Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Marvel DCU Monthly Subscription - Part 1

I had a one-month subscription to the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited (DCU) program. It was awesome because it was a free trial but it also meant I had to make the most of it. My aim; to sample the books I might never have bought but have always been intrigued to read. I had 30 days to see what I could chew through, hit the jump to see where I went and what I thought of it all. These are kind of like reviews and kind of like train of thought entries. Some smarter and better than others. If I wrote a massive review on each one I’d never make it out of the month alive.

First up we've got some Marvel events, Frank Miller's breakout issue, Remender's Punisher, Thor: TMA, and what many believe is the best Dark Reign mini. Enjoy.

First, I want to see how the reader works. The system is pretty cool; load time isn’t offensive, the screen view is decent as the arrows guide me through panel rows. I have the opportunity to be more hands on in my viewing but I want the program to be enough to guide me, it mostly is. Sometimes the screen grab will make the text small, and sometimes it won’t. Overall, I’ve got good eyesight, it isn’t a problem. It’s similar to the ComiXology Guided View, but not as sharp. Too often, I have to grab the image and pull it down to see the line cut off at the top. Little problems, nothing to slow me down.

So, on with the show.

Written by Roger MacKenzie
Art by Frank Miller

I kick start things with a single issue. I’m taking my time, I’m cavalier like that. Plus, what better way to open the account than with Frank Miller and Daredevil; I’m making this personal.

I have never read Frank Miller’s first issue drawing Daredevil. I’ve heard plenty about it. I have to say, it mostly lives up to the hype. The issue is well drawn but it’s also a good tale. Especially considering it’s set up in the previous issue.

Daredevil V The Death Stalker and all things point to the climax as the moment where Daredevil is the type of comic we still enjoy today – bleak. This issue is cold blooded, nasty, brutal, and it will make you cringe. It’s great that the titan of Daredevil was given a great script on his first at bat. It would not have been his fault if the story was lacklustre but instead this thing sizzles with the promise of nastiness to come.

Verdict – Buy It. This issue isn’t without it’s flaws, but be damned if it isn’t great fun. A surprisingly nasty piece of aged superheroism.

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Steve McNiven

I’m not a Mark Millar fan, I think we all get that. However, I really didn’t hate this book. Hell, I even liked parts of it. It’s an interesting premise, though rushed, and it has got some really good parts. The whole Punisher interlude might just be brilliant. It’s swift and true and I’m surprised at how well Millar uses Castle – though I shouldn’t be. Punisher is an extreme character and Millar only ever writes in extremes.

The set up for Civil War is good, the kind of ‘real world’ thing Millar seems to revel in for his four colour pages now. It grounds the tale and maybe Marvel should be doing that. Marvel was established as the comic universe that was our universe, the heroes have feet of clay, you’ve heard it all a million times before. Well, that was the 60s and the new millennium is a different place from then. Things maybe are a little worse, or at least the scale is, so I can understand comics following that route.

However, then Millar tips his hand and drops some really dodgy ideas. He likes to think that quantifying intellect or cool is something you can do with a number. Reed Richards cries for 93 minutes straight during the break up of his marriage. Really? If he was that upset why was he clock watching? It’s stiff and lame and doesn’t do what Millar thinks it does. The same with Black Panther announcing he has to remember the 69 digit pass code. That doesn’t make me think he’s super-smart, it makes me think Millar is a fool. But brush instances of false storytelling aside and you’ve got a pretty fun ride here.

Verdict – Check It. Civil War was certainly enjoyable, but it was the prime example of what I’m doing this month. I want to read it, once, and I don’t want to pay for it.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Olivier Coipel

It’s a four issue fight. Or battle. Not quite war. I knew this was sparse but didn’t realise it was just some wrestling style battle royale. I’m not sure if the story really matters, you just sit back and enjoy the massive knock downs and drag outs. Are the fights good, yeah, I suppose. I’m not the target audience for reading these sorts of battles. I buy my stories for good stories, not to see who would win in a battle. As it turns out, The Sentry > Everyone else in the history of ever. I don’t know what to think about that.

There are some truly dumb moments in this book. But they’re dumb like you kind of expect to see in an action movie. You really have to suspend disbelief. I know comics nearly always rely on you to suspend that disbelief, that these people can exist, that the universe shapes a certain way around them, but this book asks you to suspend thought so a moment can play out. The page where Osborn in the Iron Patriot suit looks up and we see Cap’s shield reflected in the chrome dome of the armour and as it looms closer over subsequent panel Osborn doesn’t move is a perfect example. It’s a wicked page, no doubt, it makes you laugh and makes you want to see the smack down in the next issue, but it makes no sense. Why would he just keep staring at the shield to cop it straight in the eyes. Surely it wasn’t coming in that fast, the first reflection was small, it came some distance. It’s a dumb logic moment but an awesome page. You have to decide if you want that or not.

If you do want it there’s also images of Ares riding a fighter jet, Maria Hill firing a bazooka from the back of a dusty pick up truck, and plenty more. You’ll OD on the dumb awesome.

The Sentry/Void creature is so perfectly creepy that it almost redeems The Sentry as a character and concept. I like to think the Void sounds like John Carpenter’s The Thing when it hits fire. Read the comic with that sound in your head and try not to be creeped out.

Someone has to travel back in time and hand this book to the independent crime writer Bendis. I doubt he’ll believe you, but then he’ll still do it because he knows he’s getting paid for it. Bendis can write good stuff, I’ve seen it, but this isn’t really it. He slots in a good stirring speech from Ares before battle but then insists on Spider-Man cracking some lame lines throughout the battle. Sometimes I wish he’d pick a genre to write towards and stick to it because Spidey gets annoying really quickly. Hell, Bendis needs to stop putting Spidey into all his titles, he sometimes drops some really lame Spidey lines. It’s not fun.

Verdict – Byrne It. The best thing about this book is that you can see all the splash pages at a glance and that’s all you really need.

Written by Roger Langridge
Art by Chris Samnee

There are only the first five issues of this one so I will have to make a purchase somewhere down the track and I’m fine with that. I’d love this book sitting around for my wife and child to stumble upon in the future.

This is a very cool comic. It might not be the best thing I’ve ever read but it certainly deserves to still be alive more than half of what Marvel puts out right now. This comic is fun, it truly is, and it’s just about the perfect all ages comic in that it approaches a story with real consequence and yet still finds the cool moments in between.

I was shocked by how much more this is a romance comic than it is a kids comic. This would be the ultimate thing to buy that girl you think might like comics but you aren’t sure and you don’t want to start her on Deadpool or the Punisher. This comic is so unbelievably sweet at times. The connection between Thor and Jane Foster feels real – perhaps the movie could have taken a leaf from here on how to make the bond real and yet still quick. Foster takes some leaps but she also takes the little moments to connect.

I like that Hyde is the villain of this book. I also like Chris Samnee’s art. He draws the best Thor, ever. Easily. He just draws the best everything ever. This book looks great, the colours from Matt Wilson just make me want to curl up on the floor and read comics all day, just like I did as a kid. This comic might not be perfect but through the right lens you’ll think it is and that’s a power a good comic has that’s a joy forever.

Someone needs to start a Tao of Thor: TMA and do it stat.

Verdict – Must Read. It’s one of those books you just have to give to someone else. I love those types of books.

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jerome Opena, ???

I read all of Punisher: War Journal from Fraction’s run until it segued into a Remender comic. I also read Franken-Castle. I liked both – Franken-Castle way more. But I never got the stuff in between. I am glad I’ve now rectified this as it is really quite good and almost stands on its own as a very good Frank Castle story.

There are a few high concepts woven into one tale and they’re made better by each appearing together. Castle getting his hands on some varied old tech, nice. Castle attempting assassination on Norman Osborn, and dealing with the fallout from that, nice. The Hood trying to end Castle’s quest once and for all, nice. Remender brings energy and ideas to the Punisher and it’s awesome to see this vigilante brought right into the proper centre of the Marvel U. It’s fun watching him take down gangsters, sure, but having him cap supervillains is always going to be more fun.

It’s interesting to read Remender’s captions for Castle. They are terse, staccato, instinctual. It’s a style that works so well here, though he’s used it elsewhere to less effect.

Once the Hood comes on board, things get seriously warped. He resurrects a stack of old villains, all killed by the Scourge back in the day, and he pits them as a super team against Castle. Of course, these idiots can barely survive meals together no less collate their energies to take down one guy. Remender has consistently shown himself as a writer who cares about continuity, just not always the continuity many others care about. And that’s fine with me.

The way this story wraps up is actually quite touching, in a totally manly and gruff way. Remender makes it all come full circle and it counts. Castle is a broken man, completely, and he’ll always be that way.

Verdict – Must Read. I’m surprised that Remender can make a Frank Castle tale that might just be definitive. That he then followed it up by Franken-Castle is just the kicker that this age of comics can still surprise us. Golden.

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Nathan Fox

This is the best thing about Dark Reign. At least, that’s what I’ve always heard. Is it? Yeah, it might be. It’s certainly the mini from this period of Marvel history you’ll remember the most because it’s so distinctly different. This isn’t about any hero, or villain, you know, this isn’t a regular narrative, and this looks different to the other cape comics out there. This book is a breath of fresh air in so many regards and for that it deserves to be remembered. I’d certainly put it alongside the Dark Reign: Elektra mini from Zeb Wells, and that’s big talk in my household.

Zodiac centres on a new villain looking to make a name for himself. He kills the original Zodiac team and then sets about making himself the nastiest piece of gristle on the villain market, and that’s saying a lot when Osborn is running the show. Through the talent of Joe Casey and Nathan Fox this book becomes a nasty surprise you just don’t expect from Marvel. It’s pretty visceral at times and it certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Reading this gives me hope for Casey’s collaboration with Nick Dragotta on Vengeance later this year, as well as his reteam with Nathan Fox on Haunt from Image.

The big question from this three issue mini I have is, has anyone else followed up on this? The ending begs for someone else to step in, or the same creative team perhaps, to consolidate on the hard work done here. The origin is established, the threat level raised, and then we bow out and close the curtain. I want more, this is simply act one. And a very good act one it is.

Verdict – Buy It. This book is pretty, and different, and pretty different. It’s worth your time and you’ll want to read it more than once.


This is just the start of what I got through. Have you read these books? What did you think about them? And have you used the Marvel DCU, what are your thoughts on that? Let me know in the comments.

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Klep said...

I've been a Marvel DCU subscriber since the service launched, and I've always felt it was a worthwhile investment. It's largely responsible for getting me into comics in a big way, because it allowed me access to a very large library of stuff I never would have been able to read otherwise.

Simon DelMonte's Escape Hatch said...

I will say this over and over: Thor the Mighty Avenger is the best Thor comic I've ever read. It is a crying shame Marvel cancelled this and left all the lesser Thor books out there.

Forte said...

Thank You for liking Zodiac. I thought I was the only one. I dont need a series but a solid arc of ______ vs Zodiac. Id be there regardless of who it is, I would just appreciate some more haha.

MisterSmith said...

Not sure if this would be of any interest to you Ryan (or anyone, for that matter) but I run on a blog taking content from the MDCU and spotlighting what's available which can be found here http://bitly.com/bXGDNT

I dig the MDCU. It has its flaws (some more glaring than others) but the sheer amount of comics available mixed with a really low price makes it (IMO) a worthwhile service.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Klep - Yeah, I could definitely see me getting back on this at some stage. I definitely should have done this years ago when I had more time on my hands. I could have chewed through all of it. ALL of it.

@Forte - Zodiac was damn good fun, and pretty as hell.

@MisterSmith - that must be one onerous task keeping that site updated. Nice work.

Rick said...

Where does one go to get this free month of Marvel digital comics?

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Rick - it was through a game purchase. Generally not just handed out, sadly. I think random free trials would spread some very good word on this resource.

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