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: 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.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 3

Published: March 6th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 247 Pages

Review:

Man, I’m really glad that I started reading Fantastic Four from the beginning. There’s just something unique and truly special about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creations and collaborations. And while these stories are hokey and not as refined as they would become, it’s really cool seeing the earliest version of the Marvel universe take shape.

Each volume in the Masterworks releases really builds off of the previous ones and expands the larger universe more and more.

Here, we get to see stories with the Avengers, as well as the X-Men, bringing several core Marvel characters together in their earliest days. I also liked that the Hulk came back for a multi-part story arc. Although, this one was lacking in Spider-Man magic. But I also just love old school Spidey and FF stories.

This brings back most of the main villains from previous issues and even introduces some new ones like The Hate-Monger. I actually own that comic in its original floppy form, so reading it here means that I don’t have to physically touch my already weathered copy.

Stan Lee really seems to be hitting his stride with these characters and these stories while Jack Kirby’s art seems a bit more fine tuned and dynamic. Granted, Kirby was one of the most dynamic comic book artists in history but his work in this collection really shows how much he’s enjoying drawing these characters. It just has this little extra flair that’s hard to describe. I guess it’s like eating a meal made with love, as opposed to eating a meal that was just made out of necessity.

Overall, this was thoroughly enjoyable and it kept moving the story forward while constructing a very young universe that would grow into something massive.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson, Vol. 1

Published: March 6th, 2014
Written by: Frank Miller, Bill Mantlo, Roger McKenzie, David Michelinie, Marv Wolfman
Art by: Frank Miller, Klaus Janson

Marvel Comics, 326 Pages

Review:

I recently got to scratch off one of my comic book bucket list items. That item was the completion of the entire Frank Miller Daredevil run. I now own all the single issues and it feels good. So to celebrate, I thought that I’d re-read through them all, as they were collected in three beefy volumes that I also own.

This first collection starts with two issues of The Spectacular Spider-Man, which featured Daredevil and had art by Frank Miller. Getting into the start of his run on Daredevil itself, the first handful of issues aren’t written by Miller but he does do the art. But once Miller fully takes over and Klaus Janson comes in to do Miller’s inks, this book really takes off in a new and exciting way, as it becomes grittier and almost has a noir vibe to it.

In this collection, we see the Bullseye character evolve more into the lunatic he actually is. We are also introduced to Elektra, as she makes her first appearance here.

Now nothing is truly wrapped up in this volume and it mainly just lays the foundation for the rest of Miller’s tenure on the title. But it sets things up nicely, really changes the landscape of the title, as long-standing love interest Black Widow moves on with her life and Daredevil is pulled into two new romantic directions.

This also establishes the real tension between Daredevil and The Kingpin.

As the first of three collections covering this run, this book is damn stellar. It’s also a great jumping on point for fans that want to read some of the best years in Daredevil’s long history.

Frankly, I’d read all of Miller’s run and then follow it up with the Ann Nocenti era.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Frank Miller’s run, as well as Ann Nocenti’s and the stories in-between.

Comic Review: Wolverine – Epic Collection: Madripoor Nights

Published: December 10th, 2014
Written by: Chris Claremont, Peter David
Art by: John Buscema, Gene Colan

Marvel Comics, 495 Pages

Review:

As big of a Wolverine fan as I am, I have never read his earliest solo stories that revolved around his time in Madripoor when he was going by the name of “Patch”. I knew enough about this era but nothing is ever as good as reading it for yourself.

I read this on Comixology after buying it pretty cheap during a Wolverine sale. Normally, it’s like $30 but I know I got it for less than $10 and it was well worth that price tag.

This is a beefy collection that covers the first 16 issues of his solo comic, as well as the story that came out just before it and another comic that takes place within the same time frame. It makes for one nice long epic of Logan’s life in Madripoor. I’m not sure if he sticks around there after this collection and for how long but this really gives you the important stuff from that era.

I also knew that Jessica Drew a.k.a. Spider-Woman was around for some of this but I didn’t realize that she wasn’t Spider-Woman here and that she was pretty much just herself, as a ninja badass. I also didn’t realize that she was actually a big part of the Wolverine Madripoor stuff.

We also get a cool plot that teams Wolverine up with the Gray Hulk a.k.a. Mr. Joe Fix-It for the first time. It’s a pretty cool tale and it also fits well within the larger tapestry that sees Logan trying to fight the criminal underworld in this fictitious Asian island nation.

Almost everything here is written by the great Chris Claremont, who probably knows Wolverine the best. Some of this is also written by Peter David but he’s a legend too and he knows how to write a story with great energy.

Ultimately, this wasn’t close to being my favorite Wolverine story, and it may actually be a bit underwhelming because of that, but it is still damn entertaining and really reflects a truly unique time in the character’s mythos.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Wolverine solo stories from the late ’80s into the early ’90s.

Comic Review: Secret Invasion

Published: 2008
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Leinil Francis Yu, Gabriele Dell’Otto (cover)

Marvel Comics, 218 Pages

Review:

Secret Invasion came out after a series of good storylines from Marvel like Civil War, The Death of Captain America and the feud between the two Avengers teams that followed Civil War. I guess this was supposed to be a good payoff for sticking through that solid run of most of Marvel’s major titles. However, this was mostly a clusterfuck that created more problems than the Marvel continuity needed.

This was ambitious, damn ambitious.

Brian Michael Bendis’ ambition really overreached, though, and this mega event became a jumping off point for me back when it was coming out. After a few issues, I dropped it an never looked back.

Since years have passed and Marvel has gotten even worse, I thought that I might enjoy this a bit more and since I never actually finished it the first time, I wanted to give it another shot.

This is just one of those ideas that sounds good on paper but once you start really fleshing it out, you know it’s not going to work. Well, Bendis should have figured that out on his own, especially since the industry considers him a legend.

The biggest problem with this mega event is that it could have worked on a smaller scale. We could’ve seen that the Skrulls had infiltrated the superhero community, replacing some heroes with themselves in disguise. It didn’t need to be so damn grandiose where nearly half the heroes were just Skrulls in hiding. The conspiracy was too big and thus, came across as really fucking dumb.

In fact, this would’ve been much better had the Skrulls just replaced a few key people and there were still less than a handful in disguise. When you expect half the heroes to be impostors, the reveals of who is who loses its impact and you’re left with a half-assed handjob from a drunk instead of great sex from a pretty hot sexual partner.

In the end, when half the characters were impostors, it poses too many questions that just break continuity and it’s way too hard for editorial to keep track of, especially editorial from this era or any after.

Someone really should’ve grabbed Bendis by the shoulders and shouted, “Scale this the fuck down!”

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel mega events.

Film Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Release Date: May 25th, 2011 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Plat, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ironside, Ray Wise, James Remar, Hugh Jackman (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Ingenious Film Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.” – Professor Charles Xavier

While I haven’t seen this picture since it was in the theater, it left a great impression on me and gave me hope for the future of the X-Men franchise in film. Granted, we’d get two pretty good movies and two mostly poopy ones, but the weak whimpering farts of the second half of the prequel series of films didn’t take away my satisfaction with this one and its followup, Days of Future Past.

It was nice to revisit this, all these years later, as it holds up fairly well, even if I’m not as optimistic about the franchise now.

To start, this was much better than the last of the first run of films, X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie left such a bad taste in my mouth that anything better would have made me happy. Luckily, this was a lot better but I think that my original impression was a bit over-inflated due to the precedent set before it.

That’s not to say that this isn’t solid, it is. This is, in fact, a damn good superhero film and one of the best in the schizophrenic X-Men series.

What really sets this one on a pedestal is that the story was pretty good and the acting, at least from the core actors, was convincing and impressive. I didn’t know much about Michael Fassbender, before this, and I wasn’t yet sold on James McAvoy, but this picture cemented both men as two of my favorites over the last decade.

On the flip side of that, you also had some really weak performances from January Jones, who felt out of place and awkward, as well as the younger actors in the cast. A few of them would become better actors over time but they all mostly felt green, here.

I did like the inclusion of Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in this, as well as character actors Michael Ironside, James Remar and Ray Wise. While the character actors had small roles, they added an extra level of legitimacy and coolness to the picture.

I loved that this took place in the ’60s, tied to the Cuban Missile Crisis and also went back into Nazi Germany to establish the relationship between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. The general look and aesthetic of the film were really good and it actually fits with the previous X-Men films, despite those being set over thirty years later. One thing Fox did well, while they managed the X-Men movie franchise, was that they kept everything sort of visually consistent.

My only real gripe about the film is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the actual “first class” of students, which this film is named after. They all felt generic and disposable, cast to play archetypes and nothing more. Sure, some of them are major comic book characters but they didn’t feel that way in this movie.

Overall, this was a good, fresh, soft reboot of the series. It eventually ties to the older films and the series becomes an even bigger continuity clusterfuck but at least this generation of the franchise started out on the right foot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox X-Men films.

Comic Review: X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong

Published: December 14th, 2005
Written by: Greg Pak
Art by: Greg Land

Marvel Comics, 123 Pages

Review:

After reading the Grant Morrison Dark Phoenix story, I didn’t have much hope for this one, which follows it pretty closely. However, this was a big step up and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Phoenix Force comes back to Earth in an effort to rejoin Jean Grey but it discovers that Jean is dead. So it reanimates her corpse and poses as her, making for some painful moments with Wolverine and Cyclops. But this is also where Emma Frost has to step up and become a real leader on the X-Men team, after she had spent years as one of their greatest villains.

The thing that I loved most about this is that the stakes were real and you got a sense of the immensity of the terrible situation the heroes were in. However, the story stayed fairly small and close knit to a small group of X-Men members, as opposed to trying to make this a mega event that pulled in every character from the Marvel universe.

Greg Pak did a superb job in writing this and I’d say it’s my favorite story of his that I’ve read after the masterpiece that was Planet Hulk.

While Greg Land is a somewhat controversial artist that’s been accused of tracing photos, which there is actually a lot of evidence to back that up, I still really liked his art here and it felt top notch. I’m not as “offended” as some within the comic industry and its fans have been about the possibility of the man not being a “legit” artist. That’s because the finished product is still spectacular and he truly understands how to stage and set a scene, whether it’s slice of life moments or action. For more on Land, Comic Tropes did a good video on the guy here.

Overall, this was a really good, refreshing read that took the messy Phoenix story that preceded it and sort of fixed it. This was a satisfying conclusion to the string of Phoenix sagas that led up to this. Granted, it wasn’t the last Phoenix tale but this still brought things to a gratifying close for a short time, anyway.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other story arcs about Jean Grey as Phoenix.

Comic Review: Avengers: The Once and Future Kang

Published: 1985-1986
Written by: Steve Englehart, Danny Fingeroth, Jim Shooter, Roger Stern
Art by: Mark Bright, John Buscema, Steve Ditko

Marvel Comics, 278 Pages

Review:

I hate when I buy a thick, hefty collection that is sold to me as one thing, but once I buy it I find out that the thing I bought it for is about a third of the total collection and the rest of the volume is padded with other random stories.

While the issues collected here are presented in chronological order in how they appeared in single issues of the Avengers comics, they are all tied to larger stories or continued in other comics.

It’s pretty fucking infuriating when companies do this because I just wanted to read a Kang story that I had hoped would be pretty epic based off of the page count of this large Avengers release.

Instead, I got a medium sized Kang story and then a bunch of random plot threads that were left incomplete and open ended as they tied to Secret Wars IIFantastic FourX-Men and a story about both ’80s Avengers teams playing baseball.

Had I just read the Kang story, this would’ve been great. It would’ve been even better if it was reduced to the roughly four issues that the story took place in and I was charged a lot less than what I played for this disorganized mess.

Now to be fair, I did like most of this but when you’re pulled in one direction just to be left with blue balls, it’s pretty irritating. Especially, when you’re the one paying for it.

As far as the Kang story goes, I loved it. It was one of the best I’ve read and it featured one of my favorite incarnations of the Avengers team, as I started reading this series around the same era.

Had I known that I was going to get shafted by this, I would’ve just forked out the money for the less than a handful of physical floppy issues I needed for the story I wanted.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Kang-centric stories, as well as other comics that happened around the events of Secret Wars II.