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

TV Review: Loki (2021- )

Original Run: June 9th, 2021 – current
Created by: Michael Waldron
Directed by: Kate Herron
Written by: various
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Natalie Holt
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino, Sasha Lane, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, Eugene Cordero, Tara Strong (voice), Jack Veal, DeObia Oparei, Richard E. Grant, Jonathan Majors, Jaimie Alexander (cameo), Chris Hemsworth (cameo, voice)

Marvel Studios, Disney Platform Distribution, Disney+, 6 Episodes (so far), 42-54 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ll start this by saying that I mostly liked Loki but it was really a very mixed bag with a lot of wasted time on unimportant shit but it also established a kind of cool and interesting new pocket of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that will have much larger implications on the rest of the franchise going forward.

With that, Loki seems like it actually effected the larger MCU in a way that other Disney+ shows like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Solider tried to do but failed at. Or I should say that they did make some changes but they seem a lot less meaningful in regards to what fans will actually care about in the future.

Loki‘s changes to the larger landscape appear to be pretty f’n major. Plus, it looks like we’re getting Kang the Conqueror and have already met a version of him in the finale. Considering that Kang is one of my all-time favorite Marvel villains, I’m glad that he is now being introduced and in a way that doesn’t just waste him like other major baddies such as Red Skull and The Mandarin.

I do have to point out one major flaw, though, and that’s the fact that Loki often times felt like a side character in his own show. Maybe calling the show “Loki” was a mistake and they could’ve used a more creative title while letting it be known that he was heavily featured in it. But marketing is marketing, I guess.

For the most part, I enjoyed the cast in this. I loved the chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson, which had to carry the first two episodes. Additionally, I enjoyed Sophia Di Martino as the female variant of Loki. Granted, this show felt much more about establishing her going forward, as Disney (no surprise) is pushing really hard for diversity in the future of the MCU, regardless of the source material they’re pulling from.

While it’s true that there have been female Lokis in the comics, those stories are very different, as are those characters. However, the way that they introduced this change in this show, works for this universe and honestly, I’m not opposed to it and in the end, I like this variant of Loki. I also like that she choses to be referred to as Sylvie, as she wants to distance herself from her past.

The biggest issue I have with this show is that it wasted a lot of time and had way too much filler. If all that stuff was whittled down and condensed, this could’ve just been a movie and maybe it should have been and I think Hiddleston’s Loki probably deserved his own film by this point.

Still, I liked some of the concepts and ideas explored in this. The biggest high point for me was the fifth of the six episodes, which showed a bunch of Loki variants, one of which featured veteran actor Richard E. Grant in the original comic book costume from the ’60s. As a true Florida Man, I also enjoyed the alligator Loki.

The final episode was too drawn out, like the show, but I like how things ended, how the future of the MCU is sort of a clean slate and the fact that Kang has been pulling some major strings throughout its history. It’s sort of the reset the franchise needs following Avengers: Endgame.

However, even with a clean slate, I’m pretty sure that the future of the MCU is going to be massively disappointing. But honestly, Endgame is sort of where my brain jumped off of the train. I’m going to take everything with a grain of salt in this phase and beyond.

Rating: 7.25/10

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 New Mutants – Classics, Vol. 5

Published: September 8th, 2016
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: Arthur Adams, Jackson Guice, Rick Leonardi, Keith Pollard, Mary Wilshire

Marvel Comics, 269 Pages

Review:

This follows the Demon Bear Saga, the first Legion story and the short arc just after that.

This volume in The New Mutants starts with a two-part annual issues crossover with The Uncanny X-Men. The story sees the two mutant teams swept away to Asgard for some trickery and shenanigans involving Loki, the Enchantress and Hela. Frog-Thor, the Warriors Three and Surtur also make appearances.

I really dug the Asgard story, though, and I finally know how Dani Moonstar became a Valkyrie because it was always a bit of a mystery to me, as one day she wasn’t and then one day she was. I had never read these annuals, so I wasn’t sure how it all went down and why.

After that, we get a story that involves The Beyonder, as well as one that sees Magneto take over the team in place of Professor X. That is the more interesting plot thread, as it sees Emma Frost with help from one of her Hellions, convince Magneto to let her take over the New Mutants training, essentially merging them with the Hellions.

While with the Hellions, the New Mutants form some bonds with the teens they’re used to fighting. For those who have read X-Force, it’s pretty apparent which Hellions member will eventually align with the New Mutants once Cable comes in to lead them into adulthood.

Overall, this is a damn good collection and the Asgard and Hellion stories are two of the best arcs I’ve read thus far in the series.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other New Mutants comics, as well as the other X-Men related titles from the ’80s.

Comic Review: What If Thor Battled Conan?

Published: June, 1983
Written by: Alan Zelenetz
Art by: Ron Wilson
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

I’m planning to review many of the classic What If? stories but in doing so, I wanted to start with the ones featuring Conan first. This is the second of the four Conan stories.

While Conan briefly crossed over with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in his first What If? tale, it was just a small cameo by Spider-Man and his future wife and the characters didn’t actually interact. This story, however, is the first time that Conan actually has fisticuffs with an iconic Marvel character.

The comic also features Conan villain Thoth-Amon, a brief appearance by Loki and a strange, bonkers appearance by Crom, who shows that he just doesn’t have time for Thor’s shit.

The comic’s title is somewhat misleading, as Thor and Conan do actually battle but it’s pretty short and they start working together to try and figure out how to get Thor back home, as he’s trapped in Conan’s realm and time.

The setup for this is pretty basic. Thor follows Loki into a cave and ends up in a different time and place. Part of me was kind of hoping to see Loki team up with Thoth-Amon but that didn’t happen.

Overall, this was a pretty cool read but the scene with Thor meeting Crom felt really out of place, strange and as if the writer didn’t really know much about Conan lore. Crom isn’t like Odin, just chilling on a throne for anyone to confront and chat with.

This isn’t my favorite of the Conan What If? stories but none of them are bad and they’re all amusing and entertaining in their own unique way.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the three other What If? comics featuring Conan.

Comic Review: Doctor Strange by Donny Cates

Published: April 17th, 2019
Written by: Donny Cates, Nick Spencer
Art by: Niko Henrichon, Frazer Irving, Szymon Kudranski, Rod Reis, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Mike Del Mundo (cover)

Marvel Comics, 341 Pages

Review:

This collection of Donny Cates’ Doctor Strange run started off with a bang but then it did what most Donny Cates comics do, it went too big, too fast and became a bloated, over-the-top spectacle. But he’s even admitted that everything he writes needs to be big and epic. He’s also pointed out that he’s always trying to top the last thing he wrote.

The problem with that is that he can tell pretty good human stories with a lot of emotion that gets the reader invested. But then he Michael Bay the fucks out of everything and then has to wedge in a large amount of characters because if it’s a Cates’ story, he’s gotta blow up the universe.

Big, over-the-top spectacles aren’t necessarily a bad thing but when it’s done as much as Cates does it, he becomes a one trick pony that negatively impacts the better sides of his creative work. The spectacle ends up overshadowing the real story and you sort of get lost in it all. And after a while, it becomes ineffective, as you expect everything to reach ludicrous spreed.

When I first started reading Cates’ work, I enjoyed the grandiose-ness. However, it didn’t take long to realize that larger-than-life Armageddon scenarios were his modus operandi. And with that, he has to keep trying to top what he did before. Everything just gets bigger, faster, crazier and the next thing you know, you’re reading the Marvel Comics version of Fast & Furious 14 where it’s just stunts, speed, CGI, action, yelling and then the end credits after characters refer to each other as “family” 97 times between explosions.

I think that this formula has worked so well for Cates that he’s kind of stuck doing it now. While this Doctor Strange stuff came out before his more recent work, I might have had a very different take on it had I read it when it was current.

The problem though, is this kind of shows me where that formula started. Well, at least with his more prominent Marvel work.

As I stated in the beginning, this started out really strong and I was invested. But then everything went ape shit crazy and then it was over. It may have read better if Cates stuck around and actually wrote about the fallout from this story. But I guess he had to move on to the next thing and give us more mega-event level chaos.

This initially created a foundation for something truly great. After the first story arc, however, it immediately went to a Hell-on-Earth scenario with two dozen characters involved. Whatever emotional investment I had, disappeared, as I kept reading and it never quite circled back around to the great character work and found a way to use that within the chaotic spectacle that followed.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Donny Cates comics by Marvel.

Comic Review: Infamous Iron Man, Vol. 1: Infamous

Published: May 31st, 2017
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev

Marvel Comics, 135 Pages

Review:

I didn’t really want to read this after reading Brian Michael Bendis’ Civil War II but I had already bought it during a big Comixology sale. Plus, historically speaking, I have always liked Iron Man stories that feature Doctor Doom.

This doesn’t feature Iron Man, however, as the story is about Doctor Doom replacing Tony Stark in the Iron Man role. But we also had Riri Williams trying to be Iron Man, as well. So this features both characters, as well as some other villains and The Thing of the Fantastic Four.

Overall, this was boring and surprisingly uneventful, even for Bendis.

A comic about Doom taking the Iron Man mantle shouldn’t have been this dull but it essentially does the same thing as The Superior Spider-Man concept but in a much more boring way with lackluster execution from a “legendary” writer, who has proven to be a hack more often than not.

Infamous Iron Man should have been intriguing and a cool, new take but it was like a bathtub fart. It sounded cool but immediately dissipated once it hit the surface, leaving behind a wet stink.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: its followup, as well as the early Ironheart stories and Civil War II.

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: Secret Invasion

Published: 2008
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Leinil Francis Yu, Gabriele Dell’Otto (cover)

Marvel Comics, 218 Pages

Review:

Secret Invasion came out after a series of good storylines from Marvel like Civil War, The Death of Captain America and the feud between the two Avengers teams that followed Civil War. I guess this was supposed to be a good payoff for sticking through that solid run of most of Marvel’s major titles. However, this was mostly a clusterfuck that created more problems than the Marvel continuity needed.

This was ambitious, damn ambitious.

Brian Michael Bendis’ ambition really overreached, though, and this mega event became a jumping off point for me back when it was coming out. After a few issues, I dropped it an never looked back.

Since years have passed and Marvel has gotten even worse, I thought that I might enjoy this a bit more and since I never actually finished it the first time, I wanted to give it another shot.

This is just one of those ideas that sounds good on paper but once you start really fleshing it out, you know it’s not going to work. Well, Bendis should have figured that out on his own, especially since the industry considers him a legend.

The biggest problem with this mega event is that it could have worked on a smaller scale. We could’ve seen that the Skrulls had infiltrated the superhero community, replacing some heroes with themselves in disguise. It didn’t need to be so damn grandiose where nearly half the heroes were just Skrulls in hiding. The conspiracy was too big and thus, came across as really fucking dumb.

In fact, this would’ve been much better had the Skrulls just replaced a few key people and there were still less than a handful in disguise. When you expect half the heroes to be impostors, the reveals of who is who loses its impact and you’re left with a half-assed handjob from a drunk instead of great sex from a pretty hot sexual partner.

In the end, when half the characters were impostors, it poses too many questions that just break continuity and it’s way too hard for editorial to keep track of, especially editorial from this era or any after.

Someone really should’ve grabbed Bendis by the shoulders and shouted, “Scale this the fuck down!”

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel mega events.

Documentary Review: Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe (2014)

Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper, Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, Clark Gregg, James Gunn, Chris Hardwick, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Jeph Loeb, Anthony Mackie, George R.R. Martin, Tom Morello, Bobby Moynihan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, Joe Quesada, Robert Redford, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Ming-Na Wen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright (uncredited)

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

After watching the beefy but solid Star Wars documentary Empire of Dreams, I noticed that Disney+ also featured a similar made-for-TV documentary about the making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I figured I’d check it out, as it originally aired in 2014, on the cusp of the MCU reaching its peak.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as compelling as Empire of Dreams and it plays more like a Marvel produced production used mainly to pimp themselves out and market Captain America: Winter Solider and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. But I get it, this played on ABC, which like Marvel, is owned by Disney.

It’s still an informative piece with a lot of insight into the making of the first Iron Man movie, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the MCU.

It also expands beyond that and delves a little bit into each movie up to the then still in-production Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, I think that this was the first real peek into the Guardians of the Galaxy production.

The best part about this short feature is the interviews with the stars and filmmakers who helped bring this universe to life. I especially liked hearing the enthusiasm that Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau had with the early Iron Man pictures.

Overall, this isn’t a must watch but it’s worth your time if you are a big MCU fan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other filmmaking documentaries about blockbusters. Empire of Dreams, immediately comes to mind.