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Avengers: Season One by Peter David et al (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!

What exactly is the point of Marvel’s Season One initiative? Is it to update the origins of classic superheroes to make them accessible to modern and casual audiences? Is it to re-tell familiar stories just with modern touches like Facebook and iPhone references? Is it to dance between the rain drops and package an adventure from the early days of our heroes’ careers without disrupting established continuity? Is it an attempt to reach beyond the core comic book audience? Is it an attempt to package some material for feature film adaptation?

It’ hard to know. Marvel has made some nods towards accessibility in recent years, but all too often these feel more like sales gimmicks than genuine attempts to court new readers. Written by comic book superstar (and successful novelist in his own right) Peter David, Avengers: Season One should be something of a slam dunk. It’s a book featuring characters from a multi-billion dollar movie franchise, in a stand-alone graphic novel, with a slew of great writers and untethered to serialised long-form storytelling.

Unfortunately, Avengers: Season One winds up feeling like a mess.

Here come the heroes...

Here come the heroes…

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Non-Review Review: Thor – The Dark World

Thor was a gem. I’d argue it remains the best of the Marvel Studios films, expertly and enthusiastically embracing the heightened melodrama of comic book storytelling and boiling it down to faux Shakespearean elegance. With Kenneth Branagh directing and a fantastic cast, the film hit on a lot of the old-fashioned comic book spectacle. Yes, it was sheer nonsense, but there’s something surprisingly affecting about hearing Anthony Hopkins intone Stan Lee’s decidedly corny dialogue. This is sheer unadulterated pop, filtered down and distilled.

A lot of that carries over to Thor: The Dark World. “Some believe that before the universe, there was nothing,” Hopkins’ Odin assured us in the trailer, in a narration omitted from the film. “They’re wrong. There was darkness…” Sure, physicists and scientist might weep at the suggestion, but Hopkins is able to imbue the ridiculous line with a surreal gravitas. “I like the way you explain things,” Jane tells Thor at one point, and the British accents lend the goofiness a strangely convincing air.

It doesn’t make any sense, and it’ll hurt your head too much if you think about it, but that’s entirely the point. This is a movie about a Norse god with an English accent and flying hammer.

It's... wait for it... hammer time!

It’s… wait for it… hammer time!

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a very competent production. It looks lavish. It connects the dots. It reminds the audience that it’s connected to a string of blockbuster movies without being pushy about it. It introduces a diverse ensemble. It sets up long-running mysteries and story arcs. It’s a tight and focused, and controlled piece of television.

Perhaps too controlled. There’s something oddly restrained and oddly refined about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., feeling a little smoother and a little more polished than a pilot really should. There’s not a hair out of place, but only because everything has been so meticulously styled. This isn’t a bad thing – the pilot plays remarkably well – but it just feels a bit limp, a bit lifeless.

It’s as if we’ve tuned into a Life Model Decoy of a Joss Whedon show.

Phil us in...

Phil us in…

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Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s Thor – The Might Thor 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 am a massive fan of The Mighty Thor. There’s just something so clever and playful about the idea of a classic Norse deity reimagined as a Marvel superhero, a self-aware take on the whole “modern myth” approach to American comic book storytelling that it’s hard not to love. Indeed, I would rank portions of Lee and Kirby’s work on Thor among the best of their output from the Silver Age, a truly epic large-scale epic fantasy narrative that isn’t anchored or tethered to any limitations beyond the imaginations of those working on it.

While The Fantastic Four is a lot more consistent and a lot more important in the grand scheme of comic book history, Thor is a bit rockier. It took Lee and Kirby a considerable amount of time to find their creative voice on Thor – a difficulty compounded by the fact that heavy work loads on other Marvel often forced the duo to delegate the early issues of the book to other writers and artists. As a result, this mammoth tome of Thor serves more as a learning curve, building towards a point where the duo will have figured out quite how to tell compelling and exciting stories featuring the God of Thunders.

Taking the hammer for a spin...

Taking the hammer for a spin…

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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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Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye (Review)

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.

Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye is pretty much a companion piece to Jonathan Hickman’s Ultimate Comics: Ultimates run. Unlike other miniseries like Ultimate Comics: Thor or Ultimate Comics: Captain America, Hawkeye isn’t designed to be read on its own. It is clearly intended as a story to be read in parallel with Hickman’s on-going Ultimates narrative, unfolding at the same time alongside that particular story. As such, it’s a weird miniseries to read on its own terms, doing a rather excellent job of fleshing out the global scale of Hickman’s Ultimates work, but never really working on its own terms.

Broken arrow...

Broken arrow…

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