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Marvel Month in (P)Review: September/October 2008

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: David Wallace



Marvel Month in (P)review highlights the Marvel Comics' month that was and previews the Marvel Comics' month that will be. This month's column features previews of Astonishing X-Men #27, Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes, Daredevil #112, and Invincible Iron Man #6!


SEPTEMBER REVIEW:

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST: ORSON RANDALL AND THE DEATH QUEEN OF CALIFORNIA

Duane Swierczynski is only two issues into his tenure on the regular Immortal Iron Fist title, and at the moment the jury is still out on whether his run on the book is going to measure up to the high standards established by his predecessors. However, September's one-shot issue, Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California has gone a long way to allay my concerns, as the writer effortlessly succeeds in capturing the voice of Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker's wonderful pulp creation, Orson Randall - the previous Iron Fist.

Set in 1920s Hollywood, Swierczynski's story provides a perfect mix of retro glamour and mystical superheroics, with a few noir tropes thrown in for good measure. Randall has already proved himself to be a hugely versatile hero whose exploits could easily support a dedicated solo series, but in the meantime, I'll settle for the occasional one-shot - especially if they're as much fun as this.


FANTASTIC FOUR # 560

This issue of Fantastic Four finally gave us some answers about the mysterious New Defenders, showing what motivates their apparent ruthlessness and villainy, and explaining the previous issue's cliffhanger (and the presence of Galactus in the story) quite convincingly. Millar provides some enjoyable big ideas, and Hitch serves up some highly detailed and dynamic artwork that's every bit as good as his work on Ultimates.

It's also becoming apparent just how intractably connected this story arc is with the previous one, and I'm really starting to get the feeling that Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's Fantastic Four is eventually going to stand as more than the sum of its parts. After a slightly underwhelming start to their run, I'm glad I stuck with it.


SUB-MARINER: THE DEPTHS #2

Sub-Mariner: The Depths continues to be an engaging psychological horror story, set outside of regular Marvel continuity, with writer Peter Milligan creating a compelling atmosphere of paranoia as a dedicated scientist begins to suspect the existence of the creature known as Namor. Some readers may be dismayed that Namor himself barely appears (for the second issue in a row, no less), but this is definitely a case of less being more, as Milligan cannily keeps the titular character out of the spotlight, deriving horror from the implication of his presence rather than showing him explicitly (in the vein of similar thrillers such as Alien and The Abyss).

Esad Ribic again provides stunning artwork, constrained only by the lack of variety that Milligan's story offers. Still, this issue's cliffhanger suggests that the story may move into more fantastical realms soon. Either way, I'll be interested to see where it goes.


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #570-572

"New Ways To Die" continued in September, with three more issues of conflict between Spidey and the Thunderbolts bringing the storyline close to its ultimate conclusion. Whilst it's been a fun reworking of the classic Sinister Six concept, so much emphasis has been placed on Spidey's secret-identity woes and the machinations of Norman Osborn and Eddie Brock (both now oblivious that Peter is Spider-Man) - not to mention the resurrected Harry Osborn - that the shadow of "One More Day" sadly still hangs over the book to a large extent.

John Romita Jr.'s artwork has been predictably great, and Dan Slott's writing has been smart and fun, but there's still something that feels wrong about the rebooted Spider-Man, and I'm wondering whether I'll be motivated to keep following his adventures after this story wraps up in October.


MARVEL APES #1

Marvel Apes isn't going to win any Eisner awards, but this fun opening issue set out its stall pretty effectively, crafting an endearingly silly and pun-ridden story about an alternative Marvel Universe that's populated by simian counterparts of well-known Marvel heroes. There were hints of darkness and greater complexity, but by and large this was the definition of forgettable, fluffy entertainment. And it didn't have pretensions of being anything else.


WOLVERINE ANNUAL #2


This extra-sized one-shot story, entitled "Roar", is the second book by Duane Swierczynski to appear on my list this month (so the guy must be doing something right). "Roar" is everything a good Wolverine story should be, kicking off with a lonesome Logan walking the earth in search of a beer only to be drawn into a battle with a werewolf-like monster that has tormented the populace of a small town, deafening them with its scream.

The story turns out to be far more supernatural and morally complex than it first appeared, and Mike Deodato Jr. provides art that proves what a strong fit he is for the character, which bodes well for his forthcoming run on Wolverine: Origins. I'd like to see more of these kinds of one-shot stories - especially if Swierczynski is writing them. His work on the aforementioned Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California and the Punisher: Force of Nature one-shot from earlier this year has proved that he has a real aptitude for the format.



OCTOBER PREVIEW


MARCH ON ULTIMATUM SAGA #1
I wouldn't usually focus on a compilation issue as something to look out for, but I think that these "saga" issues are worth highlighting as one of the best ideas that Marvel has come up with in quite a while: a free (yes, free) comic that recaps key events that lead up to a high-profile forthcoming storyline or miniseries, with excerpts of artwork and chunks of text that summarise dozens of issues of past stories to get you up-to-date with the current status quo.

Previous issues have provided a potted history of the Ultimates, the Astonishing X-Men, and the Skrull invasion of Earth, and this latest release focuses on the build-up to Jeph Loeb and David Finch's Ultimatum event, which kicks off in November. I might be a little wary of the book itself (have any of Loeb's recent Marvel books been worth reading?), but I can't deny that this is a solid way to get new readers up to speed - and to refresh the memories of those of us who have been following the Ultimate Universe since its inception.


DAREDEVIL #112
Daredevil #111 surprised a lot of readers with a very strong start to the "Lady Bullseye" arc, in an issue that saw the introduction of Daredevil's newest enemy at the same time as Matt Murdock's relationship with one of his closest allies became a lot more complicated. I can't wait to see how both plot strands progress in issue #112: in the meantime, here are some preview pages which show Michael Lark make his triumphant return to the book (after last issue's fill-in by the more than competent Clay Mann).



If and when Lark leaves Daredevil, I'd love to see him tackle Immortal Iron Fist for a while, on the strength of these pages.


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #573
Amazing Spider-Man #573 is a noteworthy issue for more than one reason. Firstly, it's the final chapter of the much-hyped "New Ways to Die" storyline, and a lot of readers will be hoping for a lot of answers from this conclusion. Will we find out the secret behind the mysterious Menace? Will Mac Gargan remain as Venom for the foreseeable future? Will anyone discover Spidey's secret identity? It's impossible to say for sure, but on the strength of previous issues, it's sure to be a fun read that also looks great, thanks to John Romita Jr.'s fantastic pencils.

The second reason that this issue is a significant one, however, is due to the appearance of Stephen Colbert (in a back-up story by Mark Waid). I might be one of the few readers of this title who isn't familiar with Colbert (his show isn't broadcast in the UK), so I'll be interested to see whether Waid can make the story fun beyond the novelty of a celebrity appearance. After all, we know how well the Jay Leno "One Night Only" story from a few years ago turned out...



ASTONISHING X-MEN #27 / ASTONISHING X-MEN: GHOST BOXES #1
Another issue of Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi's Astonishing X-Men is always cause for celebration, and as someone who has greatly enjoyed their first couple of issues, I'm keen to see how the "Ghost Box" story will continue. These preview pages suggest that Bianchi has retained his ability to provide gorgeous, lush images coupled with unique, innovative layouts, and I can't wait to see what Ellis has in store for his intriguing sci-fi storyline.




However, this month we're in for a real treat, as we also get the first of two planned tie-in issues to the "Ghost Box" storyline, with art by several A-list artists (including Adi Granov and Alan Davis). Granov's art looks particularly stunning, evoking a strong Steampunk vibe with his retro renditions of the team: I love his begoggled Wolverine, and his redesign of the X-Men's Blackbird. I'll be intrigued to see what it all means.





CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI: 13 # 6
Paul Cornell's Captain Britain and MI:13 is a book that has benefited from the added attention that the Secret Invasion crossover brought to its opening arc, but which feels like it will really hit its stride now that the Skrull-related shenanigans are out of the way. After taking a breather with the prologue issue #5, issue #6 is the first issue proper of "Hell Comes to Birmingham", an arc which will see the forces of darkness descend on my home town of Birmingham (but will we notice...?).

As if the presence of Blade wasn't enough to shake up the book, this arc promises a starring role for the Brummie Captain Midlands, one of the standout characters from Cornell's Wisdom miniseries. I can't wait.



ULTIMATE ORIGINS #5
The final issue of Ultimate Origins arrives in October, concluding Brian Bendis' secret history of the Ultimate Universe and leading into the upcoming Ultimatum crossover. Whilst the series has been at best uneven, I still can't deny that I'm interested to see what form the Ultimate version of the Watcher will take, and whether Bendis can eventually spin all of his many disparate plot threads into a compelling single story.


CRIMINAL #6
Criminal is a book that deserves more attention than it's currently getting. After turning in two very compelling noir stories with the first volume of the title, this relaunched series has further improved on Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' winning formula, following up an intricate and highly satisfying trilogy of connected one-shot stories with an equally intriguing full-length story arc, "Bad Night."

This third issue of the storyline picks up the story threads from a second chapter that saw our reluctant hero get embroiled in a doomed criminal enterprise, with subtle hints at a dark psychological twist that might make this story even more complex and interesting than it currently appears. If you're not reading this book, you're missing out on one of the most enjoyable comics being published today.


INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #6
Issue #6 of Invincible Iron Man sees Matt Fraction wrap up his first story arc on the book. After last issue's thrilling battle (tantalising cliffhanger and all), I'll be interested to see whether Fraction can bring this story to a close with as much style and intelligence as has been evident for the first five issues. I don't doubt that he'll be up to the task - and with Salvador Larocca on art duties, it's sure to look great.

Readers who are still speculating over the future of Iron Man post-Secret Invasion will be keen to see whether we get any hints as to the book's possible new direction yet, but I doubt that we'll see anything that gives the end of the crossover away here.





SECRET INVASION #7
In the battle of the summer crossover "event" comics, Secret Invasion has managed to retain at least one clear advantage over DC's rival event, Final Crisis: it's still be being published. Whilst I haven't been the greatest fan of the series, there's something to be said for the skill with which the entire event has been orchestrated, as all of the tie-ins and crossover issues have fallen into place to create a sprawling event that allows individual titles a certain amount of latitude to do what they want with the Skrull-invasion concept, without getting in the way of the central story of the core title.

Last issue's cliffhanger suggested that we were going to be in for a Battle Royale this issue, between the Skrulls and the assembled hordes of Earth's Mightiest Heroes (and villains!). I can't help but feel that we're in for a predictable conclusion to the series - but at least it looks as though we'll see the event come to a close this side of Christmas, which is more than can be said for DC’s series.

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