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Marvel Month in (P)Review: January/February 2009

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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 New Avengers #50, Dark Avengers #2, Thor #600, Ultimate Fantastic Four #60, Ultimate X-Men #100 and Mighty Avengers #22!



JANUARY REVIEW:


DARK AVENGERS #1 / MIGHTY AVENGERS #21


If Dark Avengers #1 was the cornerstone of "Dark Reign", Mighty Avengers #21 was more like a ray of sunshine, preferring to concentrate on the lighter side of the Marvel Universe whilst Bendis' book saw a succession of murderers and criminals parade around in superhero outfits to the apparent adulation of the general public. It's nice that Marvel at least recognises that there might be a different Avengers audience out there than the crowd that has followed Bendis' run on the various titles over the past few years, and Slott is the perfect person to bring a more old-school feel to the team.

And, as it happens, Dark Avengers #1 wasn't too bad either, getting the usual task of getting the team together out of the way quickly and concisely, setting up Norman's team as the acceptable face of evil in the Marvel Universe, and hinting at some large-scale action to come in future issues. I just wish that it had at least tried to differentiate itself from Warren Ellis' superior run on Thunderbolts a little more.


INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #9


"World's Most Wanted" sees Matt Fraction continue to provide a highly compelling Iron Man story that goes a long way to redeem the character after the last few years. The setup for the storyline is a compelling one: thanks to the powers granted to him by Extremis, Tony Stark's head contains countless S.H.I.EL.D. computer files full of sensitive information that Norman Osborn would love to get his hands on. This makes Stark public enemy number one for Osborn - and the result is that, for the first time in a long time, it feels as though Tony is an underdog fighting the system in the name of what's right.

Iron Man's response to Marvel's "Dark Reign" is decisive, selfless, and undeniably heroic, and I can't wait to see how it plays out over the next few issues. I can only hope Fraction stays on this book for a long time, because he hasn't made a wrong move yet.


THUNDERBOLTS #128


Whilst following Warren Ellis' run on Thunderbolts might be an intimidating task, issue #128 saw Andy Diggle prove that he was up to it. Combining an apparently now obligatory guest-appearance from President Obama with an interesting revisitation of some plot threads from Ellis' run, Diggle crafted an entertaining, exciting issue with a climax that makes me very interested to see where things are going next. Throw in the incorrigible Ant-Man and an appearance from the second Black Widow and you've got a great all-round package.


UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #2


Matt Fraction again did really well with the whole "Dark Reign" concept here, making me wonder whether it should have been him writing the event in the first place. As in Invincible Iron Man, he used it as a springboard to tell a story that's directly relevant to his characters, but also managed to make the concept feel more workable than it did at the end of Secret Invasion or in the dedicated "Dark Reign" one-shot.

The new ideas that he generated here helped to improve the abysmal Secret Invasion: Dark Reign issue by adding depth to Namor and Emma Frost's relationship, and actually giving Emma a good reason to be a member of the group. Fraction is making the best of the hand that he's been dealt with regard to the "Dark Reign" storyline, and if he continues to produce issues like this, I might just have to start reading Uncanny X-Men on a regular basis.


FANTASTIC FOUR #563


After the two interconnected four-issue arcs that comprised the first eight issues of Millar and Hitch's run on Fantastic Four, the creators have mixed things up a little, slowing the pace of the book down for a couple of issues in order to give their longer-running subplots a chance to breathe. In fact, this issue felt as though it was composed entirely of subplots, moving several different strands forward without ever feeling like there was one single element driving the overall story.

Whilst I wouldn't want every issue to be like this, this issue was an enjoyable diversion that was a little reminiscent of those old X-Men issues in which they'd take time out to pop down to the pub, or play a little baseball. Some readers may bemoan the lack of a strong central story, but this "downtime" issue allowed Millar to spend a little more time on characterisation than usual whilst continuing to foreshadow several upcoming plot points, making it work better as part of his larger run on the book than it does as a single issue.


ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #130


This month, Brian Michael Bendis proved that he would have made a better job of Ultimatum than Jeph Loeb, incorporating the events of that crossover miniseries into the core Ultimate Spider-Man book with style. Crucially, the writer managed to tap into the emotional content of the earth-shattering disasters visited upon the world by Magneto, emphasising the sheer scale of the catastrophes with some well-judged splash pages, and showing Spidey desperately trying to keep on top of things, despite facing an impossible task.

In addition to this, there was a fairly shocking development involving Aunt May, and plenty of great art from Stuart Immonen (who has definitely made this book his own after more than 25 consecutive issues). If you only read one Ultimate book, this should be it.




FEBRUARY PREVIEW:



CAPTAIN BRITAIN & MI:13 #10
I'm going to add my voice to those of the fans who are trying to promote this series at the moment, in the hope that we'll be heard by anyone who's still undecided about whether they should buy it. Over the past nine issues, writer Paul Cornell has introduced a diverse and interesting team of UK-based superheroes who deal with all of the weird and wonderful threats that the regular authorities can't handle. And this issue, he looks like he's going to be kicking things up a notch, drafting in not one but two big hitters of the supervillain world, in the form of Dracula and Doctor Doom.

And they're meeting on the moon.

Seriously.

The recent cancellation rumours might have been premature, but the fact that they were taken seriously at all suggests that this book needs every reader that it can get. If you find that you have a few spare coins in your pocket when you visit your shop next week, take a chance on issue #10 of Captain Britain and MI-13. You won't be disappointed.




NEW AVENGERS #50
New Avengers #50 sees the new, New Avengers fight the Dark Avengers (who, although they're villains, appear to the public to be a mixture of the Old and New Avengers). Still with me so far?

This issue is going to be one of those "jam" issues in which many different artists collaborate on the issue, contributing a couple of pages each. I'm not usually a fan of those kinds of issues, as they tend to feel visually incoherent, with jarring shifts between different artistic styles. However, with the likes of Bryan Hitch, David Aja, Michael Gaydos and others contributing pages to the book, there should be enough here to keep art fans happy - even if the storytelling might not be as smooth as usual.





DARK AVENGERS #2



The Sentry rips off someone's head.

What, you need to know more than that?

After a surprisingly strong first issue, I'll be interested to see whether Bendis can move beyond the mere novelty of having supervillains pretend to be established superheroes and tell a good story with his team. The preview images certainly suggest that there'll be a fair bit of action, and that might mean a swift resolution to the plot thread involving Doctor Doom and Morgan Le Fey that began last issue. I'm still not completely convinced by this book, but I'll be interested to see where it goes.




THOR #600
Some creative arithmetic aside (should those 82 issues of Journey into Mystery published before Thor's debut really count towards the 600-issue milestone?), February's issue of Thor sees the book celebrate its anniversary in style. In addition to the usual JMS/Olivier Coipel goodness, we'll get a Mini-Marvels story by Chris Giarrusso, as well as an all-new story by Stan Lee with art from David Aja.

It's this latter inclusion that has me most interested to read the book, as it's always fun to see Lee's retro writing style given an outing, and Aja produced some excellent work during his tenure on Immortal Iron Fist that has encouraged me to look out for him wherever he appears. Fans of Thor will be used to the title's erratic shipping schedule by now, but this looks like it might be an issue that's worth waiting for.











ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #60 / ULTIMATE X-MEN #100

(With apologies to Frank Sinatra)

And now, the end is near,
And so they face the final curtain.
These books, I'll make it clear,
Don't have a future - that is certain.

They're finished, Marvel say,
Thus giving fans a cause to hate 'em.
The reason for their end?
Loeb's Ultimatum.









MIGHTY AVENGERS #22
Already well on its way to becoming known as the most Avengers-y of the Avengers titles, Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers gets stuck into its second issue in February. Having already put together a diverse and unusual team of heroes, I'll be interested to see whether Slott can maintain the fun vibe of his first issue whilst also dealing with some big, dramatic villains and the constant presence of "Dark Reign" that hangs over the Marvel Universe. And I'm sure that fans of the Scarlet Witch will be eagerly anticipating an explanation for Wanda's return to her old superhero persona.


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