Well, it’s kind of a mixed bag with this week’s Marvel releases. But let’s not forget, this is our Top 5 because these are the books we just HAD to talk about, not necessarily the books that we think are the best, right? RIGHT? Anyway, we go from the superb with Avenging Spider-Man #18 and Thor: God of Thunder #6, the darn good with Fantastic Four #5, and the downright disappointing with Secret Avengers #2 and Age of Ultron #2.
Avenging Spider-Man #18
Writer: Christopher Yost
Artist: Marco Chechetto
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
If you’ve been reading my reviews here on Den of Geek long enough, you’ll know that I sure do love a self-contained comic book. Why, I remember the days when you could plunk down 75 cents and get twenty-four pages of story that had a beginning, middle, AND an end, right there between two covers. There was no such animal as “waiting for the trade.” Sure, these days had their disadvantages, as we had to walk barefoot through the snow for MILES to get to ye olde trading post that sold comics, and it was uphill both ways, but we managed…
(ahem) As usual, I digress. Anyway, Avenging Spider-Man #18 is a proper, old-fashioned self-contained comic story. It’s as simple as they come. But it would seem that simplicity in comic storytelling these days is deceptive. I can name and shame a number of high-profile, event writers who would have gotten four issues out of what Yost and Chechetto pull off in about twenty pages here. Wanna know what happens? Electro wants to get back at Thor for giving him a whupping a little while back, Thor is an arrogant ass and doesn’t think Electro poses a threat to him, Spider-Man thinks otherwise and helps out during the inevitable slugfest. This is as basic a superhero story as you can possibly tell, but it’s that old-fashioned Bronze Age simplicity that makes it so great in my eyes.
You know what else is great about, not just this issue, but Avenging Spider-Man in general, lately? It seems like they’re slowly moving away from constantly beating the reader over the head about the new status quo in the Spider-Man universe, while also subtly advancing the whole Superior Spider-Man story. The attitude in Avenging Spider-Man #18 seems to be: this IS Spider-Man now, we don’t have to explain it anymore, you’re either on board or you aren’t, and we’re done talking about it, so just let us tell the darn story. It works, and in subtle ways (namely how this version of Spider-Man deals with confronting some of his former, shall we say, co-workers), it’s building on the work Dan Slott is doing over in Superior Spider-Man.
A tight plot is one thing, but some nice pencils are something else entirely. I think it’s only a matter of time before Marco Checchetto gets some real high-profile assignments (not that a Spidey book isn’t high profile, but you know what I mean), as the guy can tell a story and he does it with style. Avenging Spider-Man #18 isn’t gonna change the world, and it isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s about as good as your basic superhero beat ‘em up stories get. If you’re reading Superior Spider-Man but not Avenging, you’ve been missing out on some fun, self-contained team-up stories. What are you waiting for? Get reading!
Review by: Mike Cecchini
Thor: God of Thunder #6
“What the Gods Have Wrought…”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Penciler: Butch Guice
Inker: Tom Palmer
Colorist: Ive Svorcina
It’s like a Slayer concert, but with Jack Kirby on bass. One would imagine that any new writer on Thor would be tempted to cover the classics. To do his own take on Loki, or Hela, or Surtur, or the Destroyer, all of whom are fantastic characters with rich histories and established conflicts that practically write themselves. But Mr. Jason Aaron does not take the path of least resistance. Oh no, Aaron, maniac that he is, decides to invent his own epic mythos and add to the layers of history already established by greats like Jack Kirby, Walt Simonson, and Stan Lee. So pop in some Manowar or Therion, and grab yourself this issue, where Aaron reveals the origin of Gorr, the God Butcher.
Gorr’s story is as timeless as it is pitiful. Gorr was a Job-like alien, forced to suffer tragedy after tragedy, while his people told him his loses were the will of the gods. As he loses his mother, his father, his wife, his children, and finally the faith of his people, each loss is punctuated by the fact that he is being told the gods forged his pain. This is a classic tale of harsh reality and anger versus theology and faith, where pain wins. This is the Marvel Universe, where gods and mortals often dwell side by side, and when two Kirby-esque god falls from the sky locked in battle, Gorr uses the god’s weapons to seek his revenge upon the metaphysical beings that choose to toy in the affairs of mortals.
The story is structured like a classic tragedy that would feel right at home on a Greek stage, but the whole thing unfolds on the stage of the Marvel Universe. Now, audiences understand the hatred that drives Thor’s newest adversary, a villain who Thor will encounter throughout the millennia of his heroic life. Like all great villains, Gorr’s pain and motivations are relatable. He is a villain of the classic Marvel mold, akin to Dr. Doom, Magneto, and Loki, where the character’s evil is combined human pain.
Guice’s artwork adds to the grand scale of the drama, as he brings the gritty realism of a Neal Adams and combines it with dynamism of a Jack Kirby. Yeah, it’s that good. This is a Thor comic that is worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Kirby and Simonson. It has an epic feel, but without retreading ground covered before. If Marvel films is looking for a villain for Thor’s eventual third installment, they need look no farther than Gorr. This is the stuff of myth and legends, and would translate into any medium as one badass ride.
Review by: Marc Buxton
Fantastic Four #5
“I Killed Julius Caesar”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Mark Farmer
Colorist: Paul Mounts
It’s the Ides of March, and you know what that means! Green beer! Betting on college basketball! Heavy wet snow and cold windy days that never end! Wait…no. The Richards family takes a detour from their ongoing mission to find out what’s eating Reed’s unstable molecules, and they head back to Rome in 44 A.D. on, well, the 15th of March, so that the kids can see some real history for themselves! A little morbid, I guess, but it works!
In the past, I’ve compared the structure of Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four to episodes of Star Trek. While there’s a definite thread running through this book (in the form of Reed’s mysterious illness), each issue is self-contained, as the Fantastic Four visits another corner of the universe, where hilarity ensues. No, seriously: hilarity. I dare you not to get a laugh out of the first page of this comic, and the third panel in particular. It’s wonderful.
Fantastic Four #5 isn’t the best issue of the series, unfortunately. It’s an interesting concept, with a couple of great reveals. After all, isn’t it a little weird when Julius Caesar starts quoting Shakespeare? That should raise a red flag or two. If I say too much more, it’ll ruin the surprises, and what is a very clever, although somewhat rushed, Fantastic Four tale. However, this self-contained story will have some repercussions down the road, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that right now!
As usual, Mark Bagley is turning in some quality work. I absolutely love the way he draws the Thing, and while this issue is short on action, when we DO get it, it’s pretty awesome. Matt Fraction continues to build on these characters while also hitting every note that’s made them endure for fifty years. Some writers have tried to reinvent the Fantastic Four, but Fraction and Bagley know better. Instead, they’re just amplifying everything that makes them great. By getting them the heck away from the rest of the Marvel Universe, it helps remind readers why these characters stood out so much from the rest of the cape and cowl set when they first appeared on the scene.
Fantastic Four #5 is interesting, but felt a little inconsequential. Then again, given the way things are going in this title, this will probably turn out to contain the central events of the whole series and I’ll be left looking foolish. Regardless, This is a thoroughly enjoyable comic!
Review by: Mike Cecchini
Secret Avengers #2
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Luke Ross
Color Artist: Matthew Wilson
Sadly, there was nothing too spectacular in this relatively vanilla issue of Secret Avengers from the writer/artist combo of Nick Spencer and Luke Ross. While I dig Ross’ pencils very much and the return of Taskmaster was welcome, the issue never really gets off the ground for me. For my tastes, the issue jumps around just a bit too much. It opens with the A.I.M. soldiers Scientist Supreme Andrew Forson gained ultimate power via some type of device of space and time. Upon success using the machine, the remaining A.I.M. soldiers all shoot themselves in the head knowing that their deaths mean something. Upon leaving what is left of the A.I.M. compound, the Supreme Leader heads for St. Petersburg to begin his mission as head of the New High Council of A.I.M.
In the nation of Bagalia, Nick Fury and Crossfire (cool to see him, by the way) are arguing over whether or not to release Taskmaster from his high-tech prison cell. Crossfire pulls a gun on Fury but is able to teleport with Taskmaster to a major battle where Hawkeye, Coulson, Black Widow & Mockingbird are fighting. The storytelling feels muddled and there really is no narrative to speak of which bugs the hell out of me. Taskmaster meets with Coulson and explains the situation; that he is going to the A.I.M. High Council’s Minister of Defense and S.H.I.E.L.D’s man on the inside.
It’s always fun to see Taskmaster as he is just this weird, likable character especially when he was an instructor at the Avengers Academy some years back. Putting him with the likes of the High Council of A.I.M. is a smart move for Secret Avengers but it is the overall missions that bother me. There just doesn’t feel like anything is at stake for any of the characters and it’s like we’re going through the motions that we’ve seen a hundred times before: that is to say a great big terror organization that is threatening the world with a power far beyond something that human’s should wield.
Review by: Jarrett Kruse
Age of Ultron #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Bryan Hitch
Inker: Paul Neary
Colorist: Paul Mounts
So, in this first issue of Age of Ultron, lots is left to the reader’s imagination. Why is San Francisco a huge disaster area? How come the superheroes are on the run? How long has this been going on? When exactly did Skynet release the scourge of the Terminat…erm…I mean, when did Ultron and his army of Ultrons return and take over? I guess these questions will be answered in the second issue. Wait…what? This IS the second issue of Age of Ultron? hoo-boy…
I’m sorry folks, but “event fatigue” doesn’t even begin to cover my state of mind. DC has done quite well without one for a year and a half now, I managed to avoid most of Avengers vs. X-Men, and the fact that the current slate of Marvel NOW! books have been operating on such conflicting timelines to one another as to make a crossover event seem impractical has been a great comfort to me. But it’s not just events that I’m tired of. Its alternate-reality/timeline events. Like this one. Never mind “Age of Apocalypse” what about “House of M?” Didn’t Bendis just give us one of these reality-warping “everything is DIFFERENT” events not all that long ago? Shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations on this stuff?
I’m trying really hard to figure out how Age of Ultron #2 advances the plot from the first issue. Both comics open with multiple establishing pages, which establish little other than the fact that Hitch and Neary can draw some pretty detailed (although remarkably static) pictures, the Ultrons are wiping out humans, and the heroes of the Marvel Universe are on the run…and Captain America is pouting in the corner. After a second issue of Age of Ultron, not only don’t I know what’s going on, I’m afraid I don’t care.
I love Brian Michael Bendis. When the guy is on, he’s on fire. Powers is one of the greatest series I’ve ever read. His work on Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil is beyond compare. I’ll never forget the first time I read Goldfish. But for some reason, whenever it’s time to do stuff with a huge cast in the main Marvel Universe, he just doesn’t connect. Age of Ultron was promised a long time ago, so I wonder if this just feels so disconnected because it was supposed to be part of something that was seeded in his Avengers books. But as it stands, two issues in, I feel like I’ve stumbled into the third act of something, and the creative team has no interest in meeting me even halfway.
Review by: Mike Cecchini