Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Infinity Gauntlet

The Infinity GauntletThe Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In order to impress his paramour, Death, Thanos kills half of the universe using the Infinity Gauntlet. The remaining half of the universe, guided by Adam Warlock, is pissed off and means to stop Thanos at any cost...

As part of justifying my Marvel Unlimited subscription, I decided to finally read The Infinity Gaunlet. Hell, I'm only seventeen years late. On the heels of reading Warlock: The Complete Collection, I wasn't sure what to expect. Thankfully, this one was a lot easier to digest.

The Infinity Gauntlet was probably the most ambitious crossover to date when it was published in the dawn of the 1990s. Starlin resurrected his pet project, Adam Warlock and wove a tale of epic destruction. Basically, the remaining heroes of Earth team up with Warlock and the Silver Surfer to try to strip Thanos of his godhood. It doesn't go well.

For a 90s book, The Infinity Gauntlet is surprisingly readable and the art stands up well. Hell, it's George Perez being George Perez for most of the issues. Ron Lim is no slouch either.

The interplay between Warlock, The Silver Surfer, and Doctor Strange is my favorite part of the piece. I also like that some of the heroes know they're way out of their element. Thanos swatting the heroes down like gnats was pretty satisfying. One of my favorite character elements was Doctor Doom trying to swipe the Infinity Gauntlet for himself, like everyone knew he was going to do.

I don't actually have any big gripes with this, surprising for a comic from 1991. I thought Quasar went out like a chump and most of the heroes could have been left out. Wolverine survived a little too long. Other than that, no complaints.

The Infinity Gauntlet is an interesting piece of comic book history that holds up surprisingly well today. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Warlock: The Complete Collection

Warlock: The Complete CollectionWarlock: The Complete Collection by Jim Starlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Adam Warlock teams with Pip the Troll and battles The Magus and his Church of Universal Truth. But The Magus is Adam Warlock's future self...

I picked this up in 2016 at the Planet City ComiCon, hours before Dan-Kemper III. Adam Warlock is one of those Marvel characters I never read a hell of a lot about. With the Infinity War movie on its way and the Infinity stones being a prominent part of that, I decided to finally give it a read.

Warlock is a cosmic tale of a man battling his own nature and fighting the destructive impulses of the Soul Gem on his forehead. In some ways, he reminds me of Michael Moorcock's Elric, a character as at home with soliloquies as with destruction.

The tale sees Warlock team with Pip the Troll, Gamora, and even Thanos. Once the Magus is dealt with, the real quest begins...

The artwork is great for the time period and the tale itself is interesting but the presentation is a product of the time it was created. Warlock delivers monologue after overblown, dramatic monologue and Magus and Thanos are almost as bad. It was enjoyable but in a cheesy sort of way at times.

The easiest parts of the collection were the end, with Adam Warlock, Moondragon, and Captain Marvel teaming with the Avengers to battle Thanos. The ending provided a satisfying conclusion to the tales of both Warlock and Thanos. It's kind of a shame Marvel has trotted them out dozens of times since.

I'm glad I read Warlock: The Complete Collection for its historical significance in the Marvel canon but it wasn't a breezy experience by any means. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Planetary Omnibus

The Planetary OmnibusThe Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elijah Snow is recruited for Planetary, a secret group of archaeologists uncovering the secret history of the 20th century. But who is the mysterious Fourth Man of Planetary? And why are there gaps in Snow's memory?

I read the first few issues of Planetary in singles as they were published. Frankly, I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have, probably because I didn't get a lot of the references. Now, almost twenty years later, I'm reading the big honkin' omnibus I've had in my possession for at least a couple years.

Planetary is both a love letter to comics and an examination of what super beings with access to advanced technology would do in the real world. Why isn't Reed Richards using his knowledge to change the world? Maybe he is and you're just not aware of it. There's a conspiracy behind everything and the super humans are pulling the strings. That's the core premise of Planetary, as I see it as of the 35% mark. There might be changes farther down in the review since I'm cobbling this one as I go. There's a lot of shit to keep track of in almost 900 pages.

Planetary takes place in the Wildstorm Universe, so The Bleed is prominently featured. Stormwatch is mentioned but I think that's pretty much it. Planetary is largely its own animal, a tangled web of conspiracies going back a hundred years.

There are analogues and homages galore, starting with the first issue. Planetary finds a secret cavern in the Aidirondack mountains with Doc Brass, a Doc Savage analogue, inside. Brass is crippled and has been awake for over 50 years, watching the gate some of his mystery man companions created in the 40s. Brass is straight out of the Bama cover Doc Savage books, complete with widow's peaked hair resembling a skull cap.

From there, Planetary keep digging and Snow keeps getting more and more suspicious. I noticed references to all sorts of characters: Fu Manchu, The Shadow, Tarzan, the Fantastic Four, Constantine, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Superman, Nick Fury, and the Hulk, and that was just in the first third of the book. Sherlock Holmes, Captain Nemo, Carnacki, and others were also in attendance. I'd read an annotated version of Planetary just to see all the references I'm missing. The Planetary has things in common with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton universe, and the X-Files.

Many of the issues were self-contained, a rarity in this day and age. Then again, the series did start almost 20 years ago. There's some decompression but nothing like today. John Cassady's art is decent but nothing I'd compose a sonnet about. Ellis' writing shows a love for comics and their progenitors, the pulps, but also an exasperation that super beings would spend so much time punching each other instead of fixing the world. The weirdness level is high but it's a coherent weirdness, more or less.

As Snow gets closer and closer to going up against the Four, things pick up and I had to restrain myself from going into seclusion to devour it. When the Arthur C. Clarke by way of Jack Kirby event happened, it was agony to put the book down. The sheer scope of Planetary is impressive. The truth behind the Four makes me think twice about Mister Fantastic's intentions that fateful day.

The ending was good, though a little anticlimactic. Also, I didn't know a fourth of the book was going to be crossovers outside of the main Planetary tale. Fortunately, the crossovers were very well done. Planetary teams with The Authority, meets versions of Batman from across the multiverse, and a future version of The Planetary go up against the Planetary earth versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Honestly, my only gripe with the crossovers is that they weren't placed chronologically in the book.

And now that I've finished this kitten squisher of a tome, I've got a Planetary-shaped void in my life. Planetary takes some over the top concepts common to comics, ratchets them up, and places them in the background of a slow-burning detective story. There's not much else like it out there. I'm glad I have this massive version of it so I can read it again in years to come. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can Explain

Mockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can ExplainMockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird, is a SHIELD agent. Part of her SHIELD insurance dictates that she go to the health clinic every week. So what's with the new super powers she's been exhibiting? And the zombies? And the Corgi?

After her appearances in The Unstoppable Wasp, I needed more Mockingbird. Once again, my Marvel Unlimited subscription was justified.

Mockingbird is a fun comic, the story told in an interesting way. The first issue details her various visits to the SHIELD health clinic. The subsequent four issues reveal what happened in between the visits and explain the weirdness.

Since my only previous exposure to Mockingbird prior to the Unstoppable Wasp was a fistful of West Coast Avengers issues, this was a pretty good intro to Bobbi Morse, biochemist/SHIELD agent turned super hero. In between her trips to the clinic, she encounters super villains, the Hellfire Club, and a frightened teenage girl with super powers.

Bobbi is a smart, funny character, far from the angry woman Hawkeye divorced years ago in West Coast Avengers. Hawkeye, in fact, makes an appearance. She's confident but still struggling to be a super hero in a world where most of the super heroes are men. There are jokes but I didn't feel like they detracted from the story like I did in Infamous Iron Man. The humor was natural, not forced, in other words.

It was entertaining but I might pass on the next volume since it looks like it probably got cancelled in mid-stream. Thanks again, Marvel. Three out of five stars.

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Monday, April 9, 2018

Karnak: The Flaw in All Things

Karnak: The Flaw in All ThingsKarnak: The Flaw in All Things by Warren Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Satan was just a story. I am Karnak."

When Karnak goes looking for a kid exposed to Terrigen mist for SHIELD, he runs afoul of IDIC, a dark science organization. It seems a cult has formed around the boy, seeing him as a messiah...

Karnak has been my favorite member of the Inhumans since I first stumbled upon them in an issue of Marvel Two-In-One years ago. I read the first issue on Marvel Unlimited and liked it. Now that the series is complete, I'm all-in.

Warren Ellis weaves an offbeat tale here. Karnak's philosopher detective persona is in full effect here, like an ultra-serious Dirk Gently in a way. Karnak sees the flaw in all things, making him a phenomenal detective and martial artist.

The somewhat philosophical quest Karnak finds himself on fits the character very well. While Karnak ass-kicks his way to finding the missing boy, philosophical questions are raised. By the end, even Karnak isn't sure of things.

While it isn't your standard super-hero tale, I really enjoyed Ellis' take on Karnak. I'd love to see Ellis do a team book with Karnak as the member. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Black Widow, Volume 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Most Wanted

Black Widow, Volume 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Most WantedBlack Widow, Volume 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Most Wanted by Mark Waid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Black Widow's past comes back to haunt her when the Weeping Lion blackmails her into getting some files for him in exchange for not revealing her darkest secrets. Will the Widow do what he asks? Will she let the Weeping Lion live when she does?

Since Mark Waid and Chris Samnee on Daredevil was some of the best comics I read in years, I decided to take advantage of my Marvel Unlimited subscription and check out their Black Widow run. Coming off the glacially paced Infamous Iron Man, I was pretty pleased with the first volume of Black Widow. While still decompressed, each issue was a satisfying morsel in its own right.

Samnee's art is as crisp as ever, equally at home portraying action, landscapes, or two characters talking. His Black Widow drawn to resemble Scarlet Johansen and he does a great job. The limited color palette makes the book pop, much like his work on Daredevil.

Waid takes the Widow through all sorts of locales, like the SHIELD helicarrier, a cemeterary, and the Red Room, the place where the Widow was originally trained. I liked how the story explored parts of the Widow's past. I also liked how the Black Widow seemed very deadly and not just the girl on the Avengers.

The blackmail part of the plot was a little weak, particularly when the dirt on the Black Widow was revealed. The ending of the arc lead into the next one but I'm not sure I'm interested enough to follow.

I loved the art on SHIELD's most wanted but the story was average. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Untold Tales of Spider-Man '96

Untold Tales of Spider-Man '96Untold Tales of Spider-Man '96 by Kurt Busiek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In order to get back at the Human Torch, Spider-Man asks his sister, the Invisible Girl, out on a date! Hilarity ensues until the Torch convinces Namor that Sue's been kidnapped...

While waiting for my wife to get ready, I was moving stuff around in the basement when I unearthed this gem, now over twenty years old. Kurt Busiek was at the helm, writing retro adventures starring the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Mike Allred, inked by the legendary Joe Sinnott, provided the art.

The end result feels like an early Silver Age tale. Reed Richards was neglecting his then-girlfriend, Sue Storm, sending her off in a huff. Spidey's timing couldn't have been better and he's soon on a date with Sue, listening to her yammer on and on about Reed and Namor. Fortunately, Namor catches wind of things and a classic super hero misunderstanding ensues.

The story has a Silver Age feel through and through. Allred and Sinnott created something that wouldn't have been out of place on a drug store spinner rack in 1965 and Busiek channels Stan Lee's dialogue without being so ham-fisted or cheesy. My only minor gripe is that I wish it had been colored by Laura Allred. The coloring is a little muddy but still in keeping with the Silver Age style. Five out of five retro-stars.

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Infamous Iron Man Vol. 2: The Absolution of Doom

Infamous Iron Man Vol. 2: The Absolution of DoomInfamous Iron Man Vol. 2: The Absolution of Doom by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Infamous Iron Man and Doctor Strange take on whomever has been pulling the strings behind Doom's mother and Reed Richards...

As I said in my review for the first volume, the art was great and I liked the way Bendis wrote Doctor Doom. However, it turns out I'm not a fan of Bendis' writing in general. The snarky dialogue coming out of everyone's mouth gets very quickly. Everything is paced so sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowly and so written for the eventual trade paperbacks that I would be hugely pissed trying to read anything of his in singles.

The twelve issues of Infamous Iron man could have been compressed down into six and still had plenty of breathing room. I don't know that Bendis is the one that popularized the modern, "decompressed" storytelling but he's one of the biggest abusers of it.

The big bad was revealed and what there was of the final fight was good but it felt rushed. Why have an epic battle when you can have page after page of people talking?

Two stars. I'm done with Bendis for a while.

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Infamous Iron Man, Volume 1: Infamous

Infamous Iron Man, Volume 1: InfamousInfamous Iron Man, Volume 1: Infamous by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With Tony Stark dead, Victor Von Doom takes up his mantle as the Infamous Iron Man! But not everyone things Doom is on the up and up...

Since I'm a lifelong Fantastic Four fan, Doom going legit intrigued me so I fired up Marvel Unlimited.

The art by Alex Maleev was really good and I like the way Bendis writes Doctor Doom. Seeing Doctor Doom take out Diablo and the Mad Thinker was pretty satisfying.

However, a lot of things bugged be. Everyone other than Doom spoke with the same snarky dialogue and the six issues could have easily been two or three and still been "decompressed." The Thing was in the book but he wound up being a big letdown as well.

Visually, I thought the book was great and I liked Doctor Doom trying to be good. Other than that, the book felt lazy and padded. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

The Sentry

The SentryThe Sentry by Paul Jenkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Reynolds is an overweight drunk but he used to be super hero called The Sentry. Why doesn't anyone remember him? And what will happen when they do?

The basic premise behind The Sentry is that a Superman-level hero once existed in the Marvel Universe but everyone forgot about him for some reason. I remember Wizard being in on the marketing, that the Sentry was actually a Stan Lee creation from the Silver Age that never made it to print. I didn't read it until years later, sometime in that haze before Goodreads. Due to the magic of Marvel Unlimited, I've read it again.

As Bob Reynolds pieces things back together, the world starts coming apart at the seams. Jae Lee's stark blacks are perfect for the tale. I remember not being a fan of his until his work on this and The Inhumans miniseries from the year before. Man, no one ever mentions how influential Marvel Knights was but it's shaped the way comics are done, for better or worse. The idea of a forgotten hero is appealing to me. Too bad they diluted and nerfed the Sentry after this.

Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee created something special with The Sentry. On one level, it's a tale of addiction, of a super-hero too powerful for his own good whose worst enemy is himself. On another, it's about how we've lost sight of how important the creation of Superman was. Four out of five stars.

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