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Marvel Month in (P)Review: June/July 2008

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"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 #25, Secret Invasion: Front Line #1 and Squadron Supreme #1!

JUNE REVIEW


IMMORTAL IRON FIST #16

Dave Wallace:Immortal Iron Fist #16 was a difficult read for me, as whilst it was an excellent issue in its own right, there was a bittersweet quality to it that came from my knowledge that it was the last to be handled by the current creative team. Matt Fraction and David Aja gave the book a great send-off, however, setting out Danny Rand's new status quo and providing a killer final twist that makes me very interested to see what comes next in the book.
I'll certainly give the new creative team a chance, but they have some pretty big kung-fu-slippers to fill.


RUNAWAYS #30

Luke Handley: I think I love Joss Whedon. Seriously, this issue just felt so right from start to finish that I got the same warm fuzzy feeling that I got after finishing Giant Size Astonishing X-Men and that comes from reading a comic that is almost perfect. This issue wrapped up all the dangling plot threads from the previous five and the ending came with a real emotional jerk, which is not an easy thing to achieve over the course of only six issues. Compared to his Astonishing X-Men run that was apparently plotted in the days when decompression was cool, Whedon crammed an awful lot into his brief stint on Runaways, perhaps even too much to keep track of. And this was not helped by the fact that the delays between issues were sickening.
I'm sorry. Truly I am, but there's no way of avoiding mentioning the delays. It's taken a year and a quarter to get this arc out and the first three issues were released within 4 months of each, so that's nearly a year to wrap up the last three. That is quite simply ridiculous by anyone's standards. I find it interesting that this run was highly advertised when it began but that this final climatic chapter has received almost no promotion whatsoever. Can't really blame Marvel for not wanting to draw attention to this debacle. The delays have killed this book; it's as simple as that. It was never a big seller but had its core fans who could rely on it being released every month. Terry Moore and Humberto Ramos really face an uphill struggle to renew any buzz for this title. If anyone needed more proof that original graphic novels are the way to go in some cases then this has been it.


WOLVERINE #66

Dave Wallace:Wolverine #66 saw the first instalment of "Old Man Logan," the new arc by the Civil War team of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. Whilst it was a slow start, it set up an interesting new status quo for Wolverine, living in a post-apocalyptic future Marvel Universe in which the heroes were defeated and in which the USA is run by super-villains (cue George W Bush joke).
Even if the story feels like it's only just getting started by the end of the issue, McNiven's ever-improving artwork kept things looking pretty, and there are enough interesting ideas in play that this could me one of the more compelling stories of the year. One to watch.


THUNDERBOLTS #121

Luke Handley: This issue wrapped up the pandemonium reigning in Thunderbolts Mountain, the highlights being the showdowns between those team members still left standing: Speedball (yes, Speedball and not Penance) vs. Moonstone and Songbird vs. the Green Goblin. The only slight disappointment comes from how easily and quickly the situation is finally handled and after not having seen Bullseye for much of the last five issues, he does come across as a slightly convenient device, though I'm sure this was planned all along. Ellis finishes his tenure with things back in a similar position to where they started but with some big differences and major grudges.
But I simply can't believe that this is it: how can Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato be walking away from a title with such huge, and still largely untapped, potential? Ellis has given his reasons, and I do understand them, but think of us poor fans, will you? The creative team has given us twelve issues that, arguably, have been the best twelve-issue run on an ongoing Marvel title for a long time. This series has provided some of my favourite comic moments of the last couple of years (my favourite still being when American Eagle spanned Bullseye's neck) and it's with a heavy heart that I watch it come to an end. Christos Gage comes on board next month for a Secret Invasion tie-in. The preview art shows all the T-Bolts fighting alongside each other, which I find hard to reconcile with how things were left here. I want to give the new creative team a fair shot. I do. But I honestly think Ellis and Deodato have spoiled any chance of me ever enjoying this book as much again.


NEW AVENGERS #42

Dave Wallace: I'm not going to cover Secret Invasion in a huge amount of depth this month, but this issue of New Avengers stood out for me as another good example of how tie-in issues to big crossover events can be executed well. Brian Bendis delves into the backstory of Secret Invasion here, exploring one of the major revelations of the series -- that Spider-Woman is the disguised Skrull Empress -- in more depth. In doing so, he supports the core book without making the issue an essential purchase for those casual readers who are only following the main title.
Whilst you could argue that the seemingly random nature of these tie-in Avengers issues could be confusing or off-putting for readers who are expecting a continuous story from month-to-month (didn't the last issue end on a fairly significant cliffhanger involving Captain America? It isn't touched upon here at all), they make a great companion title to the core Secret Invasion book. In fact, as a longtime reader of Bendis' Avengers books I'm enjoying them a lot more than the main series.


JULY PREVIEW


ASTONISHING X-MEN #25
Dave Wallace: Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi take over Marvel's flagship X-book in July. Hot on the heels of Joss Whedon before him (and Grant Morrison before him), I'll be interested to see whether Ellis can take the book and make it his own, whilst still retaining the core relationships and themes that have made the book so enjoyable and interesting to read. I'm also going to be hoping that the book can stick to a more regular schedule with the new creative team, but Bianchi's artwork is so intricate and detailed that I have my doubts.





UNIVERSAL WAR ONE #1
Luke Handley: Little fuss has been made over this title, which is odd in some ways as it continues something quite momentous: the regular publication of English-translated French "bandes dessinées." I'm loath to use the word "comic" to describe the source material, not because I think it's a degrading word in any way (hell, I tell people I read comics and NOT graphic novels and I'm proud of it!), but because "bandes dessinées" are usually 40 to 50 pages long with a hardback cover and are sold in bookstores. These graphic novels are considered works of art. They're released when the artist finishes them, not rushed to meet a solicitation date; they really are "novels." Not only that, but the graphic fiction section of most French bookstores is usually quite large and obvious with readers of all ages unashamedly browsing, rather than tucked away in a dark corner somewhere with guys who still think Matrix style leather coats are cool and people desperately trying to avoid making eye-contact with each other.
The second offering to come from the deal between French publisher Soleil and Marvel is the tale of a far future in which unrest between the core and outer planets of the Solar system has sparked conflict. I must confess that I don't know how well received this will be by the American public and Marvel's regular readers in particular. French graphic novels are notorious for their liberal use of mild language and nudity, things that are not taken liberally in any way in the U.S. But I, for one, am really looking forward to it. One small catch though: Marvel doesn't have the distribution rights for the U.K.! Dagnabit! Maybe they'll take pity on this humble reader and send him a review copy…





SECRET INVASION: FRONT LINE #1
Dave Wallace: The "Front Line" series of books have hardly been my favourite comics of the last few years, but I'm willing to give any book a fighting chance. Here, Brian Reed takes over the writing chores from Paul Jenkins, providing a street-level perspective of the latest big event – the Skrull invasion - from the point of view of Ben Urich and a few other bystanders. A straightforward alien-invasion plot should lend itself well to this kind of title, and I'll be interested to see what Reed chooses to do with his story. The preview art looks strong enough that I'll probably check out the first issue at least - who knows, maybe it'll win me over.




X-FORCE #5
Luke Handley: This book is a strange beast. I pick up every issue with my head telling me it's wrong; the concept is ludicrous and it shouldn't even exist. Then I start reading and after a couple of pages I'm enthralled, and by the time I reach the end I can't wait until the next issue hits. This had been going on for four months now, so perhaps it's time to just sit back, relax, and let Chris Yost and Craig Kyle give full reign to their violent tendencies. The biggest surprise for me has been the surprisingly heavy reliance on X-Men continuity. Between this and X-Men Legacy, things might become a bit excessive soon. But, as an X-fan, right now, I'm loving the revival of long forgotten threats, foes and plotlines.
The big event this month is the return of Archangel. I always liked the blue-skinned, mechanically winged version of Warren Worthington and was disappointed when he first recovered his "natural" wings (though I like the explanation Kyle and Yost have now offered for this) and then his blue skin when Chuck Austen decided he wanted to emphasise the angelic imagery. This second to last chapter of the title's opening arc promises to move things toward their inevitably bloody climax, and if you can get past the excessive bloodletting then this really is worth giving a look.




SQUADRON SUPREME 2 #1
Dave Wallace: The first issue isn't even out yet, and this series feels as though it already has cards stacked against it. Firstly, there's the small matter of the unfinished series that preceded it, which was unceremoniously ended after J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank bailed on it in order to work on other projects. Then, there's the recent Ultimate Power miniseries, a disappointment that is still fresh enough in people's memories that it could easily deter them from buying this book.
As such, it's probably best that Marvel chose to go with a completely fresh creative team for this re-launched title. Howard Chaykin writes and Marco Turini draws this new series, which looks as though it'll introduce some analogues of regular Marvel Universe characters to go along with the DC analogues that have always been the core of the Squadron Supreme. This, along with the addition of Ultimate Nick Fury to the book's cast, has me interested enough that I'll certainly check out this first issue and see what direction the new JMS-less series will be taking.





UNCANNY X-MEN #500
Luke Handley: Well, here it is, issue 500 of the only Marvel title to reach such a landmark without some sort of renumbering/rebranding along the way. Up until "Divided We Stand," I had mixed feelings about Ed Brubaker as an X-scribe; the stories felt unnecessarily padded, and his second-tier cast failed to really capture my interest. However, the last five issues have been a minor revelation. In essence "Divided We Stand" was just about killing time until they could relaunch things properly with this issue, but Brubaker really did pull it off. Obviously, he just needs to write the big names. And that's what he's getting, with nearly every X-Man under the sun set to appear in this title, if the cover image is anything to go by.
Matt Fraction joins the creative team this month, and at the moment everything the man touches turns to gold. Welcome onboard, Matt! I really do have high hopes for this writing duo. A lot has already been said about the Greg Land preview art. Although not quite as much so as Rob Liefeld, over the last couple of years Greg Land has become a name that rarely solicits a neutral or unbiased reaction. I have no strong feelings either way. I haven't seen enough of his work to jump to prejudiced opinions, and I enjoyed Phoenix: Endsong, which turned out to be one of the best X-Men stories of the last couple of years. Only time will tell if I am correct to be so optimistic about this drastic change in direction. San Francisco? Why not?




CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE #0
Dave Wallace: The first proper issue of Captain America: White might still be a way off yet, but I'm keen to get hold of this "#0" preview issue to see what Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have in store for us with this flashback tale of Captain America. Loeb's writing might have gone off the boil recently, but I've always enjoyed his collaborations with Sale, and if they can recapture their spark whilst avoiding the tendency towards overly sentimental nostalgia as a substitute for story, this should prove to be an enjoyable read.


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