Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: Justice Is Served

Published: April 5th, 2017
Written by: John Byrne, J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Gruenwald
Art by: Mike Zeck, various

Marvel Comics, 511 Pages

Review:

I wanted to read this beefy Epic Collection of Captain America stories, as it sets up the era where Steve Rogers quit being Cap and the role was then given to the man who would later become US Agent. With that, Rogers picks up the Nomad persona and travels the country, fighting villainy.

Those events don’t happen until the collection of issues after this one but this lays all the groundwork, introduces us to the future US Agent and gives us a solid Cap and original Nomad team-up. There are also stories featuring Scourge, Wolverine, Yellow Claw, Flag-Smasher and a great story where Cap is trapped in Red Skull’s “haunted house”. We also get the debut of D-Man and some cool Frog-Man stuff.

I loved a lot of these stories when I was a kid and it was cool reading them now, as it’s been so long since I’ve read Captain America from this era. While they’re not as great as my memory made them out to be, most of the stories here were enjoyable.

I actually forgot that Cap was already sort of a nomad before becoming Nomad. I also forgot that he had a side hustle as a comic book artist, which comes off as really odd, now that I’m reminded of that as an adult. But it does add some interesting complexity to the character and kind of shows you that there’s a certain sensitivity behind his top iconic layer.

This is really good and it’s prepped me for the US Agent stint as Cap, which I also wanted to reread, as the character is finally debuting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a part of the Falcon and Winter Soldier television series.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s Captain America comics, especially those involving US Agent.

Comic Review: Daredevil by Bendis and Maleev – Ultimate Collection, Book 2

Published: September 15th, 2010
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev

Marvel Comics, 461 Pages

Review:

This long stretch of Daredevil issues should’ve actually been better than the ones in the first volume, as shit got real dark, things were more action packed and this went to places I didn’t expect.

The reason why I can’t rate it as high as the previous one is because of the awful romantic subplot that actually sees Daredevil get married for a short time.

I hated this plot, the new love interest and thought that it detracted from a much better story about the shifting power in the New York City criminal structure and Daredevil dealing with that while also trying to work around the public knowing his identity.

The romance plot was just too much added into an already very layered and rich story. Plus, that stuff was poorly written and I don’t want to be that guy but I don’t think that Brian Michael Bendis understands romantic interaction above a college aged level.

That being said, Bendis’ writing is great outside of the romantic shit.

Also, I love Alex Maleev’s style and tone in regards to Bendis’ story. They come together rather nicely, even if it appears as if Maleev is tracing some characters and doing digital tricks. This was originally made at the turn of the millennium and artists were experimenting with a lot of new technology at the time. Frankly, I know he used Photoshop filters because I recognize them. Still, the end result works and I’m just a traditionalist that likes things done the old school way. This is why I also don’t like Pixar movies or that style of animation.

Out of all the different story arcs collected here, I think I like the one that features The Owl the best. I liked seeing him truly unhinged and trying to wedge himself into The Kingpin’s spot as crime boss. After that, I really loved the section with Typhoid Mary, as she’s one of my favorite Daredevil villains and doesn’t get enough love, in my opinion. She also looked great in this run, even if I still prefer her original look, as drawn by John Romita Jr. back in the late ’80s.

I love the hell out of Bendis’ run on this series and it truly rivals the great runs by Frank Miller and Ann Nocenti, who still takes the cake for me.

Remove the romantic, juvenile love shit in this story and this would’ve been a perfect Daredevil collection.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Daredevil comics from his Marvel Knights run.

Comic Review: Punisher/Captain America: Blood & Glory

Published: 1992
Written by: D.G. Chichester, Margaret Clark
Art by: Klaus Janson

Marvel Comics, 148 Pages

Review:

This was just incredibly badass! It made me yearn for the days of Marvel Comics when I was still an impressionable, young middle schooler.

This was originally released as three 48ish page square bound trade paperbacks. The Punisher had several books released this way that were mostly one-off stories. This one, however, was so epic and awesome it took three books to contain it. I’m actually going to review more of these one-off style bigger comics in the coming weeks or months.

In this, we get to see Punisher and Captain America come together, after the Punisher was sent to assassinate Cap. Cap fakes his death, Nick Fury is involved in that and Cap is sent to stop the real threat, alongside the man who was sent to put him down.

This is a great political thriller with intrigue and cool twists. Tonally, it reminds me a lot of the Winter Soldier movie but it’s even more badass and much more “adult” than a typical Marvel comic, even in 1992.

I also like that Klaus Janson was the artist on this, as the book looks stupendous and he’s one of my favorite artists of the era. His version of Punisher and Cap have always been pretty high up on my list. He also illustrates action so well and there are some phenomenal action sequences in this book. The big action-packed finale where Punisher and Cap fight helicopters is just f’n awesome!

This is just a badass miniseries, period.

Damn, I typed “badass” a lot in this one.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Punisher comics of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Comic Review: Doctor Strange by Donny Cates

Published: April 17th, 2019
Written by: Donny Cates, Nick Spencer
Art by: Niko Henrichon, Frazer Irving, Szymon Kudranski, Rod Reis, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Mike Del Mundo (cover)

Marvel Comics, 341 Pages

Review:

This collection of Donny Cates’ Doctor Strange run started off with a bang but then it did what most Donny Cates comics do, it went too big, too fast and became a bloated, over-the-top spectacle. But he’s even admitted that everything he writes needs to be big and epic. He’s also pointed out that he’s always trying to top the last thing he wrote.

The problem with that is that he can tell pretty good human stories with a lot of emotion that gets the reader invested. But then he Michael Bay the fucks out of everything and then has to wedge in a large amount of characters because if it’s a Cates’ story, he’s gotta blow up the universe.

Big, over-the-top spectacles aren’t necessarily a bad thing but when it’s done as much as Cates does it, he becomes a one trick pony that negatively impacts the better sides of his creative work. The spectacle ends up overshadowing the real story and you sort of get lost in it all. And after a while, it becomes ineffective, as you expect everything to reach ludicrous spreed.

When I first started reading Cates’ work, I enjoyed the grandiose-ness. However, it didn’t take long to realize that larger-than-life Armageddon scenarios were his modus operandi. And with that, he has to keep trying to top what he did before. Everything just gets bigger, faster, crazier and the next thing you know, you’re reading the Marvel Comics version of Fast & Furious 14 where it’s just stunts, speed, CGI, action, yelling and then the end credits after characters refer to each other as “family” 97 times between explosions.

I think that this formula has worked so well for Cates that he’s kind of stuck doing it now. While this Doctor Strange stuff came out before his more recent work, I might have had a very different take on it had I read it when it was current.

The problem though, is this kind of shows me where that formula started. Well, at least with his more prominent Marvel work.

As I stated in the beginning, this started out really strong and I was invested. But then everything went ape shit crazy and then it was over. It may have read better if Cates stuck around and actually wrote about the fallout from this story. But I guess he had to move on to the next thing and give us more mega-event level chaos.

This initially created a foundation for something truly great. After the first story arc, however, it immediately went to a Hell-on-Earth scenario with two dozen characters involved. Whatever emotional investment I had, disappeared, as I kept reading and it never quite circled back around to the great character work and found a way to use that within the chaotic spectacle that followed.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Donny Cates comics by Marvel.

Comic Review: Civil War II

Published: February 1st, 2017
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Jim Cheung, Oliver Coipel, David Marquez, Marko Djurdjevic (cover)

Marvel Comics, 317 Pages

Review:

Man, this was bewilderingly bad.

Historically, I’ve been pretty 50/50 on Brian Michael Bendis’ writing but man, it’s like when he did this, he already knew he was leaving Marvel. It also reads like he was given orders to use certain characters and he was begrudgingly forced to work them in. Granted, he’s also created some of the terrible modern characters.

While I’ve been well aware of the criticism that the Captain Marvel character gets in modern times, I always liked her when she was Ms. Marvel. But this new, short-haired, suddenly pushed into a leadership role Carol Danvers is not even the same character, remotely.

Based off of how she’s written here, as a self-righteous, fascist, tyrant bitch, I totally see why fans can’t stand her. If this story is an accurate portrayal of how she is post-2015 or so, I have no interest in following her character unless she’s actually made into a permanent villain. But even then, there are so many better villains I’d rather read about.

And I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to interpret her character. Is she supposed to be psychotic, god-powered, tyrannical piece of shit? Or am I supposed to empathize with her point-of-view?

What made the first Civil War so great was that you could emphasize and relate to both points-of-view and it made for a compelling read. Civil War II just made me hate Carol and every character that so easily sided with her. These characters aren’t heroes, as their actions in this story crossed the line into villainy.

Whatever. Fuck this comic. Fuck Bendis. Fuck post-2015 Marvel. But at least the art was really good.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: all the other Civil War II crossover tie-in trade paperbacks.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Born Again

Published: March 27th, 2014
Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: David Mazzucchelli

Marvel Comics, 231 Pages

Review:

After Frank Miller’s historic Daredevil run, he returned to do the graphic novel Love & War. A few years later, he returned to the regular Daredevil title for this story arc, which really was the exclamation point on Miller’s Daredevil work before Ann Nocenti then started her awesome run for several years.

This story starts with The Kingpin finding out Daredevil’s identity. He then uses this knowledge to try and destroy Matt Murdock’s personal life and thus, crush the Daredevil persona that has been a thorn in his side for years.

This is probably the darkest moment in Daredevil’s life, as he hits rock bottom, his former love Karen Page also hits rock bottom and the guy has to build himself back up after legitimately losing his mind for awhile.

I like this story, quite a bit. However, the breaking of Daredevil seemed a bit forced and it got somewhat over the top. I get it, though, Miller only had so many issues to work with and the pacing of comic book stories was much different in this era, as they weren’t writing for the trade paperback market and just told single issue chapters from month-to-month. But this did have the plot elements that should’ve been used and fleshed out to make this more of a lengthy epic than it was.

Still, this is a solid piece of work by Miller. I can’t say that it’s better than his lengthy, original run but it still feels married to it and it brings the character to new depths before handing the reins over to another fantastic writer.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 5

Published: August 7th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 248 Pages

Review:

This right here is the volume I’ve been waiting to get to! This is the collection of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four where everything changes and the Marvel universe expands exponentially!

This edition of the Masterworks series covers issues 41 through 50, as well as the third annual.

Within this collection, we get a great Frightful Four story, the marriage between Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, the full debut of the Inhumans, as well as the first appearances of Silver Surfer and Galactus! There are also cameos from just about every hero and villain from the Marvel universe of the 1960s! This chapter in the saga literally has everyone and everything!

What’s even better than that, is that Stan Lee is absolutely on his A-game with these stories and scripts and Jack Kirby’s art was on-point.

If you can only ever read one Fantastic Four collection, graphic novel or trade paperback, it should be this one.

This is quintessential Fantastic Four at its finest. It’s the epitome of what was so damn great about ’60s Marvel and the work of Lee and Kirby.

Just buy it, read it, read it a dozen more times and cherish it forever.

Rating: 10+/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage

Published: July 11th, 2007
Written by: Tom DeFalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh, David Michelinie
Art by: Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Ron Lim, Tom Lyle, Alex Saviuk

Marvel Comics, 335 Pages

Review:

This big crossover event started right around the time that I was mentally checking out on comics, as I had moved, gotten older and was more concerned about high school girls and trying to woo them with my heart-melting charm.

I’ve read some of the issues within the larger arc but I never sat down and read the whole thing in its fourteen issue entirety. That being said, this was kind of tough to get through.

Maximum Carnage truly embodies that old adage about there being too many chefs in the kitchen. With this, that saying doesn’t just apply to having too many writers but it also applies to this being overloaded with characters that no one cares about.

Carnage returns and with that he forms his own supervillain group. It’s kind of like the Sinister Six but it’s made up of new and D-list level villains like Shriek, Doppelganger, Carrion and Demogoblin. Apart from Carnage, all these villains suck and frankly, after reading this, they had such an adverse effect on the coolness of Carnage that I don’t really have the same opinion of him. This made him lose his luster. Granted, Marvel also fucks him over, after this, by introducing a bunch of symbiote Carnage babies.

Spider-Man is pretty much in over his head but he re-teams with Venom in an effort to stop Carnage and they also get help from Black Cat, Cloak & Dagger and a slew of other heroes that pop in and out. Morbius even shows up just to remind you that in the ’90s he was batshit crazy. We also get an appearance from Nightwatch, who was a ’90s Marvel character that blatantly ripped off Spawn just to piss off Todd McFarlane for becoming a self-made millionaire after leaving the company. They showed him!

Anyway, this is a clunky story without a real clear point to it other than Carnage is bad and he does terrible shit. This didn’t need to be fourteen issues long but Marvel was trying to bank on Carnage’s popularity. I’m sure it made money for them, at the time, but the story didn’t do much to help the Spider-Man mythos in any sort of long-term way. In fact, when people bring up Maximum Carnage nowadays, it is in reference to the old 16-bit video game and not the comic book story it was tied to.

This story featured good writers and good artists but it felt sloppily put together and like all the creative parties just kind of rushed it out or phoned it in. Some of the art, surprisingly, is actually hard on the eyes but I think that’s more to do with the colors than the illustrations. Also, I read this digitally and sometimes that can really fuck up the color of older comics.

I had some high hopes for this because I really felt like I missed out on it years ago. However, comics shouldn’t feel like doing chores. I didn’t really want to finish this but I did in order to review it, as it is considered an iconic story by many.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other mid-’90s Spider-Man comics and Marvel crossover events.

Comic Review: Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle

Published: March 3rd, 2010
Written by: Bob Layton, David Michelinie
Art by: Carmine Infantino, Bob Layton, John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics, 167 Pages

Review:

This collection of Demon In A Bottle was a pretty cool read. However, people have referenced the story for years and truthfully, it’s not a big arc like many insinuate or imagine. In fact, this covers multiple arcs but each has a common thread and that’s Tony Stark’s fall into alcoholism.

Ultimately, this ends with him overcoming his demons and trying to fix the damage he’s caused, rebuilding himself into who Iron Man needs to be.

It’s also important to mention that this debuted the long-time Iron Man villain, Justin Hammer. Hammer was created as a character similar to Tony Stark but one who stayed on a dark path. He was also deliberately made to look like Peter Cushing and in this story, John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton did a stellar job of conveying that.

The story also features the Avengers, Namor and a slew of C-list villains that Hammer employs in an effort to overwhelm Iron Man. Overall, this is just as action-packed and exciting as it is dramatic and full of real human trauma and emotion.

While it’s not my favorite classic Iron Man story (or stories), it is a very important piece of the character’s history and served to build up his character in a pretty dynamic way. It does what most modern mainstream comics don’t do and that’s showing weakness in a hero.

In fact, this is about a hero’s journey and personal evolution, which is something that was lost in the storytelling art of superhero comics. Hell, it’s been lost in most mainstream media, as we constantly get characters that are made to be perfect and “special” without faults or real struggle.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Iron Man stories of the ’80s, most notably the Armor Wars saga.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 4

Published: June 5th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 272 Pages

Review:

I’ve been blowing through these Fantastic Four – Masterworks collections pretty fast. But these represent the collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at its best while also showcasing the earliest stages of the Marvel universe, as it was still developing, taking shape and hitting its stride.

This one kicks off with the second Fantastic Four annual and then collects issues 31 through 40.

I’ve always wanted to read the second annual and man, it did not disappoint. It actually tells the origin of Doctor Doom, as well as showing him meet Rama-Tut a.k.a. Kang the Conqueror for the first time. I knew enough of what was in this massive 72-page issue but I never got to read it until now.

Beyond that, this gives us more Namor, the return of the Mole Man, as well as a great Skrull story. Probably my two favorite things come in the second half though, which sees the debut of the villainous Frightful Four, as well as the first time that the Fantastic Four meet Daredevil, which is a great story on its own.

This was a real high point for me in the overall grander Fantastic Four mythos. A lot of cool stuff happens and this just keeps building up the Marvel universe in a great way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.