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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Detective Comics – Dead Reckoning (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

It remains quite surprising that DC have never capitalised on the work that Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka did on their Batman line during the early years of the twenty-first century. Given the popularity of Batman as a character, and considering the success that has been enjoyed by Brubaker and Rucka in the years since, it seems strange that DC has never made a consistent or concerted effort to package and release high-profile collections of their work on the character.

It is a shame, because the work is very good – both as solo writers on various titles and in collaboration with one another. Ed Brubaker enjoyed a solo run on Batman with artist Scott McDaniel shortly after No Man’s Land and through the end of Bruce Wayne: Fugitive. A few years later, while collaborating with Greg Rucka on the underrated and sorely missed Gotham Central, Brubaker also had a short run on Detective Comics.

Putting on his game face...

Putting on his game face…

He wrote a team-up between Bruce Wayne and Alan Scott in Made of Wood. However, Brubaker also wrote the epic six-part story, Dead Reckoning. On the surface, Dead Reckoning appears quite familiar. It follows a fairly standard set-up. It’s an adventure that features the width and breadth of Batman’s iconic rogues’ gallery, and unearths a terrible secret about the history of Gotham that – in Brubaker’s style – is a clever updating of a classic piece of continuity.

However, underneath the surface, Dead Reckoning is something much more harrowing and unsettling. It’s the story of lives destroyed by calamities and forces outside the normal human experience – it’s about wounds inflicted on ordinary people by monsters playing a very strange game. It feels like a post-9/11 superhero story, treating Batman’s world as something hostile and horrifying.

Snow escape...

Snow escape…

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Divided We Stand (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Divided We Stand actually feels like the start of something interesting for Ed Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. It’s a story arc that heralds a bold new direction for Marvel’s merry mutants in the wake of Messiah Complex, taking the team out of their comfort zone and suggesting that Uncanny X-Men will be moving a little outside its comfort zone and trying something different. It’s a story arc that sees the team reflecting on the past and considering the future.

So, naturally, it is Ed Brubaker’s last solo arc on Uncanny X-Men.

A bad trip?

A bad trip?

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – The Extremists (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the things that is most striking about Ed Brubaker’s work on Uncanny X-Men is just how disjointed the whole thing is. Announcing his arrival on the franchise with the Deadly Genesis miniseries, it seemed like Brubaker was really planning on shaking things up. Like Brian Michael Bendis had done for The Avengers with Avengers Disassembled, Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis had attacked some of the foundations of the X-Men franchise.

Brubaker’s first arc on Uncanny X-Men did follow up on some of the threads from Deadly Genesis, but not the obvious ones. The Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire was a twelve-issue story featuring a bunch of X-Men launching themselves into space to recover Gabriel Summers and become embroiled in a galactic power struggle. It was very far from what fans had come to expect from the franchise, and worlds apart from the tone of Deadly Genesis or House of M. It felt strangely disconnected from a book that should have been driving the franchise.

The writing's on the wall...

The writing’s on the wall…

His second story arc on the title, The Extremists comes towards the start of Brubaker’s second year on Uncanny X-Men, and it still feels decidedly uncertain. A five-issue story arc about terrorism and religion, The Extremists is incredibly engaged with contemporary American politics. It feels like an entirely different story from The Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire, as if Brubaker has suddenly decided to alter the direction of his run.

The Extremists is a story that feels like an orphaned part of an X-Men epic that never quite developed, a small segment of a whole that doesn’t actually exist. It’s easy to imagine The Extremists as part of an untold post-9/11 Uncanny X-Men saga that may have spun off from Deadly Genesis and brought the comic into the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, with Brubaker’s run being pulled in multiple directions around it, it can’t help but feel a little hollow.

Cooking up a storm...

Cooking up a storm…

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Ed Brubaker’s X-Men – Deadly Genesis (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

In 2006, Ed Brubaker was one of the hottest younger writers working at Marvel Comics. He was writing a celebrated run on Captain America. He was about to take over Daredevil following a monumental run by Brian Michael Bendis. He was also going to launch The Immortal Iron Fist with collaborator Matt Fraction. It was a year that cemented Ed Brubaker as one of the primary voices writing at Marvel Comics. In the midst of all that, Brubaker also took over the X-Men franchise.

In the early years of the decade, Marvel had tasked Brian Michael Bendis to reinvent the Avengers franchise, which he had done with Avengers Disassembled and an extended stint on New Avengers. Bendis had done this by tearing down a lot of the elements of The Avengers taken for granted and demonstrating that nothing was safe. The Avengers Mansion was destroyed, Hawkeye and Vision were killed, Wolverine and Spider-Man were recruited. The approach was iconoclastic, but it worked.

Sentinels of liberty...

Sentinels of liberty…

It’s not too hard to see Ed Brubaker’s stint on the X-Men franchise as a not-entirely-successful attempt to emulated Bendis’ reinvention of The Avengers. There was a clear attempt to focus on aspects of the mythology that were outside the comfort zone, and to attack and undermine some of the most sacred areas of the mythology. After all, Brubaker began his run on Uncanny X-Men with The Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire, a twelve-issue space opera that took the focus of the book off the wake of House of M.

Logically, then, Deadly Genesis serves as the equivalent of Bendis’ Avengers Disassembled. It’s the story that exists as the lead-in to Brubaker’s run, outside the monthly series. It sets the agenda for a lot of what is to follow, shifting the premise and changing the rules. However, Brubaker’s work suffers because he doesn’t have the same freedom that Bendis had with New Avengers. He can’t just clear the board and start anew. Deadly Genesis find him heaping a bold new status quo on top of a bold new status quo.

Burning it all down...

Burning it all down…

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Andy Diggle’s Run on Daredevil (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the most remarkable things about Daredevil was how consistent the quality of the title had been. Andy Diggle inherited Daredevil at the height of its popularity. Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil was well-loved and enjoyed, climaxing on a celebratory 500th issue. Brubaker had come on after Brian Michael Bendis’ much-lauded run on the title. The two are considered among the best writers to work on the character since Frank Miller redefined the Man Without Fear. Diggle was succeeded by Mark Waid, who has made a reinvigoured and nostalgic Daredevil into one of Marvel’s best-reviewed and best loved books.

These are all great runs. Andy Diggle’s Daredevil run is not well-remembered. Diggle essentially wrote twelve issues of the main title, and almost the same number of crossover tie-ins, miniseries and one-shots. Whereas those other successful runs of Daredevil existed with their own space and freedom, Diggle’s Daredevil was very much event-driven. The big moment in all of Diggle’s Daredevil writing is the street-level crossover event Shadowland. It’s a problematic event, and quite a few of those problems reverberate back into Diggle’s work on the main title.

And yet, despite that, what’s most frustrating about Diggle’s Daredevil run is that it really could (and should) have been so much better.

The Devil you know...

The Devil you know…

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Fear Itself (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Part of what is so remarkable about Fear Itself is how uncomfortably it fits into the “huge event” role that Marvel cast for it. Matt Fraction’s seven-issues-and-change epic crossover event is really just a Thor story arc that dips its toe in the waters of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. Instead, Marvel cast it as this gigantic universe-altering mega-important miniseries with over 100 crossovers and tie-ins from all corners of the Marvel Universe.

Positioned to capitalise on the release of both Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Joe Johnson’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Fear Itself seems like a story told in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like Brian Bendis’ Secret Invasion would undoubtedly have worked better as an arc of New Avengers than as a full-blown “nothing is ever the same again” epic, Fear Itself would have been a much stronger comic had it been allowed to play out on a smaller stage.

Hammer time!

Hammer time!

Still, despite the problems inherent in large-scale epic crossovers, Fear Itself works surprisingly well. Indeed, it it probably the strongest Marvel “mega-event” of the past decade if only because it is built on a strong ideological premise and develops some of the underlying themes and ideas of Fraction’s other Marvel work. Treated as a seven-issue story arc from Matt Fraction’s The Mighty Thor, it’s a fascinating climax of ideas that bubble away in the background of his run.

The choice to let Fraction craft Fear Itself, with assists from Ed Brubaker on the prologue and epilogue to the event, is inspired. Fraction is not the most consistent of comic book writers, but he is also incredibly wry and self-aware. There’s a sense of charming self-deprecating to Fear Itself, as Fraction allows the characters involved to reflect on the absurdity of it all without ever losing track of their humanity. Fear Itself might be far from perfect, but it is clever, fun and thoughtful. And those are endearing virtues.

Suit up!

Suit up!

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Captain America: Man Out of Time by Mark Waid and Jorge Molina (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Captain America: Man Out of Time suffers under the weight of its nostalgia.

The past few years have been kind to fans of the star-spangled Avenger. Ed Brubaker enjoyed an extended run on the character that enjoys favourable comparisons to the best work by the best writers ever to work with Steve Rogers. A Captain America film finally saw theatrical release with Captain America: The First Avenger. So it made sense for Marvel to try to extend the brand in 2011, as that blockbuster was ready to hit cinemas and as the character’s stock was at an all-time high.

"It's okay, Cap. The First Avenger wasn't THAT bad..."

“It’s okay, Cap. The First Avenger wasn’t THAT bad…”

Mark Waid was a great choice to assist in this. Waid is a well-liked comic book writer with a long history at Marvel that includes two extended well-received runs on the character. Waid has written a number of genuine comic book classics, and he’s a writer who tends to handle nostalgia very well. So tasking Mark Waid with writing a comic book set in the early days of Captain America’s revival was a no-brainer. A five-issue miniseries about Captain America waking up in contemporary times written by Mark Waid? That should be a default slam dunk.

Unfortunately, there was a miscalculation somewhere. Man Out of Time feels sappy ans manipulative, with little new or interesting (or insightful) to offer about its temporally dislocated protagonist.

The man in the iron mask...

The man in the iron mask…

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