Comic Review: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Published: 1980
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

Does it make me a terrible X-Men fan that I have never actually read The Dark Phoenix Saga?

I’ve tried to round up all the single issues over the years but some of them are pricey and there’s nine issues that make up this arc. But in my defense, I know the story very well, as it has been referenced a million times over throughout X-Men history. I’ve also seen various interpretations and adaptations of the plot. Granted, none of them are really accurate in regards to this, the source material.

This is free for Comixology Unlimited subscribers though, so I thought that delving into it was long overdue and that I really didn’t have an excuse anymore.

I expected this to be enjoyable but it still took me by surprise, as it was better than what I anticipated and all the years of hype I’ve experienced, didn’t diminish it in anyway.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is quintessential Chris Claremont. I can’t say that this is where he peaked but this is certainly a very elevated highpoint in his long run writing X-Men related stories.

This also came out in a time when Marvel wasn’t addicted to big crossover mega-events. This was a mega-event for its time but it wasn’t marketed or structured in the way that these things are now. It was just a good, lengthy story, limited to one already existing comic that found a way to utilize a lot of characters but in a way that balanced them all out and made them all useful to the plot.

One cool thing about this arc, is it also features the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club and Dazzler. There’s a bunch of stuff going on within this story but it doesn’t off track and still builds towards the big battle between Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix and her X-Men family. It’s, at times, heartbreaking and tragic but it also makes you love all these people all over again in an organic, natural and emotional way. This hits emotional notes in the reader in ways that comic books never seem to come close to in 2019.

I can’t just give credit to Chris Claremont and his stupendous writing though. The art by John Byrne is absolutely superb and it is just as rich, colorful and meticulously crafted as the story its telling.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told. It’s classic Marvel and truly represents what I loved about the era and how I fell in love with this creative medium in the first place.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other early Chris Claremont X-Men comics.

Comic Review: The Punisher: World War Frank

Published: August 22nd, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Art by: Szymon Kudranski, Greg Smallwood (covers)

Marvel Comics, 129 Pages

Review:

It’s been a long time since I cared about the Punisher. So long in fact that even though I knew this new series was starting, I didn’t seek it out. It wasn’t until someone I trusted told me that I needed to check out the first issue, as it read like classic Punisher and was a no nonsense, balls out, action packed, political thriller.

They weren’t wrong. This thing was a high octane festival of testosterone overload. While that might not appeal to some people, to fans of the Punisher comics of the late ’80s to early ’90s, this comic is a true throwback to that style and tone. Although, it is modernized, it still feels like those old comics I read when I first fell in love with the character as a scrapping young comic reader and creator.

Now this story arc is full of cameos but no one distracts from Frank Castle being his best self and even when other people (heroes and villains) try to prevent his one man war, he is too driven to be deterred.

The main antagonist here is Baron Zemo, who is one of my all-time favorites and who has been underutilized outside of Thunderbolts comics. Zemo isn’t the only villain though. We also get the Mandarin, Jigsaw and some others.

The issue that sees Jigsaw confront the Punisher while he is in a jail cell is incredible. It was the biggest high point out of several. But that’s what this story arc is, it’s a lot of high points and it’s jam packed with action and even some mystery.

World War Frank is not just solid storytelling, it is one of the most solid Frank Castle stories in years.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: old school late ’80s to early ’90s Punisher and the recent Marvel Knights 20th anniversary event.

Comic Review: The Defenders: The Best Defense

Published: December 5th, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Chip Zdarsky, Al Ewing, Gerry Duggan, Jason Latour
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 164 Pages

Review:

I was really excited for this crossover miniseries when I first saw it announced. Plus, Chip Zdarsky and Al Ewing have been writing some great comics over the last year. However, this was really a bit of a dud.

It wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t good. It sort of fits in a weird limbo and frankly, I wasn’t crazy about the format of it, as once the four heroes do come together, it’s just in the final issue of this five issue series.

You see, each of the four heroes got their own single issue and then the fifth part was the big finale. While this wouldn’t be so bad, the story just wasn’t very exciting and thus, didn’t really keep me engaged.

Al Ewing’s work on The Immortal Hulk is top notch stuff and I’ve loved Zdarsky’s runs on Marvel 2-In-One and The Spectacular Spider-Man. I hate to say it but it feels like they either dialed it in here or that they’ve been stretched thin with their other projects. However, Gerry Duggan and Jason Latour also wrote this and maybe it just falls flat because there were too many voices and not a lot of planning behind this.

This is a strange release, as it doesn’t really tie into anything else or anything that’s going on in larger pop culture. I’ve always liked Defenders books though. This one just doesn’t cut the mustard.

And man, I really wanted this to be good because I loved the superhero team and the creative team.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: recent runs on Hulk and Doctor Strange. Also, the upcoming Invaders title, which will heavily feature Namor.

Comic Review: Infinity Wars

Published: August 1st, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Gerry Duggan
Art by: Mike Deodato Jr.

Marvel Comics, 212 Pages

Review:

Not all Marvel mega events are created equal. In fact, the last several years have seen many come and go that were pretty forgettable. While this doesn’t do much to right the ship, it at least had some interesting ideas, was pretty ambitious and had some top notch art by Mike Deodato Jr.

If I’m being honest, I was really pleased with the first two issues of this six issue story arc. It started out with a bang but once we got mashed up heroes and Infinity Gems switching hands quicker than a potato in a game of Hot Potato, my head started spinning so fast that it nearly exploded.

Plus, apart from Sleepwalker, the tie-ins to this were terrible.

I guess someone thought that mashing up Marvel heroes was a cool idea but man, it felt gimmicky as hell and none of these new creations really worked. Well, except for the Ant-Man sized Hulk. That was actually kind of cool.

Anyway, Gamora of the Guardians of the Galaxy is the villain in this. It seems completely uncharacteristic of her and the only reasoning for her turn to the dark side seems to be the fact that she is a daughter of Thanos. Daddy issues aside, it doesn’t work for me even though I did like her new, evil look.

It should be obvious to anyone that this mega event was created in a cheap attempt to capitalize off of the release of the Infinity War movie but I doubt that really helped sales of this mediocre book.

The first issue sold out at my local comic shop but issues two through six are just sitting on the shelves still, along with all the tie-in crap.

But at least I got a Sleepwalker comic again, even if it was just four issues and sadly tied to this event.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel mega events that fell way below the hype.

Comic Review: The Immortal Hulk, Vol. 2: The Green Door

Published: September 19th, 2018 – December 5th, 2018
Written by: Al Ewing
Art by: Joe Bennett, Lee Garbett, Alex Ross (covers)

Marvel Comics, 112 Pages

Review:

Sometimes, I love being wrong. In this case, I was wrong about this series.

It didn’t do much for me by the end of the first story arc and even though it had some good stuff in it, it felt really lackluster, overall. I quit picking up the issues, month to month. But then a friend asked if I was still reading it and told me that it was becoming his favorite comic. So I went back and rounded up the issues I missed and gave it a second chance.

The Green Door story arc is pretty friggin’ enjoyable and it set the stage for what I hope is a stellar third arc.

This version of the Hulk has grown on me and man, this series started out dark but it gets even darker and more messed up.

At one point, the Hulk is cut into pieces, placed into jars and studied. This obviously doesn’t end well for the evil scientists and we get to see the Hulk do some things we’ve never seen before. But in a way, this whole series has become a reinvention of the character without trashing what the Hulk was before it.

I have to give props to Al Ewing for writing something so interesting and unique for a character that has been pretty one dimensional throughout his history. While I mostly like the Hulk character, I’ve never been an avid reader of Hulk titles because they just haven’t been that great.

This really taps into the core of what Hulk used to be. He’s a monster. He’s a version of a Jekyll and Hyde or werewolf type character. Over the years, that has been lost or at least, it hasn’t been utilized in the right way.

I’ve grown to love this story and its direction. Al Ewing has reinvented the Hulk in a refreshing way in the same vein that Donny Cates has given new life to Venom.

I was sure that I was done with this series and now I’m actually excited for the next part of Hulk’s journey.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The first volume of The Immortal Hulk, which now reads better after seeing where the series was going with this volume. Also, I’m assuming the followup story, The Immortal Hulk In Hell.

Comic Review: Marvel’s What If? (2018 Minieries)

Published: October 3rd, 2018 – October 31st, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

Marvel has had several different runs with their What If? title. I have always been a fan of it, as it gives us new and different takes on Marvel characters. Usually, they show what happens if characters made different choices or if a major event had a different outcome. I couldn’t read enough of these when I was a kid and in a lot of ways, when I first came into comics, it was What If? that pinpointed the moments throughout Marvel history that were the most pivotal.

This 2018 miniseries was only six issues and all of them were unfortunately released over just five weeks. I wish they would make this an ongoing series again or at least spread them out more.

Like the X-Men: Black miniseries, which also came out weekly over October, this had different creative teams with each issue and it showed.

The six stories in this series were What If Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man?What If X-Men? (not a clearly defined title), What If Peter Parker Became the Punisher?What If Marvel Comics Went Metal with Ghost Rider?, What if Thor Was Raised by Frost Giants? and What If Magik Became Sorcerer Supreme?

Out of the six titles, the only ones I really enjoyed were the Magik and Punisher ones. Thor and Flash Thompson were okay but the X-Men one was a mess and the Ghost Rider one was one of the worst comics I’ve read in several years. I mean, it was beyond atrocious and getting through it was a hell of a chore.

Marvel could rectify their problems with this series, if they don’t rush them next time. If this was a regular monthly series like it was at its peak, the stories would probably have more time devoted to them.

Some of the art even felt rushed and half assed.

Ultimately, I liked a few issues but I can’t really recommend the series over all.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: old school What If? comics, many of which have been re-released for $1 under the True Believers imprint.

Comic Review: House of M

Published: February 1st, 2006
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Oliver Coipel

Marvel Comics, 280 Pages

Review:

This picks up after the events that happened in Avengers: Disassembled. This story also has effects that will go on to be felt in Marvel’s Civil War event, as well as X-Men: The Messiah Complex.

So following the tragic events of Avengers: Disassembled, the Avengers and the X-Men meet to discuss the fate of the Scarlet Witch. Wolverine leads the charge pretty much calling for her death, as the potential for what she can do with her powers is too great. Other Avengers and X-Men disagree but ultimately, you get the idea that this is going to go somewhere really friggin’ dark.

After that, Wolverine wakes up in an alternate reality and is aware that he’s not where he’s supposed to be, even though all of his allies are buying into the mystical charade. Wolverine has to go against his friends, search for answers and has to convince his allies that something happened that completely changed reality.

In the end, the Scarlet Witch only leaves like ten percent of the mutants in the world with their powers intact. So Wolverine saves the day, essentially, but the Scarlet Witch with her insane powers is still a crazy bitch.

This story was a cool idea but it didn’t really move forward in a way that excited me. Granted, I wasn’t too fond of Avengers: Disassemble, which lead to this.

This is one of the big Marvel stories of the ’00s and it is certainly better than the schlock they are synonymous with now but it still pales in comparison to the great epics that came before this. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel has some events that were duds in the old days too but this book just missed the mark and frankly, it could have been longer and probably needed to be, as the pace was insanely quick.

I really enjoyed Oliver Coipel’s art, though.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Avengers: DisassembledThe Messiah Complex, also it has ramifications that carry over into the Civil War event.