Friday, April 30, 2010

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 04/28/10

Reviews took a little longer than I thought they would yesterday and by the time I'd finished them, it was time for Ryan to post his weekly reviews, so these got pushed back an extra day, so apologies for that.  I was already off for a while, so didn't want to start off with late posts and seem to have fallen behind already, ahaha.  

To make up for that, I've got a hearty helping of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for you this evening.  On tap are reviews of Amazing Spider-Man, Green Lantern Corps and a hearty helping of Jonathan Hickman with three of his titles, Fantastic Four, Secret Warriors and Siege: Secret Warriors.  Hit the jump for the full reviews.

Written by Roger Stern
Art by Lee Weeks

I was quite impressed with the first issue of this three part "Something Can Stop the Juggernaut" storyline from returning writer, Roger Stern.  It was set up as a sequel of sorts to the much beloved Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut story he also wrote back in the 80's, which many regard as one of the best Spider-Man stories ever written.  To have the sequel start out as well as it did had me in high spirits and looking forward to the follow-ups.  

So, how did the rest of the story turn out?  Hard to say.  It had some good parts, particularly in the second issue, and finished strong, but the majority of the third part, ASM #629, was dedicated to having the new Captain Universe monologue his origin, which was quite cliched and fairly laughable.  

Issue 628 was particularly noteworthy for the juxtaposition between it and the classic Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut story.  It featured Spider-Man leading the completely out of his league, power-wise, Captain Universe on a chase across New York as Spider-Man attempted to prevent him from killing the Juggernaut.  In the classic story, Spider-Man chased the unstoppable Juggernaut endlessly and everything he did failed to slow or impede the Juggernaut in any way.  Here, he was the one being chased by the unstoppable force.  It worked quite well and I really enjoyed it.

However, the conclusion, as previously stated, ended up with the prerequisite origin of Captain Universe and tells us why he's after Juggernaut.  Turns out, this new Captain was an office clerk back in during Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut and lost his job due to the fact the company couldn't maintain his salary while dealing with the ramifications of Juggernaut destroying their office.  He lost that job, could never get a new one, his girlfriend left him, he was mugged (twice!), and then he tried to commit suicide, which is when the Enigma Force chose him to be the new Captain Universe.  

I'll note that Juggernaut laughed and pointed out the absurdity of each of these 'reasons' for hating and wanting revenge on Juggernuat and I sadly agreed with him.  I really couldn't find any sympathy for the new Captain Universe.  This was a lengthy monologue and just filled with whining and the inability to take responsibility for one's own actions.  Lost your job?  Get a new one.  Girlfriend left you?  She didn't love you, so get over it, not Jug's fault.  Got mugged?  Random, but not Juggernaut's fault.  I just can't see how, after how enjoyable the story had been up until now, that this was the best Stern could do. It's an archaic storytelling method (monologuing?  Seriously?) and a juvenile and lackluster origin that just brought down the whole story.  

In addition to this, there was another tie to the previous Juggernaut story added.  Turns out Juggernaut sank to the bottom of the concrete he was tricked into by Spider-Man in the classic storyline.  Somehow this sunk him into the bedrock and it apparently took Juggernaut weeks to tunnel out of that fix.  I'm not sure how he got so deep, but a humansized object tunneling its way out apparently causes fault lines to form under New York and, after a series of minor earthquakes and forboding Spidey Sense warnings, it is revealed that this is what the new Captain Universe was chosen for in order to fix the damage before New York is destroyed.  

To me, it felt tacked on.  I suppose we needed a reason for Captain Universe to be chosen, but this kind of craziness happens everyday in New York.  It didn't seem cosmic enough to warrant a Captain Universe appearance, especially one such as the person chosen for the job.  Even if they hadn't added this, I think the story could have worked fine, but I don't think it was terribly written like the monologue/origin was. 

The back-ups for these two issues were a mixed bag as well.  The first, a short 'Peter Parker is a loser with no job' story by Mark Waid wasn't worth reading.  I was tempted to just stop reading at several points with the constant piling on of how bad Peter's life is and how much it sucks to be him was being shoved down our throats.  It's especially jarring since Waid's issues/back-ups seem like the only ones that do this.  I'm not sure if he got the short end of the stick on writing assignments or if this is supposed to be his 'contribution', but I'm not enjoying the issues he writes, despite being a longtime fan of his work.  

The second backup was much better.  It was a Lizard story that leads into the upcoming Lizard storyline by Zeb Wells.  If this short is any indication, I think I'm going to enjoy this Lizard storyline.  Wells looks to be going with the original Lizard or, at least, is hinting at the return of the talking/world domination seeking Lizard.  I'm drawing this conclusion based on the Lizard having actual coherent speech boxes trying to convince Connor to let him out and telling him to kill one of his superiors at the laboratory.  Another factor in my enjoyment was Chris Bachelo's art.  I'm a fan of everything he's done on Spider-Man so far and it's some of his best work in my eyes.  Looking forward seeing more of it on the Lizard arc since it seems to play to his style.

Verdict - Check It.  What started out strong ends on a bit of a low note.  I had high expectations going in, so that may account for my disappointment, but I don't regret my purchase of this arc and still think it had its moments and was an above average story.  I think I was hoping for Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut 2 and set the bar too high though. 

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dale Eaglesham

Annihilus does not show up in this issue.  He's on the cover, they mention him in solicits and it's hyped as his return, but he's not in the issue and his name is only hissed out by some random bugs.  To say this was a major let down would be an understatement.  I'll concede that covers and solicits can lie, but they are usually sensationalized or at least tangently related.  This was just a bold faced lie.

If the focus of the issue wasn't the return of the cosmic badass that helped revive the Marvel cosmic line, Annihilus, then what was this issue about?  Well, the Human Torch was out clubbing at what turns out to be the Cult of the Negative Zone's hideout.  An attractive lady solicits him and they head back to the Baxter Building.  Upon arriving, she turns into a bunch of little Negative Zone bugs, opens the Negative Zone portal and proceeds to go through it.  Johnny chases her/them thinking they have a bomb and were going to do something bad, fails to stop them and comes home to report his findings. 

While I make it sound pretty dull, putting aside my disappointment over the lack of Annihilus, I think there's a lot of interesting developments to be found in this issue and that I did actually enjoy it.  It turns out Prison 42 (you know, that prison from Civil War they set up in the Negative Zone) has been expanded by King Blastaar's army into a giant city.  The bad part is that Annihilus' Annihilation Wave has had its numbers surge back to pre-Annihilation levels and is currently at war with Blastaar.  And, as Valeria points out, this makes four new mystery cities that have shown up recently. 

Speaking of other cities, Namor sent a message to the aquatic kingdom introduced several issues ago stating he will not give his time to a people that are content to stay hidden from the world, which prompts them to raise their city to the surface.  The Inhuman city was also shown sending a group of warriors to the Negative Zone, which is described in a dialogue box (Valeria's?) stating that the war of the four cities has started.  

All in all, I'm quite engaged by Hickman's style of writing here and the more issues I read, the more the threads seem to weave together.  He's setting up something big here and I keep finding myself wanting to read more when every issue ends.  These new cities are all interesting in their own right and he's created some amazing set pieces for each.  

On the art side of things, this was probably Eaglesham's strongest work to date. His reaction faces for characters were diverse and turned average scenes into great ones.  In particular, Johnny's reaction to finding out the girl he was bringing home was a bunch of bugs was hilarious to see, but made that much better with the next panel when he's relieved that he didn't kiss the bug person either.  Another one that sticks out is the close up of Valeria with the raised eyebrow when she's talking to Johnny after he came back from the Negative Zone and he tells her there's a Negative Zone city at 42 now. 

Furthermore, the various locales used in this issue due to showing most of the new cities, the different races, aliens and even different universes all gave Eaglesham a varied and unique canvas of work to show off and he excelled at it.  We go from an arctic, underwater city to an Inhuman city on the Moon to the Negative Zone and even a New York club.  The juxtaposition was, well, fantastic.

Verdict - Buy It.  No Annihilus, but still an engaging read with some stunning art. 

Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Pat Gleason

This is the Blackest Night epilogue issue of Green Lantern Corps. The first couple of pages were painfully dull and I was scared Tomasi may have phoned this one in.  Hell, on the second or third page, Guy has a text box that nearly covers the entire page wide panel he's in as he recaps the events of Green Lantern Corps from the past two or three years.  

After this, we move on to the required funeral service on Mogo and memorial scene honouring the fallen.  We get tears, moral outrage, etc, etc.  Like I said, epilogue issue and while not hamfisted writing, not exactly thrilling in any way up until this point either.

However!  After this we get the Green Lantern Corps we all know and love with lots of great scenes, like Kilowog resigning as drill instructor to the corps, Guy and Kyle telling off the Guardians and calling them out on their hypocrisy and piss poor judgement.  Arisia gets in on the action and gives one of the Guardians a punch to the face.  And just as the Guardians finally get the troublesome Lanterns to leave, even Salaak has had enough of the Guardians' crap and let's them know with a verbal tongue lashing of his own.  While I hope the Guardians get even more abuse for their numerous failings, it was pure vindication to see the characters finally cut loose on them and call them out on most of the crap they've pulled or let happen under their watch.  

So, while the issue started slow and things were looking bad for a while there with the cliched epilogue issue syndrome setting in, Tomasi really broke the mould when he scripted the character moments that followed the memorial scene that started the issue.  It even ends with the Guardians taking the advice of their Lanterns and repealing the third new law that forbid love between Green Lanterns, which was relayed to the corps through their rings as we had another great scene between Kyle and Guy over some beers at the destroyed Warriors bar.  

Verdict - Buy It.  Suffers slightly from being an epilogue issue, but is extremely strong when it counts with some powerful moments from the varied cast of characters that make up the Green Lantern Corps.

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Alessandro Vitti

It's rare for me to dislike anything Secret Warriors or Jonathan Hickman related, especially when you put the two together, but I did not care for this issue.  Nothing about it clicked with me.  

For example, Nick Fury's dialogue with Captain America and the carefree attitude just seemed completely different from the grizzled vetern from the regular Secret Warriors.  This is made that much worse when you read this issue and Secret Warriors #15, which released this week as well, back to back.  It's like two different writers were handling the character.  

However, despite featuring Nick on the cover and my mentioning of his dialogue above, he's not even the focus of the issue - Phobos, Ares' son and God of Fear, is.  We follow him after he witnesses his father's death on television.  It starts out strong with some flashbacks between Phobos and his father, but then goes completely off the rails.  Ares was killed by Sentry.  Phobos knows and sees this.  He also knows Norman Osborn has gone off reservation and is the one ultimately responsible for this.  

So what does Phobos do?  He grabs his katana and goes off to kill the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and shoots and stabs as many unsuspecting FBI agents as he can on his campaign through the White House.  When the president makes his helicopter escape at the last minute, Phobos then writes a letter to Obama that is what I can only interpret as a soapbox from Hickman on the state of the current United States where Phobos tells them how they've sacrificed honour for expediency and intent for action in what, to me, seems like an obvious post-9/11 Bush-Iraq War parallel.

What does any of this have to do with Siege?  Uh, I guess we had out of character Fury fighting alongside Cap for a minute.  It also follows up on Ares' death, but I don't know if that counts with how completely random the target of Phobos' rage was.  

Verdict - Avoid It.  Don't see any reason to recommend this issue.  You'll likely read worse written, but this is a Siege tie-in with no real impact or tangiable connection to the event and for those Secret Warriors fans out there, it has little to nothing to do with that book either and the characters don't act like they do in that book, despite being by the same author.

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Caselli

Secret Warriors #15 delivered everything I love about Secret Warriors this week.  We've got the numerous plots all building and moving forward, all on an inevitable collision course, a heavy focus on Nick Fury and Hydra's inner circle, and lots of great character moments.  

The Hydra bits were my personal favourite.  Viper was killed by Madame Hydra last issue at the Leviathan base.  Hydra gets to the Long Winter base shortly after Leviathan cleared out and were left with a parting message from Orion to Baron Strucker in the form of Viper's dead body and a voice activated hologram message. 

While everyone was fussing over the message, The Hive was intently staring at the dead body of Viper.  He then uses one of his tentacle creatures to attach to Viper's head, which Caselli gruesomely depicted with tentacles shoved up her nose and a generally unpleasant looking scene that saw the dead Viper rise, this time calling herself Madame Hydra and looking like the Earth X version of Hydra with the big green squid attached to her head. Definitely not what I expected and makes me want to bust out my copy of Earth X to re-read the Hydra parts now.  I'm curious as to whether or not she will have the hivemind-like possessive abilities of her Earth X counterpart.  It seems like it would be similar to how The Hive works now.  The parasite Osborn used in Earth X could be explained as being the work of The Hive as well.  It works rather well and could be brilliant if Hickman, as it seems to be doing, goes in that direction with her.

The other major part of this issue was the meeting between Nick Fury and Madame Hydra/Contessa, which mirrors their previous meeting in one of the earlier issues of the series.  This time, however, Fury knows who and what Contessa is and calls her out on it.  This leads to a confrontation between the two and each showing their hand (both brought back-up), some solid dialogue, though not as good as the afforementioned previous encounter, and a parting of ways for both that left me wanting more, but in a good way.  

The final part of the issue dealt with the Secret Warriors and Nick Fury's kicking Sebastion off the team in the previous issue.  Daisy rallies the troops and prepares to confront Fury in order to demand that he let Sebastion back on the team.  Fury promptly tells her no and that he doesn't care and spells out exactly what's at stake to her, which is exactly what I expected to happen.  The odd part is that Daisy, who, up until this point, has been shown to be pretty strong and has her head on right in terms for being the whole world saving, secret spy thing, breaks down crying and seeks comfort with JT, who had made a pass at her in previous issues, kissing him and telling him he had better mean every word he told her in regards to liking her.  

I'm not sure how to feel about this.  It felt like regression for Daisy, who broke down in tears and went looking for love in what read like a rather old fashioned "the girl can't take it" type of response from a character that had never acted this way up until this point.  She usually read like she was an equal to Fury, though a little greener, in most instances and was one of his confidants.  Here, she's the little girl trying to play a man's game.   Really out of place in an otherwise great issue.  

Verdict - Buy It.  Excellent issue with lots of interesting developments on both Hydra and Nick Fury's sides, but is brought down slightly by what I view as a mischaracterization for one of the Secret Warriors. 

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Dickey said...

Definitely agree with you on Siege: Secret Warriors. I kinda happened to enjoy the causal Fury in the midst of battle though. Seems to me that the middle of a fight is where he would be the most comfortable, so he can let his guard down a little while he is offing people. And taking a liquor break so he can bromance it up with Cap? That's just full of win in my book. But overall, the issue just wasn't worth the money.

Aaron Kimel said...

A point of clarification: Viper/Madame Hydra was not resurrected by Kraken, but by The Hive - the last member of Hydra's ruling council. Kraken himself commented in disbelief at the resurrection. To the best of my knowledge, The Hive first appeared in Secret Warriors #2, so no reference to former Hydra stories was likely intended, except perhaps as homage.

Kirk Warren said...

@Aaron Kimel - Ah, I always get them mixed up, what with Hive being a squid-like guy. Just always call him Kraken for some reason. I'll fix that.

Space Jawa said...

I came to a realization today about this weeks Fantastic Four issue. Do we know when it takes place in relation to everything else going on? Because by my recollection, contrary to what Ryan thought in his review, the 42 Prison wasn't abandoned after Civil War. In fact, Guardians of the Galaxy made no small deal about Blastarr's siege of the place. Then Avengers: The Initiative did a follow-up storyline that made a big deal about The Initiative taking back 42 in a big counter-siege where a bunch of red-shirts were killed off.

I could be missing something, since I'm not reading Fantastic Four, and I probably shouldn't worry about it so much, but when two other series I follow regularly had their points lined up on what's going on with the issue, it gets a bit difficult to ignore it.

My previous understanding was the Blastarr took siege to 42 and successfully captured it (Guardians of the Galaxy), then the guardians showed up on Earth to give a warning about how Blastarr really wanted to get through and use 42 to attack Earth. Later, Osborn sent a bunch of people through to the prison to take it back from Blastarr (Avengers: The Initiative), which put it back in the hands of the Initiative.

So the question is, was Hickman simply unaware about what's been going on with 42, does the issue take place before the arc in The Initiative where it's taken away from Blastarr again, was there something mentioned in the issue that explain it all that I'm not aware of, or is there some other explanation for the gap in the continuity here?

Nathan Aaron said...

I should have asked Hickman during Free Comic Book day, as he was at our comic shop signing autographs, etc! I literally handed the Siege: Secret Warriors issue back to the comic shop owner on Wed. (I'm behind on buying my comics. LOL) saying I didn't want it, and in his true salesman style he went all "Are you sure? Are you sure? Big things happen in this issue that impact the regular series!" So I succumbed and bought the thing, literally reading it while waiting in line for FCB day to start.

I was disappointed in the issue as well. It was sorta just filler to me. I have GOT to stop being suckered in by my comic shop owner! LOL Sigh...

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