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Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis, Mike McKone & Jason Keith (Review)

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!

Warren Ellis is one of the great comic book writers. Ellis works in a bombastic larger-than-life style that is never too beholden to the current continuity of whatever company for which he is currently working and which remains accessible to just about anybody who might want to pick it. His Extremis remains the perfect introduction to Iron Man, while Ultimate Human is the most syner-tastic marketing tie-in ever written, its release coinciding with that of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.

At the same time, Ellis’ work-for-hire can occasionally feel a little reigned in, a little too relaxed and too casual – lacking the energy and enthusiasm of his stronger work. Sadly, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a book that never quite measures up to its potential. An original graphic novel written by Ellis and illustrated by Mike McKone, Endless Wartime has a wealth of clever ideas, but never manages to get too excited about any of them.

Some men just want to watch the world...

Some men just want to watch the world…

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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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Captain America: The New Deal (Review/Retrospective)

Oh, God — How could this happen here?

– Steve Rogers, Captain America #1

It seemed inevitable that Captain America would have to respond to September 11th. After all, the terrorist atrocities were an attack on the American way of life, and the iconic superhero was perhaps the hero best equipped to explore the scars left by the still-recent attacks upon the American psyche, much as his Secret Empire plot allowed him to respond to the Watergate Scandal. Unfortunately, John Ney Rieber’s work on the character is – while well-intentioned – clumsy, awkward, groan-inducing and cliché-ridden. Even the fantastic artwork of John Cassaday cannot salvage the run from its own tired and trite pseudo-philosophical ramblings.

Subtle.

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Captain America Lives! Omnibus (Review)

In celebration of the 4th of July and the release of Captain America: The First Avenger this month, we’re jumping into Marvel’s comic book alternate history and taking a look at the star-spangled avenger every Wednesday this month.

I have to say, I am genuinely quite pleased with how they’ve been chunking up Ed Brubaker’s well-loved run on Captain America for these oversized omnibus editions. Each of the three omnibus editions – Captain America, The Death of Captain America and, now, Captain America Lives! – represent an act in his over-arching story, with the status quo continually changing and shifting. The first set of issues closed with the assassination of Steve Rogers, while the second set saw Bucky Barnes assuming the mantle in Steve’s absence and defeating the Red Skull. So the third collection returns Steve Rogers to the Marvel Universe. Does it make me a bad person if I kinda don’t want the original character back so soon?

Stars and stripes...

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Ultimate Comics: Captain America (Review/Retrospective)

In celebration of the 4th of July and the release of Captain America: The First Avenger later this month, we’re jumping into Marvel’s comic book alternate history and taking a look at the star-spangled avenger every Wednesday this month.

I have a certain fondness for Jason Aaron. He’s a writer who has fantastic success in taking the more hardcore elements of the Marvel Universe and making them work. His Ghost Rider is acclaimed as one of the best runs ever on the character, while his Wolverine is considered some of the greatest work on the title in quite some time. Even his Punisher MAX run has enjoyed considerable success, despite following in the footsteps of the defining Garth Ennis run. So I was initially extremely excited when Aaron was given the job of writing the Ultimate Comics: Captain America miniseries. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with his work here. It’s still competent and engaging, but it lacks to sort of energy and focus that one associates with the writer.

Apocalypse... Now?

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Is The World Ready for a Black Captain America?

Apparently the casting of Captain America: The First Avenger is around the corner. We’ve had confirmation of several story details (I’ll probably come back to those later in the week) and confirmation of the fact that The Red Skull will be the baddie. Which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, since he is the arch-foe in a rogues gallery which isn’t exactly brimming with iconic villains. I’ve been following discussions about the casting on-line for sometime now, and something has really surprised me when Will Smith’s name came up in connection with the role: apparently the internet nerds are not ready for a black Captain America.

Of course it has been done...

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