The Avengers #1

I’ve decided to change things up a bit. For a while I tried reading the first thing that interested me on a particular day. Then I went through the Spider-Island story. From there I’ve been reviewing Ultimate Spider-Man. While I am loving the Ultimate run, I do see the need to kind of have some variety. As the old saying goes, you can’t live on bread, or just Spider-Man alone. So with that, I’m going to have a schedule.

  1. Sunday-The Amazing Spider-Man
  2. Monday-Civil War
  3. Tuesday-Age of Apocalypse
  4. Wednesday-Death of Wolverine
  5. Thursday-Ultimate Spider-Man
  6. Friday-Fear Itself
  7. Saturday-The Avengers

This of course will be subject to change. Whether it be boredom or finishing up a particular story line, there will be times I shift to another series or event story. In the end, I think this will give me the variety I want plus more exposure to more writers and artists.

So what is there to say about The Avengers? For one, I really enjoyed how the backbone of the story has stayed pretty consistent throughout the years. There have been changes of personnel and relationships among the group have changed over time but the basic premise for the story has stayed surprisingly consistent. Contrast that with DC Comics titles from this time the you’d be hard pressed to find a story that bears any resemblance to their modern counterparts.

To me this speaks well to the genius of Stan Lee and the other contributors at Marvel. The only reason I single Stan out of course is that he’s pretty much the figure head for the writers and artists that Marvel have employed throughout the years. And for the longest time Stan was the man behind the words in all the comics Marvel put out which, even using the Marvel Method (where Stan would provide an artist a basic story outline, the artist would draw the entire comic, then Stan would furnish the story for the written work), is an amazing feat we won’t see from a major comics publisher again.

So what works in this issue? To me, it boils down to simplicity. A bad guy, Loki, wants to fight Thor, frames the Hulk for a crime he didn’t commit, and inadvertently gets a number of other heroes on his case before he is ultimately defeated. While it goes without saying that you would probably get a much deeper appreciation for the story if you have read the stand alone issues for each of these characters, another wonderful part about The Avengers is that the story for the most part stands alone. Prior knowledge of events that happened in other comics is not needed to enjoy what is happening, yet you will find plenty of editor’s notes indicating which comics in question you can read to find out the back story you may be interested in.

One character I haven’t really gotten used to is The Hulk. I will admit that this is because I grew up on the old Incredible Hulk television show which for my money is still one of the best comic book shows ever made. Since getting back into reading comics, I have found it quite strange to see the Hulk more cantankerous than I remember him to be. And the Hulk talking? Come on. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the Hulk in this. Apart from him suddenly joining the team after being hounded by them all issue, he’s a wonderful character that I want to see more of in this story.

The only real complaint I have about this issue is Stan’s penchant for filling the pages up with as much text as possible. I fully appreciate that this story was written at a time where most folks were still used to radios being the main form of entertainment even though by this time radios were pretty much being regulated to a secondary entertainment tool in the home. The story comes across like a radio play. I found myself annoyed at some instances where Stan is describing what is going on when there was no need to do so because the art clearly showed what was going on. Again, this comic was a product of its age. If the comic were written today it would be much different. (As evidenced by this great reimagining from Joe Casey and Phil Noto.) Despite that, the story holds up incredibly well. The flaws for the most part add charm to the story because it is very much the type of feeling you get when a team gets together for the first time.

Bottom Line:

This is a must read. That goes without saying. This issue is one of a few issues in comics history that stand as a true corner stone of what make comics great. While Joss Whedon didn’t follow this comic at all when he created the first Avengers movie, I was surprised at how much of a spiritual remake of the comic that movie was.

The art work is crude by today’s standards but make no mistake, most artists wish they could achieve a tenth of what Jack Kirby created. While images have gotten more streamlined and outfits of our heroes have changed over time, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t say these characters are the same as the ones in the comics today.

Interestingly, you can also say this was the time where the Fantastic Four handed over the mantle of Marvel’s most important team. Spider-Man and to a lesser extent Wolverine and The Punisher, may be the money cows of Marvel. For my money, The Avengers teaming up was the most important act Marvel could have made during this time even though admittedly if it weren’t for a little team at DC called The Justice League, who knows if The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, would have heeded the call and joined together.

The Amazing Spider-Man #673

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All good things, scratch that. All mediocre things must come to an end and we finally reach our end destination in the Spider Island story. To date I have been pretty critical but what would be the point if I just gushed over how amazing everything I read was? If people were honest, they would find something to critique in anything. And let’s not forget that most critiques involve purely subjective opinions. When I’ve written work and given it to others for their opinion, I realized that their opinion was simply what I was going to get. Said opinion may show me an insight to the story that I did not consider which would cause me to make changes to better reflect the new idea. Said opinion may have no bearing on the story whatsoever so I promptly discard it. Unless we’re talking about break the rules of modern English, grammar or spelling mistakes, how people create a story will be unique to each person. Add on to that an artist and the other members of the creative team and you have a whole group of folks who have input on the story at hand, much more than a simple novelist who apart from friends will have to deal with an editor and maybe an agent depending on how far along they are in their career.

So the epilogue to Spider Island, what did I think of it? Rushed would be a term that comes to mind. There were a number of elements that were still unresolved up to this point like the location of Carlie, Mary Jane still having the sickness, Kaine still being around, and the aftermath of the plague which were briefly resolved but not to any real satisfaction. The aftermath alone takes up all of three pages and the writer is more eager to whip out double entendres than going into any detail as to what it was like for so many people to get sick like that. Of course they’re not going to be able to do personal stories on each and every person but I really think there was a chance here to explore some of the human tragedy that most likely happened. How do I know this you may ask? Look at how J. Jonah Jameson almost killed a guy when the sickness transformed him. You cannot tell me that this was the only isolated case where that happened. Maybe they’re didn’t need much explanation but I do think they could have had a little more emotion than glibness and embarrassment over being suddenly naked.

Peter Parker apparently cares so much about Carlie that he promptly forgot about her the moment she turned into a spider. Once everyone was well he had time to go see his Aunt off at the airport and swing through town before heading home. Once he gets home, Carlie splits with him. She ends up revealing that duh, she knew he was Spider-Man. Seems the fact that once he claimed he was sick with the disease he suddenly know some kick ass karate while everyone else had to struggle a bit kind of blew his cover, even though like the old Lois Lane not knowing Clark Kent is Superman deal, you have to wonder what the hell is wrong with anyone that is close to Peter who he saves on a consistent basis doesn’t know he is Spider-Man. You would think that he would try changing his voice like Christian Bale did for the Batman movies but he’s always presented as talking just like himself. I don’t blame the writer for this one. It is a logic flaw in the character that’s never really been explored. We do have a bit of a back story of Doctor Strange putting a one time hex on everyone so they would not know that Peter is Spider-Man unless he reveals himself. But Peter is so careless with letting others know who he is despite his protestations otherwise that it amazes me that some inquiring reporter would not have been able to track him down. In the real world, much like Phoenix Jones in Seattle, there would come a time where the hero would make a mistake and be caught, having his identity revealed. Or someone would spot him and just follow him. He swings through the air. He may go at a decent clip but with the right vehicle you should be able to get an idea where his base is. But I digress.

The artwork was much better in this issue. What really stands out is the scene where Carlie splits up with Peter. That last shot where she has left the room and he’s standing there alone, we have a glimpse from above which just magnifies the sadness which is great. Despite not being in the story much, she was in enough that I ended up liking her. Yeah, Peter and Mary Jane are meant to be together which is why Peter screws this up but you feel bad for Carlie here because I get the impression that she really would have dug it if Peter had revealed the truth to her.

Bottom Line:

Spider Island has its flaws but it is still one hell of a read. I wish more time was given to some of the main characters in the story instead of spreading the available story so thin with sub plot after subplot. If they really wanted to focus on certain side characters, they should have given those characters free reign in other supplemental issues and not included them at all in this story. For the Venom subplot, if you took it out of the Spider-Man issue and simply left it all in the Venom comics, nothing would change. We’d still get a pretty decent story of a guy dealing with his past while juggling the responsibilities of the present. But tossing him into the main story just took away from time that could have been spent expanding the main story.

The Amazing Spider-Man #672

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We come to the ending, but not the ending if you can believe that, of Spider Island. The big bad of the story meets her apparent doom but thanks to some sloppy writing, I had no clue what the hell was going on with this particular issue. There was no logical reason why everything ended up resolving the way it did apart from the editors at Marvel telling the writer to wrap things up quick.

One part that annoyed me with this issue was Mary Jane’s involvement. She shows up out of nowhere at a facility a person in her position should not even have known about. Then they have her ask why she’s been so slow in developing the symptoms that everyone else had and the results are almost comic. Reed Richards pretty much comes out and tells her that with Peter Parker porking her for as long as he did, she was able to develop an immunity that others did not have. But this statement from Mr. Fantastic kind of goes against the earlier bit of business at the start of the story where Peter does his absolute best to keep his identity private from anyone, including people who would actually benefit from knowing like fellow super heroes. At this point, I get that Peter was a part of the Fantastic Four and his identity would be something that Mr. Fantastic would probably want to know before he joined. Long time readers also know that Peter and Johnny Storm have a long standing friendship so at some point you could see Peter letting slip his identity. Frankly, it makes no sense for him to trust Reed and not many other people. Can you really argue that he mistrusted Iron Man? He couldn’t trust Captain America with his identity? Nick Fury would go blabbing to everyone about that punk kid from Queens who dresses like a spider?

The sheer amount of heroes in the story was too much of an overkill. Every character in the Marvel Universe shares the same world (for the most part) so I get that it would be unrealistic if an event of this magnitude occurred without a response from anyone other than Spider-Man. The problem I see lies in the fact that they have so many people in the story that they haven’t found a way to give each character a reason to be there. Take The Thing. He has some really funny moments in the story. I enjoyed his part in the comic but honestly, if he were removed from the story nothing would be lost. The same could be said for The Avengers. You know they would be fighting a threat like this but did we need to see pages devoted to them when they’re not really a part of the story at all? There are some supplemental stories that go along with Spider Island. If they wanted to include The Avengers, they really should have given them more than a silly cameo.

The Mary Jane arc actually ends with something interesting. Long time readers know that Peter and MJ had to divorce thanks to a deal Peter made with Mephisto in order to save Aunt May’s life. They’d been teasing that Mary Jane was a lot more comfortable with Peter than he was with her at this point. Peter had another girlfriend and everything, who is still missing at this point. What a great guy for trying to look for her. At the end of the issue, while Peter is concentrating on defeating The Queen, she tells him she loves him. Knowing how they were forced to split, it was great that they were still able to show the reading world that Peter and Mary Jane still had feelings for each other. Granted, they have their arms around each other like old friends so maybe this isn’t a love that will rekindle back into marriage. But it is a scenario that makes you feel like all is right with the world.

Bottom Line:

There are still two issues left in the suggested reading order for Spider Island but this really ends the threat. I have to imagine that at this point, the other two issues will involve more cleaning up of loose ends than anything else. I have real issues with this story but I don’t think it’s a bad story. It is something I would slightly recommend with the understanding that this will frustrate you to no end. There are so many places that this story could have went but it seems like the writer, Dan Slott, was forced to include story elements for the sake of including them. They didn’t have any real impact on the story at all. Even the Mary Jane subplot, if you take it out of the story, bears no impact whatsoever on what is going on. Also, while I have no problem with Peter getting back together with Mary Jane, showing him having no concern for his current girlfriend who mutated into a spider and followed The Queen’s bidding is just so damn callous. They should have had him more concerned than not at all.

The artwork I am still not a fan of. The last panel, where Peter and Mary Jane sit on top of the Empire State Building looking at New York was a great end to the story but again, the rest is just too sloppy and distracting for me to have any interest.

The Amazing Spider-Man #671

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False advertising. When someone promises you something and they don’t deliver. The cover to this issue has a scantily clad Mary Jane Watson dressed up in what little clothes she’s wearing looking like Spider-Man. With that cover and the short synopsis from the previous issue teasing that Mary Jane finally has spider powers, you would think Mary Jane would be a big focus of this particular issue.

If you believed that you would be wrong. She takes up all of two pages of inconsequential action in the story. If you’re going to promise something in the story it is imperative you follow up on it. Did I think before this issue that we’d see some major transformational arc for Mary Jane? Not really. However, I did think we’d see much more of her. You would think they would find a way to make her actions somehow crucial to the end results of the story but that didn’t happen here. She just beat up and escaped from the group of bad guys that were attack her in the previous issue. I don’t know about you but I can’t anticipate Marvel choosing ever choosing to let something really horrible happen to a character who is as prominent as MJ. What, were they going to allow her to get raped and killed by the bad guys? Of course now. She was, and always will, escape before something really bad happens to her because she is such an important character in the Marvel Universe and that is fine. Just find a way to give her a reason to be in the story apart from a scantily clad outfit. (I won’t complain about scantily clad outfits, just give me a reason to care for that character.)

The Jackal meets a very painful but quick death in this issue and thank goodness. He was such a horrible bad guy. Like most television shows in the Joss Whedon era of television, shows will have a story arc that starts off with one bad guy who ends up being a lackey for the ultimate big bad of the season. The first bad guy is presented as a formidable threat but has some pretty glaring weaknesses. The big bad has almost no weaknesses apart from one or two that the protagonists end up exploiting to save the day. When the first bad guy is presented with all the menace of a twelve year old girl throwing a hissy fit, it is easy to get annoyed and loose all interest in the story. The Jackal was a horrible bad guy. Just bad. I hope I never come across him in comics again. How a whiny, pathetic character like The Jackal could have ever been thought of as intimidating is beyond me. He was so bad that it frankly made me question The Queen’s effectiveness as a big bad. Why should we think she has the ability to defeat the good guys in the story if she thinks someone as stupid as The Jackal could help her achieve her goals?

While we have two minor points that give us clues to future issues in the story, there’s not really much going on in this story. We have five different subplots going on this in this story and not much real estate to devote to them. My biggest complaint with this story has been the lack of focus, the tendency of the writer to want to include as many characters as he can without giving them the proper time to be able to flesh their stories out. When you’re telling a story that is being told in at least a monthly format, you have to be able to give the characters you’re including the time to have their stories have a proper arc, a proper beginning, middle, and end. Yet over and over again I find that characters are showing up in this story just cause with no real effect on the main story at hand. This issue for instance, if Mary Jane was not in the story, nothing would have changed. Nothing. If we weren’t talking about Mary Jane and just some random character that long time readers had no emotional involvement with, we’d have even less reason to care about what happened to her in this issue. Our only reason to care is simply because we know who she is, not that anything apart from the spider virus is happening to her that really affects the main story at all.

Bottom Line:

This was a stop gap issue. There was enough information this issue to advance the story along but not enough to make it good reading on its own. As I have said over and over, in my opinion I feel the goal of any comic, whether it be a single issue story or a story told over many issues, should be to not only satisfy the reader for that one particular issue but, if it is a story that is being told over many issues, give them enough teases to what future issues hold that the reader wants to come back. This issue did not accomplish that. While I would not go so far as to call it bad, it was not the type of issue that a first time reader of Spider-Man comics would be able to pick up, read, and immediately get sucked into the world of Spidey and friends. He’d more than likely be confused as to what the hell was going on more than anything. For that, I have to consider this issue a failure.

Venom #7

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We’re back to the Venom sub plot of Spider Island. In what is a culmination of the previous issue of Venom as well as the other issues in the Spider Island story, we start off with Venom confronting Anti-Venom at a cathedral in town. The Queen is still with The Jackal anticipating her quick take over of the world. Reed Richards is confronted with a possible quick solution to the spider crisis at hand. It’s the type of story that only Canon Films from the 80’s would love! Just add Charles Bronson with a machine gun and you have a great action story! And don’t forget the boobs.

The whole Venom verses Anti-Venom story was just plain confusing. Flash is sent to get Anti-Venom to help heal the sick masses of their spider disease. Flash attempts to take him down by force despite the fact that Anti-Venom is actively trying to actually save people. I mean, if Eddie Brock is looking to be a good guy here, you would think he would know by know where the good guys hang out. Avengers Mansion is not exactly a secret underground facility. The Baxter Building is not a hidden place that keeps the fact that the Fantastic Four reside there. There were plenty of opportunities for Anti-Venom to make his intentions known without acting like an old sixties burnout suffering from one too many acid flashbacks.

For Flash, it’s been established that he’s been having some issues controlling the suit but none so far in the story to indicate that the suit has taken over. He’s had some unique thoughts that were not entirely his own, thoughts from the suit more than anything, but he’s never been to the point in the story where it appears that the suit is taking over. Yeah, there are definite signs that he is slowly losing it I will grant you that but he’s not been presented as being out of control in the story so far.

I loved the allusions to drug use that Anti-Venom was using in regards to the effects the Venom suit could have on a person. You really get the impression that Eddie Brock is looking to atone for his sins, knowing full well what the Venom suit could make a person do. It also is great foreshadowing to what I presume will be the ultimate do or die moment for Flash Thompson. If the Venom suit could turn someone like Eddie Brock insane, you have to wonder what it would do to Flash Thompson. Me thinks this comic is not one that will last for years and years because with a dangerous suit that is intent on consuming everything that makes him Flash.

The last part I really loved about this issue was Flash making up with his father. As someone who has had a, shall we say unique, relationship with his parents I totally get why Flash waited until the last moment to go to his father’s bedside. Hell, as a parent myself I ponder what my relationship to my kids will be when they grow up and I grow old. The toughest lesson a kid learns is that their parents are not superheros. They’re people, people who sometimes make the wrong decisions. Flash’s father apparently was a drunk who was not the nicest parent around which would explain why he was a bully to Peter in high school, why he latched onto Spider-Man as a hero, and why he continues to feel the need to make amends for his actions that, while certainly not nice in high school, are nothing compared to what bullying is like today. But in a way that’s an admirable trait for someone who used to be a tormentor. His desire to make positive change. How the Venom suit will change that is something we shall see in future issues.

The artwork was a hot mess. Something about Venom to me always screamed the need for having a steady hand drawing the character. When you get someone who wants to experiment some with the design, you have the wavy ink blot mess you see in this issue. The only praise I have to give the piece regards Flash visiting his father in the hospital. The emotion on Flash Thompson’s face when his father passes and the gentle touch of Betty Brant in comfort makes the previous pages crimes all but forgotten. This is how you draw for comics.

Bottom Line:

This is flawed but for how it resolves itself, you would be remiss if you ignored this comic. There are a couple great pieces of ideas tossed around in the story which are explored pretty well, both with the allusions to drug use in regards to the Venom suit as well as how Flash reacts to his father’s passing. The emotion of the piece far outshines any sort of failings the other part of the story has. If they could have removed The Avenger’s involvement in the main story and included more of Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock, I can only imagine how much more improved my opinion of the overall story would be. The Avengers involvement is really pointless. If you removed them now the story would not be affected in the slightest. Yeah, we’re in the Marvel Universe. We know The Avengers are there. Having a character just mention that they are assisting with the trouble would have been good enough for me if it gave the writer the chance to spend more time diving into such rich characters like Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock. While I am not don yet with the story, it sure seems a waste.

The Amazing Spider-Man #668

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Another day, another look in the Spider Island story. We pick up where we left off in issue 667 where The Avengers believe that Peter is one of the bad folks wrecking havoc on New York. Shang Chi arrives and lets The Avengers know that the one who’s ass they are kicking is actually Spider-Man himself. From there, Reed Richards tells him to hit the bricks.

I really dug page 4.

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That image kind of reminded me of the classic cover from issue 50 where Peter is walking down an alley in the distance and up close on the cover is a garbage can with the Spider-Man outfit hanging out of it. On that cover, Peter wanted to walk away from the responsibility that being Spider-Man had to offer. This image is just the opposite. Peter wants more than anything to be in on the action but realizes that Reed Richards is right when he told him he needed to sit out on this one.

From there he meets up with Norah with no sign of Phil Urich at all which kind of dismissed the previous issue I reviewed. Sure you could argue that this could have happened just before that issue but we need to have some sort of clue especially with the fact that Marvel wanted to put that story in chronological order before this.

There was also a nice little interaction I wish they could have spent a little more time on. When Peter is talking to Norah, Mary Jane arrives. Norah hints at the fact that Peter and Mary Jane used to be together but it’s never really addressed apart from an initial awkward interaction from the former power couple. She came across like she still cared for Peter and I didn’t get the hint of there being any sort of anger or sadness over the fact that they were not together anymore. Peter is a little awkward around her but there’s just no real explanation as to why they’re not together. Yeah, it’s detailed in another story but this is one instance where an editor’s note would have worked.

The rest of the issue details Peter going along with the situation and acting like he had the spider illness as well. He gets normal folks together to help defeat the bad guys which they ultimately do. New York is quarantined by the Mayor. And Peter gets sent by Horizon Labs to assist the police on reworking bad guy tech to help the Mayor’s spider task force. His liaison at the force? His girlfriend.

There was one bit I didn’t care for. Carlie reveals near the end that she knows The Jackal is behind everything. That’s great and all but it is never explained how she got the information. Peter is familiar with the guy so it’s understandable that he would know a thing or two about the guy but Carlie just magically knows who is causing all this. And her and Peter go alone to investigate. I am no expert on how government works but I can safely say that if there was a virus that was so severe that they had to quarantine a major city in this country, if anyone in law enforcement had any sort of clue as to who could have caused it, they would send every mother fucker they could to get the guy and give him the Guantanamo Bay treatment. They wouldn’t send a young lady in her mid-20’s along with her goofy scientist boyfriend. It’s like the end of The Silence of the Lambs where Clarice goes to Buffalo Bill’s house alone. She thought she was going on a wild goose chase but it turned out she caught the guy single handed. It just blows my mind though. At the very least you would think they would want to send a partner with her to make that scenario in the movie believable. The scenario in the comic is just not believable.

The art work was more of the sloppy anime nonsense that I didn’t care for. Some of the character designs were just off, making them look like melted action figures than actual people. Apart from the page I talked about earlier, the art is just bad. I almost expect Voltron to make an appearance in the comic.

Bottom Line:

Story wise, this was a pretty decent issue. They worked themselves into a corner with Peter wanting to help defeat the bad guys with spider powers but they found a good way to get out of that by having Peter lie and say he was affected by the virus as well. It does a decent job of wrapping up the first act of the Spider Island story and offering some clues for what the future of the story will bring us.

I do wish they could touch upon a couple of things. One, if they’re going to have stories in other issues detailing the actions of The Hobgoblin and show the reader that Phil Urich has deceived Norah into being his woman, the least they could do is acknowledge that that happened in another issue. Also, I want some sort of clue as to what happened between Peter and Mary Jane. An editor’s note would make me happy in this case even though in issue 667 I complained about the number of editor’s notes. There is a weird little dynamic going on between the two that is not really being addressed and I want more information. I think of it like this. Yeah, I know I can do a little research and dive into the Marvel Unlimited app and discover what happened. But I shouldn’t have to. Either give the reader some clue as to what happened between the two since they have established that they used to be a couple or simply don’t have her in the story. This ambiguous awkwardness between the two is frustrating because there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. They both seem cool with each other apart from Peter being a little awkward because he doesn’t want to throw in her face the fact that he has another relationship. In the past, Peter and Mary Jane were married so to go from that to this, something happened. I want to know what since it appears the writer wants us to focus on this for this particular story.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #1

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The first comic series I dove into on the Marvel Unlimited app was Ultimate Spider-Man. What a wonderful world that was created in that series. In what was essentially a reboot of the franchise, they took the character we all know and love and essentially started over. They didn’t make any real changes to the characters themselves, they just imagined what the Peter Parker story would look like if he were first bitten by the radioactive spider in the year 2000. A modern take on the origin of Spider-Man.

But that wasn’t the only series that appeared in the Ultimate universe. They rebooted a couple other franchises as well, one being The Fantastic Four. Before this, I admittedly had never read a regular Fantastic Four comic. I was most definitely aware of them of course. You can’t be a fan of any Marvel Comics character without coming across them at least once. And come on, The Thing kicks ass. A tough talking rock man who beats people up all in the name of science? What more could a comic ask for?

Boobs.

So this issue introduces us to Reed Richards right at birth. From day one he has an inquisitive mind that causes him to see the world much differently than the way you or I see it. From there we see him as a young man being taunted by classmates. Who comes to the rescue but one Ben Grimm, star football player? It was wonderful to see the relationship between the two. I loved how they didn’t set it up where the two met for the first time. When we first see them together their relationship is already well formed. While Ben Grimm is very much Reed Richard’s guardian angel from the bullies at his school, we see that he also realizes that Reed is the far superior one among the two. In that sense, Ben Grimm is one hell of a smart man. He knows his weaknesses and is willing to follow the folks that can help him out. I also appreciated the single minded focus of Reed Richards. Not to give too much away but Reed ends up a changed person if you follow his path from this issue towards Secret Wars and beyond. It’s nice to see that from page one, issue one we see some of the seeds of what ends up making him the character he becomes.

The main focus in this story is the introduction to the N-Zone. The Negative Zone. Reed discovers it and with the help of some dismantled household appliances, he finds a way to send his toys into the zone. Once he makes this public at a school science fair, he is recruited to join a special school in the world famous Baxter Building. Heading the group is one Franklin Storm. He welcomes Reed and introduces him to his son and daughter, Johnny and Sue Storm. Then the shocker. The Negative Zone that Reed had discovered was also discovered by the folks at the Baxter Building. Even better, they have built a machine that allows them to see into the Negative Zone. Reed was the first to actually send something there. With the two working together, we have a great seed for further issues.

What was great about this issue over all, much like other titles in the Ultimate line, was that each issue is great at giving you a story that resolves in one particular issue but gives you a reason to read further, much like old movie serials. Each issue, while it may be a part of a bigger story, still has to function as its own individual story. You never know when a reader is going to hop on board and if you don’t find a way to walk the tightrope and please both the long time readers and readers that just start with any particular issue, you will end up alienating anyone looking to start on any series. The Ultimate line was great at the tightrope act.

The art was beautiful. It was a beautiful mix of traditional Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko style of work with the added depth you would expect from a modern story. Some of the best parts of the Ultimate line of comics has been the modern takes on the classic characters. The characters as we know them are represented well but have the modern take that makes their characters in these stories unique. What I mean is, the Fantastic Four in this story are not the characters we know and love from the main Marvel stories. They are very much their own unique selves.

The depth in the pictures is great as well. As I have complained about in the past, too often stories that are supposed to be grand in scope end up looking like they are taking place in a very small room. That is not the case here, even when the story is taking place at Reed Richards childhood home. You get a sense that everything that is happening is happening in a real world environment.

Bottom Line:

The Ultimate series from Marvel have all been wonderful additions to their line of comics. They have added some extra depth to characters we all that we knew and loved already. While I was disappointed that with the Secret Wars event and the All New, All Different Marvel that is out now would involve the ending of the Ultimate universe, the fact is these comics and characters are going nowhere. Whether it be the inclusion of the characters in the regular Marvel universe or simply going back and reading the old issues on Marvel Unlimited, these stories are great ways for fans to start from the beginning with characters that have been around for ages. Do yourself a favor and read these stories. The work that was done on bringing them to life in a way that pleased both old fans and new. I could imagine that when these comics first came out, long time Fantastic Four fans may have been skeptical as to why this needed to be done. The end result proves that what is old can be new again.

Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four #1

FF

Call your Aunt Petunia and let her know it’s clobberin’ time because the Fantastic Four are about to join the Secret Invasion.

Summary:

http://marvel.com/comics/issue/21269/secret_invasion_fantastic_four_2008_1

The Good:

A few issues back we saw a quick scene at the Baxter Building where Sue Storm, or a Skrull appearing to be Sue Storm, goes into Reed Richard’s lab, destroys the control that keep a gate on the Negative Zone, and sits back as the Baxter Building is sucked into the Negative Zone. This issue goes into a little more detail as to what was going on. Think of it like what Robert Rodriguez did with Machete. They had the initial small trailer to that movie filmed and ended up making the movie around the trailer. Same concept here. The same scene from the earlier comic is still there but we get a little more understand of what brought them to that point and what happens afterwards.

We get a good sense of the family dynamic in this issue. We get The Thing and Johnny Storm doing the nagging friends bit toward each other which is great to see, which was sort of replicated in the Fantastic Four movie with Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis. (That movie was far from a cinema classic but I think it hit the points it needed to make and was a pretty decent film.) The characters seemed familiar with each other and their interactions with each other were natural. I appreciated how Johnny suspected Sue was not who she was from pretty much the start.

I really dug The Thing. While he didn’t say my favorite catch phrase this issue (I’m sure it’s coming!) the love he felt for Reed and Sue’s kids was felt by his actions. He did everything he could to keep the kids from having to face the fact that they were in real mortal danger. For a character that looks like The Thing to show the kind of tenderness is actually nice to see.

I liked the character designs in this issue. Very clean, you could get a real sense of their emotions as they dealt with some really messed up scenarios. The look on The Thing’s face alone when he discovers they’re in the Negative Zone is worth the comic alone.

The Bad:

They did a really bad job in trying to fool people into thinking that Sue had somehow escaped from the Skrull that had impersonated Reed Richards. To go from being held captive, to suddenly appearing on the other side of the country at the Baxter Building where she proceeds to bring them into the Negative Zone to giving that ridiculous like that Reed Richards, who had put numerous super villains into the Negative Zone as a prison of sorts would want his wife and children to be housed with them for their safety was ridiculous. Why it ended up taking Johnny Storm as long as it did for him to guess that the woman impersonating his sister was in fact not his sister made you simply want to toss a bucket of water on him and kick him in the nuts for his abject stupidity.

They were trying to go for something big with that reveal but it fell flatter than my pickup lines with women when I was single. Nowhere was there any sort of hint to the reader that Sue had somehow escaped her captivity. Nowhere. And if she were looking to protect her family, why would she walk by them without even acknowledging them? A mother that is certain of imminent danger to her kids will not casually stroll by them without even looking in their faces.

It’s the little things that kill me in comics sometimes. I get that twenty pages can be filled quite fast. They don’t have the luxury to tell a story in a traditional way like I did with my novel (Time to Play the Game, available here. http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/48189) in the sense that each issue has to have it’s own story. It has to feel like a stand alone story that entices people to want to know more about the world they dived into. Yet you still have to follow some of the basic tenants of storytelling. You can’t speed through an idea simply because you don’t have the space for it. If they wanted to create doubt in the reader’s mind that Sue Storm was in fact NOT kidnapped by the Skrulls they should have done more to hint that she may have escaped her ordeal. They did not do that so when the eventual reveal came that she was in fact a Skrull, you wanted to slap the writer in the face for taking as long as he did for stating the obvious.

While the character art was well done, once again I find myself looking at drawings of locations I don’t believe are real. “Hey dumbass,” you might be saying. “It’s a comic. Of course it’s not real!”

I’m not implying that I feel the locations need to feel like I can actually step onto the scene. In Star Wars, Mos Eisley is not real but the way it’s presented on the screen it felt real. You felt life in each nook and cranny of Mos Eisley. I should feel that in this issue as well especially when it comes to such a fantastical place like the Negative Zone. If the artist cannot make the locations appear real, it takes you out of the suspension of disbelief. You think “It’s a shitty set!” and zone out. Any threat or menace that they’re trying to create for these characters is immediately tossed out the window.

Bottom Line:

While I did not appreciate being treated like a moron when it came to the reveal that Sue Storm was a Skrull, this was not a horrible issue. The Thing really saved it with how he dealt with being Uncle Ben. It was a work of pure genius to take a tough guy who looks like a monster and make him into a lovable but gruff family man (Thanks Stan and Jack!) but the Fantastic Four are a great group of characters. I would love to see these characters given the love they deserve on television. I think a two hour film doesn’t give their dynamic justice. Some characters like Iron Man or Spider-Man you can breeze through the set up and get straight to the ass kicking. The Fantastic Four to me have always been about the dynamic between the characters and that is something I think the movies missed. (I refuse to watch the Josh Trank version. I’d rather watch the Roger Corman version.) Television would give writers more time to explore the dynamic between the characters and allow us to become more emotionally invested in them when they actually do face off against the bad guys. This story, despite its flaws, does a pretty good job in showing off what makes the Fantastic Four such an historic comic. I give the story a 5.

The art was not as horrible as I may have made it out to be. While the locations killed me for appearing to be so fake, I loved how real and emotional the characters were drawn, especially The Thing. I give the art a 6.

And now our Feature Presentation:

Secret Invasion #2

Secret_Invasion_Vol_1_2

The Secret Invasion continues as we dive into another issue of the Secret Invasion story via the Marvel Comics suggested reading order.

Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Secret_Invasion_Vol_1_2

The Good:

We pick up where the last issue of Secret Invasion left off where the Avengers team encounters the Skrull invasion force that came off the ship looking like the heroes from our world. The tension is high as the creatures that come off the ship act as if they are the actual people they appear to be which makes for some uncomfortable encounters when Spider-Man encounters Spider-Man and Luke Cage encounters the 70’s version of Luke Cage.

Bendis did a great job sowing doubt as to whether everyone that came off that ship was a Skrull. Could it possibly be that some of the people are who they say they are? Things quickly devolve and the heroes start fighting. From there some characters are revealed to be Skrulls after they are killed. The impostor Spider-Man is killed as well as the impostor Hawkeye. We get a scene though where the real Hawkeye, now known as Ronin, encounters who they believe to be the Skrull version of Mockingbird, asks her a question that he feels only she would know the answer to, and when she answers the way he thinks she would, he decides that she is the real article. We as the reader though have to question whether that is the case. How much are the Skrull’s able to get from the minds of humans before they impersonate them? They have to be pretty convincing otherwise the invasion would fail rather quickly no matter how much they look like the people they hope to impersonate.

We quickly switch back to New York where the effects of the fake Sue Storm destroying the gate to the Negative Zone is quickly breaking apart the Baxter Building and more. A group called the Young Avengers witness everything and just as they decide that maybe they should do something, guess what appears in the sky? Skrull invasion ships! In a scene that I’m sure was on Joss Whedon’s mind when he was writing the script to the first Avengers film, the last image we see is an army of Skrulls as they descend upon New York. (In the movies and the Ultimate comic book line created my Brian Bendis, the aliens are referred to as the Chitauri. They are established as being a separate from the Skrulls simply because the Skrulls movie rights do not lie with Marvel but with 20th Century Fox I believe. Marvel has been making it a point of lessening the focus of characters they no longer have the movie rights to so they don’t give money away to other companies.)

Now this issue will not win comic of the century awards. It is a groundwork laying issue more than anything. The story really doesn’t advance any more than it did with the last issue I reviewed. However I think this issue did pretty good in establishing the levels of distrust the heroes are going to go through. The Skrulls have been quite thorough in their invasion plans. The impersonations of the humans is so complete that Wolverine for example cannot smell them where it had been established that he had been previously been able to do so. Just how deep the impersonation has gone is as yet unknown. The Mockingbird story that I mentioned above shows that right now we really cannot trust who may or may not be a Skrull. If Spider-Woman has been revealed to be the Skrull queen and yet still is able to get the confidence of everyone, who’s to say that Mockingbird is not a Skrull?

The artwork was pretty good this issue. The scope of the locations was well done. I really got the feeling that the action was taking please in a real location and not some Hollywood set. The characters were well done too. You really got the sense of the struggle they were going through in the issue. For example, the look on the faces of the Young Avengers of shock made you really get into what was going on. That is the sign of a good artist, someone who believes in the work he is creating and someone who is able to make simple drawings become actors of a sort in the story that is being created.

The Bad:

While I enjoyed the story, as noted not much really happens this issue and that is frustrating. I get that each issue I read is a chapter in a story and not every chapter can be as thrilling as the final chapter of a book because the job of any writer is to build to the climax of the story. But I wanted to feel like something was moving forward. It’s already been established that Skrulls are on Earth. We know that mistrust will happen among people that are friends. We don’t need to spend so long on establishing said mistrust. Bendis is almost beating the reader over the head with the fact that you can’t trust anything you see when all you really want him to do is get to the next part of the story. Maybe I’m approaching this too much like a traditional book. Maybe I need to be the one to adjust how I view the story. But I can’t see the logic in creating a long form story with no real coherence. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. For a story to succeed, you have to follow the formula of establishing what is going on, showing how the protagonist reacts, and how they resolve the issue at hand. While comics do have tons of backstory that can be referred to, treating a comic as if it were a day in the life of someone is just distracting. I want my stories to have a beginning, middle, and end. This so far has come across like I got a glimpse of a camera that was recording these people’s lives right in the middle of something that was happening to them. I know a little of what is going on but too much is assumed that the beginning so far of this particular story, the Secret Invasion of the Skrulls, has been kind of lost in the background.

Bottom Line:

This is not a bad issue. While not much really happens to advance the story apart from the last page, I think what it does well is lay more foundation for the fact that no one can be trusted. We as the reader should not assume anyone is who they say they are. Bendis has done a wonderful job in laying the groundwork for what we will encounter later in the story. In doing so, he is making the start of the story a little tedious. I give the story a 5.

The art work has been some of the best in this story so far. It really screams as an homage of the old Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby drawings in classic Marvel stories while still feeling very much based in modern times. This is well done and honestly it makes me want to look for more work from this artist Leinil Yu. I give the art an 8.