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

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

March Review

Dark Tower: The Long Road Home #1
Dave: The second Dark Tower miniseries got under way this month, with a first issue that picked up precisely where the last miniseries left off but which immediately took the characters and concepts of the first mini in unexpected new directions. Peter David's scripting effectively captures the familiar yet otherworldly tone of the Dark Tower universe, and Jae Lee and Richard Isanove continue to provide delicate and precise artwork which should catch the eye of non-comics-readers and longtime fans alike.

It's good to see Marvel continuing their attempts to reach out to new audiences (rather than mining the same old readership with gradually diminishing returns), and hopefully The Long Road Home will be as much of a success for the publisher as The Gunslinger Born proved to be.

Captain Marvel #4/Ms. Marvel #25
Dave: Considering the manner in which crossover tie-ins are usually heavily promoted, I've been surprised to see Marvel be fairly restrained in their promotion of these two titles by frequent Bendis collaborator, Brian Reed. Yes, there are the usual variant covers and press releases which boast of issues selling out before they've even hit the shelves, but there's been less of the kind of overt pushing of these books than you might expect - especially considering how closely they're tied into the big Secret Invasion crossover.

The most recent issues of both titles have pushed their leads into an increasingly complicated web of deceit, as they reveal Skrull imposters and add further background detail to the Skrull threat facing the Marvel universe. Neither of them are what I would call great comics, but both of them make good use of the concept that Skrulls are among us to craft decent paranoid thriller storylines which keep readers guessing in the run up to Secret Invasion. If the Avengers books had addressed the Skrull issue as explicitly as these books have, it might well have given the event more momentum than it seems to have at the moment.

Amazing Spider-Man #552-554
Dave: "Brand New Day" continues to chug along, this month showcasing the art of Phil Jimenez and the writing talents of Back to the Future's Bob Gale in a story about a science-freak super-villain who cocoons himself in his own vomit and stops occasionally to smoke a crack pipe. Yes, really.

Whilst it's difficult to pick any major flaws in Gale's writing and Jimenez's artwork, there's nothing dazzlingly impressive or original about the story either, and I'm still waiting for all of the storytelling advantages and fresh new flavour that the book was meant to have gained as a result of the "One More Day" retcon to materialise. What's more, the various Amazing Spider-Man writers are failing to connect to tell a cohesive overall story from month to month, and I'm left wondering what the real difference is between having three separate monthly Spider-Man titles and having three different writers handle the same book on a rotating basis.

Of course, Marvel must think that they'll sell more comics if they brand them all as Amazing Spider-Man, but they're risking diluting the brand name with an editorial approach which seems to be based around rehashing the storytelling style of the character's glory days, rather than breaking any new ground with the book. At this point, I think I'd be happy for this version of Spidey to be revealed as a Skrull, and for the books to return to the status quo of a happily-married webslinger, with his rich history intact - but in the absence of that revelation, I can only hope for better, more compelling stories from the book in future.

Captain America #36
Luke: Brubaker brought the second act of his "Death of Captain America" epic to its conclusion this month and ended on a final panel that came as a genuine surprise… at least it did to me. Fans have praised Brubaker's work since he relaunched the title and in recent months many have referred to Captain America as the "best" series currently published by the House of Ideas. Though I personally wouldn't go quite that far, there's no denying that the creators have successfully taken a character that this reader considered stale and revitalised the franchise in a way I wouldn't have thought possible. Last month, the bad guys received a long overdue beatdown, as the new Captain rose to the occasion against the Red Skull's costumed agents and the man who shot Steve Rogers was taken back into custody.

Bucky has now moved to the forefront and it appears that the ensemble cast that had become a strong feature of the book is starting to be faded out. Tony Stark only appeared briefly (though with Extremis viruses, Venom plagues, Secret Invasions and an upcoming second monthly title it’s a miracle he found time even for that), the Falcon hasn't been seen for a while and the Black Widow confessed that she can no longer be seen with the new Captain. Whether Bucky is a strong enough character to carry this title on his own remains to be seen, but Brubaker skilfully expresses such doubts through the character himself, and I sincerely hope that the ex-sidekick is given the chance to fully grow into the responsibility that is Captain America. That final page therefore has me slightly anxious as I am not yet ready to accept the return of Steve Rogers, though this does look like an Arnim Zola project and given the disastrous history of cloning in the Marvel Universe, this cannot lead anywhere good.

X-Factor #29
Luke: X-Factor continues its post-Messiah CompleX journey and, against all odds, manages to do it with style. The current events in all the other ongoing X-titles spun directly out of the crossover. X-Factor, on the other hand, was left to fare for itself and try and do what it does best without two of its central characters. Luckily though, what X-Factor does best it does with style, with or without Layla Miller and Rahne Sinclair. The lack of mutants, or even ex-mutants, left to protect and the loss of pivotal team members has led to dark times and depression, and it's always times like these that old villains return for some payback. I've always liked Arcade, despite the fact that he really is one of the most ridiculous villains in the X-Men's back catalogue. His depiction was slightly more sensible here, but if you want sensible, you don't write a story about a maniac who constructs complex fun parks to kill people. Who is bankrolling the evil genius and where things go from here is anyone's guess, but by throwing X-Factor into their most ridiculous situation yet at a time when both the characters and the reader are asking themselves "why does this team even exist?," Peter David may just well manage to find a direction for his ragtag X-Men. Even if he doesn't, the character dynamics and banter were enough to make this comic worth reading.

April Preview

Secret Invasion #1
Dave: This, apparently, is the story that Bendis' entire stint on Marvel's Avengers books has been building up to. With that in mind, the writer has a lot of work to do here if he's to convince readers that his run has been worth following, as it hasn't always been the most rewarding read on a month-to-month basis. The presence of Leinil Yu on pencils should ensure that this is one crossover book that will ship in a timely fashion, and the fact that he's being inked in the traditional fashion (rather than being coloured directly from his pencils) should reassure those readers who found his previous Avengers work to be a little too rough and scratchy for their liking. One thing that does have me slightly concerned about the first issue, though, is that it is shipping with (by my count) at least 6 different variant covers: It's the '90s speculator boom all over again!

Elsewhere in Bendis' Secret Invasion plans, we have Alex Maleev lending his considerable talents to Mighty Avengers #11, which shows us more of what Nick Fury was up to during Bendis' Secret War mini, and Jim Cheung on New Avengers #40, which reveals what went on behind the scenes of New Avengers: Illuminati #1. Both will probably be well worth a look for anyone who's interested in the overarching Secret Invasion conspiracy.

Thor: Ages of Thunder #1
Dave: Thor has only been back in his own book for a few issues, so I was slightly surprised to see him granted his own separate mini so soon. However, the fact that Matt Fraction is attached as writer definitely has me interested, as he's proven himself to be one of the most reliably enjoyable writers in the Marvel stable at the moment. Fraction has promised to explore the more historical, mythological aspects of Thor, which should complement Straczynski's work on the core title well.

The black-and-white previews of Patrick Zircher's artwork were already looking gorgeous, but these coloured pages look even more stunning, so this is already looking like a very solid overall package. I'm looking forward to this one.

Avengers: The Initiative #11
Luke: I know, I know, I previewed this last book month and surely there's something else deserving of my attention. Weeeell, yeah, there is, but I love this book! It may not be the "best" title currently published by Marvel, but it is without a doubt the one I've looked forward to the most over the last couple of months. The current "KIA" storyline grabbed me by the end of the first page of issue #8 and hasn't let go since. Anyone familiar with Dan Slott's writing will know that if he needs four issues to tell a story then it must be one hell of a story. And this is. And then some. The ease with which he continues to juggle his large cast whilst casually throwing new plot elements and characters into the mix is the kind of writing that made me fall in love with Marvel comics in the first place. This issue promises to feature the reformed New Warriors (no, not those depowered dullards running around with a poor man's Gambit; I'm talking Justice, Rage and co. here), trying to do the "right" thing and their good intentions may very well once again lead to tragedy. The body count is sure to increase, this is the last issue of the arc after all, and hopefully all those Hank Pym fans out there (i.e. Kelvin Green, myself, and … err…) will get a confirmed body count from the previous issues' bloodbath.

Criminal 2 #2
Dave: Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker's relaunched crime series brings us its second self-contained story, as Brubaker continues to explore the backgrounds of some of the characters we saw in volume one. The one-shot format actually suits the title even better than the serialised stories, as it allows each issue to function as a magazine of sorts, with a complete story which is bolstered by the interviews, essays and letters that are printed in the back pages (and which aren't included in the collected editions). Anyone who enjoys crime comics and hasn't checked this out should do so, as it sits alongside Image's Fell as one of the best crime books on the market.

Annihilation: Conquest #6 /Nova # 12
Luke: The final chapter of Marvel’s second cosmic extravaganza hits this month. Unfortunately, despite some promising characters and gorgeous art, Conquest has failed to excite as much as its predecessor. It's a shame, as the first issue really left me expecting something better. The "explanation" of Ultron's takeover--which felt more like damage limitation after the character's truly baffling appearance in Mighty Avengers--and the Phalanx-immune Sentinels are just two of the plot developments that have left me dazed and confused.

The preview art for this month's issue reveals the Nova's return to the fray. I knew this was coming (honest, check out last month’s column) and the manner in which it has been executed is thoroughly puzzling. Nova's return has been somewhat inevitable since he set off to find a way to take down the Phalanx, pursued by the infected couple of Gamora and Drax. But though issues #4-7 of his title were billed as official "Conquest" lead-ins, Richard Rider hasn't been mentioned in the core mini at all, and the current issues of Nova, with the exception of the Annual, have not born the "Conquest" banner, a big surprise in itself considering Marvel's obsession for "tie-in" banners on front covers. The arrival of Nova and co. on the scene, particularly Warlock and his protégé, will make no sense to someone who's only been reading Conquest, and I'm sure some people would have appreciated tighter coordination between these two titles, which is utterly surprising given that Abnett and Lanning write both. I can only guess that one of the reasons for showing preview art so soon (originally posted on the 13th of March) was to warn fans that if they wanted to understand what the hell was going on, they'd need to pick up the current and upcoming issues of Nova. Though the return of Rider and Gamora to Conquest can only be a good thing, I look forward to this all being over so we can get down to the serious business of Guardians of the Galaxy. Having said that, Paul Pelletier's art on Nova does look gorgeous, and he's definitely one of the select few who can successfully depict a techno-organic virus.

The Order #10
Dave: This issue of The Order will be the title's finale. I feel as though the book never really found its audience amongst Marvel's other post-Civil War titles, and the last few issues seem to have been made more bland in an effort to appeal to a wider audience. However, that was never likely to happen - are people really going to start buying into a book which has already been announced as ending within a few issues? - and the move towards more traditional team super-heroics has only served to extinguish the originality and uniqueness that made the book so appealing to the small fanbase that it had managed to encourage.

It would have been nice to see the book given the chance to thrive, but with low sales and with Fraction moving on to bigger and better things, it's probably best that it be put out of its misery. Farewell, The Order - we hardly knew ye.

And here's more preview art from April's Immortal Iron Fist #14 with Marvel.com's description of the issue:

Immortal Iron Fist
Writers: Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker
Artist: David Aja

The Story:
This is it, kids--the skull–busting, chest–punching, punch–kicking conclusion to "The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven." Seven practitioners of super kung fu, champing at the bit to bloody each other to a pulp. A rogue Hydra cell, intent on destroying K'un-Lun from Earth, loads its terror train full of explosives and prepares to fire it through a warp in space-time. A schism in the leadership of K'un-Lun threatens to tear the city in two. The original Heroes for Hire, outgunned, outmanned, and out of time somewhere in Tibet. And Davos, the arch-rival of Iron Fist, intent on exploiting all this chaos, wants to assassinate Danny Rand once and for all. When was the last time a comic melted your face off? When was the last time you read The Immortal Iron Fist?
In Store: April 30, 2008

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