur in the issue that help to make it seem not just one big pile of heroes running around.  Underwater, once Namor retrieves the gem, the three heroes hover around. Red Hulk has his hand out to take it, but Namor gives it to Thor. I found this a neat subtle way of showing that the Avengers do not trust Red Hulk yet, and that Namor seems to have more faith in Thor than he does in himself – a rare moment of humility for Namor.

Another interesting tidbit involves the Avengers learning that Tony Stark owns Area 51.  They comment that they thought that he was impoverished.  Tony replies:  “My broke is not the same as your broke,” which I think is a classic line for Tony. It demonstrates his arrogance and the fact that he really is the richest character in the Marvel universe.  I got quite a chuckle out of this line, which stuck with me awhile after reading it.

Avengers 11

Avengers #11

Issue #11 starts off with a full page frame of Uatu.  If you know anything about Marvel comics, you know that when this dude is present, things are serious.  Parker Robbins appears as the three heroes emerge from the water. Robbins possesses the purple, red, and yellow gems already (space, power, and reality respectively).  After a tussle, the Red Hulk gains the red gem (power), but Robbins transports them all back to Area 51.  Unfortunately, Robbins escapes, even after the Avengers attack. It’s at this point that Spider-Man notices Uatu. “Anyone else happen to notice The Watcher is here… you know, watching!”

Robbins has zipped off to meet the Avengers & X-Men team at Xavier’s school. A battle ensues between Xavier and Robbins – which the former loses. I was surprised. The Avengers are not doing well in these issues. Robbins collects the mind gem and heads off to the astral plane to find the gem that was given to Dr. Strange. The art on in this issue is colorful as all get out.  The Astral plane is full of yellows and pinks and lights and spheres. It’s really quite a sensory bombardment. Dean White is the colorist and I have to give him a lot of credit because these seem to be some of the most colorful issues in comics in the last year or so. I think the writing is about what one should expect to find in an Avengers comic book.  The art is hit or miss, I feel. Some frames are great, others are not so pleasant to look at. It ends up being a bit discordant. Nevertheless, the colorist does a good job making the art look as bold and bright as possible.

Avengers 12

Avengers #12

I really like the cover of issue 12 because the artist dropped the title font to the center of the page and put a bold Iron Man in the center of the image.  Frankly, since issue #7, I fell hook-line-and-sinker for the setup that Tony Stark had fallen prey to his arrogance and greed. When I saw the cover, I did not think that the Avengers had saved the day, but rather that Stark had somehow managed to get his paws on all of the gems and was wielding them similarly to how Robbins would have.

The Avengers defeat Robbins. Iron Man does manage to get his hands on all of the infinity gems. And in front of the assembled heroes, he uses the gems to “wish them out of existence.”  He appears remorseful and solemn and the Avengers seem satisfied with his actions.  Steve Rogers welcomes Red Hulk to the Avengers officially because he says that Red Hulk acted both selflessly and smart.  I have to say that in this frame, Steve is pretty ugly.  This is certainly not some athletic and handsome movie star.  Steve’s face and hair is just drawn ugly. In the same frame, Red Hulk looks a bit like a Elvis. The pencils for these issues are done by John Romita, JR.  I still dislike his art and I feel that without the skills of the colorist and the inker, this art would be quite awful.  I admit the covers are bright and wild, but the interior art is sometimes downright ugly. It’s easy to see what’s happening in each frame and it matches the storyline, however, the art is not to my liking.

Yeah, I was sad to see the infinity gems/gauntlet be “wished out of existence” just like that – poof!  They have been such a driving force in the Marvel cosmic universe that I was disappointed that that was all the story we get.  I should have known better (and I bet most readers suspected more).  Apparently, Dr. Strange was surprised too, so I don’t feel so bad. The last pages of the issue show the Illuminati, once again dividing up the gems. This time, however, there is one more member among them who grasps the orange gem:  Steve Rogers. (Of course, it’s one of the ugliest Steve Rogers in comics yet…..)

Overall, I liked this arc. I like the infinity gems. I like Thor and Namor and Iron Man. However, I do feel this was an “all-ages” book, since there wasn’t the depth that I am used to reading in comics of late. But perhaps this is not a bad thing at all – the arc was fun, colorful, and let the writer play with the infinity gems. There is an awful lot for the writer/artist to juggle in this storyarc:  dozens of characters, a whole mess of gems, etc.  In some places, the story moves a little too fast, I think. In the end, the rift between Tony and Steve is somewhat better and the villain was defeated. This is well worth reading, but is probably not going to be one of the greatest Avengers arcs ever written.

4 stars

Iron Man #25

Invincible Iron Man 25

Invincible Iron Man #25

Since the Civil War event (2006 – 2007) in Marvel Comics, Iron Man has been a key ingredient in most of Marvel’s storylines.   However, if you are interested in reading up on Iron Man/Tony Stark recent history, you have to return to the six-issue storyarc called Extremis run in the 2005 Iron Man title.  Extremis was new, exciting, unique technology that Tony Stark developed.  Then there was the Civil War - with the issues of the Superhero Registration Act.  This includes Tony Stark giving Peter Parker the Iron Spider suit.  Then we have Secret Invasion and finally Norman Osborn (Dark Reign) takes over, well… everything, and crushes Stark Industries feverishly hunting down Tony Stark himself.  That’s a whole lot of comic book issues to read through – its really great reading and well worth the time spent – but what you need to know started with the newest volume of Iron Man:   Invincible Iron Man. The first issue was released in July 2008.

Extremis armor was very cool, in my opinion. Extremis technology stores the inner layers of the Iron Man armor in the Stark’s bones.  He can control the armor through direct brain impulses. Extremis also integrates Stark’s existing lockchip (a personal networking implement implanted in his forearm) directly into his nervous system.  Basically, Stark IS his armor.  Its really high-tech, sci-fi, fun stuff that one would expect from Tony.  This armor means no more unfolding, Transformers-like suitcases.   No more dashing into phone booths.  The nanoparticles inside Tony’s body literally become the armor around him – its really quite neat.

But Extremis, as it was in 2005 ends up having issues – or is it that Tony has issues?  Regardless, after 24 issues of the newest volume of Invincible Iron Man, Tony Stark meets up with Reed Richards and creates the newest Iron Man armor.  So, of course, issue #25 is a big deal – and I could not find this issue anywhere. I finally had to sell a kidney. Totally worth it.

First of all, I absolutely love this cover. I read on a few websites that people thought all of the #25 covers (variants and other) were boring.  I love covers like this, though, simple, full-page, not cluttered or busy.  I like the title shoved to the lower left, I like the font used for the title and credits. I like the dark background.  This is a good cover.  But wait – there’s more! (Sorry, I’ve been watching TV commercials.)  I absolutely love the interior art for this comic.  Let’s use some common sense – if you are introducing a new armor for Iron Man – you need to have amazing art.  The artist needs to be on his game.  That’s all there is to it.  And Salvador Larroca nails it.  Pretty much every frame is excellent and melds perfectly with the writing.  In this issue, the art isn’t an accessory to the story, it actually does its own share of telling the story. Very nice.

New armor

New Armor

Well, do you want the real story or the story we just tell people?  In reality, Tony Stark totally designed this tech in an apartment living room.  The fake story is that Marvel writers and artists designed this.  Who specifically?   Marvel gives a lot of credit to an artist named Ryan Meinerding.  Apparently he started the design process.  Editors and writers apparently eventually gave their insights and the new armor was born.  Now, since I have only read issue #25, I am not completely aware of how the armor operates.  It looks like it works similarly to the extremis armor.  I am glad for this.  I loved most of the extremis armor concept, especially how it did away with figuring how to have the armor ready and accessible at any minute.

There are some other things going on in issue #25.  Thor shows up, Rhodey is complaining, Maria talks about Avengers.  The big plot is that Stark is rebuilding Stark Industries and he has just changed his weapons-based business agenda, to the chagrin of the military. But these are not the reasons this issue was scarfed up – its because of the sexy, new armor!

4 stars

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