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Daredevil – World on Fire (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Having paused to catch its breath – and properly introduce the character of Wilson Fisk – World on Fire and Condemned restore the season’s sense of forward moment. The clutter of the Russian mob is tidied away, allowing the series to throw Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk into proper conflict with one another. It is no coincidence that Matt and Fisk first talk to one another in Condemned, the episode that brushes aside the last remnants of the Russian mob. World on Fire is largely about setting up all that, serving as a bridge from In the Blood into Condemned.

It is a testament to all involved that it works as well as it does. Charlie Cox is fantastic as a conflicted Matthew Murdock, Rosario Dawson does great work as Claire Temple. Once again, Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson are trapped in a somewhat generic subplot that exists to explain why Hell’s Kitchen might be worth saving in its current state. Vincent D’Onofrio and Ayelet Zurer continue to have an endearing chemistry, portraying a fairly convincing love story about power and justification – the show never seems confused about what Wilson Fisk and Vanessa Marianna see in one another.

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All the formal elements continue to work very well. The writing staff do an excellent job mirroring Matt and Claire with Vanessa and Fisk; one couple separated by the anger and drive of the protagonist, another intoxicated by those same qualities in the antagonist. Although it is easy to take the show’s camera and stunt work for granted after the climax of Cut Man, there is an impressive long shot in the middle of the episode that is executed beautifully as Matt intercepts a drug delivery to the Russians.

At the same time, there is something a little bit forced about the plotting and structure of World on Fire, which is largely a result of its transitional state. The first season often felt like it was spinning its wheels as it set Matt against the Russians – neither Anatoly nor Vladimir felt like fully-formed or fleshed out characters, in spite of the teaser to In the Blood. As a result, a lot of World on Fire feels like necessary housekeeping before the show can really get down to business.

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Andy Diggle’s Run on Daredevil – Shadowland (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.

Shadowland is a disappointing climax to a wonderful decade of Daredevil. From the moment that Kevin Smith launched the second volume of the character through to the end of Ed Brubaker’s run, the Man Without Fear enjoyed a wonderfully consistent run of stories including runs from some of the best writers and artists working in comics, pushing the character in bold new directions and well outside his comfort zone.

Shadowland has a lot of problems, but the most obvious is that it betrays its central character. Matt Murdock is one of the most fascinating protagonists in comics, a proud (and occasionally arrogant) individual who might have the best of intentions but isn’t always able to make the right choices. Watching Murdock deal with his own mistakes and setbacks was a pretty compelling hook, as the comic pushed its protagonist into increasingly uncomfortable positions.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Shadowland. Despite an interesting premise, it all falls apart when it decides that “a demon did it” is an acceptable explanation for Murdock’s latest errors in judgement.

Devilish delight?

Devilish delight?

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – The Asset (Review)

Well, The Asset is certainly stronger than The Pilot and 0-8-4, not that those two episodes represent an especially high bar for the show to cross. The Asset is hardly the best episode of television in the history of the medium. It still suffers from many of the same problems as the first two episodes, involving the cast and formula and the constant name-dropping. However, it does tease the possibility of improvement. The Asset isn’t an episode of a brilliant piece of television, but it is an episode that shows the potential to develop into something far more exciting and compelling.

Coulson appreciates the gravity of the situation...

Coulson appreciates the gravity of the situation…

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Rick Remender’s Run on Secret Avengers – Avengers vs. X-Men (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.

Secret Avengers manages one of the strongest tie-ins to Avengers vs. X-Men. I will confess that I am not normally a fan of comic book event tie-ins. They tend to distract from on-going narratives crafted by long-term writers in order to assure a cynical short-term sales boost. At worst, they can feel like vacuous filler, comics full of nonsense that are impossible to decipher unless you’re reading the giant crossover of the month. Both Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man lost a lot of momentum thanks to crossovers.

On the other hand, I’ll concede that good writers can shrewdly use crossovers to tell their own stories. Perhaps the most obvious example is Alan Moore’s wonderful Swamp Thing tie-in to Crisis on Infinite Earths – stories that can be read (and be quite entertaining) on their own terms, without requiring the reader to constantly flick back or forth. Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men tie-in to Avengers vs. X-Men manages to retain its own identity and tell its own story, and Rick Remender’s Secret Avengers makes a valiant attempt.

Into the fire...

Into the fire…

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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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Grant Morrison & Ian Gibson’s Avengers – Steed & Mrs. Peel (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.

I feel a little bit cheeky describing this as “Grant Morrison’s Avengers.” After all, it’s this sort of confusion that led Disney to somewhat clumsily try to rebrand last year’s Avengers as Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in Ireland and the UK, afraid that easily-confused cinema-goers might be confused by the absence of the character my better half describes as “umbrella man”, while those more emersed in classic Britannia will recognise him as John Steed.

In fact, the comic was actually branded as Steed and Ms. Peel to avoid confusion, both in the original 1990 Eclipse miniseries and in the recent BOOM! studios reissue. That said, while legal matters prevent the release of a comic called “The Avengers”, BOOM! have hardly been shy about the original television show, with advertisements for Mark Waid’s recent revival teasing “the original Avengers” and “the original Hell Fire Club.” (Which is a little misleading itself, since the Hell Fire Club is actually a much older (real life) institution. Ah well.)

Still, Morrison and Gibson’s Steed & Mrs. Peel is a delightfully fun romp very much in the style of the original show. It is, by no means, the smartest or most essential of Morrison’s work – but it’s still clever and betrays an obvious affection for the source material.

Wheel of misfortune...

Wheel of misfortune…

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Avengers vs. X-Men – Consequences (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine this month, we’re taking a look at some new and classic 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.

Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences feels like it really should be a light event cash-in, designed to generate some quick sales off the popularity of the latest gigantic crossover story arc. However, writer Kieron Gillen takes advantage of the five-issue miniseries’ location – situated between Avengers vs. X-Men and Marvel’s high-profile Marvel NOW relaunch – to turn the comic into something of a transition. It represents a clear shift from Kieron Gillen’s run on Uncanny X-Men to the relaunch of the book (and the spin-off All-New X-Men) by writer Brian Michael Bendis.

Oddly enough, thanks to Gillen’s skill, Consequences plays out as a character-centric storyline, capping off Gillen’s work on the mutant hero Cyclops and positioning him for his role future role in the shared Marvel universe.

Cyke out!

Cyke out!

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