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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 Avengers’ 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 Carey is helming the project and that alone results in my being relatively optimistic. I'm not very familiar with Cary Nord's work, but the preview of his and Dave McCaig's art (below) has further whet my appetite for the project. Carey has promised lots of Skrulls, lots of X-Men (including several not currently appearing in any of the ongoing titles) and lots of fighting. Sign me up Mike!




SECRET INVASION: THOR
Next, we have SI: Thor. I've not been reading the current ongoing series. More fool me it would appear judging by the consistently positive reviews, but I'm saving it for the trade (and I don't like the Premiere editions). Anyway, even though Goldilocks has just shown up in Secret Invasion proper, Marvel obviously feel there's more story they can squeeze out of this event. So we get Thor doing some Skrull skull-busting (anyone notice a recurring theme here?). Actually, there appears to be more to it than that. This 3-issue mini promises the siege of Asgard and some mighty bloodletting between the Norse Gods and the little green men from outer space. Over the last couple of months, Matt Fraction has shown with two one-shots that he can write the Norse Gods incredibly well. The setting is different, moving from a mythological Asgard with a younger, hot-headed, violent God of Thunder to the current setting on Earth, but that shouldn't deter fans of his previous work. Plus, it looks like this mini will feature the return of Beta-Ray-Bill. Can't go wrong with horse-headed aliens.





SECRET INVASION: INHUMANS
Finally, we have SI: Inhumans. What is going on with the Inhumans? Some of Marvel's greatest characters, yet no one seems to know what to do with them. David Hine took a stab at bringing them back into the Marvel Universe fold with his Son of M and Silent War mini-series. These concluded with the Inhumans at war with the United States and Maximus installed as their new king with Medusa at his side, whilst Black Bolt lingered in prison. I chatted with David Hine at last year's Bristol Comic Expo and he told me he viewed the series as a trilogy, with the final instalment to feature the resolution of the Inhuman situation and the redemption of Quicksilver. That never came to pass, however. Instead, Black Bolt showed up in World War Hulk before revealing himself as a Skrull infiltrator and being killed by Namor. So what happened to the real Black Bolt? That's the premise of this series and as such it has a defined purpose other than just being a protracted slugfest between superheroes and Skrulls. Will it touch on any of the elements introduced by Hine? Who knows, but it will likely yet again be an attempt to give the Inhumans a foothold in the Marvel Universe. The only question is: does anyone actually care?





VENOM: DARK ORIGIN # 1
Dave Wallace:As a fan of Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie's 1980s run on Amazing Spider-Man, the arrival of yet another new Venom miniseries doesn't instil the same kind of dread in me that it might for other readers. However, even I have to admit that the character has suffered from severe over-exposure in the two decades since his introduction, and today's audiences are unlikely to be won over by the exaggerated artwork and thin stories that have characterised many of his previous solo series.

However, writer Zeb Wells and artist Angel Medina look as though they're going to be concentrating as much on the character of Eddie Brock as they are on his symbiotic counterpart, and whilst that still doesn't guarantee a great story, I can't deny that I'm interested in seeing how they flesh out Brock's character in order to make his origin story worthy of a dedicated miniseries. This might prove to be a surprisingly solid read, and with Venom poised to make a dramatic return to the Spider-verse in Amazing Spider-Man's forthcoming "New Ways To Die" storyline, it looks as though fans of the gigantically-mandibled alien symbiote are going to have plenty to enjoy in the coming months.




CAPTAIN BRITAIN and MI:13 # 4
Dave Wallace: Paul Cornell's Captain Britain and MI:13 has gone from being an under-the-radar tie-in to Secret Invasion to one of the most universally enjoyed new titles that Marvel has put out in a long time, and I can happily attest that all of the acclaim is well-deserved. Cornell's epic and fast-moving story of the Skrulls' attempt to seize the heart of magic in the Marvel Universe has been laced with his trademark wit and humour, and brought to life via the crisp, clean and dynamic visuals of Leonard Kirk, making it a great all-round package with a classic Marvel feel. Last issue's climactic cliffhanger saw the book's titular hero return in a new incarnation: I can't wait to see what he does next.




FANTASTIC FOUR #559

Dave Wallace:Millar and Hitch's Fantastic Four continues to be very readable despite its weaknesses, with last issue's setup laying the groundwork for a second arc that already looks as though it's going to be more interesting than the ultimately underwhelming opener.

I'll admit that, at the moment, I'm not completely won over by Millar's take on the Marvel Universe's first family – which is especially surprising after I enjoyed his run on the Ultimate version of the book so much. However, Hitch's artwork always makes this worth a look, even if this doesn't look like it's going to be the second coming of the Ultimates team that many were expecting.


SECRET INVASION # 5
Dave Wallace: As Luke has indicated, a lot of readers have felt that something has been lacking in the core Secret Invasion series lately, especially given the comparatively strong stories that are being offered by some of the tie-in issues of other books (including Bendis' own Avengers titles). With Secret Invasion halfway complete, not a lot seems to have actually happened yet - and even the closing developments of issue #4 aren't any guarantee that the Skrull Invasion plot is actually going to move on. Let's hope that issue #5 brings us more than just a retread of the last few issues with a couple of new faces. This is a story with great potential, and it'd be a huge shame to see it wasted.


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