I've been falling short on the reviews lately with real life and work related nonsense eating up a lot of my free time. Not wanting to skip out on all the reviews I failed to get out last week (and one or two from the week before), I've opted to throw them together in this mash-up review post. They're a little late, but hopefully still relevant for everyone. Hit the jump for last week's reviews.
REALM OF KINGS #1
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Leonardo Manco and Mahmud Asrar
Realm of Kings #1 went a long way to dispelling any fears of this Initiative/Dark Reign-like branding of the next Marvel cosmic storyline fizzling out. It was a done-in-one story, as befits a one-shot like this, that tells the tale of Quasar heading into the Fault to check out just what the heck it is on a fact finding mission.
Of course, this being a comic, the fact finding mission quickly goes south as Quasar finds himself pulled into an alternate reality on the other side of the Fault, an alternate reality unlike our own and one that somehow took the energy based form of Quasar and returned it to a physical body again.
Quasar's narrative, along with the ending and Cthulhu theme of this universe, made this relatively standard 'evil alternate universe' story work and added some nice twists to characters outside of the generic 'evil nazi' or other evil cliche evil version of a character. A few examples of noteworthy scenes would be Quasar's reaction at to the monster attacking him and jubilation over the Avengers of this world helping him to take it down only to find out it is actually the Hulk and, finally, the disguest and repulsion over seeing, and being unable to do anything to stop, Iron Man from ripping out Bruce Banner's heart to stop the threat. Another is Quasar's escape where he sees how massive the infestation of the Cthulhu-like presence has on this universe and his likening of it to a cancer trying to metastasis to our universe.
The "evil" Scarlet Witch was another nice addition to this. It helped show just what kind of influence the evil in this universe has and how Scarlet Witch, and likely many others, can't really fight back against it, even if they do not agree with it.
The only negative I really had with the issue is that the implied threat of this universe destroying Cthulhu-like evil is that we never really get a clear idea of what it is or, in actuality, anything about it other than that the residents of this alternate Earth were completely overtaken and subverted by it and that it may or may not be coming to our universe. There's no indication of how it spreads or what kind of entity or entities it is or anything other than that final page showing Quasar "infected" by it. However, my impression was that Quasar overlapped his energy form on the alternate reality Quasar's body and they now share the same space. Time will tell on that.
Verdict - Buy It. It's a creepy tale unlike anything we've seen from the current cosmic titles and it makes for a great change of pace. The focus on Quasar was a brilliant move and he made for a great point of view character. While there are many questions regarding Realm of Kings, the Fault and, now, this alternate universe, I find myself even more excited about the future of the Marvel cosmic universe.
REALM OF KINGS: INHUMANS #1
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Pablo Raimondi
Unlike Realm of Kings #1, which dropped at the same time as this Inhumans issue, I got everything I expected from this issue and more. It is the perfect follow-up to the end of War of Kings in that it shows the fallout of the war, Black Bolts' "death", the effects all of this had on the Inhumans and Kree alike as well as the continued upheaval and attempts of the Inhumans to secure their rule in the Kree Empire.
What really makes this issue work is the character driven aspects of it. There was the prerequisite fight sequence so as to not bore readers, but even that served a purpose in showing that the Kree people have taking a liking to their war heroes and saviours, the Inhumans, and, in particular, the brash and public bravado of Gorgon, who, while has no designs for the throne, Karnak points out to Medusa the people would be in favour of him as a replacement for Black Bolt.
Speaking of Medusa, she seems to be the focus of this miniseries as we learn a great deal about her state of mind and how she is handling Black Bolts' death. Much like how Crystal had an expanded role in War of Kings, Medusa seems to be receiving the same treatment in this opening issue. Her monologue on how she is happy that the Kree love the Inhumans because she hates what they are doing was a great scene. Her reactions to Karnak's advice and speculation on the future of the throne was also a welcome scene as it shows she is up to the task of stewerting the Inhuman Queenship until Black Bolts's and her son is old enough to rule.
This led to a scene with Maximus, the formerly mad and brother to Black Bolt. He's had many attempts at taking over as king and, when asked by Medusa's son why he doesn't play king any more, he only replies that this is a game some adults still like to play, implying he is not so fond of his place as the mad scientist and lackey he has been playing of late. I rather liked the dynamic of him not being the insane brother after the throne anymore, as that is a story that seems to get repeated in every other Inhumans tale, but it was a well written scene that does not directly state that is his intention, but heavily implies it. Hopefully, this is not the case, but I trust Abnett and Lanning can at least bring something new to that story if they go in that direction.
Verdict - Buy It. Very entertaining Inhumans story that is more of a direct follow-up to War of Kings than any other Realm of Kings tie-in thus far. While it's not the Inhumans ongoing series I wanted, it's the next best thing with this miniseries.
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Andy Clarke and Jose Villarubia
REBELS is a series I took a chance on when it launched, but gave up after the first issue before the promising and much talked about Starro the Conqueror story began. It's also a title that people have been begging us to give another shot and, as I was picking this issue up for the Blackest Night tie in, I was disappointed I did not get a chance to review it when it originally came out a few weeks back for the simple reason it was quite good and I regret not getting a chance to tell people about it when it came out.
The premise of the issue is that Adam Strange, after hearing the Flash's Black Lantern warning sent out in Blackest Night #3, has come to warn Vril Dox and the other resistence to Starro the Conqueror trapped within Vril's force field, which is keeping Starro trapped within a sector of space. It's a relatively simple setup that works well for those coming in off of Blackest Night, making it a very easy to read story for new readers to the title.
Helping with the new reader friendly story is the Black Lantern memory download opening sequence told by Vril's deceased wife, Stealth. It acts as a LEGION/REBELS primer (LEGION was the previous series from the 90's that starred Vril Dox) and recaps the key plot points required for new readers of this issue pertaining to Vril's and Stealth's past together. The conversations with Adam Strange help catch REBELS readers up with Blackest Night without being overbearing or requiring them to read Blackest Night either, making this a rather organic tie-in, unlike many of the others which seem to be tie-ins for the sake of increasing sales. This may also be helped by the fact REBELS is a cosmic book and should have been tied into Blackest Night just for the sake of consistency.
The best parts of this issue, coming from my vantage point as a new reader jumping in for the Blackest Night connection, are the parts that had nothing to do with REBELS. By this, I mean the parts dealing with Vril, how he reacts to the Black Lantern threat, his random insults about the Green Lantern Corps and, by issue's end, his joining the Sinestro Corps. I know of Brainiac-2 and its a great portrayal of him by Bedard, making me actually want to read more of his run on REBELS just for the Vril bits. However, the lengthy sequence with Starro's minions capturing Vril's son left a little to be desired. I wasn't familiar with the situation and felt a bit lost as to why they were running away from Vril, who seems to be the only one with his head on his shoulders, and why the cop-out on why Starro's men should spare the others and only take Vril's son rang hollow to me.
Verdict - Check It. Those were only small complaints for an otherwise great issue, but it is worth noting that the REBELS storyline took a backseat to the Blackest Night parts in the issue and, of the little I saw of it, the Starro storyline failed to impress me. I recall the recent REBELS Annual being praised quite a bit for its Starro reveals and backstory, so I may track that down before making a final judgement on whether to continue with REBELS post-Blackest Night or not, but the REBELS-centric bits of this issue didn't do enough to sell me on the book, though I did enjoy it as a Blackest Night tie-in. If you are looking for more Blackest Night, this is a good issue to check out.
SKY DOLL: DOLL’S FACTORY #1 (of 2)
Written by Barbara Canepa
Translated by CB Cebulski
Art by Alessandro Barbuci
Ryan and I mentioned Sky Doll: Doll's Factory in our previews a few weeks back and how we were unsure if we'd be reviewing it based on the belief that it would end up being what the solicit described - a simple sketch book "extras" type of feature instead of having any substantial new content.
In regards to this first issue, I can tell you that any doubts I had going in were washed away after reading the Birth of Noa original story included. It serves as an origin story of sorts for Noa, showing how the Miracolatore created her, her eventual escape and what led her to serving "God" as a doll at a car wash that the original series started with.
However, as this is only a short story, roughly 14 pages long, and moved through the story beats rather briskly, it lacked a lot of the subtleties and depth that the original work entailed. I'm not saying that this is a bad story or anything, just that it is straight forward in telling Noa's origin, going from point A to point B with little else.
Of note, I'd recommend reading this after the original series as I find it robs the opening and subsequent mystery behind Noa's origin of its impact.
All this brings me to the negatives of this issue. The most glaring of which is the price - $5.99 US. That's a tough pill to swallow for so little new content. Even the extras in the issue were lackluster, amounting to reprinting the first issue of Sky Doll in black and white. I was expecting a detailed sketch book with character designs, maybe some creator interviews (there's a one page oddly formatted Q&A type thing asking the creators their favourite songs, books, etc, but nothing substantial), discussions on the political and religious aspects of the story and so on, but there was nothing of the sort. Just that lengthy reprint of the first book and the new shorty story.
Verdict - Avoid It. The new content is fantastic and Sky Doll diehards will love it, but at $5.99, it's just not worth it for the majority of people. To be honest, the new content should have been in the trade and I'm not sure if I'll even buy the second part of Doll's Factory since it looks to be even less promising with no new content set to be included.
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Steven Sanders
SWORD is a title I had very little interest in when it was announced. Kieron Gillen, while a name I knew, had only his indie work on Phonogram and an enjoyable Beta Ray Bill miniseries to his name when this was announced. As SWORD had been poorly used everywhere but the original introduction in Astonishing X-Men, I just didn't see the point to giving it its own series.
To its credit, SWORD #1 goes a long way to redeeming the SWORD concept and selling me on the need for a book like this. While this is not a perfect issue and I still have some doubts about the long term sustainability of this book, I think this first issue hit a lot of the right notes and fills a niche in Marvel's line up that no other cosmic book is covering currently.
However, that's where some concern is levied. With so many ties to the X-titles, even being solicited with them, it suffers from the same problem things like X-Men: Kingbreaker and the other "cosmic" X-titles had - it wants to be a cosmic book, but is held back by the need or desire to appeal to X-fans at the same time. If the book is allowed to take these X-characters and do some new and exciting things with them then, yes, this could be a fantastic book. If it's constricted by the need to stick to the standard X-Men tropes and themes, as well as editorial mandates about characters like Beast or Lockjaw, then it's probably going to stagnate and fall into the same patterns that many X-titles do. Time will tell if it's an X-title trying to be a cosmic book or a cosmic book trying to be an X-title or something completely different, but I'm hoping Gillen is given the leeway to have fun with the concept and tell some unique and original tales without too much interferance.
Getting back to the issue at hand, there's a lot to like about this issue. The Brand and Beast relationship is a lot of fun to read, though seems 'softer' than the Joss Whedon versions of it. There's still the banter between them and I love how they play of each other, but it's a feeling that something is slightly off, but still close enough to be right at the same time.
Another interesting bit is the introduction of Peter Gyrich to the SWORD team. He's a character that can be annoying or an excellent 'love to hate character' for a book depending on how he's written. Often times, it's the former, but, with this issue, it's very much the latter. His position on the repatriation of all aliens currently reciding on Earth is a valid standpoint and something I could see happening in light of the Skrull Invasion, among other alien-based catastrophes. His personality also clashes well with Agent Brand's, offering a lot of promise for future encounters.
Which brings me to one problem I had with this issue - it gets caught up in trying to be a fast paced action drama with Brand being pulled in a million different directions at once while still having time to go off gung-ho on missions to stop random aliens. It passes up a lot of opportunities to explore the new cast of characters on the SWORD space station, known as the Peak, in favour of Brand flying by the seat of her pants.
For one example, she's off galavanting instead of at a key meeting where Gyrich is proposing the repatriation of aliens. Gyrich set up the excuse she needed to not be at the meeting, but it would have been great to see the two butt heads at that key meeting. There's also the new cast members, many of which go unnamed, such as the counciller speaking with Lockhead over his drinking habits or the prisoner in the maximum security cell, who has a Mr Rogers meets Hannibal Lecter quality to him.
I realize it is only the first issue and they want to engage readers without overloading them with characters and a dull "get to know everyone" story that many team or ensemble cast books seem to do for their first issues, but 'a day in the life of Agent Brand' as she deals with the seemingly endless diplomatic problems associated with being the cosmic branch of SHIELD/HAMMER may have been a better choice than having her off kicking ass and taking names. As it is, I was wondering if we're supposed to care about these other characters or if they'd even be recurring characters or if this is just a Beast and Brand book.
Verdict - Check It. There's a lot of potential for this series that I'm hoping comes through with subsequent issues, but, at this point in time, it's simply potential and goes unrealized. Tell us more about SWORD, a relatively new agency, and the people that work there. Give us an idea of what SWORD does besides having its director play Buck Rogers instead of being a desk jockey. Some action is eventually required, but we need some reasons to care about what happens and context behind it outside of just throwing people into these crazy adventures and explaining it later.