Marvel Month in (P)Review: February and March 2008

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Dave Wallace and Luke Handley comment on the Marvel month that was… and look forward to Marvel’s March releases.

February Review

Fantastic Four #554
Dave: The long-anticipated re-teaming of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch meant that the hype machine for Fantastic Four #554 was always going to create unrealistically high expectations, and it was perhaps inevitable that their first issue on the book felt a little disappointing. Whilst Millar seems to show a solid grasp of the characters, and Hitch's art had gained a certain looseness and fluidity that wasn't apparent in his Ultimates work, there was very much a sense that this was a quiet and considered scene-setting first chapter - and that we might have to wait until next month for the really good stuff.

Nova Annual #1
Luke: I'm a big fan of Marvel's new Annual format. These oversized issues, that in the past were often so much throwaway filler material, have returned with a vengeance and all those that I've read to date "matter" in big ways. This one is slightly different though. The cover proudly proclaims it is an origin issue, under the banner "The Man Called Nova," a nice nod to those who've read the original 1970s Nova, when the extra description was added due to fears that people would think Nova was a woman's name and that this would adversely affect sales in a testosterone dominated purchasing environment. However, this is not really an origin issue per se. As those same readers of the original Nova know, that business was covered in the very first issues that featured the character. This is a re-telling of sorts, but with the current issues in Richard Rider's life, namely a raging Phalanx viral infection, distorting events. The flash-forwards to a rebuilt Nova Corps besieging the last Phalanx stronghold on Earth are what make this issue for me, as it portrays Rider as the great hero he's always shown the signs of becoming one day. The ending segues back into Nova's current plight and the whole issue takes place within his mind, so one might ask: what was the point of all that? Honestly, probably not a huge amount, but it was fun while it lasted. Nova continues to be a good, solid cosmic title, but I do fear slightly for what looks like the inevitable crossover with the final chapters of Annihilation: Conquest that comes with little warning or real promotion on Marvel's behalf. Not that I care too much, as I'm reading both, but still…

Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death
Dave: Hands down the most fun issue of the year so far. This one-shot saw Matt Fraction spin four wild and imaginative tales about the previous Iron Fist and his colleagues in the Confederates of the Curious. An impressive roster of artists brought each vignette to life vividly, and the story that played out over the course of the four chapters shed new light on the character of John Aman, a recent addition to the cast of the regular Iron Fist book. This was a perfect example of how comics can be fun and accessible for new readers whilst also building on the foundations of existing stories and concepts for established fans. A great comic.

Runaways #29
Luke: Ahh, Runaways. Consistently one of the best series Marvel publishes… when they publish it that is. I know discussing lateness, especially associated with "big" name writers is nothing new and is getting slightly boring, but I'm sorry, I just can't help myself. The first issue of Joss Whedon's six issue arc shipped on the fourth of April last year, 11 months ago, and this fifth instalment was originally scheduled for November. Why? Just… why? Michael Ryan has proved time and again he can easily meet deadlines, so it's down to the writer. And don't give me any crap about "day jobs." This is a day job! [email protected]£%, if I'm paid to deliver a written manuscript on time, then by jove I better have it or find myself a new job. Okay, rant over. Feel much better.

The delays are a real shame as this is the best Runaways has been for years, no disrespect meant to Brian K. Vaughan. Whedon's trademark wit fits these kids perfectly, and though I had initial doubts about throwing them into the midst of a time travel caper, this is getting better with every issue; if I can actually remember the previous one, given how long it took for this one to come out. Argh, stop it! Right, so, Runaways, excellent. This penultimate chapter manoeuvres all the players, and there are a lot of them, into position for the final showdown. As has become customary with these teens, there's love (of the homosexual kind), betrayals (of the romantic kind), resolve in the face of adversity (of the torturing kind) and the use of the word "adult" as the ultimate insult. I strongly recommend this, but please, do your sanity a favour and wait for the trade to be released.

Daredevil #105
Dave: Ed Brubaker's yearlong storyline concerning Mr. Fear and his vendetta against Matt Murdock came to a head with this issue, which pulled off the difficult balancing act of delivering on 10+ issues of buildup whilst also making for a thrilling read in its own right. Brubaker's sensitive handling of the distress which has been suffered by Matt due to Mr. Fear's attack on his wife Milla has been a touching and mature examination of the impact that mental illness can have on a person and their loved ones, as well as adding even more drama to a superhero who has had more than his fair share of anguish and angst over the years. Brubaker's run on Daredevil is quickly shaping up to be a match for Bendis and Maleev's well-remembered stint on the book, and his take on the character evokes the Frank Miller era without ever feeling like a cheap imitation. Consistently good stuff.

The Incredible Hercules #114
Luke: So, you take one of your Universe mainstays, lock him up, throw away the key and give his title to an underused character who’s best known as the strong-though-not-all-that-bright guy in a couple of Avengers incarnations. A bold and, for many fans at the time, puzzling move, but one that appears to have paid off royally. Not only is the new Hulk title selling out faster than Prince Harry's withdrawal from Afghanistan, but The Incredible Hercules is surprising everyone, well me at least, with just how damn good it is. Pak and Van Lente have successfully made Hercules a fully rounded and intriguing protagonist, particularly through the introduction of elements from his mythological past. Yet, though his name may be on the cover, Ares and Amadeus Cho are equally important starring characters here. This month, Cho took a step closer to the dark side, as he is on the verge of accomplishing that which no supervillain ever has: wiping out S.H.I.E.L.D., literally, from the inside. Meanwhile, having Ares proclaim "NO!! Blows from an unseen assailant have felled Wonder Man!!" whilst beating said Wonder Man senseless with a chunk of concrete, just makes me want more of this interpretation of the God of War and reminds readers that there is no way such a maniac should be running around with Stark's goons in Mighty Avengers.

March Preview

Kick-Ass # 2
Dave: The first issue of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s creator-owned miniseries (published under Marvel's "Icon" imprint) surprised many people with its depth of characterisation and surprised no-one with its superlative artwork. After the violent events of the first issue, I'm keen to see how Dave Lizewski will react to his failed attempt to become the first real-life superhero, and whether we're going to see the emergence of other heroes (as hinted at by the first issue) just yet.

The Last Defenders #1
Luke: My first reaction upon seeing this in Marvel's solicitations a couple of months ago was one of surprise. Joe Quesada has said many times that he was in no rush to bring the Defenders, or any team of that name, back. Yet here they are. Oh well, as far as I know people are still allowed to change their mind if they want to. As Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange are currently occupied elsewhere, it falls to Nighthawk to ensure a semblance of continuity with the name and lead New Jersey's Initiative team. Joe Casey's work has been both criticised (Uncanny X-Men) and praised (Godland) by fans, so I will be going into this with a completely open mind and unbiased opinion. Actually that would be a lie. I love Nighthawk. I really don't know why; he's never amounted to much and most people will know him as the man who turned his back on Captain America when the going got tough during Civil War. Maybe it's the costume? Or the fact that, when all's said and done, he's just a rich perp in a bird suit? And I love She-Hulk. After dropping her solo title this month, I'm glad to have her popping up elsewhere, though after her violent run-in with Stark and turning her back on superheroics I have no idea what she's doing here. Oh, and I love Colossus. Although for the life of me I can't think what the hell he would be doing here either. And Blazing Skull. I've never read anything with him in it, but he looks damn cool drawn by Jim Muniz and that counts for a lot, right? So I’ll extend my love to him too. So, in short, I can't wait for this issue!

Ultimate Human #3
Dave: Warren Ellis quietly chugs along with the best Ultimate title to have surfaced in a long time, pitting Tony Stark and Bruce Banner against the Ultimate Leader at the same time as they struggle to find a cure for the Hulk's condition. Mixing sci-fi high-concepts with pitch-perfect characterisation of his two leads, Ellis has used this book to build on the foundations that were laid by the original Ultimates book, and has made it a more than worthy rival to Jeph Loeb and Joe Madueira's current work in Ultimates 3.

Thunderbolts #119
Luke: The release of a new issue of Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato's Thunderbolts is always cause for celebration. Marvel has done their best to keep new Tbolts material coming out, drafting in Christos Gage to write fill-in issues that are, quite wisely, billed as one-shots. Actually, calling them filler sounds a bit too depreciative of the efforts Gage is making to tell stories that have real impacts on the individual Tbolts whilst not upsetting Ellis' status quo, but that is what they ultimately amount to.

Ellis' team of conscripted supervillains has worked far better than I thought it might. A year ago, I honestly couldn't care less for Venom or Emo-Boy. But Ellis has successfully captured that which makes each of his protagonists tick and the current storyline is highlighting the disastrous consequences that ensue when they give in to the more base aspects of their nature. Thus, Venom is on an eating frenzy and Swordsman has gone rogue, taking half of Tbolts mountain's security staff with him, whilst Norman Osborn has all but given in to the insanity of his Green Goblin persona. This appears to be the result of subtle manipulation by four recently imprisoned psychics and, as this issue looks like it’s building toward a confrontation between the "loyal" members and the "traitors," the big question is if the Thunderbolts have a future as a team after this.

Fantastic Four #555
Dave: If the cliffhanger of the previous issue is anything to go by, Millar and Hitch's Fantastic Four is poised to get much bigger and better with the next issue. The "replacement earth" is just the kind of Big Idea that suits the FF so well, and these preview images from Bryan Hitch really show off the scale of Millar's imagination. After a slower start than many expected, I'm hoping to see this book really get into gear with the second chapter.

Avengers: the Initiative #10
Luke: With this current arc, Slott is taking what we thought we knew about the direction this book was taking and turned it on its head. Last issue, KIA, the rogue MVP clone now bonded to the Tactigon, dispatched (as in killed / appeared to kill) Initiative regulars Yellowjacket, Baron Von Blitzschlag, Trauma, Thor Girl and the newest batch of recruits, including the 616-verse Geldoff (I kid you not!). And that was only the beginning. Henry Peter Gyrich is next on his "list," meaning the inevitable involvement of all the Camp Hammond based superheroes. So who's better, KIA or the Shadow Initiative? There's only one way to find out: fight! (For those two people who get that reference, sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Those recruits still standing also look set to get involved, except Ant-Man of course, as does the Gauntlet, animated by the energy of the weapons that belonged to the Tactigon's owner's mortal enemy (those who read the Annual can confirm that that sentence does actually make sense). And a New Warriors reunion? Good stuff. Dan Slott continues to impress month after month and Stefano Caselli's art couldn't be more at home than depicting the current level of carnage at Camp Hammond.

Captain Britain and MI:13 #1
Luke: Okay, so it isn't out until May (hopefully my editor won't notice), and I'm sure I'll be back to gush about it in more detail then, but seeing this in Marvel's May solicitations got me more geeked than I've been about an upcoming comics announcement in a long time. Why? Come on, Captain Britain? Pete Wisdom? Spitfire? And Dane Whitman, the Black Knight? By some Brit named Paul Cornell and this chap Leonard Kirk? May can't come around soon enough. It's moments like this I realise that maybe I love comics too much…

And here's even more preview art from March Marvel titles with Marvel.com's descriptions of the issues:

Daredevil #106:
Reeling from the events of last issue, Matt Murdock struggles to come to grips with the recent tragedy of his life. Drifting into anger and depression, Daredevil stalks the streets of Hell's Kitchen, looking for bad guys to take it out on…but is he really just taking it out on himself? By Harvey and Eisner-Winning Best Writer Ed Brubaker and special guest artist Mike Perkins!
In Stores: March 26, 2008

Iron Fist #13:
Two words, punks—BATTLE ROYALE! All the losers in the tournament in the Heart of Heaven get a chance to redeem themselves and obtain the ultimate victory…Danny Rand included! But if Danny couldn't win mano a mano, what hope does he have in a no-holds-barred kung-fu free-for-all of violence and carnage? And meanwhile, on Earth, the sinister Xao launches an attack almost a century in the making, and he won't stop until he's dancing on the ashes of K'un-Lun itself. Oh! And the final secrets of Danny Rand's birth are finally revealed. And this ain't even the finale, sweethearts.
In Stores: March 19, 2008

Young Avengers Presents #3:
Wiccan & Speed: THE LOST BOYS.
You're Wiccan, the Young Avengers' resident warlock. Your mother is one of the most reviled, misunderstood mutants in history: Wanda Maximoff, A.K.A. the Scarlet Witch, who's been M.I.A. for months. Even though you've never met her, she's been haunting your dreams lately...With your super-fast twin brother Speed in tow, you set out to find her, unaware that someone else is looking for Wanda, as well. A demon with a mountain-sized grudge against the Scarlet Witch: Master Pandemonium! And guess what? If Pandemonium can't find Wanda to destroy her, he'll happily destroy...YOU!
In Stores: Mar 26, 2008

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