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

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This month’s preview column is a first-issue special, with a number of notable new series launching from Marvel in May.

APRIL REVIEW:


Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion kicked off in earnest this month, with a first issue which pulled out all the stops in terms of "big" moments: several characters were revealed as Skrulls, the infrastructure of the superhero community was attacked on several fronts, and the issue ended with a WTF? moment that called so much into question that it almost risked undermining the whole concept of the crossover. The fast pace meant that there wasn't much time to get a sense of the impact of the events of the issue, so I hope that subsequent issues slow things down a little to give the developments of issue #1 a chance to sink in.

Outside of the main title, I found myself appreciating the construction of this particular crossover event more than ever this month, particularly in the way that the New and Mighty Avengers titles are being used. Both Mighty Avengers #12 and New Avengers #40 filled in some very significant details in the Secret Invasion backstory, without necessitating a momentum-sapping break in the flow of the core title. It may have taken a while to get going, but now that Secret Invasion is under way, I'm rather enjoying it.


Amazing Spider-Man #555-557
This was the first "Brand New Day" arc of Amazing Spider-Man that I really feel stood on its own two feet, away from the hoopla that has surrounded the "One More Day" reboot/reset/retcon. There are no unnecessary extraneous elements that feel as though they've been included solely to set up subplots for the book's other writers, there's no forced exploration of Spidey's new status quo, and there are no sly references to Peter Parker's marital status (although that's possibly because it would draw attention to the fact that there's nothing about the story that couldn't have been achieved with a married, slightly older Spider-Man in the title role). This arc has demonstrated that it's possible to write a modern Amazing Spider-Man comic that fulfills all of the requirements for the title: it has been fun, exciting, imaginative, entertaining, and dramatic, without sacrificing the inherent lightness of the character and his world. If only all of the "Brand New Day" arcs had been this good.


Fantastic Four #556
The third issue of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's Fantastic Four provides the first real mis-step in their run. Millar built up his big villain, "CAP," as an incredible threat but never actually did much to convince us of that fact (bar a couple of pages' worth of knocked-out superheroes, many of whom really deserve better treatment). Hitch's artwork was still strong - although somewhat obscured by an overused snow effect - and I still enjoyed the overall direction of the book, but something didn't sit right with me this issue, and the lack of depth in the depiction of the issue's villain made this issue feel like something of a disappointment.


Captain Marvel #5
Talking of disappointment, this final issue of the Captain Marvel miniseries certainly ranks up there with the most underwhelming story conclusions that I've read. I won't spoil the issue here, but anyone who bought into this series on Marvel's promises that it would explore Captain Marvel's character as he reacts to a world in which he died years ago will surely feel cheated by an ending that sacrifices a story with real potential for a short-term tie-in to the current big crossover event. It's also an ending that feels like Marvel is trying to have their cake and eat it in terms of having a living Captain Marvel active in the Marvel Universe again, and it'll be interesting to see how Marvel takes this idea forward once Secret Invasion is over and done with.


Thor #8 / Thor: Ages of Thunder
Two very different Thor books were published by Marvel this month, showing two very different approaches to the character. In the ongoing title, J. Michael Straczynski continued to explore his hero's relationship with his father as Asgard re-integrates into modern society and Donald Blake visits an old friend. Matt Fraction took a different approach, however, providing a timeless mythical tale of a more stubborn and hard-headed Thor's battle with the Frost Giants in Ages of Thunder.

One thing that both books had in common was some splendid artwork: Thor #8 was the second of two fill-in issues by Marko Djurdjevic, who provided yet more evidence that he really needs to be assigned to interior work on a more regular basis; and Ages of Thunder showcased the work of both Patrick Zircher and Khari Evans, with Zircher's highly-detailed work particularly impressive.



MAY PREVIEW


Invincible Iron Man #1 / Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #1
Marvel's marketing synergy has never been more precise than it is here, with the first issues of two new Iron Man miniseries being released in the same week as the blockbuster movie adaptation hits screens across the world.

The first book, Invincible Iron Man #1, launches the new ongoing series (the second for the character) by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca. Having read the first issue, I can say it already looks as though this book is going to adopt a more overtly superheroic tone than its sister title, and Fraction's unique voice combines with Larocca's slick artwork to provide a very enjoyable opener. However, as with last month's Secret Invasion, this issue is shipping with a slightly worrying number of variant covers (at least 6, by my count). I don't have a problem with variant covers per se, but it does look as though the trend is getting a little out of hand here.




The second title, Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #1, sees the Iron Man movie director Jon Favreau team up with fêted Iron Man artist Adi Granov to provide an out-of-continuity tale which should provide a fun ride for fans of the character. Unsurprisingly, Favreau takes a cue from the "classic" characterisation--the hard-drinking, womanising Tony Stark, rather than the reformed alcoholic and director of S.H.I.E.L.D.--and throws him into a Las Vegas-set adventure which looks as though it'll make a neat companion series to the movie.




Avengers/Invaders #1

Alex Ross & Jim Krueger team up to bring us a crossover that sees the return of Steve Rogers to the Marvel Universe - albeit accompanied by the rest of the Invaders, transported through time from World War II. The first issue gets the setup out of the way reasonably efficiently, giving us a glimpse of the Invaders' wartime activities before bringing them into the modern-day Marvel Universe with a bang. I'm looking forward to seeing how the world reacts to the reappearance of Cap, and I'll be interested to see whether Ross & Krueger decide to turn the tables and see how well the superheroes of the modern day would cope with the horrors of the second world war. Again, though, I have to note the variant covers creeping in again - I counted at least three here.




Captain Britain and MI: 13 #1
Ever since the Wisdom miniseries ended, I've been eagerly anticipating the next Marvel project from writer Paul Cornell. I'm pleased to see him return to the characters and concepts of Wisdom, I'm happy to see him given a chance to prove his worth on an all-ages book rather than a title published under the MAX imprint, and I can't wait to get to know the new characters that he has promised to introduce here. Leonard Kirk of Agents of Atlas fame provides artwork, and the first few issues (at least) look as though they'll be springing out of Secret Invasion, suggesting that an appearance from Wisdom's Skrull-Beatles is only a matter of time.

Sing it with me: # "Skrull of Kintyre..." #






Marvel 1985 #1
Mark Millar's latest title for Marvel takes a simple concept--what if all of the Marvel supervillains escaped into the real world?--and laces it with nostalgia, rooting his story in an era that I've always considered a high point for Marvel comics (and comics in general). I've never been the biggest fan of Tommy Lee Edwards's artwork, but the pages I've seen from this project look better than anything else he's produced in the past. Either way, the presence of Millar as writer and the potential-filled concept should make this book worth picking up.





newuniversal: Shockfront #1
Warren Ellis' first six issues of newuniversal re-imagined the "New Universe" concept for modern audiences, providing a thought-provoking and fairly original take on a world that is forced to deal with the emergence of several super-powered human beings after a mysterious "white event." Unfortunately, it was also quite a slow-moving book that suffered from scheduling problems, and ultimately ended up being placed on "hiatus," leaving numerous plot threads dangling and completely sapping the gradually-building momentum of Ellis' plot.

Shockfront sees the book's return, promising new characters but the same winning writing from Ellis. The original series artist, Salvador Larocca, might not be returning with him, but Ellis has always been the main draw for this series for me, and I'm pleased to see him return to it after such a long absence. Let's hope he can jump-start the series and recapture his audience's interest.





Sky Doll #1

Sky Doll is the first comic to be published as a result of the new deal between Marvel and Eurpoean publisher Soleil Productions. I know virtually nothing about it, but I think that anything that opens up the American comics scene to new influences and different genres can only be a good thing. As far as I know, this is the first time that the translated version of the book has been published in America, and I look forward to seeing what kind of reaction it gets.


Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1
Okay, so it's not technically a first issue. In fact, it's the twenty-fifth (and final) instalment of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's epic X-Men run. I've been waiting to read this for a long time, and I can only just remember what happened in the last issue, but Whedon and Cassaday's run has been so enjoyable that I predict that this issue will still be one of the most satisfying comics that I read this month.






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