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Jonathan Hickman’s Run on Ultimate Comics: Ultimates (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.

There’s something to be said for keeping Marvel’s Ultimate Universe as a “do anything you want” sandbox for up-and-coming creators, a chance for writers and artists to demonstrate their ability to tell comic book stories without worrying too much about the status quo or putting everything back in something resembling the way they found it. After all, the Ultimate Universe provided a fertile starting point for creators like Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis and Brian K. Vaughn to demonstrate they could tell big bombastic superhero stories, with Millar and Bendis going on to radically shape  the mainstream Marvel continuity.

As such, Jonathan Hickman’s run on the awkwardly-titled Ultimate Comics: Ultimates feels like an audition. It’s very clearly a weird alternate-universe take on many of the ideas that he would carry over to his run on Avengers and New Avengers when he succeeded creator Brian Michael Bendis. Hickman’s Ultimates is bristling with big ideas, and an exciting willingness to tear down and build up without any hesitation. The only real problem is that it feels like a story sorely missing an ending.

Thor smash!

Thor smash!

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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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Secret War (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.” Yesterday and today we’re taking a look at the two Brian Michael Bendis events that kick-started the writer’s work on the franchise.

In many ways, Secret War feels like a companion piece to DC’s Identity Crisis crossover. Both miniseries essentially deconstructed the relatively simplistic nature of those superhero universes – daring to question what might happen if you approached these plot devices with a bit more cynicism. Bendis’ Secret War miniseries not only sets up the status quo and suggests the themes he would develop over the course of his New Avengers run, it also darkens the entire tone of the shared Marvel Universe. You can almost plot a straight line between Secret War and Siege, considering it one gigantic and messy saga adopting a cynical approach to the mechanics of this fictional world.

The war at home…

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Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Volume 2 (Review)

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.”

Written by Joe Casey, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, both volumes of it, can’t help but feel like an attempt to appease nostalgic fans, with a conscious throwback to simpler and more idealistic times, published while Mark Millar was deconstructing The Ultimates and Brian Michael Bendis was putting together the New Avengers. Both of those books represented something bold and new for a franchise that had been at the heart (but rarely the fore) of the Marvel Universe for decades, and both of which were undoubtedly controversial to older fans, offering a strange new direction for the series and its characters. Essentially an “untold” history of the team, drawing from classic published stories, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes feels like a bone given to those fans uncomfortable at the very notion of change.

Looking for the blessing of the Trinity...

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Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers – Siege (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.”

Read our review of The Avengers here.

Please, father… Let these heroes rise. Both Asgardian and mortal. Together. Empowered. Let them fight. Let them save us.

– Loki, Siege #4

And so, here we are. The culmination of more than five years of plotting in the Marvel Universe. Brian Michael Bendis has directed the Avengers franchise from Avengers Disassembled to Siege, crafting a post-modern exploration of what it is to be a superhero in a politically complex and morally ambiguous world. In doing so, for better or worse, Bendis has redefined the Avengers, with New Avengers just as “new” as the title promises. It’s somewhat fitting, then, that after years of introspection and exploration about when and how the characters in the Marvel Universe might be considered heroes, that it ends with an almost proto-typical superhero knock-down smash-up brawl fest.

Capping it all off...

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Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers – New Avengers Vol. 7 (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.”

Read our review of The Avengers here.

And so, this is it. The end of Brian Michael Bendis’ first run on New Avengers. And, to the writer’s credit, it actually feels like an ending – something you very rarely get in mainstream comics, particularly when the writer’s going to be producing another book the following month. While I’ve had more than a few issues with the individual chapters in Bendis’ run, I think his New Avengers holds together remarkably well when examined as one big story – because it is one big story. The issues are paragraph breaks in the arcs, which are themselves chapters in the unfolding epic Bendis was weaving through the heart of the Marvel Universe, a bold attempt to redefine “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”for the twenty-first century.

Happily ever after?

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Mighty Avengers: Dark Reign (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.”

Read our review of The Avengers here.

Dan Slott’s Mighty Avengers is so distinct from Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the second Avengers flagship book that it might as well have been a different title. Indeed, the name (and, arguably, the use of thought balloons) represent perhaps the only ties to the second major Avengers title. While still defined by it, the status quo has little to do with the aftermath of Civil War, and the lineup is markedly different. In a way, you could argue that Bendis and Slott had similar goals with the title: an attempt to tell more bombastic and traditional Avengers stories, with high stakes and a global focus, in contrast to the relatively “urban” feel of Bendis’ New Avengers. There’s no denying, however, that Slott handles the nostalgia and conventional superheroics with far more aplomb than his predecessor.

Not so Mighty...

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Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers – Dark Avengers (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.”

Dark Avengers actually reads quite well as a self-contained volume. It’s relatively short, running sixteen issues (fourteen of which are collected here, with the other two collected in Utopia) and an annual. It sits between two gigantic crossovers, Secret Invasion and Siege, so it isn’t as frequently derailed as Bendis’ New Avengers was (or even Mighty Avengers was). Instead, it feels like a nice little self-contained chapter in the epic superhero saga that Bendis has been writing for quite some time, dating back to the first issue of New Avengers, an exploration of the modern superhero myth in this cynic world so keen to deconstruct our idols in the wake of classics like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s a clever and succinct summary of the themes the author has been exploring, in a fun and dynamic sort of way.

Maybe it should be called “Moodily-lit Avengers”…

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. II (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

There’s a dream I have from time to time. And in the dream I don’t stop. I kill the soldiers and the hitmen, the extortioners and racketeers, the dark old &%^@s who send them out to fight– I hold the trigger down until they’re all gone–

But I don’t stop.

The innocents are just watching, like always. The slack jawed thousands, gazing at the beast. My family lie red and shredded in the grass. I face the crowd and bring the weapon to my shoulder. If my world ends, I tell them, so does yours.

The recoil starts and I wake up.

It’s  just a dream, I always tell myself. It’s just a dream.

It’s just a dream.

– Frank Castle, Up is Down and Black is White

You know, I’m not entirely sold on the format of Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX. It seems a strange thing to say, given how I’m slowly starting to appreciate what the writer is doing with the character, but I’m not convinced that the rigid six-issue structure that Ennis is adopting fits the character particularly well. Don’t worry, I know it’s a very strange and irrational complaint to have – partially because there’s so much else going on that merits discussion, and also because six-issue arcs have become the industry norm (because they fit the size of a trade paperback). That said, I think may have figured out why it bothers me so.

Gun play...

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Secret Invasion (Review/Retrospective)

This is the twelfth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s shared universe (particularly their “Avengers” franchise) over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity.

Well… that was anti-climactic.

Well, at least green and red go together...

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