Comic Review: The Evolutionary War

Published: 1988
Written by: Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Louise Simonson, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, Mark Gruenwald
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 704 Pages

Review:

It has been years since I’ve read this giant crossover event that happened in the Marvel annuals over the summer of 1988. I really dug the hell out of it when I was a kid and I’ve always liked the High Evolutionary as a big villain, even though this was really his only major story.

Being that I still own the physical copies of all these issues, I figured that taking them out of their protective bags and boards and thumbing through them once again would be a fun experience.

Overall, this is one of the best large crossover events that Marvel did in the ’80s, where these things started to become the norm. I think I liked Atlantis Attacks slightly more but I’m going to revisit that one in the very near future, as well.

This is spread over eleven issues and there are two others that tie into this but aren’t a part of the main arc. However, the main arc is sort of a loose one, as the scheme of the High Evolutionary weaves in and out of these issues without most of the heroes coming into contact with one another. In fact, it isn’t until the final issue where a group of former Avengers come together and realize what’s happening and with that, they foil the High Evolutionary’s plans.

Sometimes the main arc is just very minimally wedged into a story like with The Punisher annual, which sees Frank Castle fighting drug lords in Latin America. Knowing what we know already, we see Castle fight a robot that we know is associated with the High Evolutionary and we know that the drugs being pushed by this specific cartel is tied to the High Evolutionary’s experiments.

Being that these are annuals, there are always main stories and then shorter backup stories tacked on to the end of the issues. The backup stories in these tell the origin of the High Evolutionary and recap everything he’s been involved with up to this point. These were all rather good and interesting and it shows the character as a sort of high-tech Dr. Moreau from the famous 1896 H. G. Wells sci-fi/horror novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.

In the end, this was a hell of a lot of fun to revisit. The writing and art were handled by a team of Marvel’s best creatives from the era. I dug the art a lot and it was damn consistent throughout.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Also known as: Steamboat (working title)
Release Date: August 16th, 2021 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Written by: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Joel P. West
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, Tony Leung, Tim Roth (voice, uncredited), Mark Ruffalo, Brie Larson

Fox Studios Australia, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“I was hired to play a terrorist. And then turns out they were actually terrorists, the producer got blown up by Iron Man, and I was arrested!” – Trevor Slattery

So this is now the third Marvel movie that I haven’t seen in the theater following Captain Marvel and Black Widow. And like with those other two, I’m glad I didn’t waste money on this because it’s a so far below where the MCU was at its peak that it’s almost sad to see where it’s all going now.

To start, I thought Simu Liu was fine as the title character and I like Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung and Ben Kingsley in pretty much everything but I’ve never seen someone suck the fucking air out of the room like awkward ass Awkwafina.

Christ, man… she’s the worst actress I’ve seen sine Rob Zombie’s wife. I also heard she’s a comedian but every joke this “Asian Jeff Gordon” threw at us, landed flatter than steamrolled pancake. She just wrecks nearly every scene she is in and she is in most of them. The fact that she sounds like an 82 year-old woman is also really distracting. But let me not just single her out because she’s not the only negative thing in this picture.

To start, I get that this story centers around China but the use of subtitles to open the film with all the fantastical backstory, wasn’t necessary. This is an American movie and Marvel shit is heavily geared towards kids. Five year-old Timmy ain’t reading that shit and no one in the theater wants to listen to his mom trying to audibly read it out loud to him and the dozen other kids. But Disney obviously did this to pander to China, who didn’t even want this movie because it was “offensive”, starred an “ugly” lead from their perspective, and was obvious pandering. It nearly wasn’t released but once it was, it didn’t do well there and Disney, as is becoming the norm lately, were left with egg on their face.

The film also suffers from trying way too hard to be cool. It starts with the shitty rap music used to introduce the main character, which just plays as a cheap attempt at old Disney execs trying to come off as hip. Then there is the friends hanging out in San Francisco sequence, which comes off as cringe CW teen drama bullshit. Then it just continues to try and double down on modern urban music over a traditional score… well, at least for the first half because the second half is almost a different movie altogether.

Getting back to pandering, the film tries to do it with the woke crowd but also fails in that regard. One thing that really sticks out is when Shang-Chi’s sister talks about how her dad wouldn’t let her train with the men, so she watched them and taught herself better. Then, in the next scene, she grabs her dad’s shoulder and gets taken down in one fucking move. It was embarrassing (see for yourself).

So then we meet Ben Kingsley, the fake Mandarin from Iron Man 3, and the second half of the movie starts, which goes from urban kung fu flick to fantastical, mythological kung fu flick. I like the second half better and thought that the film started to pull something worthwhile together before it decided to shit all over itself, again.

To get to fantasy China, though, they had to take an ancient passageway through a magical forest. However, they had to use a BMW, in what felt like a blatant advert, to move fast enough to “stay in the pocket” of trees opening a rapidly moving, little clearing. If they didn’t stay in the pocket, the trees would’ve apparently ate them. What’s really baffling about this and, as we’ve seen with The Rise of Skywalker, Disney doesn’t expect its audience to think about the details. But we’re not all as fucktarded as the “creatives” at Disney. If we were, we might not think that this is really stupid because BMWs didn’t exist in ancient China and horses wouldn’t have moved fast enough to “stay in the pocket”. But whatever, just watch the movie like a brainless consumer.

Once we get to fantasy China, we get lots of fancy CGI creatures that look cool but also make the film kind of overly fantastical and cartoony, after we just spent an hour watching a generic Iron Fist episode set in a realistic, urban atmosphere. It’s kind of jarring to the senses but it’s also where this story begins to find its own unique space within the larger MCU.

We meet Shang-Chi’s aunt, Awkwafina makes more bad jokes, Ben Kingsley is just there, and they all start training for the big showdown with Shang’s evil dad, who should’ve just been the real Mandarin operating in the shadows but he’s instead just a generic Asian crime lord with fancy bracelets called the “Ten Rings” but unlike the comic, aren’t actually rings, they’re bracelets.

Anyway, Shang-Chi’s official superhero costume looks like some club shirt he bought on Etsy for $65 that will fall apart after one rave. His sister’s outfit is about the same, and everything just sort of looks generic and like a Canadian television production.

The fight breaks out, it’s alright but eventually we get a big battle between two large ass dragons. So the movie has two dragons in it but neither of them are Fin Fang Foom?! Fuck you, Disney. Talk about a wasted opportunity.

So one dragon is basically Falcor from The NeverEnding Story with red streaks down its body and the other is just some generic, multi-armed abomination of a dragon that looks like it was designed by my nephew Max, who is repeating third grade this year.

The good guys win and Wong from Doctor Strange shows up to introduce them to Captain Marvel and Hulk, who is back to being Banner with no explanation, and they discover that the Ten Rings, now in Shang’s possession, are sending out some beacon. Whatever. I don’t care about the future of the MCU anymore.

All in all, I thought this was okay. It’s better than Black Widow and Captain Marvel but it’s definitely a bottom five MCU movie. It probably would’ve been better if Awkwafina was nowhere near this thing and if the writers actually read a comic book before “adapting” this character and this pocket of the Marvel universe.

Rating: 5.5/10

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

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: 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.

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.

Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: Justice Is Served

Published: April 5th, 2017
Written by: John Byrne, J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Gruenwald
Art by: Mike Zeck, various

Marvel Comics, 511 Pages

Review:

I wanted to read this beefy Epic Collection of Captain America stories, as it sets up the era where Steve Rogers quit being Cap and the role was then given to the man who would later become US Agent. With that, Rogers picks up the Nomad persona and travels the country, fighting villainy.

Those events don’t happen until the collection of issues after this one but this lays all the groundwork, introduces us to the future US Agent and gives us a solid Cap and original Nomad team-up. There are also stories featuring Scourge, Wolverine, Yellow Claw, Flag-Smasher and a great story where Cap is trapped in Red Skull’s “haunted house”. We also get the debut of D-Man and some cool Frog-Man stuff.

I loved a lot of these stories when I was a kid and it was cool reading them now, as it’s been so long since I’ve read Captain America from this era. While they’re not as great as my memory made them out to be, most of the stories here were enjoyable.

I actually forgot that Cap was already sort of a nomad before becoming Nomad. I also forgot that he had a side hustle as a comic book artist, which comes off as really odd, now that I’m reminded of that as an adult. But it does add some interesting complexity to the character and kind of shows you that there’s a certain sensitivity behind his top iconic layer.

This is really good and it’s prepped me for the US Agent stint as Cap, which I also wanted to reread, as the character is finally debuting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a part of the Falcon and Winter Soldier television series.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s Captain America comics, especially those involving US Agent.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 10

Published: May 18th, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr.

Marvel Comics, 289 Pages

Review:

Here we are, at the end of the legendary 100-plus issue run on Fantastic Four by the truly dynamic duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And man, they really went out with a bang, as this final volume was packed full of many of the great characters that have been in the series since its beginning.

Now Kirby exited the series with one issue left in the final story arc that he worked on but John Romita Sr. slid right in and gave us some pretty stellar art as well. But other than the final issue, collected here, this is all Kirby and Kirby really at his best.

This is also Stan Lee at his best, as he finds a way to work in so many classic characters without this turning into a convoluted mess. The only noticeable omissions from this beefy volume were Silver Surfer, Galactus and Black Panther but just about every other character that debuted in Fantastic Four, up to this point, shows up, even if it’s just a quick cameo. Most of that happens in the 100th issue.

Beyond that, this is full of good stories and we even see the brief return of the Frightful Four, one of my favorite villain groups that gets no love in modern times.

Overall, I’m glad that I read this entire run and this was a nice cap off to a great series.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.