Comic Review: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird

Published: April 27th, 2016
Written by: Jason Aaron
Art by: Chris Bachalo

Marvel Comics, 115 Pages

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve read Doctor Strange. I used to love picking up back issues of stuff from the ’70s and ’80s when I was a kid. But I didn’t like much of the late ’90s or ’00s stuff. But I heard good things about Jason Aaron’s run, so I figured I’d start at the beginning and give it a shot.

This was a pretty fun read and it’s creative, as well as interesting. I also really liked the art style.

My only real complaint is that this Doctor Strange doesn’t seem like the same character I enjoyed in his classic stories. He’s lacking the sense of authority one got from him in the ’70s and ’80s and here he is just kind of quirky and goofy.

Despite that, it’s not a big distraction, it’s just that the character feels off. It’s also very salvageable moving forward and it doesn’t deter me from reading more from Aaron. Hopefully, he finds his footing a bit more after this first story arc.

The threat here also doesn’t feel as big as the story makes it out to be. I guess I’ll have to see what’s next but knowing what Doctor Strange has faced before, this threat seemed lame and unconvincing. Sure, all other Sorcerer Supremes from other realms and worlds are gone but the story still feels thin and is missing the weight of that.

I’ll give the second volume a shot in the very near future, so I hope that sort of rights the ship.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Jason Aaron’s other Doctor Strange stories.

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Release Date: April 22nd, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Ross Marquand, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Linda Cardellini, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, Ty Simpkins, James D’Arcy, Ken Jeong, Yvette Nichole Brown

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 181 Minutes

Review:

“You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me.” – Thanos

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

Here we are… the end.

Well, it’s the end of an era but not the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although, this may be the end for me, as there isn’t much else I’m looking forward to from the MCU after Endgame. Granted, there hasn’t been much news on what’s coming next, either.

But anyway, how was this film? The big, badass finale to a 22 movie franchise?

It was good but it wasn’t anything close to stellar.

My biggest issue with it was that it was a pretty big clusterfuck that had too many parts to try and balance. Where the previous film Infinity War did that just fine, Endgame had so many more extra layers thrown on top of it that it was overkill. I mean every single character that had any sort of significant impact on MCU storylines over 22 films ended up shoehorned into this thing. Even Natalie Portman, who wanted nothing to do with these movies after being in two of them and dialing in a mediocre performance both times.

Also, the time travel element to the story did a bunch of things that didn’t make sense and they also pissed on Back to the Future because it’s easier to shit on a classic (and its fictitious application of quantum physics) than to actually write a coherent time travel story of your own. Endgame opted to go the lazy Doctor Who “timey wimey” route than to concern itself with paradoxes and all that other catastrophic nonsense. They even kill a version of a character from the past and it in no way effects the present version of that same character.

The big battle at the end was the most epic thing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done but what should have felt like Marvel’s version of The Return of the King felt more like Ready Player Two. It was a CGI shitfest and I’m not even sure how Spider-Man was web-swinging on a large, open battlefield where the only objects above him were fast moving spaceships going in the opposite of the direction he was swinging in. But whatever, physics is hard, brah.

I liked that this film gave us some closure for some major characters. Granted, I’m not all that happy with what that closure was but like Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., I’m also very, very tired of this franchise. I feel like Endgame really is a jumping off point for fans that have rode this train for 11 years that feel like they need a break. I feel like I need a break and even if my mind was made up before this film, Endgame really solidified it.

Although, I am a bit excited for whatever happens with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor. As for the rest of the characters and their films, I don’t really care. I think I’m only really enthused about cosmic Marvel and not Earth Marvel, at this point.

Almost all of the acting was damn good, especially in regards to Robert Downey Jr., Karen Gillan, Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

Brie Larson on the other hand is a fucking charisma vacuum and every time she was on screen, I felt like I was looking at a first time community theater actress trying to play Nurse Ratched. And the Justin Bieber makeover was terrible. That scene where she blew up the ship and floated there, victoriously, just made me yearn for someone, anyone else to be in that role. My brain immediately thought, “Man, imagine if that was Charlize Theron, the theater would’ve just erupted instead of everyone just sitting here sucking loudly on empty soda cups.” I’m not wrong, I rarely ever am.

Anyway, the movie was messy but it had some really good moments. But this isn’t a movie that can stand on its own. You need the previous 21 films for context or all of this would be lost on you. Sure, it’s emotional and some bits are powerful but without 11 years of context, the weight isn’t there. And I prefer to judge films on their own merits as a sole body of work and not as an episode of a TV show or a chapter in a book. But at the same time, there is no way you can recap everything before this, as this film series is now too damn big.

Well, it’s over I guess. In 2008, it was hard imagining this day. But here it is. And I’m tired.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Everything in the MCU before this film, as it all leads up to this one.

Comic Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Published: 1980-1981
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

I read the collected trade paperback of this famous story but I was surprised to find that Days of Future Past is only a two issue story arc. The majority of this collection is padded out with a few different stories around that saga. However, everything in this collection directly follows The Dark Phoenix Saga.

Days of Future Past is a story I have never read, until now, but it’s been heralded as on of the best in the decades since it came out. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t think it was a real classic of a story. At least, not in how it has been sold to me over the years.

It’s a good, fun story but I think it’s severely over hyped. I think that it’s fondly remembered because it introduced the idea of possible dark futures to the X-Men mythos and that’s a storytelling device that never really went away after this tale. We’ve had time travelling characters showing up in X-Men stories all the time ever since Days of Future Past.

That being said, one can’t deny the impact that this story had and anything with lasting power like that is going to always be a pivotal point for fans to go back and reference. But looking at it objectively, without any actual nostalgia for it, allows me to rate the story on its own merit, detached from decades of nostalgia and hype.

Also, maybe I’m a bit less impressed than I should be because I read this just after The Dark Phoenix Saga and that story is legitimately a real classic, in my eyes. But that’s not to say that Days of Future Past isn’t a milestone, it is.

Ultimately, this is still a solid collection of stories where the two issue Days of Future Past story arc is the high point. But I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t a long, massive epic like I always thought that it was.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other X-Men stories from the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: The Return of the Sinister Six

Published: 1990
Written by: David Michelinie
Art by: Erik Larsen, Terry Austin, Mike Machlan

Marvel Comics, 141 Pages

Review:

This story arc took place in The Amazing Spider-Man issue numbers 334 through 339. It was a follow up to the original Sinister Six story that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko gave us with the first ever Amazing Spider-Man annual way back in 1964.

What’s strange to me, is that it took so long for six of Spidey’s best villains to team-up again. However, with Kraven the Hunter being dead, this version of the group replaced him with Hobgoblin. But the team is still led by Doctor Octopus and also features Electro, Mysterio, the Vulture and the Sandman. However, in a bit of a twist, Sandman has gone straight and Octopus blackmails him into joining the group.

This story also features a lot of cameos from other villains and heroes but Spider-Man ultimately faces the Sinister Six on his own and at one point, he finally fights them all at once, which he didn’t do in the first story.

While the Dave Michelinie/Todd McFarlane era of The Amazing Spider-Man is heralded as one of the best of all-time, the Dave Michelinie/Erik Larsen era is also damn good and really just continues off of what Michelinie developed with McFarlane. This came out at the height of me reading Spider-Man comics. To me, this was an event bigger than any of those Infinity things and this wasn’t really even an event.

Reading this now, I almost have a deeper appreciation for it than I did as a kid in 1990. The plot is well constructed and it has a lot of layers to it. Also, there’s a few subplots that have their own interesting narratives. There’s much more here than Peter Parker’s Royal Rumble match with his rogues and it makes this a really rich tale with good character development and real depth.

Some of the plot points, like the bizarreness of Octavius’ scheme are baffling but even the questionable stuff is amusing and just makes me yearn for the early ’90s comic book storytelling style. Twenty-nine years later, I definitely see issues I didn’t as a kid but it in no way wrecks the experience that is this great arc.

Also at the time, I was a hardcore Erik Larsen fan. I first discovered his art on this title. While I always preferred McFarlane, through the eyes of an eleven year-old, Larsen was a comic art superstar. I loved how he drew Spidey and his iconic villains and I think it still looks great. While I respect Larsen and McFarlane for forming Image and coming out with their own comics, there’s that part of me that wished that they both would’ve stuck around and worked on Spider-Man books a bit longer, as I was just so in love with what they were doing at the time and wasn’t ready to let them hand it off to someone else. But then, Mark Bagley did do a fine job, as well.

All these years later, this was fun to pick up again. I was a little worried that I’d think it’d suck now but it brought me back to where I was, reading it for the first time in 1990. Sometimes picking up old comics is like opening a time capsule. With this one, I was happy to find that it was even better than I remembered it.

And now I can’t wait to revisit its sequel, The Revenge of the Sinister Six.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original Sinister Six story, as well as the sequel to this one, The Revenge of the Sinister Six. Also, anything from the Michelinie and Larsen run on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: The Sinister Six

Published: June 1st, 1964
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Steve Ditko

Marvel Comics, 75 Pages

Review:

This story premiered in the first ever Amazing Spider-Man annual. Plus, it was written by Stan “The Man” Lee and drawn by the great Steve Ditko.

The plot is pretty standard fair for ’60s Marvel and it sees six of Spider-Man’s toughest villains come together to form the original version of the Sinister Six. That being said, the Sinister Six have been one of my favorite villain groups of all-time and this storyline didn’t just create a supervillain team to test a single hero but it created a trend in the comic book medium that saw other heroes have to take on similar teams of multiple rogues.

I like how the plot was structured, in that Spider-Man had to run the gauntlet on the Sinister Six and fought each one individually. This is actually a great setup for the future, which would see the Sinister Six up the ante and take on Spidey all at once. However, in future battles, Spidey would get some help of his own.

This group consisted of Doctor Octopus, The Vulture, Kraven the Hunter, Electro, Mysterio and the Sandman. While the group would rotate some other villains in over the course of time, I really liked this group and how having them come together in this story made it feel like a Spider-Man themed Royal Rumble.

For a first time reader, this had to be a fun read, as it forced Spider-Man to face multiple challenges in the same story. Plus, it just looks great with the Ditko art.

This is not my favorite Sinister Six story but we wouldn’t have gotten the other ones without this happening first. Plus, it’s quintessential Stan Lee in how this all plays out.

It’s hard not to love this.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Stan Lee and Steve Ditko era Spider-Man comics.

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.