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Marvel Month in (P)Review: February/March 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 The Stand: American Nightmare #1 and Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk #3!



FEBRUARY REVIEW:


MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA #4


Marvels: Eye of the Camera #4 continued to successfully explore the concept that was introduced in issue #3: that the heroes of the Marvel Universe of the 1970s and '80s were becoming more morally complex and less trustworthy than their 1960s counterparts. The way in which Phil Sheldon's cancer mirrors this descent into darkness is a clever, well-developed metaphor, and Jay Anacleto's impressively detailed artwork helps to reinforce the idea that this is very much a continuation of the original Marvels rather than just a cheap cash-in sequel.

The only complaint that I had with this particular issue is that it didn't really move any of the major plot points of the story forwards a great deal. However, that's perhaps to be expected for a middle chapter. This is still well worth a read either way.


THOR #600


Now this is how you do an anniversary issue. For $4.99, Thor #600 provided a 40+ page lead story by J. Michael Straczynski, Olivier Coipel, and Marko Djurdjevic, an 11-page backup by Stan Lee and David Aja, a 7-page "Mini-marvels" story by Chris Giarusso, and 25 pages of reprints of early Lee/Kirby Thor stories. That's an impressive package, and luckily the quantity was matched by a high level of quality.

I'm not the biggest Thor fan in the world, but this was definitely a great example of how these sorts of "milestone" issues should be celebrated. What's more, the end of this particular issue also set up an interesting new direction for the title in future. And for those who complain that JMS' writing is too slow and boring, issue #600 provided a huge smackdown between two Norse gods in the middle of New York. What more could you ask for?


FANTASTIC FOUR #564


Fantastic Four #564 provided a change of pace and a change of scene for the book, with Mark Millar breaking from the usual high-concept sci-fi shenanigans of New York's first family to offer up a slow-burn horror story set in rural Scotland.

More than anything else, this issue reminded me of the film The Wicker Man, with its remote Scottish setting, the parochial nature of the townsfolk and the manner in which religion is implicitly tied to a grisly sacrificial tradition all evoking elements of that classic British horror movie. It's not the first type of story that might spring to mind when you think of the Fantastic Four, but that only suggests that Millar and Hitch deserve even more credit for showing that the book doesn't have to restrict itself to the usual FF formula to tell an enjoyable story.


DARK AVENGERS #2


After a reasonably strong first issue, Dark Avengers #2 threw away any goodwill earned by that opener with a second chapter that featured more than one nonsensical plot point, but which I'll remember most for Morgana's ridiculous time-travelling return from the dead. If Bendis had even bothered trying to explain how she came back to life, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, but the logic of this story would embarrass an eight-year-old. Disappointing.

Elsewhere, there are gobbledegook magical incantations aplenty, and Bendis has the Dark Avengers already starting to reveal their true colours. It makes me wonder how long the "Dark Reign" can really last before someone sees through Osborn's deception and the status quo of the Marvel Universe shifts yet again. Hmmmm.


ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #131


Now this is more like it, Mr. Bendis. Ultimate Spider-Man #131 is not only a fine example of how to write a good superhero comic, it's also proof that not all tie-ins to big crossover events have to be mediocre: in fact, some can be a lot better than the main series itself.

Here, Bendis channelled the epic events of Ultimatum into a far more personal story for Peter Parker and his supporting cast, albeit one that also featured an extended (and frequently hilarious) cameo appearance from the Ultimate Hulk and a sad send-off for Ultimate Daredevil. Still, the standout scene had to be the epiphany of J. Jonah Jameson, whose moment of realistion that Spider-Man is a hero after all was illustrated perfectly in a beautiful double-splash page by Stuart Immonen. As much as I love David Lafuente's artwork, I'll be sad to see Immonen leave this title.




MARCH PREVIEW:



CAPTAIN BRITAIN & MI:13 #11
I'm going to keep plugging Captain Britain in this column, because it's a book that deserves to find a wider audience than it's currently attracting.

Last issue's prologue to the "Vampire State" arc set some of the wider plot points of the story in motion, but maintained a stronger focus on the title's characters and their inter-personal relationships. In particular, Blade has benefited from the three-dimensional approach that Paul Cornell has taken in writing the character, with an unexpected but entirely fitting romantic subplot that promises to make things even more complicated once Dracula's attack on Britain gets underway.

On top of that, the multiple cliffhangers of issue #10 should ensure that the book's faithful readership will be back for more in issue #11. I look forward to it.




THE STAND: AMERICAN NIGHTMARE #1
Although the first four issues of The Stand: Captain Trips felt very much like stage-setting opening chapters, the fifth issue -- which introduced the character of Randall Flagg to the series -- certainly captured my attention. In retrospect, it was a good way to end the series, because without that intriguing hook in issue #5, I'm not sure that I'd be interested enough to return for this second miniseries.

However, that great portrait of Flagg, combined with the solid setup of the previous issues, means that I'll be interested enough to keep an eye out for American Nightmare when it kicks off later this month.






DAREDEVIL #116
Daredevil #115 provided the conclusion of the "Lady Bullseye" arc that had been running in the book for a few months. However, as with Brubaker's previous work on the title, that story was merely a part of a larger interconnected saga. The final pages of issue #115 teased readers with an implication that the next chapter would include the return of Wilson Fisk a.k.a. the Kingpin -- to the spotlight. Writer Ed Brubaker is wasting no time in bringing the character back into the fold, focusing almost exclusively on Fisk in this one-shot issue, illustrated by Immortal Iron Fist's highly talented David Aja.

Brubaker's character-based single issues have already been highlights of his run on Daredevil, but having read #116 I can honestly say that this is even better than the writer's previous efforts. Definitely worth picking up.






DARK REIGN: FANTASTIC FOUR #1
Reed Richards has been through an interesting few years. From his involvement in the superhero "Illuminati" to his pro-registration activities in Civil War, the leader of Marvel's first family has had trouble living up to his Fantastic soubriquet in the minds of many readers. Thankfully, this new series sees hot writer Jonathan Hickman address this controversial characterisation by having Reed come to his senses and decide to build a machine to help him discover how his good intentions caused such problems in the Marvel Universe, and how those problems can be undone.

His ethos of "there's no problem that can't be solved" should go some way to redeem Reed in the eyes of Marvel's irate readership, and the complications caused by Norman Osborn's intervention in the lives of the FF should make for a fun, fantastical story. Even if you're not in love with what's going on in "Dark Reign" at the moment, this looks like being an enjoyable spinoff.






SUB-MARINER: THE DEPTHS #5
The concluding issue of one of the most enjoyable "Marvel Knights" miniseries yet finally ships this month. As much as the series has benefited from Esad Ribic's beautiful painted art, it's the combination of these attractive visuals with the atmospheric writing of Peter Milligan that has made the book such a compelling read.

A claustrophobic undersea horror story, the series' only potential flaw is that the titular character had barely appeared until the end of the previous issue, meaning that this concluding chapter carries a lot of weight of expectation for readers who have been anxious to see what Milligan's take on Namor will look like. Let's hope issue #5 lives up to it.





ULTIMATE WOLVERINE VS. HULK #3
Yes, you read that correctly: the third issue of this long-delayed series is finally going to ship this week. With Leinil Yu fresh off his high-profile runs on New Avengers and Secret Invasion, and Damon Lindelof's scripts for all four of the remaining issues now apparently in the can, we can sit back, relax and enjoy one of the most out-and-out fun superhero titles to have been published by Marvel recently.

Just check out these preview pages for a taste of the craziness that Lindelof and Yu have in store.





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