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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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West Coast 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.

I’ve never been especially fond of the classic Avengers. The group has always seemed particularly insular and self-centred for a comic book superhero team, with so much emphasis on their by-laws and regulations, their posh fifth avenue mansion and the strange sense of pride that second-tier characters like Hawkeye seem to place on their own importance within the Avengers franchise. There have been great runs, and there have been comics that I have enjoyed a great deal, but I will concede that I am not a fan of the Silver and Bronze Age Avengers aesthetic.

West Coast Avengers is a clear attempt to develop the franchise, to give Marvel a second high-profile Avengers book. Launched in 1984 and running for a decade, the book followed the establishment of a second superhero team branded on the classic Avengers model. Of course, part of me suspects that this was all just a plan to get Hawkeye out of the mansion (“you and Mockingbird can relocate quickly… and the sooner you do — the sooner our west coast team is operational — the better!” Vision insists).

There are moments of wry self-awareness in West Coast Avengers, but far too much of it reads far too earnestly.

And yet somehow this guy has appeared in two of the biggest superhero blockbusters of the past five years...

And yet somehow this guy has appeared in two of the biggest superhero blockbusters of the past five years…

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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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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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X-Men: Schism (Review)

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.

X-Men: Schism is a game-changer. It’s an attempt to realign Marvel’s X-Men line, a series of books that have faltered in recent years. After all, events like Messiah Complex and Second Coming couldn’t propel the line back to prominence, so Schism feels like a manifesto. Collecting the main series written by Jason Aaron, and the X-Men: Regenesis one-shot written by Kieron Gillen, it represents the most recent attempt to bring the some sense of life and purpose back to the X-Men books, which have been increasingly overshadowed by Marvel’s Avengers publishing line. And, to be frank, I can’t help but think that Schism works pretty well as an attempt to brush away the recent past and carve out a new and exciting future.

The hand of fate…

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Fall of the Mutants: Uncanny X-Men (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.

Part of me does feel a little bit sorry for Chris Claremont. After all, his Uncanny X-Men run was trapped in a perpetual second act. He hadn’t introduced the franchise, inheriting it from a bunch of other writers and artists, and he couldn’t resolve it either. So, as a writer, Claremont was charged with keeping readers interested in an on-going narrative that spanned well over a decade. Occasionally, the writer would try to keep things fresh, and Fall of the Mutants represents just such an attempt. Trying to transition his team from one status quo to another, you have to give the writer credit for pitting the team against an enemy who is (effectively) God, even if it does make this chapter in his on-going saga the equivalent of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

United we fall…

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Matt Fraction’s Run on The Invincible Iron Man – Vol. 2 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Today, I’m focusing on one in particular, Iron Man.

Read our review of The Avengers here.

In many ways, Matt Fractions’ Invincible Iron Man run feels like a spiritual counterpart to Ed Brubaker’s celebrated Captain America tenure. Of course, there’s similar thematic ground covered by the character arcs, with both leads dealing with the fallout from Marvel’s crossover-driven continuity, but there’s something more fundamental in the style and goals of the works. Indeed, both read better in big chunks, with each of the “acts” in Brubaker’s Captain America saga conveniently broken down and released in their own omnibus collections (his opening Captain America run, The Death of Captain America and Captain America Lives!). I can’t help up feel like perhaps Matt Fraction drew the short straw when it comes to collected editions, with the release of his material dictated by Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, as the two hardcovers seem strangely structured, creating a second volume which seems to contain the end of one act and the start of another.

It's got a lot of heart...

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