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Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck’s Avengers – Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

It’s always fascinating to go back and read the original sixties Marvel comic books, to get a sense of just how influential or informative they were on the generations of writers and artists who followed. While it’s not quite as spectacular a mess as The Incredible Hulk or The X-Men, I’ll admit that I never entirely warmed to the classic version of The Avengers. I like select stories – Roy Thomas’ Kree-Skrull War, Starlin’s Infinity trilogy – but, as a whole, these classic Avengers comics never really grabbed me.

Don’t get me wrong. These are massively iconic and influential books, and they’re well constructed, laying down a blueprint for decades of adventures to follow. There’s a sense of wry self-awareness here, and there’s no denying that these are vitally important classic superhero comics books. However, I could just never bring myself to love them.

Holding it all together...

Holding it all together…

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Jason Aaron’s Run on The Incredible Hulk – Vol. 1-2 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

Of the major writers currently working at Marvel, Jason Aaron seems the best fit for the Hulk. Aaron has an undeniably charming pulpy style, an approach to mainstream superhero comics that has given the creator enjoyable and engaging runs on characters like Ghost Rider or Wolverine. As such, Aaron would seem to be the perfect fit for a character who likes to smash things. Aaron’s run isn’t perfect. It’s too scattershot to really offer an insight into the character, too short and all over the map to be a “definitive” take on the Hulk.

However, the run consists a fun and amusing set of comic book stories, where thoughtful high-concepts combine with absurd set pieces to create something the feels quite unique. While certainly not the strongest one there is, nor the best run for character or author, there’s a wit and a charming energy to Aaron’s run on The Incredible Hulk.

Green with envy...

Green with envy…

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Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers – Avengers Assemble (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

How do you cash in on the success of a big-budget blockbuster comic movie? Especially a film that has gone on to be the most successful film of 2012, and one of the most successful films of all time? It’s a tough question, and I’d like to imagine that Marvel thought long and hard about how to capitalise off the success of The Avengers. After all, comics are a medium that have been trying any number of desperate ploys to maintain sales and to attract fans over the past decade, so it would be stupid not to try to turn some of the cinema-goers into comic book fans. I made the transition, so it can’t be that tough.

Avengers Assemble, an eight-issue miniseries, seems to have been created as an answer to that question. Not only does it carry the name used by the film in several international markets, it uses the iconic roster from the film, tries to tell what appears to be a continuity-light tale and comes from a high-profile creative team. Unfortunately, these factors all feel rather cynical, rather than a genuine attempt to court new readers.

Hey, it's that guy, from that thing!

Hey, it’s that guy, from that thing!

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Throwing the Toys Together (The Avengers)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #9

The Avengers had its share of problems – it was weirdly paced; the Hulk’s character arc seemed to come a bit out of left field; Loki had no real sense of motivation; the film effectively undermined the wonderful ending to Thor; it didn’t really deal with any of the questions raised by Nick Fury’s actions; and Disney insisted that we call it Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in this part of the world, in case my grandmother might show up and wonder where “the nice chap with the umbrella” had gone. However, it also had its strengths, and these strengths were rooted in the fact that director Joss Whedon was keen not overly intellectualise the premise or the characters, and accepted the glee of knocking all those iconic toys together.

avengers15

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The Demon by Jack Kirby (Review/Retrospective)

Of all of Jack Kirby’s seventies DC work, I think that everything must be somebody’s favourite. His Fourth World books bristled with ambition and perhaps serve as the most high-profile, influential and long-running of Kirby’s work with the publisher, but you never have to look too hard to find a proponent of the author and artist’s work on O.M.A.C. or Kamandi. While I am fond of all of Kirby’s DC work, enjoying the raw energy and sheer volume of ideas he brings to his high concepts, I have a soft spot for The Demon, if only because it’s a delightfully off-the-wall example of Kirby’s multiple interests bouncing off one another and familiar archetypes to create something that is often quite difficult to pin down.

Night of the Demon!

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Venom: Circle of Four (Review)

If you had told me that I would enjoy a Venom collection quite this much, I would have laughed. I picked up the oversized hardcover collection of Circle of Four after enjoying Rick Remender’s Venom issues tying into the Spider-Island crossover. Which, I guess, is one of the benefits of such spin-offs and crossovers, I suppose. Anyway, intrigued by Remender’s take on the character, I was curious enough to take a look at this collection, featuring a crossover between Venom, Red Hulk, X-23 and the new Ghost Rider. Of course, two of those books had been cancelled by the time the crossover rolled around, so the whole “mini-event” was rolled up into Remender’s Venom. While Circle of Four isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking comic book storyline, or even a truly exceptional event, it does demonstrate that even the most conventional premise can work well in the right hands.

Back in black, baby!

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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and John Romita Jr.’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – The Best of Spider-Man, Vol. 3-4 (Review/Retrospective)

I honestly believe that had J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run ended with his collaborator John Romita Jr., his time on Marvel’s iconic web-crawler would have gone down as one of the great runs. Sure, it is flawed – sometimes significantly so. However, if you divorce it from Sins Past and the mess of crisis crossover tie-in issues and awkward continuity reboots that followed, Straczynski’s early run was bold, exciting and entertaining enough to get away with doing something relatively new to Peter Parker. Given that the run includes the five hundredth issue headlined by the hero, that’s quite an accomplishment in-and-of itself. It’s not perfect, and I don’t think it’s as strong as many of the runs happening simultaneously at Marvel, but it is an intriguing direction for the pop culture icon.

How many iconic villains do you spy dere?

Note: The fourth hardcover also includes the start of Mike Deodato’s run. I am going to cover those issues separately. This review or retrospective is going to be concerned with the second half of the collaboration between John Romita and J. Michael Straczynski, culminating in The Amazing Spider-Man #508.

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