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Marvel Month in (P)review: August/September 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 Marvel Apes #1, X-Men Origins: Beast, Nova #17, Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. #33, Age of Sentry #1, Deadpool #1 & #2, and Daredevil #111!

AUGUST REVIEW:

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #568


Dave Wallace: "New Ways To Die" is Amazing Spider-Man's most high-profile storyline since the "One More Day / Brand New Day" relaunch. It sees writer Dan Slott paired with fan-favourite Spidey artist John Romita Jr., who returns to the book after a lengthy absence to illustrate a story that sees Norman Osborn lead the current incarnation of the Thunderbolts to hunt down the unregistered Spidey. Whilst there are a number of unanswered questions still lingering after Mephisto's mind-wipe--some of which prove to be fairly significant to this story--there's plenty to enjoy here. Slott captures the voice of Spider-Man well and makes the book's supporting cast an important part of the story, and Romita's art ensures that it all looks great. For the first time since Spidey's "Brand New Day" began, I'm finding myself genuinely invested in this book – let’s hope that future issues deliver on the potential of this opener.


ASTONISHING X-MEN #26

Dave Wallace: Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi's second issue of Astonishing X-Men proved to be even more enjoyable than the first, moving beyond the basic setup and introduction of the initial issue to flesh out the "Ghost Box" storyline in a little more detail. Those readers who were in love with Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's run on the book might be finding it hard to let go of the old team, but this shouldn't prevent them from picking up what looks to be a very different take on the team. Strong characterisation, inspired high-concept sci-fi ideas and some beautiful visuals from Bianchi make this well worth a read.



CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI-13 #4

Dave Wallace: The Secret Invasion tie-in arc of Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk's Captain Britain and MI13 concluded in grand style this month, featuring the dramatic death of one team member, the origin of another, and a delightfully cheeky nod to House of M's climax (with Pete Wisdom saving the day via the magical incantation, "No More Skrulls"). Now that the obligatory crossover with Marvel's big summer event is out of the way, I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of original storylines Cornell will cook up for the team.



The PAD-verse

Luke Handley: This last month saw three titles written by the ever popular Peter David hit our shelves, with the two concluding instalments of "He loves you," the Secret Invasion X-Factor/She-Hulk crossover, and an X-Factor one-shot focusing on Layla Miller. Although the crossover did introduce a rather interesting concept in the form of the Talisman--the Skrulls' spiritual guide who provides them with an inner sense of righteousness--it was mostly a slugfest between She-Hulk and X-Factor (completely avoidable as the protagonists themselves spend most of their time pointing out) and then between the heroes and the Skrull. David's moaning and angst-ridden She-Hulk still isn't doing anything for me; nice art by Vincenzo Cucca though. Conversely, Larry Stroman's art on X-Factor is not working for me at all. I don't like to dislike art, but I don't like this. Combined with the fact that the team has lost a couple of its most interesting members and that the book seems to be floundering in search of its new direction means that this title is dangerously close to being dropped.

Fortunately, there was the Layla Miller one-shot. Introduced as a deus ex machine during House of M, Layla rapidly became one of my favourite X-characters thanks to David's stellar writing. Losing her during "Messiah CompleX" was a real blow to X-Factor and I've been waiting to see what became of her, stranded in a dystopian future. This one-shot successfully took Layla and used her efficiently as the protagonist in a tale that culminated in the long-mentioned "Summers Revolution" from Bishop's timeline. For a character whose whole schtick is "to know stuff," David has and still is getting an awful lot of mileage out of one of the more enigmatic of Marvel's X-people. Good stuff.


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #4

Luke Handley: This book is getting better with each issue. This time around, Abnett and Lanning bring in the Skrulls, who obviously recognise in the Guardians a real threat to their conquest of Earth. The “who do you trust?” aspect of Marvel’s big event works incredibly smoothly in this title, as the protagonists already have trust issues without the further complication of having shape-changers in their midst. At this point, any of the members of the team could be Skrulls (except maybe Groot) and the tease at the end of the issue involving Drax is in my opinion a red herring. Only slight complaint is the allusion that Phyla might have the hots for Adam. Come on guys, she’s into girls; and dragons too apparently (that was just wrong…).


RUNAWAYS #1

Luke Handley Terry Moore and Humberto Ramos take the reigns of this series' reboot. Not a bad idea, considering the ridiculous delays to Joss Whedon's run that pretty much killed the book. Moore and Ramos pick things up where, presumably, Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers leaves them, with the kids returning to Los Angeles. The story beats are still the same as the ones that have kept me an avid fan of this series, but Moore throws in a couple of new twists, in particular a very adult problem: how the hell do they earn the money they need to live? Klara, their newest "member" and refugee from the past, gets to show what she can do and the whole team grabs some panel time, making for a decent re-introduction to the characters. Couple of minor complaints: Old Lace is virtually absent; after spending almost the whole of the last arc as a chick, Xavin spends the whole issue as a bloke and there's no reference whatsoever to Karolina's sexuality; Chase seems to have reverted a bit too much to his dumb jock personality. But it's still fun and energetic and Ramos' art feels right at home. Good start.


SEPTEMBER PREVIEW:


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #570-#572
Dave Wallace: One of the advantages of Amazing Spider-Man's thrice-monthly schedule is that the six-part "New Ways To Die" story that began in August will conclude just two months later (with the 3rd, 4th and 5th parts of the story shipping in September).

These covers suggest that things are going to get worse before they get better - and also hint at the possibility that Norman Osborn might don his Green Goblin costume before this storyline is over. My favourite, though, has to be the "Ape" variant that shows Venom as a gorilla - I only wish that that scene was really going to be part of the story!






MARVEL APES #1:
Dave Wallace: I can't deny that the announcement of the Marvel Apes miniseries made me groan when I first heard about it. Having seen Marvel milk the Marvel Zombies concept dry over the last few years, I felt that the last thing that the world needed was another novelty gimmick that recast the heroes of the Marvel Universe in the guise of another genre staple (and gave every other book being published by Marvel an excuse to feature "Ape" variant covers).

However, having been given a sneak peek of the first issue, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the series kicks off with an unashamedly fun opening issue, with a light, airy tone that couldn't be further removed from the sick joke that was Marvel Zombies. Writer Karl Kesel and artist Ramon Bachs clearly revel in the silliness of their concept - let's hope that readers will enjoy it just as much.




X-MEN ORIGINS: BEAST
Dave Wallace: Current X-scribe Mike Carey brings us the third in the X-Men Origins series, an unassuming and low-profile title that has surprised many readers with the high quality of its stories that retell the origins of certain key figures in the X-Men mythos. Having already brought us the origin stories of Colossus and Jean Grey, this issue focuses on the early days of Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast, tracing his development from a highly gifted high school student to a pupil of Charles Xavier's mutant academy. Beast has always been a firm favourite X-character of mine, and the delicate, painted artwork from J.K. Woodward looks great, maintaining a similar style to the fantastic Mike Mayhew visuals that made the previous X-Men Origins: Jean Grey issue such a pleasure to read.




AGE OF THE SENTRY #1
Dave Wallace: The Sentry is one of those characters that worked very well during his first appearance, but who has suffered from the law of diminishing returns ever since. His debut in Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee's original Sentry miniseries was highly a enjoyable spin on the Superman archetype that also retconned a significant new character into the early days of the Marvel Universe, whilst at the same time cleverly reflecting the various aesthetic trends and writing styles that have featured in superhero comics between the 1960s and the present day. However, his re-introduction to the Marvel Universe in the pages of New Avengers and his second Jenkins-penned miniseries have diluted the appeal of the character to the extent that he's more of a burden than a boon to those writers who now have to incorporate the excessively-powered nervous wreck into their Avengers stories.

With this new miniseries, however, writers Paul Tobin and Jeff Parker appear to be taking a different tack, writing Sentry tales that are set in the character's past, apparently taking place before his self-destructive fall from grace and his eventual reintroduction to the modern-day Marvel Universe. The book appears to be aiming for a Silver Age vibe with the wacky story concepts described in the solicitation for the first issue, and the artwork looks as though it'll mirror that with some crisp, clean, retro visuals. I'm going to set my disappointment with the character's recent appearances to one side and try and approach this series with an open mind, because it looks like it could be a lot of fun.




DAREDEVIL #111
Dave Wallace: September sees the start of a new arc in Daredevil, with the introduction of "Lady Bullseye" to the DD mythos. Writer Ed Brubaker has played down some of the more colourful superhero elements of the book in recent issues, so I'll be interested to see how he integrates the concept of a female equivalent of Daredevil's arch-enemy into the book's universe without losing the realistic crime/noir tone that he's established during his tenure.

Artist Clay Mann contributes visuals to this issue (presumably to give the regular team of Gaudiano and Lark a break), and combined with the great cover images from Mark Djurdjevic and the Dodsons -- and the stunning, stark David Aja variant cover -- this is looking like it could be a great overall package.





DEADPOOL #1 & #2
Luke HandleyDo you like Deadpool? If the answer to that question is "no" then please send me an e-mail explaining why, because I love Deadpool! In a completely heterosexual man-love kind of way… Seriously, I think he's one of the most unique and interesting characters in the Marvel Universe. Well, one of the most fun anyway. Be it under the pen of Joe Kelly, Jimmy Palmiotti, Gail Simone or Fabian Nicieza, the "Merc with a mouth" has always provided entertainment worth the admission price in the various monthly comics he's headlined. Cable & Deadpool was a surprise success in my opinion; who would ever thought two such characters could co-star on a regular basis in a book that deftly balanced seriousness and humour? This new book by Daniel Way and Paco Medina, therefore, has me rather excited. The only work of Way's that I've followed to date is Wolverine: Origins, which I dropped after 14 issues, with even Deadpool's guest appearance not being enough to draw me back in. But I don't like jumping to conclusions and would like to think I can keep a completely open mind here. The preview pages below give a taste of what's to come and Medina's dynamic art looks like a good fit for the material. This is one relaunch that I really want to see succeed. Pressure's on, guys.









NOVA #17
Luke Handley: Nova has quietly been moving along in its own corner of space for nearly a year and a half now, and Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have crafted a title that has been thrilling each and every month (nearly). Last month saw the last Nova Corps centurion become aware of the ongoing Skrull invasion of his home planet, and Richard Rider responded accordingly. Nova crossing over into Secret Invasion makes perfect sense. In fact, it would make no sense if it didn't. This issue promises to pick up on Nova's betrayal at the hands of Kl'rt, the Super-Skrull, and then feature Rider trying to defend Project Pegasus, where his kid brother Robbie is currently employed. I've always liked the project name, don't know why, and am glad to see it properly dusted off and with some new and recognisable employees, in particular Christopher Powell, Darkhawk, most recently featured in the pages of Loners. I never read the character's solo series in the 90s, but enjoyed his appearances in New Warriors and more recently in Runaways, Marvel Team-Up and the aforementioned Loners, so I'm glad to see him grab some panel time here under the very capable pencils of Wellinton Alves. And Abnett and Lanning have hinted that Darkhawk might start to appear on a semi-regular basis. Why not? The book could use a good supporting cast.



IRON MAN: DIRECTOR OF S.H.I.E.L.D. #33
Luke Handley Since the Knaufs left the title when Invincible Iron Man arrived on the scene, this book has become redundant. So much so that it's no longer starring Tony Stark. Instead, we get his friend James Rhodes, the ever popular War Machine. In fact, although this issue is solicited under the above title, this could very well be renamed War Machine: Weapon of S.H.I.E.L.D., if upcoming solicitations are anything to go by. Either way, War Machine has always held a great amount of appeal to me: what is there not to like about a guy who flies around in a suit of armour with big f@$^ing guns? It was recently revealed in Avengers: The Initiative that Rhodey is now a cyborg, a result of an as-of-yet unknown accident/attack. It's an interesting way to go for the character, taking him one step closer to the machine, but one that could compromise that which makes the character work in the first place, i.e. he's just a normal guy who wears a suit that packs one hell of a punch. However, Christos Gage is as good a bet to pull this off as anyone. Co-writer of Avengers: The Initiative, he obviously knows what the situation is with War Machine's new status. In fact, last week's issue of that title set up events for this book. This 3-issue arc--featuring Rhodey kicking Skrull @$$--in turn sets up the December launching ongoing War Machine. Can the character really carry his own title? Jury's still out on that one but this should prove a good testing ground.



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