Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: Streets of Poison

Published: June 17th, 2015
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, D.G. Chichester, Randall Frenz, Fabian Nicieza, Dann Thomas, Roy Thomas
Art by: Larry Alexander, Mark Bagley, Ron Frenz, Don Hudson, Ron Lim, Mike Manley, Chris Marrinan, Jim Valentino, Ron Wilson

Marvel Comics, 493 Pages

Review:

I really liked the Streets of Poison storyline when I was a kid. I was also really pumped to jump right into this Epic Collection, as the previous one was pretty exceptional.

However, this didn’t read as good as it did when I was eleven years-old but lots of things don’t and that also doesn’t mean this was bad.

I like this era of Captain America and revisiting it makes me appreciate it even more, even if it’s not as perfect as I remembered it.

This kicks off with the Streets of Poison arc, which is highlighted by a fight between Red Skull and the Kingpin. I thought that this rivalry between the two villains and everything leading up to their fight was really solid. You had Crossbones trying to take out Kingpin with Bullseye trying to take out Red Skull and the two assassins having their own fight. Additionally, Captain America fights both of them as well.

My only real gripe about the story was how being exposed to drugs altered Cap’s behavior pretty immensely. It bonded with the super solider serum in his body and the only way to cure Cap was to remove his blood and fix the serum. However, Cap, being strongly anti-drug after this experience, rejected the serum and decided to move forward as a normal man and not the creation of a drug he took back in the 1940s.

Following Streets of Poison, we got the story of the Serpent Society abducting Diamondback and trying her for her crimes against the Society. King Cobra and his minions rule against Diamondback harshly but she survives her execution when Cap finds her. Diamondback’s allies within the Serpent Society leave the group as well and they start to establish themselves as a new heroic group.

There are a couple single issue stories weaved into the bigger tapestry, here. None of them were bad and they honestly just showed how solid the writing at Marvel was in this era.

Rating: 8.5/10

Comic Review: The Black Widow: The Coldest War

Published: 1992
Written by: Gerry Conway
Art by: George Freeman

Marvel Comics, 66 Pages

Review:

This was one of those old school magazine-sized graphic novels that Marvel used to do when they were still really f’n cool. I also think it’s the first solo Black Widow story that I’ve ever reviewed here. But it’s also a really good one to start with.

The Coldest War is written by comic book legend Gerry Conway and like a lot of his other work, it’s action packed, face paced and when it isn’t, it provides you with some solid dialogue and character building.

At this point, fans knew Black Widow well but I feel like this was a real turning point for the character and really allowed her to stand on her own, as she faces adversity, has doubts about herself and stares a hole into her past but then eventually learns to move forward, trust her instincts and kick ass.

I liked the story, here, a lot. However, I wasn’t keen on the art. It’s a strange style, even for a more experimental Marvel graphic novel. I think my real gripe with it is that Black Widow is one of the most sexually attractive women in the Marvel universe but this art style made her look like Conan O’Brien.

All in all, though, I was able to look past that and enjoy the adventure and watch her work out her personal issues.

Rating: 7.5/10

Comic Review: Marvel Zombies

Published: October 1st, 2008
Written by: Robert Kirkman
Art by: Sean Phillips, Arthur Suydam (cover)

Marvel Comics, 123 Pages

Review:

The recent What If?… episode that featured a Marvel Zombies storyline made me want to go back and pick up the original comic, which I’ve always considered to be the best version of that concept. But since it had been so long since I read it, I wanted to see how well it held up and whether or not I was seeing it through rose-colored glasses.

Well, this was just as fun and as crazy as I remembered it. I think that I also have a much stronger appreciation for Robert Kirkman’s writing now and honestly, who was better at tapping for this concept than the creator and writer of The Walking Dead?

I also loved Sean Phillips art and I wasn’t as appreciative of him back in 2008, either. I’ve since enjoyed a lot of his work, especially the stuff he’s done in Ed Brubaker’s noir and crime comics.

The story is pretty simple, almost the entire Marvel universe has been infected with a zombie virus. So the few survivors are tasked with fighting off famous heroes and villains while trying to find a cure or just flat out escape. Ultimately, this aligns with the coming of Galactus and that leaves the door open for more stories, which we already know were made.

While this plays out like you’d expect, there is still enough story here to make it more than a simple, “run from the zombies” tale. It’s also cool seeing how zombification effects certain characters’ powers. Additionally, as gruesome and hopeless as his fate seems, this story gave us the most badass version of Black Panther that probably ever existed.

Look, this doesn’t tie directly to the main Marvel continuity but it’s a hell of a fun read and was a cool experiment that worked exceptionally well before the concept was milked to death.

Rating: 8/10

Comic Review: Avengers: Citizen Kang

Published: 1992
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: Larry Alexander, Geof Isherwood, Herb Trimpe, Dan Panosian (cover)

Marvel Comics, 223 Pages

Review:

Citizen Kang wasn’t just an Avengers story, it spanned four different annuals in 1992 and also featured the Fantastic Four quite heavily, as well as some characters from the Inhumans and Eternals.

It’s a damn cool story if you are a fan of Kang the Conqueror, as I am. Back when this was current, I loved the story because it gives you the full backstory of Kang up to this point in his history. A lot of the pages collected here are flashback stuff but it’s not by any means boring, even if you know Kang’s previous stuff. Reason being, Kang’s a complicated character with multiple versions of himself running around. So this served to give you the CliffsNotes version of that complicated history.

But this isn’t just a condensed history of Kang, that’s just a small part of this total package. This actually sees Kang try to take down his enemies, be they actual heroes or other villains that have caused him problems.

This was an ambitious and big story and I thought that Roy Thomas delivered. Being that he had been at Marvel for a few decades at the time that he wrote this, he knew a lot of these characters and their histories together very well.

Also, being that this is four annuals collected into one volume, it also includes all the extra side stories and supplemental material. My only gripe with this release was how it was all organized. It just pieced the four annuals together as they were printed. I would have rather had the main story flow in order and then tack on all the extras at the end, instead of having them feel like roadblocks between each main chapter.

Still, everything in this was entertaining and hit its mark.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Black Widow (2021)

Release Date: June 30th, 2021 (Madrid fan event premiere)
Directed by: Cate Shortland
Written by: Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenie, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (cameo), Jeremy Renner (cameo, voice)

Truenorth Productions, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“[to Natasha and Yelena] You both have killed so many people. Your ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red. I couldn’t be more proud of you.” – Alexei Shostakov

I initially planned to see this in the theater but I was travelling for work when this came out and by the time I got caught up and was going to finally see it, it was gone. Also, I wasn’t going to pay an additional $29.99 to watch it on Disney+ when it would be free a few months later. That price tag is stupid, especially when HBO Max drops the new movies without any additional cost. But this isn’t a “bitch about how dumb and greedy Disney is” article, it’s a movie review about the long overdue first (and only) film about one of the greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.

Sadly, this doesn’t live up to any hype one would have for it. Also, it’s five years too late and had it been made five years ago, it probably would’ve been a much better, much more coherent and much more entertaining picture.

Also, this proves that wedging a chapter in the MCU franchise into a previous point in the timeline, further fucks up and wrecks that timeline. Captain Marvel, Avengers: EndgameLoki and probably some other things have also done this and created serious continuity issues, not to mention, altering characters in ways that don’t make sense or ruins them.

If you can completely turn your brain off and watch this without questioning anything, it’s probably an entertaining spy thriller. I can do that with many things but not with the nearly 30th entry into a thirteen year-old franchise that features a title character that has existed in eleven of those thirteen years.

There are so many problems with this movie like its terrible plot and incoherent logic, the fact that Black Widow is apparently made out of titanium, Taskmaster isn’t in anyway Taskmaster, the main villain is by far the worst in the franchise and it has the worst pacing and editing of any MCU movie.

I won’t harp on about how a small prop plane full of bullet holes can’t fly from Ohio to Cuba with S.H.I.E.L.D. in pursuit or how secret intel is sent to a safehouse used by many other people after its existence was made known to S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and everyone else. I won’t talk about how the entire movie was a string of plot conveniences and contrivances where if just one thing didn’t go smoothly, the entire story would’ve been fucked. I won’t grill the filmmakers about the stupidity of a secret flying fortress in a world with the MCU‘s technology, Tony Stark, Skrulls, Kree, satellites and Google f’n Earth. I won’t bring up physics or how the human body reacts to explosions, smashing into hard objects during free fall or how joints, muscles, nerves and nose cartilage work.

So since I won’t spend thousands of words on the stuff just mentioned, I will talk about how the characters never felt right. Natasha’s family felt forced and just wedged in to her personal mythos. Where were any of these people during the events of Infinity War and Endgame? Not to mention the twenty or so other Black Widows that Natasha freed at the end of the film. Mathematically, roughly half of those Widows would’ve survived Thanos’ snap and could’ve been helping Natasha, who was essentially running the show when half the world and its heroes disappeared. Ten-to-twelve Widows would’ve been really helpful in the first act of Endgame and twenty or more showing up for the final battle with Thanos could’ve been a hell of an advantage, especially a Taskmaster fighting on the side of good. Hell, we could’ve gotten a Captain America and Red Guardian team-up moment.

Additionally, we never really get to explore her time in the Black Widow program, which I’m pretty sure was something that everyone was anticipating. So here we have a character that’s appeared in at least half, if not most, of the MCU films and she doesn’t really have an origin story. There’s the ridiculous opening sequence in this movie and a credits montage but beyond that, everything we know about the character’s past is revealed through clunky dialogue. Dialogue which may or may not be reliable considering the villain is well… a fucking villain and Natasha and her sister Yelena have both had their minds altered on some level.

Getting to Taskmaster, I honestly don’t care that the character is a woman and out of respect for her gender, I’ll refer to her now as Taskmistress. My issue with the character was that other than being able to instantaneously learn from her opponents and mimic them, she wasn’t Taskmaster in any other regard. Taskmistress is a completely different character created from completely different circumstances, devoid of personality, devoid of style, missing the iconic skull face and thus, totally lacking the character’s charisma and coolness. Taskmistress is just generic super soldier cyborg lady. And what’s even more distressing is that she is clearly a man until the helmet comes off for what was meant to be a shocking reveal but was honestly, more expected than my cousin Lindsey getting pregnant again.

Look, I like this character and I like Scarlett Johansson and her commitment to this character over what may be a dozen movies now. The problem is that she deserved a movie earlier than this and she also deserved a better story than this. Hell, she probably should’ve had three movie by now, just like the boys on the Avengers team… well, except Hawkeye but that’s another sore subject with me.

Through this, I also liked Florence Pugh as Yelena and I don’t hate the idea of her taking the mantle if Johansson is truly done with it. However, her being sent on a mission to kill Hawkeye for “murdering” her sister is retarded, as the Avengers are more famous in their world than Scarlett Johansson is in ours. Yelena would’ve known that Hawkeye was her sister’s best friend and teammate, as the entire world knows that they’re both Avengers. Man, the MCU is run by idiots these days but just look at what Disney has done to Star Wars.

Before I go, I guess my last bone to pick is in regards to Red Guardian. So we’re supposed to accept that this guy is a smart badass that has high technical prowess and is somewhat on Captain America’s level as a fighter and hero. Yet he’s Fat Thor turned up to eleven with a Russian accent and communist tattoos that make him look like a Portland SJW angrily tweeting from a MacBook Pro in a corporate chain cafe sipping an $11 coffee and eating a $7 vegan muffin. I’m supposed to accept that this slobby juvenile idiot was his country’s Captain America and that he has actual smarts?

Anyway, I’m glad I just waited to watch this for free… or with my existing subscription. It’s not as bad as Captain Marvel was but it’s honestly in the same ballpark. Everything in this is pretty forgettable and as we’ve seen, none of it mattered to the bigger picture of the MCU. At least Captain Marvel set up some things. Not things I specifically want to see but it had more of an effect on the franchise. I guess this will tie directly to the Hawkeye television series but Yelena gunning for Clint Barton is fucking stupid for reasons I already explained.

Rating: 5.25/10

Vids I Dig 700: The Critical Drinker: Marvel Phase 4 – Who Cares?

Comic Review: Marvel 1602

Published: February 10th, 2010
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Art by: Andy Kubert, Scott McKowen (covers)

Marvel Comics, 246 Pages

Review:

This started out as a really cool story and I enjoyed it a lot from the get go. However, it did lose steam after a few issues and wrapped up pretty weakly. I also thought the big reveal/twist was fairly predictable and that this didn’t live up to the high hopes I had for it and the past work of Neil Gaiman.

Still, it piqued my interest enough to make me want to check out some of the other stories that take place in this odd, alternative version of the Marvel universe.

I liked the setting and I really liked most of the character designs. I did, however, feel like too many characters and subplots were forced in for the sake of trying to make this a big deal, big event. A lot of the extra fluff was unnecessary and narratively cumbersome.

I don’t know if that was an issue with Gaiman’s writing or Marvel instructing him to throw in every major old school character. I feel like all the extra characters could’ve been saved for their own interesting spinoffs of this.

Beyond the rickety story, I thought that Andy Kubert’s art was pretty damn impressive. Artistically, this is one of my favorite things that he’s done and the style he used here fit with the story really well.

Also, the covers by Scott McKowen are some of my favorite from this comic’s era. They’re actually framed poster worthy and while staring at them, I thought about seeing if I could buy some.

In the end, Marvel 1602 was a fun experiment and it captivated me early on. But it was too dragged out and overloaded and with that, became more of a chore to read in the back half.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel alternative timeline stories, as well as other comics written by Neil Gaiman.