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X-Men: Operation Zero Tolerance (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine this month, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men and Wolverine comics. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Operation Zero Tolerance is very much an artefact of the nineties. It’s a big bombastic X-Men romp, one that manages to hit on a lot of the key themes and ideas of the franchise (making them resonate with the public mood), while still seeming loud and simply and incredibly hollow. After all, it’s a comic about the prejudice facing a minority in the nineties, with repeated references to the Holocaust. “Zero tolerance?” Senator Robert Kelly asks towards the end of the event. “Isn’t that what the Nazis had for the Jews in the last World War?” The villain, Bastion, is presented as a “wannabe Hitler.”

Operation Zero Tolerance is, in a word, blunt. With so many of the high-profile comics of the nineties, from both Marvel and DC, “subtlety” is an alien concept. This is an X-Men comic where racial intolerance and prejudice are expressed through nothing short of attempted genocide. On the one hand, it’s very clearly the mutant prejudice idea pushed to its logical extreme. On the other hand, the notion of the United States government even passively condoning an attempted genocide feels like it robs the franchise of the social relevance which had made it so compelling and intriguing.

Still, the event’s impact is quite obvious. It’s hard not to see Operation Zero Tolerance as the driving influence on the entire X-Men franchise from House of M through to Second Coming.

Chances of survival are Slim...

Chances of survival are Slim…

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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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Dan Slott’s Spider-Man – The Amazing Spider-Man & Human Torch (Review/Retrospective)

The Amazing Spider-Man and Human Torch is a sweet little book, if just a little bit too nostalgic for my tastes. A five-issue miniseries, it allows Dan Slott to show us five vignettes exploring the relationship between Marvel’s iconic webhead and the youngest member of the Fantastic Four. Slott leans a little bit too heavily on continuity in places, trying too keenly to fit the story inside an established mythology, but The Amazing Spider-Man and Human Torch reads like an affectionate homage to the relative innocence of the Silver Age. I don’t doubt that Slott’s solid character work here helped secure the writer his current position as author of The Amazing Spider-Man, and the story is a fun (if light) look back on the hokey adventures of yesteryear.

At liberty to discuss it…

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Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (Review/Retrospective)

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up occupies a strange place in Marvel canon. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by a rake of top-tier talent, it was essentially a series designed to showcase these impressive artists while adding a bit of depth and breadth to the then-fledgeling Ultimate Marvel Universe. Essentially a continuity that had been launched from scratch, with the goal of attracting new fans put off by decades of back story in the regular shared universe, Brian Michael Bendis had pioneered the line with his superb Ultimate Spider-Man, a book that he is still writing today (albeit in a slightly different form). Due to its nature, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up is a somewhat disjointed effort, where quality varies almost from issue-to-issue, but it’s still worth a look for anybody with any interest in Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man work.

Who says there aren’t crocodiles in the sewer?

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Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man – The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s hard to believe that Spider-Man first appeared fifty years ago. The character is arguably Marvel’s most iconic comic book creation, and his appearance and iconography is instant recognisable all around the world. As such, fifty years after his first appearance, it’s fascinating to look at just how much of Spider-Man is firmly rooted in the initial thirty-eight issues of the title, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Steve Ditko. While I am normally quite wary of older material (Will Eisner’s The Spirit being the exception that proves the rule), it’s amazing how well Lee and Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man holds up.

Animated by Kerry Allen.

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Avengers Disassembled: Iron Man – Turf War (Review/Retrospective)

It’s probably true that in comics, like in any other medium, you have a preference towards the stories that brought you into that medium. While I think Marvel was doing some truly exceptional stuff during the early part of the 2000s, like Morrison’s New X-Men or Waid’s Fantastic Four or Garth Ennis’ Marvel Knights: Punisher, I think that the Avengers line of books were all struggling to find a direction. While I have some issues with the clunky crossover- and tie-in-reliant nature of the period, I do think that there was a lot more energy for the Avengers-related titles after Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers Disassembled. Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and J. Michael Straczynski’s Thor can stand alongside the best interpretations of the characters, with Matt Fraction’s later Invincible Iron Man run also standing as a classic Iron Man run.

These Disassembled tie-in issues offer a pretty solid indication of where Marvel’s Avengers comic book line was just before the crossover, and most of them seemed to be in very serious trouble. There are two arcs from The Invincible Iron Man collected here, from two very different teams, and neither seems to know exactly what it is doing.

Iron Man decompressed?

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Wolverine: Save the Tiger (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

In 2009, Marvel published a Wolverine Omnibus. I’m honestly surprised that it took the company that long to pull together a large volume of work featuring the character and dump it on the market. However, browsing the gigantic hardcover, I’m amazed at just how much Wolverine-related material Marvel published before the character got his own on-going series. There was the Claremont/Miller miniseries, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine, and seemingly numerous cameos and guest appearances in books outside the X-Men line. However, Save the Tiger, a ten-part story that opened the anthology series Marvel Comics Presents, occupies a crucial place in Wolverine lore. Written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Buscema, it reads as something of a dress rehearsal for the character’s seemingly inevitable on-going series.

No claws for concern…

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