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J. Michael Straczynski’s Run on The Fantastic Four – Civil War (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.

J. Michael Stracynski’s Fantastic Four tie-in to Civil War is a strange beast, in that it seems to exist more as a collection of talking points and plot beats than as compelling narrative in its own right. Using the safe camouflage of a tie-in to a massive line-wide event, Straczynski is not only able to sneakily set-up his pending Thor run, but also to vent quite liberally about his own feelings on post-9/11 America. The result is a story which feels disjointed and far too talky, a simplistic and familiar opinion piece dressed up as a Fantastic Four story.

Yes. Yes there is...

Yes. Yes there is…

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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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Archie Goodwin’s (& George Tuska’s) Run on The Invincible Iron Man – The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 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.

The second omnibus contains both the tail end of Stan Lee run on Tales of Suspense and the Archie Goodwin run on The Invincible Iron Man. To make matters easier, I’ve split the review in half. This half covers Archie Goodwin’s Iron Man.

Archie Goodwin is one of the best editors to work in comic books. During his time working at DC, the editor was responsible for The Long Halloween and also James Robinson’s long-running Starman. While Goodwin was an exceptional editor, he was arguably a weaker writer. As his run on The Invincible Iron Man demonstrates, Goodwin has a very clear idea of what concepts work and won’t work with the character, and how to start “fixing” some of the more obvious flaws present in the character from his inception during Stan Lee’s Tales of Suspense run. However, Goodwin isn’t quite as deft when it comes to story construction or plot mechanics. He lacks Lee’s flair for soap opera angst and interpersonal drama.

However, his run on The Invincible Iron Man remains quite impressive, and just as influential and formative as anything written by Stan Lee. I’d argue that Goodwin’s conceptual model of the character is a lot closer to the modern version of Iron Man, and that his version of Tony Stark bleeds through the work of later writers and also into the massive billion-dollar film franchise as well. So Goodwin’s work on The Invincible Iron Man is quite iconic. It’s just some of the nuts-and-bolts scripting that seems to catch him, from time to time.

That's why they call him the Invincible Iron Man...

That’s why they call him the Invincible Iron Man…

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Non-Review Review: Iron Man 3

Where do you go after The Avengers? Marvel brought together four separate superhero franchises to produce one mega-blockbuster last summer, producing the most successful film of 2012 and one of the most lucrative films in the history of the medium. It’s a tough act to follow. If Iron Man 3 is any indication, it seems like Disney and Marvel understand how they want to progress from here. Shrewdly deciding not to compete with The Avengers on scale, Iron Man 3 is instead a character-driven action thriller specifically tailored for the character of Tony Stark, with writer and director Shane Black very clearly having his own idea for the hero who first launched Marvel’s shared universe.

While Iron Man 3 isn’t quite perfect, it’s a solid superhero blockbuster, and perhaps second only to Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor as the best superhero film produced by Marvel Studios.

Who da Iron Man?

Who da Iron Man?

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Earth X (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.

“Your kind does love to rewrite history, Richards,” the Watcher observes towards the end of Earth X, after we get an introduction and brief recap of the life of Tony Stark. Almost every issue of the collection opens with a review of an iconic Marvel character’s back story, as writer Jim Krueger and plotter Alex Ross attempt to tie the tapestry of the Marvel universe together in some way. It turns out that everything a character underwent wasn’t just their own personal development, but part of a broader tapestry of history within the Marvel universe. No character evolution, it seems, happens in isolation. Everything is interconnected, even if we (or the writers or the characters) never realised it at the time.

Earth X is really just an attempt to tie most of the Marvel universe up in one gigantic knot, to connect everything to everything else. In a way, published in 1999, it seems to foreshadow the current era of Marvel publishing, where absolutely everything within in the shared universe must somehow be connected to something else. Avengers vs. X-Men, for example, would connect the Phoenix from the X-Men to the Iron Fist mythology. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men connected the Weapon X project to the development of Captain America. The X-Men and the Avengers must be united as part of Uncanny Avengers.

In many ways, Earth X reads more interestingly as a treatise than as a comic story. It’s far stronger as a thought-experiment than an actual narrative. It’s more fun on purely technical level, watching Jim Krueger and Alex Cross connect all those dots, than it is as an adventure in its own right.

Stellar...

Stellar…

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Non-Review Review: Iron Man 3

Where do you go after The Avengers? Marvel brought together four separate superhero franchises to produce one mega-blockbuster last summer, producing the most successful film of 2012 and one of the most lucrative films in the history of the medium. It’s a tough act to follow. If Iron Man 3 is any indication, it seems like Disney and Marvel understand how they want to progress from here. Shrewdly deciding not to compete with The Avengers on scale, Iron Man 3 is instead a character-driven action thriller specifically tailored for the character of Tony Stark, with writer and director Shane Black very clearly having his own idea for the hero who first launched Marvel’s shared universe.

While Iron Man 3 isn’t quite perfect, it’s a solid superhero blockbuster, and perhaps second only to Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor as the best superhero film produced by Marvel Studios.

Who da Iron Man?

Who da Iron Man?

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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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Stan Lee & Gene Colan’s Iron Man – The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 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.

The second omnibus contains both the tail end of Stan Lee run on Tales of Suspense and the Archie Goodwin run on The Invincible Iron Man. To make matters easier, I’ve split the review in half. This half covers the end of Stan Lee’s Iron Man.

And so we come to the end of Stan Lee’s work on the character of Iron Man as part of the Tales of Suspense magazine. This part of the run is consistently illustrated by the wonderful Gene Colan, who is among my favourite artists of the era, and Colan’s pencils do a lot to give the tail-end of Lee’s work with Tony Stark a bit of weight and gravitas. Because, as we reach the end of the character’s time as one-half of Tales of Suspense, it’s hard to argue that Lee still hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to do with Iron Man as a character. While Tony Stark’s teething problems are nowhere near as severe as those of The Incredible Hulk, it still feels like the character isn’t gelling nearly as well as he should.

If you can't stand the heat...

If you can’t stand the heat…

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Ultimate Comics: Divided We Fall, United We Stand – Spider-Man (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.

I have to admit, I am very surprised that Marvel have yet to start issuing oversized hardcovers of writer Brian Michael Bendis’ latest Ultimate Spider-Man run. The author has been writing the writing the series since the first issue appeared on stands in October 2000. The series has been re-launched twice, for three volumes as part of the same story. The first two runs are collected in their entirety, but only bits and pieces of the third run have been collected so far. The prelude Fallout was collected with Bendis’ The Death of Spider-Man omnibus, and the crossover with the main universe has been collected in Spider-Men, and then there’s these issues here, collected as part of Divided We Fall.

However, despite the high profile decision to create a new Spider-Man, generating considerable press coverage, Marvel has yet to begin collecting nice oversized hardcovers of Bendis’ latest run. As a result, the issues collected here give a rather scattershot coverage of Bendis’ run on the iconic web-crawler, which is a bit of a shame. As with the Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men comics tying into this big event, context is a vital part of this gigantic crossover, with Bendis’ story only really resonating as part of an on-going story featuring the development of a new version of Spider-Man, Bendis’ own creation.

Who says there's no such thing as bad publicity?

Who says there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

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Stan Lee’s Iron Man – The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 1 (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.

Working in collaboration with a stable of fantastic artists, Stan Lee created so many iconic characters and franchises at Marvel Comics that you could easily believe that everything he touched turned to gold. His work on The Fantastic Four, Thor and The Avengers with Jack Kirby so perfectly captured the sci-fi spirit of the sixties, and his creation of The Amazing Spider-Man with Steve Ditko redefined comic books, so it’s hard not to imagine that everything Lee set his mind to worked out perfectly.

Of course, inevitably, there were books that didn’t quite work right out of the gate. While his first reboot of Captain America was so awkward that he had to retroactively re-write the stories to feature a crazed Captain America impersonator, a lot of these titles were given the time and space necessary to try to figure out how to make them work. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lee was quite sentimental towards some of his creations, with the awkward development history of The Incredible Hulk suggesting that Lee was going to try to figure out any way to make that character gel.

The Invincible Iron Man was never quite that troublesome, but he also never entirely clicked under Lee’s pen. While none of the character’s re-tools and re-workings are as severe as the kind of things that Marvel tried to do with the Hulk, there’s a very clear sense – reading this mammoth collection of Tales of Suspense short stories – that Lee wasn’t entirely sure about how to write Iron Man.

I am Iron Man!

I am Iron Man!

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