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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. 1-2 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s easy to forget just how iconoclastic that early parts of the new millennium were at Marvel. The comic company was in the midst of recovering from its bankrupcy, and was going throw a massive creative shake-up. Many would argue that the late nineties represented the company’s creative nadir, and there was a very definite sense of change in the air. Some of that change involved a radical restructuring of core concepts, placing them in the hands of more radical creators.

The early part of the last decade gave us Peter Milligan on X-Force, Grant Morrison on New X-Men and Garth Ennis on Marvel Knights: Punisher. It also saw a number of big-name creators working on these characters. Kevin Smith wrote the introductory arc of the new Daredevil book. While J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man has a controversial and divisive legacy, it was a product of those times. While it was flawed even in its early days, it’s still a bold re-working of an iconic comic book mythos.

King of the swingers…

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Joe the Barbarian: The Deluxe Edition (Review)

December is “Grant Morrison month” here at the m0vie blog, as we take the month to consider and reflect on one of the most critically acclaimed (and polarising) authors working in the medium.

Ultimus Alpha tells it how it is, Kid. This fairtale’s on a one-way trip to Hell.

Joe the Barbarian isn’t Grant Morrison at his creative peak. It isn’t going to redefine the medium, or become an enduring classic for the ages. If it features on college reading lists, I suspect it will be sorted with the “optional” texts somewhere below the “key” Morrisonian works. That doesn’t mean that Joe the Barbarian is bad or anything nearly as drastic. It’s a nice little fairytale fantasy story, one that feels like Morrison paying homage to a bizarre mix of Cabaret and The Lord of the Rings. There’s a lot here to enjoy, but there’s nothing that’ll really knock anybody’s socks off.

Swordplay...

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Mark Waid’s Run on the Fantastic Four – Vol. 1-3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

The Fantastic Four helped launch Marvel to publishing greatness over the 100+ issues drafted by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but they’ve seldom occupied a prominent place in their publishing line-up since that dramatic introduction. Sure, the title earned a place as one of the three Ultimate on-going titles (at least before Ultimatum) and sure, there were occasionally hugely successful and iconic runs like that of John Byrne, but these were the exception rather than the rule. The title never really reached a stage like the X-Men, Spider-Man or even Avengers books (in modern Marvel), where they were clearly the title to watch. While I’m not entirely convinced he succeeded, Mark Waid is consciously trying to find a definitive approach to the title. And I respect that.

The adoring public…

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Peter Milligan & Michael Allred’s Run on X-Force – Famous, Mutant & Mortal (Review/Retrospective)

For the past few months, I’ve been taking a look at Marvel’s sometimes convoluted crossover chronology as a sort of lead-in to The Avengers, arriving in cinemas in 2012. Later on today, I’ll be reviewing Messiah War, a crossover between two of the series relaunched in the wake of Messiah Complex so I thought I might take a look back at some of the series leading into it beforehand. However, the two series – Cable and X-Force both have roots in the “darker and edgier” period of X-Men history known as the nineties. Driven by Rob Liefeld, the two series became by-words for ridiculous violence, convoluted storytelling, shallow characters and lots of guns. Lots of guns.

That is not the version of X-Force I’m going to look at today.

British writer Peter Milligan apparently laughed pretty hard when he was asked to write X-Force. However, the early part of the naughties was a different time at Marvel. Perhaps the financial collapse of the company in the nineties had made the company bolder, more willing to take creative chances. Perhaps they figured that, with Grant Morrison working on New X-Men, there wasn’t anything that much more radical that Peter Milligan could do. Either way, the author was granted incredible creative control and the chance to do something truly different. He took advantage of it, and produced one of the most fascinating comic books of the past decade.

At least he’s honest about it…

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House of M (Review/Retrospective)

This is the third in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s “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. Get an overview of what I’m trying to take a look at here.

The X-Men represent the oddball of mainstream superhero comic books. In a genre and medium dedicated offering a static setup – things never really change or resolve – the X-Men are built upon the very idea of evolution. The whole basis of the franchise is the pursuit of equality by the genetically distinct mutant population, the idea that they and mankind can grow together. It has even been frequently suggested that these super-powered individuals represent out future or our replacements. However, the only way to actually tell a story like that is to follow it through to its logical conclusion – to let the ball roll and to let the world change. It feels a little counterproductive for Charles Xavier and his students to still be fighting for the same rights as everyone else nearly fifty years on – it might even seem a little stale. Grant Morrison’s superb New X-Men run offered a solution of sorts – it gave us a world where humanity would be extinct in a couple of generations and showed the growth and relationship between human and mutant subculture. Gone was the minority struggling against an oppressive majority – a more complex example of race relations had come into play with “mutant music” and “mutant slang” making their impression on the youth, amid a silent and almost invisible middle-class backlash. This was an ingenious approach which demonstrated the relevance of the franchise. Unfortunately, Marvel were not quite pleased with this – some people even, ridiculously, accused Morrison of telling all the remaining X-Men stories – and decided to set things right. They did that through House of M.

Dive in...

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Astonishing X-Men Omnibus by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday

Why did I have to follow Grant Morrison?

– Joss Whedon’s email correspondence with Marvel

What with all that talk of Whedon directing The Avengers on the big screen, I decided it was worth checking out his run on one of the most enduring superhero teams of all time.

Is this a breakout hit?

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New X-Men Omnibus by Grant Morrison (Review/Retrospective)

Every once in a while a creator lands a run on a mainstream comic which suits them to a ‘t’. There’s Alan Moore’s tenure on Swamp Thing and Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil, for example. Sure, both writers did great work with other characters on a stand-alone basis (notably Superman and Batman respectively), but these were generally individual arcs rather than directing three or four years of the characters’ stories. Having read New X-Men, I can confirm that Grant Morrison has found his own such series.

Is there beauty in the beast?

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