Comic Review: Thor by Kieron Gillen

Published: April 17th, 2019
Written by: Kieron Gillen
Art by: Doug Braithwaite, Richard Elson, Niko Henrichon, Jamie McKelvie, Billy Tan, Mico Suayan (cover)

Marvel Comics, 312 Pages

Review:

This stretch of Thor follows the incredible J. Michael Straczynski run and also happens alongside the Siege event.

Sadly, I wasn’t quite ready for Straczynski to hand over the reins, as he hadn’t finished the big plot threads that he started. However, Kieron Gillen did a pretty good job picking up where Straczynski left off while also having to work around Brian Michael Bendis’ Siege.

I thought that this was consistent with Straczynski’s tone and style. Although, the latter issues and Siege stuff started to go in different directions art-wise. None of it was bad but I found some sections to have too much contrast with the rest of the book.

The early parts of this deal with Doctor Doom’s plot against Asgard and you have a pretty good fight between Thor and Doom, who is wearing The Destroyer like a mecha-suit.

After there is closure from the Doom stuff, this shows the Siege event from different perspectives and then follows the fallout from that event, which shows Asgard get wrapped up in a plot by Mephisto.

While I enjoyed this pretty thoroughly, it didn’t “wow” me on the level of the Straczynski stories. Still, it also doesn’t torpedo what Straczynski created with his new take on this small pocket of the Marvel universe.

Rating: 8/10

Comic Review: Siege

Published: November 3rd, 2010
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Jim Cheung, Olivier Coipel, Michael Lark

Marvel Comics, 165 Pages

Review:

I didn’t specifically want to read this big event from circa 2010 but it did tie directly to the Thor run started by J. Michael Straczynski and continued on by Kieron Gillen. So I figured that I needed to know what happened here before I get into Gillen’s stretch of issues, as this takes place during that run.

The story deals with Norman Osborn, the former Green Goblin, as the Iron Patriot and head of H.A.M.M.E.R., a new version of S.H.I.E.L.D., as he attempts to bring war to Asgard against the US president’s orders. Why Norman Osborn has any sort of power in the government has never made sense to me, no matter how hard they’ve tried to explain it and I’ve actively avoided most of that era of Marvel Comics because of that. Granted, I may read the Dark Avengers just to review it.

Anyway, Norman brings war to Asgard with his Avengers team that features villains in the roles of the famous masked heroes. Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for him and his only real trump card is The Sentry, a character I hated from the get go and was glad to see die in this.

The story is chaotic and I kind of hate that it has immense overlap with the Thor material that was so damn solid in this era.

In the end, this was a quick read and the art was at least stupendous.

Rating: 6.25/10

Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: The Bloodstone Hunt

Published: April 25th, 2018
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Kieron Dwyer
Art by: Mark Bagley, M.D. Bright, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer, Ron Lim, Al Milgrom

Marvel Comics, 495 Pages

Review:

Well, this is probably the greatest string of Captain America issues that I have ever read. The first few were a bit shaky but they laid the groundwork for the start of the two primary stories, here, The Bloodstone Hunt and the Captain America portion of the Acts of Vengeance crossover and its fallout.

The Bloodstone Hunt was pretty incredible and a hell of a lot of fun. It was like an Indiana Jones story as Cap and Diamondback, now essentially his partner, raced against Baron Zemo, Batroc and their crew to try and hunt down five magic gems. It wasn’t clear why Zemo wanted them until the end, where he attempts to use them to resurrect his father, the original Zemo. However, he resurrects the powerful soul that was locked in those gems instead.

That story also features the debut of Crossbones and John Jameson (a.k.a. Man-Wolf) becoming Cap’s pilot. Sadly, we don’t get Man-Wolf action but this series of issues drops some hints that Jameson might not be able to suppress his cosmic werewolf alter ego for much longer.

After that, we get a two-issue arc that sees Cap and Crossbones fight for the first time. Man, I forgot how much I loved Crossbones in these early stories. He’s such a good sack of shit and a perfect rival for Cap. I really wish they would’ve used him better in the MCU movies, especially with Frank Grillo in that role.

Following that, we get the Acts of Vengeance stuff, which sees Cap have to fight Namor, his ally, as well as The Controller and Crossbones, again. There are also side plots about The Hellfire Club being raided and Magneto kidnapping and burying Red Skull alive in a tomb due to his ties to the Nazis, which a young Magneto and his family were victims of.

There’s just so much in this volume and all of it is damn good, once the story gets rolling.

Mark Gruenwald might be the best Captain America writer of them all. Additionally, the art throughout this stretch was superb. I still remember buying a lot of these single issues off of the racks, many of which I still own, and I remember loving back in 1989. I’m glad to say that this aged exceptionally well.

Rating: 10/10

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

Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: The Captain

Published: August 11th, 2021
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Bob Layton, David Michelinie
Art by: Mark Bright, John Byrne, Kieron Dwyer, Tom Morgan

Marvel Comics, 499 Pages

Review:

The Epic Collection volume that preceded this one, laid the ground work for Steve Rogers being replaced as Captain America by John Walker, who would later become US Agent.

This volume is where Rogers goes away, Walker steps in and the series becomes really interesting, as it splits its time between the former Captain and his story, as well as the new Captain and the challenges he faces trying to fill the shoes of a man that will always be greater than him.

I enjoyed that this series kind of had a split personality for this run but it was all still tied to the core of the Captain America symbol and what it means for those who represent it and those in power who exploit it.

Where the preceding volume felt a bit “kiddie” in how it was written, the series turns pretty serious and really steps up to the plate when peeling back the layers of John Walker, Steve Rogers, both their sidekicks, the U.S. government’s involvement in all of this, as well as some important deaths and losses.

This really goes deep into the John Walker character and even though he’s been a prick up to this point and does some very dark shit, here, these issues humanize him, his situation and how he comes to the realization that even though he’s the best choice for the role of Captain America on paper, he’s still missing that x-factor that made Steve Rogers the Captain America.

The writing in this stretch of issues really went to another level, which I think was important in conveying the weight of this story. This also had real gravitas and minor characters that initially don’t seem to matter too much, mean a lot to you when certain things transpire, which I won’t spoil.

All in all, I really enjoyed the hell out of this and it’s far superior to Disney’s loose adaptation of it in The Flacon and the Winter Solider.

Rating: 8/10

Comic Review: What If THIS Was the Fantastic Four – A Tribute to Mike Wieringo

Published: June, 2008
Written by: Mike Wieringo, various
Art by: Mike Wieringo, various

Marvel Comics, 48 Pages

Review:

Back in the early ’90s when I was spending all of my allowance money on comics, the short-lived Fantastic Four team of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk and Ghost Rider blew my adolescent, pre-teen mind. I was always kind of bummed that it was over as quick as it started but I loved the team and had always wanted to see more of them as a unit.

While they never got a series or anything more than a few issues and a Marvel trading card, the world was given this pretty cool issue of What If?, which was also a tribute to Mike Wieringo, who was working on the issue when he died.

Due to Wieringo’s passing, this issue was completed by other people stepping up to get it done and to get it out as a tribute.

This is a pretty cool story but because it’s a single issue of What If?, they have to cram a lot into a limited space. So this progresses through time quickly, once it gets rolling.

There are several villains and some hero cameos in this. The highlight for me was seeing Sandman form a new Frightful Four team that included himself, Venom, Sabretooth and Abomination. While I don’t like the lineup as much as the original Frightful Four, it was a cool villain group tailor made for the new Fantastic Four.

All in all, this was a blast to read and it churned up feelings of nostalgia for when I first read the debut of this team nearly thirty years ago.

Rating: 7/10

Comic Review: Thor by J. Michael Straczynski

Published: 2007-2008
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Art by: Olivier Coipel

Marvel Comics, 440 Pages (total)

Review:

When this was current, I had the series added to my pull box at my local comic shop. I loved the hell out of this series and thought that J. Michael Straczynski’s reboot of the Asgardian part of the larger Marvel universe truly reinvigorated the Thor title and all the characters within.

I was a bit worried in revisiting this, as I felt like maybe I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much and with nearly a decade and a half of extra comic book reading mileage. I thought that I’d discover it was riddled with glaring flaws and an overabundance of bad tropes, overused clichés and redundancy.

I’m happy to say that this held up exceptionally well and that it is one of the best comic book reads I’ve experienced in quite some time.

The story is exceptional and it does such a superb job in balancing all of these cool, important characters. Every major Asgardian gets their time to shine and is given their own subplots that have real meaning and tie into the larger story arc of the series. Straczynski even creates some new characters and they all bring a lot to the series and the new lives of all the other core characters.

Additionally, this is where Loki returns in the form of a woman. It gives the character a fresh start in the eyes of many Asgardians, even if she can’t be trusted due to her past. However, she wins over some key characters just enough to develop an evil masterplan alongside Doctor Doom, who is waiting in the shadows for his big reveal, after Loki manipulates her people into accepting a dangerous proposal that effects all their futures.

Beyond the great story, the art of Olivier Coipel is incredible and I don’t mean to use that word lightly. It was this series (alongside Geoff Johns Green Lantern run) and especially its art that got me to pick up comics again, after checking out for a decade.

Coipel creates beautiful compositions in every panel and his work was just on a completely different level than most of the artists at the time. His work looks like paintings and it fits the aesthetic of the Thor mythos and style. It gave these stories a more fantastical and magical look than what was common for the era.

My only gripe about this long run by Straczynski and Coipel is that it didn’t have a definitive ending. It left things open for the next creative team and I get that, as that’s how these things typically go. However, the work of these two guys was so great that I felt like they should’ve been allowed to bring it to a close.

Really, though, I just wish their run was longer.

Rating: 10/10

Comic Review: The Amazing Spider-Man – Epic Collection: Cosmic Adventures

Published: July 31st, 2014
Written by: Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, David Michelinie
Art by: Sal Buscema, Steve Ditko, Colleen Doran, Gil Kane, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Alex Saviuk

Marvel Comics, 501 Pages

Review:

When I was a kid and probably because I was a kid, nothing seemed cooler than Spider-Man getting cosmic powers. Basically, seeing him become a hero more akin to Superman was a neat idea and it felt like it upped the ante, as it also brought with it, bigger and badder villains than his typical foes.

However, this also happened during the Acts of Vengeance crossover event, which saw Marvel villains switch which heroes they would fight, thinking that taking on different heroes would give them a tactical advantage and catch the good guys off guard.

So with that, Spider-Man got to tie up with tougher foes anyway. However, these foes were the ones caught off guard by Spidey’s new cosmic abilities, which evolved from issue-to-issue and also surprised Spidey.

One thing that this short era of Spider-Man did was it shook up the series and made it kind of fresh. But sometimes, that isn’t the best thing to do. Especially, if something isn’t broken and Spider-Man comics in the late ’80s weren’t broken.

Reading this now, this saga is really a mixed bag. Some single issues collected within are entertaining while others just seem like they’re just not hitting the typical Spider-Man beats.

Still, this was cool to experience a second time, over three decades later. It’s not my favorite era of Spider-Man comics but it’s strange and different enough that long-standing Spidey fans who haven’t read it, might want to check it out.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Spider-Man stories of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Comic Review: The Eternals: To Slay A God/Manifest Destiny

Published: 2008-2009
Written by: Charles Knauf, Daniel Knauf, Fred Van Lente
Art by: Daniel Acuna, Pascal Alixe, Eric Nguyen

Marvel Comics, 258 Pages (total, both volumes)

Review:

I’ve got to say, this was a pleasant surprise. Especially, because this series followed the more well-regarded Neil Gaiman run on The Eternals, which I really wasn’t a fan of, at all.

My only real issue with it was that the story seemed large enough that it probably should’ve crossed over into other comics, as it had members of just about every important Marvel team show up in this story. Plus, with a gigantic Celestial just standing around near the Golden Gate Bridge, you’d probably expect a large contingent of heroes to be there, on the defense.

Looking beyond that, Iron Man was directly involved in the story and this was during the time when he was the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., so I’m sure he had some pull with the other primary heroes of Earth, who might be a bit weary of the Celestial just camping out near a major city and massive landmark.

The story here was pretty good, though. I dug this quite a bit and it was my favorite Eternals thing outside of the original Jack Kirby run in the ’70s and The Eternals Saga massive event that took place in the pages of The Mighty Thor from 1978 to late 1980.

I feel like even if you aren’t too familiar with these somewhat obscure Marvel characters, the writers of this series did a good job of cluing the reader in to who they are. The only thing the reader might be missing is all the extra context that comes with reading the earlier comics.

This story really ups the ante in a cool way and it draws The Eternals into the mainstream more, having them exist more directly with so many of Marvel’s core characters.

I thought that the art in this series was also damn good. It really embodies that mid-’00s Marvel art style but I really enjoyed that look at the time and still do, as the ’10s came with some really questionable and downright awful artistic choices by the company.

Sadly, this run on the series didn’t last very long and that’s why I just merged both collected trade paperbacks into one review. For whatever reason, this team has never had long runs and haven’t been popular amongst fans. While I like them, it makes me wonder why they would introduce them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe when there are still so many more interesting and popular characters that they haven’t used yet.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other runs of The Eternals over the years.