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

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: 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.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 9

Published: March 2nd, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 271 Pages

Review:

As much as I like how this series has grown and evolved over the first eight Masterworks collections, I liked that this volume scaled back a little bit and brought things back to basics and with that, brought back two of the Fantastic Four’s earliest villains, Doctor Doom and the Mole Man.

This also features the Inhumans and has Crystal still filling in for Sue Storm on the team but we do get to see Sue come back and get in on the action a bit.

The Skrulls also return and it feels like they’ve been MIA for too long.

Overall, this is another really great volume in a stupendous comic book series.

I keep saying that Lee and Kirby improve with each volume and that’s still true, here. By this point, they have created such a rich, large mythos in the Marvel universe, as a whole, that I think they felt confident in slowing things down a bit and bringing our heroes up against their best foes, as opposed to creating another round of new baddies.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy new Lee and Kirby villains, I actually love them, but I was yearning for the classic baddies to return and this definitely filled that void. In fact, this features one of my favorite Doctor Doom story arcs of all-time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 8

Published: March 2nd, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 270 Pages

Review:

I’m now eight volumes deep into the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run on the Fantastic Four series and it still hasn’t lost steam!

I loved this collection of issues and it even had a story that featured the Fantastic Four alongside Daredevil, Spider-Man and Thor!

Beyond that, it gave us the debut of my second favorite Fantastic Four villain (after Doctor Doom) and that’s Annihilus.

We also see Sue leave the team due to being pregnant. With that we get the Inhumans’ Crystal taking her place as the fourth member. I’ve read some issues with this team and I always really liked Crystal being added to the mix, as her and Johnny Storm’s relationship was one of my favorites from the early era of Marvel.

Additionally, we get stories with the Silver Surfer, Psycho-Man, The Mad Thinker, The Wizard and Galactus’ big return.

I love seeing what this series has grown into and how it’s evolved over this long, storied run by Lee and Kirby. Frankly, it just keeps getting better and what happened in this series really shaped what happened in the larger Marvel universe.

The stories were enjoyable, the writing was fun and as always, Kirby’s art was simply amazing.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 7

Published: February 23rd, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 301 Pages

Review:

This stretch of issues in the classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run of Fantastic Four really enhances things quite a bit.

At this point, we’re about a year removed from the big arrival of Galactus and the Marvel universe has truly taken shape. Things feel less experimental and as if Lee has truly found his grove.

Additionally, Jack Kirby’s work seems to improve slightly with each volume of this classic series and that’s impressive, as the guy was damn good before he even started drawing these characters. I mean, the guy was already working on Captain America as far back as the 1940s and he started professionally drawing comics in the late ’30s.

This stretch also introduces some new villains and reworks some already classic ones like The Sandman, who now has a cool suit and feels like a legit threat on his own without the help of the other three members of the Frightful Four.

We also get the debut of Ronan the Accuser, Blastaar, Adam Warlock (going by “Him” in these earliest stories) and one of my favorite and very underutilized villains, Psycho-Man.

Plus, we also get more appearances by the Inhumans, Black Panther and Silver Surfer.

All the stories within this volume are action-packed and top notch classic Marvel stuff. Just when you think that Lee and Kirby had found their stride, they find ways to surprise you. Both men are f’n legends for a reason.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 6

Published: February 23rd, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 240 Pages

Review:

I feel like it would be hard to top the greatness that was the previous Fantastic Four – Masterworks volume but this did follow it up pretty nicely and also expanded the Marvel universe by introducing the world to Black Panther and his enemy Klaw.

The earliest arc in this collection focuses on Black Panther and his home of Wakanda. It also brings in the Inhumans, as well. While I love this story, it’s somewhat overshadowed by the epic tale of Doctor Doom stealing Silver Surfer’s powers and cosmic surfboard.

It also features some other Fantastic Four villains sprinkled in but it’s the Doom story that really takes the spotlight, here.

As is the norm for these early Fantastic Four – Masterworks editions, the stories were written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby. While I’m now sixty percent of the way through their 100 issue run, the series hasn’t gotten dull or even really tapered off. Everything is still damn solid and Kirby’s artwork seems to still improve with each volume, even if he was a long-time veteran by this point.

All in all, this is still a great collection that lives up to the hype and only serves to make me appreciate Lee and Kirby’s partnership on this title even more.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Civil War II

Published: February 1st, 2017
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Jim Cheung, Oliver Coipel, David Marquez, Marko Djurdjevic (cover)

Marvel Comics, 317 Pages

Review:

Man, this was bewilderingly bad.

Historically, I’ve been pretty 50/50 on Brian Michael Bendis’ writing but man, it’s like when he did this, he already knew he was leaving Marvel. It also reads like he was given orders to use certain characters and he was begrudgingly forced to work them in. Granted, he’s also created some of the terrible modern characters.

While I’ve been well aware of the criticism that the Captain Marvel character gets in modern times, I always liked her when she was Ms. Marvel. But this new, short-haired, suddenly pushed into a leadership role Carol Danvers is not even the same character, remotely.

Based off of how she’s written here, as a self-righteous, fascist, tyrant bitch, I totally see why fans can’t stand her. If this story is an accurate portrayal of how she is post-2015 or so, I have no interest in following her character unless she’s actually made into a permanent villain. But even then, there are so many better villains I’d rather read about.

And I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to interpret her character. Is she supposed to be psychotic, god-powered, tyrannical piece of shit? Or am I supposed to empathize with her point-of-view?

What made the first Civil War so great was that you could emphasize and relate to both points-of-view and it made for a compelling read. Civil War II just made me hate Carol and every character that so easily sided with her. These characters aren’t heroes, as their actions in this story crossed the line into villainy.

Whatever. Fuck this comic. Fuck Bendis. Fuck post-2015 Marvel. But at least the art was really good.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: all the other Civil War II crossover tie-in trade paperbacks.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 5

Published: August 7th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 248 Pages

Review:

This right here is the volume I’ve been waiting to get to! This is the collection of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four where everything changes and the Marvel universe expands exponentially!

This edition of the Masterworks series covers issues 41 through 50, as well as the third annual.

Within this collection, we get a great Frightful Four story, the marriage between Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, the full debut of the Inhumans, as well as the first appearances of Silver Surfer and Galactus! There are also cameos from just about every hero and villain from the Marvel universe of the 1960s! This chapter in the saga literally has everyone and everything!

What’s even better than that, is that Stan Lee is absolutely on his A-game with these stories and scripts and Jack Kirby’s art was on-point.

If you can only ever read one Fantastic Four collection, graphic novel or trade paperback, it should be this one.

This is quintessential Fantastic Four at its finest. It’s the epitome of what was so damn great about ’60s Marvel and the work of Lee and Kirby.

Just buy it, read it, read it a dozen more times and cherish it forever.

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