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Marvel Month in (P)Review: July/August 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 Secret Invasion #5, Captain Britain and MI:13 #4, Secret Invasion: X-Men #1, Secret Invasion: Thor #1 and Secret Invasion: Inhumans!

JULY REVIEW:


ASTONISHING X-MEN #25


Luke Handley: This month I'm going for an X-extravaganza in the review section as July was quite a big month for the X-franchise with the long-awaited move to San Francisco finally taking place. Astonishing X-Men was the first title to depict the Children of the Atom in their new setting and saw Warren Ellis take the reigns of an X-book for the first time in a while. The transition to San Fran is an intriguing development. Suddenly, the X-Men are not pariahs in "a world that fears and hates them." They're on incredibly amiable terms with local law enforcement and are awarded the kind of free reign traditional superheroes used to enjoy in the pre-Civil War days. But it's not just the change in scenery that marks a departure from what has come before. Although the team is essentially the same as Joss Whedon's, the tone and dialogue are most certainly different. Whedon's run was a love-song to everything that he liked about the franchise. Ellis' first issue is an Ellis story that uses the X-Men. And I'm fine with that. In fact, I would have been disappointed if it wasn't the case. Simone Bianchi's art is beautiful and is much better served here than it was on Jeph Loeb's Wolverine run (shudder), but there were some odd page composition choices and panel layouts that made the head hurt and a final page that just seemed to run of out space rather than offer any sort of cliffhanger. Nevertheless, although this wasn't a stellar start, I'm very much looking forward to seeing where Ellis takes things from here with a rather un-X-Men plot that involves spaceship graveyards and aliens.


UNCANNY X-MEN #500


Luke Handley: The debate is on regarding whether this book or Astonishing X-Men is the X-Men flagship title. Marvel often stated it was Astonishing in the early days of Whedon's run but stopped doing so after the dreadful delays. Astonishing is now back on track, so, which one is it? This issue introduced the X-Men's new status quo in San Fran with far greater detail and explanation than was provided in the book mentioned above. Which makes it rather odd that it was released 3 weeks later; the never ending joys of the Mighty Marvel Magic 8 Ball scheduling system. Also, Uncanny looks like it might deal with the X-Men as a whole rather than focusing on a small core team. So this book fully deserves to be labelled the flagship title, which is unfortunate as this issue wasn't actually very good. It has been pointed out that the threats here were nothing new (Sentinels, Magneto and mutant-hating bigots), but Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction do attempt new takes on them and it's not what affected my enjoyment of this landmark issue the most. No, where the issue does come up short is in the art department. I have no objections with Greg Land's art style as such, but some of the panel compositions are truly puzzling. The most obvious case in when the characters spent a page going on about how spectacular the view is from their new base without actually showing the damn view! Character introductions were simply bizarre. Storm is the first X-Man/Woman to appear, but it takes several pages for her to be fully shown rather than just a background silhouette. Nightcrawler hardly appears in Land's pages at all: a tail here, a "BAMF" there. Cannonball's arrival should have provided the perfect opportunity for a dramatic entrance. Not the case. Whether this is the writers' or artists' fault, who knows, but the result is a rather lacklustre anniversary issue. Hopefully things can only get better from here on in.


CABLE #5


Luke Handley: Cable has been one of my favourite Marvel characters ever since I started reading comics, and as such, anything with his name on the cover should be a guaranteed purchase. However, the first arc of the new series has severely tried my patience. As with previous issues, this concluding chapter of "War Baby" is not actually bad. It's decently written, and Ariel Olivetti's art is for the most part easy on the eye, but it's just not very interesting. I can't shake the feeling that this is the kind of thing that sounded great as a pitch ("a grizzled old war veteran with a bionic arm protecting a fragile baby in a war-torn future? Write it, now!"), but when it comes down to actually writing an ongoing series, it's hard to come up with something interesting month after month. This first arc closed with Bishop further sliding down the bad guy route and Cable realising he can only jump forward--and not backward--in time. So the race is on into what will no doubt be yet another dystopian future and Bishop will follow, etc. etc. This could get old very fast. In fact, it already has. My cynicism was only reinforced by looking at upcoming solicitations. Next month we jump back to the present to check in on Cyclops, then it's time to tell Bishop's side of the story, then after that Bishop's back in the present fighting Marvel's new mutant sensation, X-Force. Future-hopping baby protection tales? None on the radar.


IMMORTAL IRON FIST #17


Dave Wallace: I was one of the many fans of Immortal Iron Fist who was stunned by the news that Matt Fraction, David Aja and Ed Brubaker were going to be leaving the book after just two story arcs. I wondered how Marvel were going to find a replacement for the team that had taken the C-list character of Iron Fist and rejuvenated him so entirely and so successfully, and despite having enjoyed some of both Duane Swierczynski and Travel Foreman's previous comics, I was still sceptical that they were the right men for the job.

Happily, the latest issue provided a lot of evidence that I might be wrong. Swierczynski succeeded in capturing the voice of Fraction and Brubaker's Iron Fist without ever coming off as a cheap imitation, managing to add some new wrinkles to the character's mythology that tied in very nicely with his predecessors' work on the book. In the space of one issue, an arresting new villain was introduced, another previous bearer of the Iron Fist mantle was revealed, and Danny Rand's character was developed further, building neatly off the twist provided by the cliffhanger of Fraction's final issue.

This would be an impressive debut for any writer taking over a title, but the fact that Swierczynski has managed to follow in the footsteps of such a fan-favourite writing partnership so successfully suggests that he's going to do this book justice in a way that many readers feared impossible. We'd better start learning how to spell that name, because I think that he might be around for a while.


DAREDEVIL #109


Dave Wallace: Every so often, I like to remind people that Daredevil is still going strong, because it's a book that I feel is overlooked by many readers in favour of the latest flavour-of-the-month event or big crossover series. Daredevil has been ploughing its own superhero/noir/hard-boiled crime furrow for years now - first under Bendis, then under Brubaker - and in terms of quality, I believe that it's the most consistent monthly book that Marvel has turned out over the seven years since Bendis & Maleev's run started.

The latest story arc sees Greg Rucka join Brubaker to craft a compelling story that makes good use of Matt Murdock's skills, not only as a superhero but also as a lawyer - and that's an element of the character that has occasionally been overlooked in the past. Numerous subplots weave in and out of Brubaker and Rucka's larger story of an apparently innocent man who has confessed to several grisly child murders for reasons unknown, making for a complex and satisfying narrative.

This latest issue really raised the stakes for Daredevil and Dakota North, with two parallel cliffhangers that make me very eager to see what happens in the next instalment. The only thing that I'm sure of is that it'll be a mature, complex and engaging story to which most other superhero books will likely pale in comparison.


DARK TOWER: THE LONG ROAD HOME #5


Dave Wallace: July saw the end of the second Dark Tower miniseries, a story that has seen a marked shift in tone from that of the first mini, but has been no less enjoyable for it. Increasingly fantastical and magical elements have been integrated seamlessly into the fabric of King's story thanks to Peter David's consistently strong writing, which always grounds the more outrageous developments in a tangible reality, and manages to find an emotional anchor for every major story development. Jae Lee and Richard Isanove have also continued to provide exemplary visuals that demonstrate just how much more sophisticated comic book artwork has become in recent years.

I found this second series to be a lot easier to follow than the first mini, despite it being slightly less linear and less easily accessible for readers not familiar with the Dark Tower novels, and I'm already looking forward to start of the next mini later in the year.


AUGUST PREVIEW:


Luke Handley: Many reviewers have already stated that they're enjoying the Secret Invasion tie-ins more than the actual series itself. I've found the Avengersí ones (Mighty and New) of varying interest, but am really enjoying the Avengers: The Initiative tie-in and the Young Avengers/Runaways mini. This coming month sees 3 new Secret Invasion tie-in mini-series, so let's take a quick look at them.

SECRET INVASION: X-MEN
First up SI: X-Men. As eluded to above, the Children of the Atom have been incredibly busy as of late. But not too busy to get their own chance at Skrull skull-busting. There probably won't be all that much to this other than the X-Men tearing through unsuspecting Skrulls in San Francisco. But hey, sounds more interesting than some of the other stuff currently going on in the X-verse. Veteran (is it too soon to use that word? Maybe, but he deserves it) X-scribe Mike Car