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Non-Review Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a hot mess.

It is fun, witty and fast-moving. However, it is also disjointed, uneven and awkward. Age of Ultron is a big and bombastic summer blockbuster, but it feels like Marvel learned very little from The Avengers. Rather than simply taking what worked in the first film, it often seems like Age of Ultron doubles down on every part of its predecessor. There’s more action, there’s higher stakes, there’s bigger conflict, there’s more Tony, there’s even less of an idea what to do with Thor, there’s more continuity.

"Hey, at least I beat the Terminator prequel to cinemas, right?"

“Hey, at least I beat the Terminator prequel to cinemas, right?”

“More” seems to the be the word here. Age of Ultron is bigger than its predecessor in just about every way. The film boasts an ensemble so large that it threatens to collapse under its own weight – a fact perhaps wryly acknowledged by the genocidal robot’s evil plan at the climax. While it is nice to have more diversity in the cast – The Avengers are no longer a bunch of white guys and their token female colleague – it does seem like Age of Ultron strains and groans under all that Joss Whedon and Marvel heap upon it.

Bigger is not always better.

You know, "pull Thor's hammer" is probably not a family friendly party game...

You know, “pull Thor’s hammer” is probably not a family friendly party game…

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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and Ron Garney’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – Civil War (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Man is a pretty important character in the whole Civil War event. Indeed, he’s probably the event’s third most important character – aside from Captain America and Iron Man. So it makes sense that J. Michael Straczynsi’s extended run on The Amazing Spider-Man would stop and engage with the massive crossover spanning the entire Marvel Universe. And, from a logistical “structuring a comic book crossover tie-in so it makes any sense to a reader picking up the book” point of view, Straczynski does a great job. You can read The Amazing Spider-Man without needing to even pick up the Civil War miniseries.

However, as a piece of writing on its own merits, Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man tie-in is a mess. Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run has been collecting trouble aspects for quite some time, particularly when Straczynski seemed to brush up against the editorial demands for the book. Sins Past was perhaps the most obvious example, but with Civil War the comic entered a phase where it was pretty much an editorial means to an end. Everything from this point on was pushing towards One More Day, an event that would wipe decades of continuity from the title. (Including Straczynski’s run.)

Civil War really gets the ball rolling on these sweeping editorially-mandated changes, but that’s not the only problem with the story arc. Given Spider-Man’s importance to Civil War, and his role as defector from one side to the other, it seems like Spider-Man would really be the perfect lens through which Straczynski could explore the issue. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear upon which side of the issue Straczynski comes down.

A tangled web...

A tangled web…

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Charles & Daniel Knauf’s Run on Iron Man – 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.

You really have to feel sorry for the father-son team of Charles and Daniel Knauf for their work on Iron Man. Picking up the book after the fantastic introductory Extremis arc by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov, the duo quickly found the character’s direction swept up in the maelstrom of Marvel’s event-driven larger universe. Mark Millar’s mammoth superhero crossover Civil War did its best to turn Tony Stark into a supervillain, a fascist in a suit of armour presiding over internment without trial, cloning of gods and the use of psychopathic villains to hunt down his former friends.

The duo do their best to try to deal with the obvious problems that this approach generates for an on-going Iron Man book, managing a fairly concise two-issue tie-in that tries its best to offer a defense for the characterisation of Tony Stark during the crossover.

On top of the world...

On top of the world…

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Non-Review Review: Iron Man 3

Where do you go after The Avengers? Marvel brought together four separate superhero franchises to produce one mega-blockbuster last summer, producing the most successful film of 2012 and one of the most lucrative films in the history of the medium. It’s a tough act to follow. If Iron Man 3 is any indication, it seems like Disney and Marvel understand how they want to progress from here. Shrewdly deciding not to compete with The Avengers on scale, Iron Man 3 is instead a character-driven action thriller specifically tailored for the character of Tony Stark, with writer and director Shane Black very clearly having his own idea for the hero who first launched Marvel’s shared universe.

While Iron Man 3 isn’t quite perfect, it’s a solid superhero blockbuster, and perhaps second only to Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor as the best superhero film produced by Marvel Studios.

Who da Iron Man?

Who da Iron Man?

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Earth X (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

“Your kind does love to rewrite history, Richards,” the Watcher observes towards the end of Earth X, after we get an introduction and brief recap of the life of Tony Stark. Almost every issue of the collection opens with a review of an iconic Marvel character’s back story, as writer Jim Krueger and plotter Alex Ross attempt to tie the tapestry of the Marvel universe together in some way. It turns out that everything a character underwent wasn’t just their own personal development, but part of a broader tapestry of history within the Marvel universe. No character evolution, it seems, happens in isolation. Everything is interconnected, even if we (or the writers or the characters) never realised it at the time.

Earth X is really just an attempt to tie most of the Marvel universe up in one gigantic knot, to connect everything to everything else. In a way, published in 1999, it seems to foreshadow the current era of Marvel publishing, where absolutely everything within in the shared universe must somehow be connected to something else. Avengers vs. X-Men, for example, would connect the Phoenix from the X-Men to the Iron Fist mythology. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men connected the Weapon X project to the development of Captain America. The X-Men and the Avengers must be united as part of Uncanny Avengers.

In many ways, Earth X reads more interestingly as a treatise than as a comic story. It’s far stronger as a thought-experiment than an actual narrative. It’s more fun on purely technical level, watching Jim Krueger and Alex Cross connect all those dots, than it is as an adventure in its own right.

Stellar...

Stellar…

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Non-Review Review: Iron Man 3

Where do you go after The Avengers? Marvel brought together four separate superhero franchises to produce one mega-blockbuster last summer, producing the most successful film of 2012 and one of the most lucrative films in the history of the medium. It’s a tough act to follow. If Iron Man 3 is any indication, it seems like Disney and Marvel understand how they want to progress from here. Shrewdly deciding not to compete with The Avengers on scale, Iron Man 3 is instead a character-driven action thriller specifically tailored for the character of Tony Stark, with writer and director Shane Black very clearly having his own idea for the hero who first launched Marvel’s shared universe.

While Iron Man 3 isn’t quite perfect, it’s a solid superhero blockbuster, and perhaps second only to Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor as the best superhero film produced by Marvel Studios.

Who da Iron Man?

Who da Iron Man?

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Stan Lee & Gene Colan’s Iron Man – The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

The second omnibus contains both the tail end of Stan Lee run on Tales of Suspense and the Archie Goodwin run on The Invincible Iron Man. To make matters easier, I’ve split the review in half. This half covers the end of Stan Lee’s Iron Man.

And so we come to the end of Stan Lee’s work on the character of Iron Man as part of the Tales of Suspense magazine. This part of the run is consistently illustrated by the wonderful Gene Colan, who is among my favourite artists of the era, and Colan’s pencils do a lot to give the tail-end of Lee’s work with Tony Stark a bit of weight and gravitas. Because, as we reach the end of the character’s time as one-half of Tales of Suspense, it’s hard to argue that Lee still hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to do with Iron Man as a character. While Tony Stark’s teething problems are nowhere near as severe as those of The Incredible Hulk, it still feels like the character isn’t gelling nearly as well as he should.

If you can't stand the heat...

If you can’t stand the heat…

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