Tag: Review

Last Days of Black Widow #20

   One of my favorite comic books of late has been the Black Widow series from Marvel. Thanks to the Marvel Unlimited app, I’ve been able to follow the adventures of Natasha Romanov as she deals with the consequences of her actions as a Soviet spy, an Avenger, and an Agent of SHIELD. It really is some of the best art work alone for a comic I have read in a long while. One issue I, like others, have with comics today is how they draw women. It seems that you can’t have a successful female character in a story unless she is showing next to nothing in a skimpy uniform. I am not a prude. There are times where scantily clad women are a ok to look at and enjoy but when you’re dealing with characters that should be on the level of their male counterparts, having them dress like strippers from a cosplay themed strip club just seems to negate any advances they are giving the female characters.   Natasha Romanov in this comic is different. She’s strong as hell but looks like a beautiful, average woman. She deals with problems in a realistic way, apart from the times where she has to kick ass and man does she know how to kick ass. Nathan Edmondson, the writer, and Phil Noto, the artist, have made one hell of a great comic that empowers Natasha without having to resort to cheap visual tactics to try and entice males to read the comic.

   Issue 20 is the end of the run for this comic and that is a shame. It’s a shame for two reasons. One, it’s sad the story is ending. (From what I understand Black Widow will of course be back but with different artists and writers involved.) Two, the story ends on a sour note because they’re not trying to give this story proper closure, they’re trying to kick start the Secret Wars story.

   Marvel Unlimited is six months behind everyone else so this is old news for some. Their main comic lines are all tied into the Secret Wars storyline which has led to a confusing mess. The main Secret Wars story is all right. I have no real complaints of it but it is not my favorite comic ever by any means. The tie in stories are something else all together.

   Comic book events in and of themselves are not bad things. I don’t dislike a good comic book event. What I have an issue with, and this goes for DC as well, both companies want to bring in absolutely every title under their umbrella into a massive story but end up finding ways to complicate things to such a point that you as the reader have no clue what the hell is going on. The Secret Wars event is meant to do one thing for Marvel and that’s remove the wheat from the chaff. They get a chance to make their world a little less complicated by removing aspects of their world that could confuse the hell out of the casual reader. You have your main characters that everyone knows about but other minor characters may not end up getting the love and attention they deserve because the creators at Marvel have to please so many masters.

   The problem I have with this is that they spend so much time trying to wrap things up for absolutely everyone that I have no real clue what is going on. I don’t read all new Marvel Comics titles. Apart from Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, The Punisher, and a couple Howard the Duck issues, everything else I have managed to skip. So getting this far into the Black Widow story to suddenly find that everything I have read before means nothing because she is suddenly apart of this new story that popped up out of nowhere is disconcerting. There were no seeds in previous issues that the world as it was established in the story was ending in any way, shape, or form. They just seemed to decide one day that whoops, the world is ending. Nice knowing you.

   The story itself is Natasha’s last bit of redemption for her past. It tells the story of how she, as a KGB agent, ended up killing a family in Cuba that wanted to defect to Russia. As an agent, she was just following orders but it was something she did not care to do. The story ends with her rescuing a family that looked just like the family she had killed. A nice ending but one that I wish was given a little more detail.

   The art work is great. Phil Noto is one hell of an artist, finding ways to show both power and weakness in characters that others would probably miss. His work on Natasha alone is amazing. Again, I love the fact that she is not drawn like the stereotypical ways women are drawn in comics. She’s not showing excessive skin. She doesn’t have boobs that could knock over a tank. She looks like a normal woman. Beautiful but normal. More artists need to use this as a model for female characters in their stories.

Bottom Line:

   I am so disappointed in this issue. All good things come to an end as they say but this ending is more like an after thought than anything else. Marvel has been so focused on setting up Secret Wars that they have disregarded the important work that is going on in comics like Black Widow.

   Having said that, despite the obstacles put in their way Edmondson and Noto have ended the series in style. It deserved much more of a proper ending that what it received but it’s still not bad. I hope these two meet up again to explore more of Natasha’s adventures in the Marvel Universe.

   One of my favorite comic books of late has been the Black Widow series from Marvel. Thanks to the Marvel Unlimited app, I’ve been able to follow the adventures of Natasha Romanov as she deals with the consequences of her actions as a Soviet spy, an Avenger, and an Agent of SHIELD. It really is some of the best art work alone for a comic I have read in a long while. One issue I, like others, have with comics today is how they draw women. It seems that you can’t have a successful female character in a story unless she is showing next to nothing in a skimpy uniform. I am not a prude. There are times where scantily clad women are a ok to look at and enjoy but when you’re dealing with characters that should be on the level of their male counterparts, having them dress like strippers from a cosplay themed strip club just seems to negate any advances they are giving the female characters.

   Natasha Romanov in this comic is different. She’s strong as hell but looks like a beautiful, average woman. She deals with problems in a realistic way, apart from the times where she has to kick ass and man does she know how to kick ass. Nathan Edmondson, the writer, and Phil Noto, the artist, have made one hell of a great comic that empowers Natasha without having to resort to cheap visual tactics to try and entice males to read the comic.

   Issue 20 is the end of the run for this comic and that is a shame. It’s a shame for two reasons. One, it’s sad the story is ending. (From what I understand Black Widow will of course be back but with different artists and writers involved.) Two, the story ends on a sour note because they’re not trying to give this story proper closure, they’re trying to kick start the Secret Wars story.

   Marvel Unlimited is six months behind everyone else so this is old news for some. Their main comic lines are all tied into the Secret Wars storyline which has led to a confusing mess. The main Secret Wars story is all right. I have no real complaints of it but it is not my favorite comic ever by any means. The tie in stories are something else all together.

   Comic book events in and of themselves are not bad things. I don’t dislike a good comic book event. What I have an issue with, and this goes for DC as well, both companies want to bring in absolutely every title under their umbrella into a massive story but end up finding ways to complicate things to such a point that you as the reader have no clue what the hell is going on. The Secret Wars event is meant to do one thing for Marvel and that’s remove the wheat from the chaff. They get a chance to make their world a little less complicated by removing aspects of their world that could confuse the hell out of the casual reader. You have your main characters that everyone knows about but other minor characters may not end up getting the love and attention they deserve because the creators at Marvel have to please so many masters.

   The problem I have with this is that they spend so much time trying to wrap things up for absolutely everyone that I have no real clue what is going on. I don’t read all new Marvel Comics titles. Apart from Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, The Punisher, and a couple Howard the Duck issues, everything else I have managed to skip. So getting this far into the Black Widow story to suddenly find that everything I have read before means nothing because she is suddenly apart of this new story that popped up out of nowhere is disconcerting. There were no seeds in previous issues that the world as it was established in the story was ending in any way, shape, or form. They just seemed to decide one day that whoops, the world is ending. Nice knowing you.

   The story itself is Natasha’s last bit of redemption for her past. It tells the story of how she, as a KGB agent, ended up killing a family in Cuba that wanted to defect to Russia. As an agent, she was just following orders but it was something she did not care to do. The story ends with her rescuing a family that looked just like the family she had killed. A nice ending but one that I wish was given a little more detail.

   The art work is great. Phil Noto is one hell of an artist, finding ways to show both power and weakness in characters that others would probably miss. His work on Natasha alone is amazing. Again, I love the fact that she is not drawn like the stereotypical ways women are drawn in comics. She’s not showing excessive skin. She doesn’t have boobs that could knock over a tank. She looks like a normal woman. Beautiful but normal. More artists need to use this as a model for female characters in their stories.

Bottom Line:

   I am so disappointed in this issue. All good things come to an end as they say but this ending is more like an after thought than anything else. Marvel has been so focused on setting up Secret Wars that they have disregarded the important work that is going on in comics like Black Widow.

   Having said that, despite the obstacles put in their way Edmondson and Noto have ended the series in style. It deserved much more of a proper ending that what it received but it’s still not bad. I hope these two meet up again to explore more of Natasha’s adventures in the Marvel Universe.

The City on the Edge of Forever

When people are asked what the best episode of the original Star Trek television series is, most folks will state The City On The Edge Of Forever as the best and for good reason. From open scene to sweeping finale, that episode was the best written episode on television. Originally written by renowned writer Harlan Ellison, the final script ended up being revised at the hands of writers that Gene Roddenberry approved making some changes to the story that Harlan wrote. Fans of Mr. Ellison will know that he does not take kindly to changes to his work. Like any writer, I am sure that if a change makes sense he would have no problem with it but some changes to the story were contrary to his original intent for the story. For years, the closest people came to seeing what Mr. Ellison’s version of the story would be came in the form of a put he put out in the mid-90’s. IDW Comics this past year released the trade paperback comic that adapts Harlan’s original script into comic form, the closest we will ever get to seeing how this story was supposed to look.   To start with, there aren’t too many changes between this version of the story and what aired on television. The biggest change off the bat cakes with the fact that contrary to the episode, where Dr. McCoy has an accidental overdose of a drug and heads to the planet where the Guardians of Forever are located, the story in the comic opens with two random crew members using drugs.

This is an interesting development. While I get why it never saw the light of day in the 60’s, one huge disappointment I have with Star Trek comes with Gene Roddenberry’s ridiculous vision of what he thinks the future will be. While I can get behind a vision of the future where we don’t have to deal with some of the nonsense we deal with today, I simply don’t buy a future where all personal strife is gone and things like humans using chemicals to alter their perception of reality is a thing of the past. Humans have always found ways to self mediate through the ages and if we ever do reach the stars, I would be shocked if we didn’t find some way to snort moon rocks in order to get high.

The crewman that was a drug deal ends up getting caught after he kills someone on the ship who was threatening to snitch him to the Captain. The drug dealing crewman is the one who heads to the planet and heads back into time. McCoy doesn’t make much of an appearance in the story.

That’s the biggest issue I had with this story. By having an unknown crewman be the one who travels back into time, you took out what essentially became the heart of the story. The only good thing this crew member did in the course of this comic was attempt to save Edith Keeler from the speeding truck that ended up killing her. I didn’t buy that a person who straight up killed someone just because he was going to be snitched up would think twice about a strange lady who, in the course of this comic, he only sees when she’s crossing the street with the truck barreling down on her. The only change I would have made would have been to include some scenes, similar to the original television show, that showed the crewman in question interacting with Edith Keeler so he would have a reason to save her. You may be saying ‘Why wouldn’t he just do the right thing and try to save someone no matter what?’ In real life, yeah, that happens all the time. You hear stories of folks that are otherwise the scummiest of people that end up doing something nice or even life saving for someone. It happens. But this is a story. You have to establish a character as someone who would go out of their way to save someone. You cannot have a whole story where this guy is straight up evil and then decide at the drop of a dime that he’s suddenly going to be good. Again, this is not saying that I think it was absolutely wrong for this character to save Edith Keeler, Harlan should have done more to establish that this is something the character would actually do. Something as simple as a scene or two with this character and Miss Keeler would have sufficed.

The other change comes with making Edith Keeler’s importance to history a lot more ambiguous. In the original episode Edith was responsible for preventing World War 2 from happening after she lived which altered the known timeline. She had to die in order for everything to be set right. Kirk and Spock end the episode by stating that she had the right idea for peace, just that it came at the wrong time.

By making her importance to history a little more ambiguous, you take out the pro war aspect of the original story which I think is a superior change. To have a show that tackled so much in terms of dealing with the woes of society have an episode like this that essentially supported war just cause is a dark spot on the franchise. Yeah, war can happen. People being people, they will always find ways to hurt each other. But making one woman who worked in a street mission responsible for preventing one of the deadliest wars in history just to showcase her importance was frankly not needed. The story more than set up her peace loving nature. There was no reason to detail what she specifically did in history. All that needed to be said was that she was important and that her death was needed to maintain the timeline.

When it comes to the art, I was not a fan of it. I did like, however, the inclusion of what can only be deemed an artists commentary at the end of the book. I have found that I have been able to get a better appreciation for some things I normally didn’t care for by simply finding out what inspired them to produce what they did. Take Tim Burton’s Batman. I hated the art direction for that movie. Just hated it. To me, it was just another chance for Tim Burton to be cute for his audience. Yet I ended up appreciating why he made the choices he did when he stated his idea for the art direction of the story was to make the sets appear like what a 1989 location would look like to someone born in the 1940’s. I may still think it looks like crap but understanding his reasoning for doing it makes me a little less annoyed.

Bottom Line:

This is a must read for Star Trek fans. While the story is not perfect, when you have a master wordsmith like Harlan Ellison finally getting a chance to show the world both with words and visually the idea he had for this episode, you have to support it. The gripes I had with this comic are purely subjective. Just because I didn’t care for them doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the wrong choices. I just didn’t like them and would have responded differently if I were writing the piece.

The artists commentary at the end is worth the price of admission alone. For an artist, it is a great way to see what went into the creation of the comic. For a non artist like myself, knowing what brought about some of the pieces of the comic gives me more understanding why they chose to do what they did. While I am a huge fan of the art, the artists commentary made me think twice about what I viewed. This is well worth a read.

Blink #1

   The X-Men. Thanks to various cartoon appearances throughout the years I am familiar with the characters but admittedly have not read too many of the comics where the characters originated. I wish I had a reason. I don’t hate the characters. Wolverine is an amazing character that I absolutely love yet for whatever reason I’ve found myself drawn to other comics in the super hero genre.   With the new X-Men: Apocalypse coming out this year I wanted to dive into the deep end of the X-Men pool so I decided I would give the story that became the inspiration of the film, Age of Apocalypse, a try. So I come to these stories as a new reader with a very basic understanding of the characters apart from the more well knowns like Wolverine, Cyclops, Magneto, and Professor X.

   The first story in the Age of Apocalypse story arc is Blink #1. Apparently this four issue series of Blink was written well after the creation of the Age of Apocalypse story but retroactively placed at the start of the story. That fact makes the story a little tough to follow since the story assumes you know a lot of what is going on before you even pick up the story. While we do encounter characters we are familiar with in this story, they have different motivations than we are used to so they may as well be new characters.

   That is the problem with prequels or stories like this that unintentionally become prequels. Take the Star Wars prequels for instance. Sure, they were not the landmarks of cinema that maybe George Lucas thought they would be but despite their many flaws, they told the story of how the heroes we do like and care about got to where they did when Episode 4 started. But when you’re creating a story that folks already know the ending to, it’s tough to create a story with characters and situations that are new and exciting since we already know where characters end up with the later part of the story. Any sort of tension or suspense you’re trying to create gets tossed out the window when you know the fate of the characters involved.

   You also have the problem of the writer not knowing how to focus correctly. What do I mean by that? The purpose of a prequel is to essentially write a new opening to an already established story. Your focus going into it has to be making sure that the story blends as well as it can with the original story as it can. Too often you find writers making decisions that assume the reader or movie watcher or whatever know something that, if they were supposed to start the story from the new starting point, should not know by this point. If you are going to have a character act in a particular way, you have to act like the audience is meeting this character for the first time and explain why, either through actions or through a little thing called exposition.

   The big issue I had going into Blink was the writer assuming myself as a reader knew a lot more of the story than I did coming in. I get that comics are a different medium than books so aren’t always afforded the benefit of a proper, exposition filled set up of the story. Being that this details a less well known character as well, saying this is a proper story introduction would be wrong as well because while it may be the start of the reading order, this is not a story where you can throw in a ‘Once Upon A Time…” and start the story off. It’s one character’s adventures tossed into an already established story. There’s nothing wrong with that per se but the disorientation I felt trying to get my bearings to me shows that starting the reading order with this issue was probably not a good idea. Does that make this a bad story? No. It’s all right. Not my cup of tea but enjoyment of a story is purely subjective. Marvel could have done a better job with the reading order.

   The art is not my cup of tea here. There are too many garish colors and oddly drawn characters for my liking. I get that these are mutants for characters so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they will look different than you or I. The problem I had was the fact that the artist in question really loved making the characters extra curvy. The characters didn’t have the bit of realness I like to see in stories. It was like the X-Men version of a Conan The Barbarian comic. Whether it be Conan or Red Sonja, everyone had to have muscles upon muscles or extra billowing bosoms which just distracts me from the story. I understand that comics are not movies. They’re not supposed to be as close to real people as possible. I just don’t care for the exaggerated nature these characters were drawn in.

Bottom Line:

   I didn’t care for this. I wouldn’t call it bad but for my tastes, it just didn’t do it for me. In regards to its placement as the start of the Age of Apocalypse reading order, something feels off here. It doesn’t really feel like a proper beginning which really made getting through this issue a chore. I’m supposed to know a lot of what is happening already when I start…but this is supposed to be the start of the story. They’re trying to accomplish two things at once which for my money, was a failure.

Ultimate Spider-Man #22

   It wouldn’t be a comic book if we didn’t have a villain that was presumed dead show up again out of nowhere to battle our hero. This is the case in issue 22 of Ultimate Spider-Man when his ultimate enemy, The Green Goblin, comes back to town.   The fear of bringing a character back in a story like this is the chance of ruining a character you’ve established as a big bad guy. You want to be able to bring back the same level of evil that was in your story before as well as expanding upon it, hopefully making your story and character that much better.

   A brilliant example of this is Star Wars. Darth Vader, when introduced in Star Wars Episode 4, was a standard bad guy. If you think about it objectively, Darth really is just a standard, by the numbers bad guy in that movie. There are seeds there that Lucas and others were able to exploit in terms of expanding the character and giving him more depth but in A New Hope, he was there to kick ass and be the foil for the Rebels. Hell, he wasn’t even the main bad guy. He was the lackey for Governor Tarkin. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that he became the focal point antagonist.

   One thing that concerned me this issue was time. Harry Osborn arrives back at school after supposedly spending time with an Uncle in Colorado. Based on the conversation between Peter and him, it didn’t seem like Harry had been gone long. They describe the Green Goblin attack on the school as if it were pretty recent. My guess is that they are still in the same semester in school. It doesn’t make much sense though because so much has happened during that short period of time that frankly I think it would be impossible for someone to pull off everything Peter has done without anyone knowing what the hell he is doing. Maybe it’s just me but having some semblance of time in a story helps space everything out. When the reader doesn’t have a firm grasp of time, when events are happening in the timeline of the story, it can lose the reader or make them question like I just did how everything in the story could happen in such a short period of time. Not that the story has to notate time like the television show 24 did but some line, something, indicating the amount of time that Harry had been away would have been nice.

   When Peter and Norman were brought into the same room I really enjoyed Norman telling Peter that his time as Spider-Man was over. While we don’t know where it is going yet there was a touch of logic in what Norman was telling Peter. Again, it’s probably the father in me but I found myself agreeing with Norman. Peter should not be Spider-Man. He’s a fifteen year old kid who is in way over his head. Norman was not wrong when he told Peter to stop. Granted, if Peter did stop we wouldn’t have one of the greatest comics in history so I’m glad he didn’t listen but thinking about it, you can appreciate the fact that others would think he is a fool for trying to save the world. Obviously, Norman Osborn has ulterior motives. Yet I think it is a stroke of genius to have him talk to Peter about stopping what he is doing. When you can take a villain and give him some motivation that the reader can relate to or even agree with in some way, you’re giving the audience a much richer character than the standard mustache twirling bad guy.

Bottom Line:

   We’re on the start of something good here. After the disaster of the last story with Doctor Octopus and Kraven, it’s great to finally get rolling with the right way with an already established character that is properly addressing issues from the past between them to start something new. The appearance of Norman is well worth the price of admission to the story alone.

   Mark Bagly’s work this issue is well evidenced by Peter’s walk to Norman Osborn’s home office. The look of dread and trepidation in his face almost negates the need for dialogue because you’re already aware of what is going through his mind. Even with the worst issues in the Ultimate Spider-Man run, Mark Bagly’s art is the highlight of the issue, showcasing action, emotion, and plain simple visual storytelling in a way that is not confusing to the reader at all.

   Really the only thing I would have changed this issue was Aunt May being suddenly open to sending Peter to see Norman and Harry after the events of last issue. The reason I would make a change was because they had her do a 180* with Peter being grounded. While Norman’s assistant was at Peter’s home talking to Aunt May, they didn’t have any dialogue referencing why she had a change of heart, just that she was ok with Peter going to the house. When all is said and done though, if this is the only issue I really had, Bagly and Bendis are doing something good.