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.

Film Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Release Date: May 25th, 2011 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Plat, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ironside, Ray Wise, James Remar, Hugh Jackman (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Ingenious Film Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.” – Professor Charles Xavier

While I haven’t seen this picture since it was in the theater, it left a great impression on me and gave me hope for the future of the X-Men franchise in film. Granted, we’d get two pretty good movies and two mostly poopy ones, but the weak whimpering farts of the second half of the prequel series of films didn’t take away my satisfaction with this one and its followup, Days of Future Past.

It was nice to revisit this, all these years later, as it holds up fairly well, even if I’m not as optimistic about the franchise now.

To start, this was much better than the last of the first run of films, X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie left such a bad taste in my mouth that anything better would have made me happy. Luckily, this was a lot better but I think that my original impression was a bit over-inflated due to the precedent set before it.

That’s not to say that this isn’t solid, it is. This is, in fact, a damn good superhero film and one of the best in the schizophrenic X-Men series.

What really sets this one on a pedestal is that the story was pretty good and the acting, at least from the core actors, was convincing and impressive. I didn’t know much about Michael Fassbender, before this, and I wasn’t yet sold on James McAvoy, but this picture cemented both men as two of my favorites over the last decade.

On the flip side of that, you also had some really weak performances from January Jones, who felt out of place and awkward, as well as the younger actors in the cast. A few of them would become better actors over time but they all mostly felt green, here.

I did like the inclusion of Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in this, as well as character actors Michael Ironside, James Remar and Ray Wise. While the character actors had small roles, they added an extra level of legitimacy and coolness to the picture.

I loved that this took place in the ’60s, tied to the Cuban Missile Crisis and also went back into Nazi Germany to establish the relationship between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. The general look and aesthetic of the film were really good and it actually fits with the previous X-Men films, despite those being set over thirty years later. One thing Fox did well, while they managed the X-Men movie franchise, was that they kept everything sort of visually consistent.

My only real gripe about the film is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the actual “first class” of students, which this film is named after. They all felt generic and disposable, cast to play archetypes and nothing more. Sure, some of them are major comic book characters but they didn’t feel that way in this movie.

Overall, this was a good, fresh, soft reboot of the series. It eventually ties to the older films and the series becomes an even bigger continuity clusterfuck but at least this generation of the franchise started out on the right foot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox X-Men films.

Comic Review: X-Men: Phoenix In Darkness

Published: 2004-2005
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Phil Jiminez, Marc Silvestri

Marvel Comics, 234 Pages

Review:

Well, this started out fairly interesting and strong but then it tried to go out with an explosion but instead, came out like a bathtub fart.

Written by Grant Morrison, a legend, with some of the art done by Marc Silvestri, another legend, this was pretty underwhelming and far from the best work that either man can do.

The story taps into the Phoenix Force, a plot device that was already done to death before this came out, and it doesn’t really offer up anything all that worthwhile to try and justify bringing it back into an X-Men story.

In fact, I actually enjoy Phoenix tales when done well but just like it’s been overused in movies now, it’s been overused in comics for a lot longer.

This story was a disjointed mess and in fact, it’s basically two different arcs collected into one book like it’s one plot. The first half was good and intriguing, the second half which shows a potential future for the X-Men was shit. And just like Phoenix-centric stories, potential X-Men futures have also been overused. In fact, it’s been overused and completely bastardized more than Phoenix plots.

Overall, this felt like a complete waste of time and the only real thing memorable to come out of it is that this appeared to be the start of the Cyclops and Emma Frost relationship.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other story arcs about Jean Grey as Phoenix.

Comic Review: Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up

Published: March 4th, 2015
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 458 Pages

Review:

This was a comic book series that I had wanted to read for a long time. I was collecting all of the single issues, in an effort to get the whole shebang before reading any of them, as I wanted the full experience.

However, I found the beefy collected edition at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet for like $4.95. So I couldn’t pass up that deal and because tracking down the whole series, as well as its crossovers was taking some time.

Anyway, this wasn’t exactly what I had hoped it was but it was still a really fun comic, especially as a fan of Doctor Doom, who is mostly the main character, alongside Namor, throughout the series’ run.

What I had hoped (or assumed) this was, was a book that put two villains together like a tag team in an effort to see them fight their regular nemeses. I expected more of a mix up of villains but the vast majority of this pairs Doom and Namor. And honestly, most of the time, they’re at odds with each other, so “team-up” isn’t all that accurate.

Other villains come into the series towards the end. We get to see Red Skull, Arnim Zola, The Hate-Monger, Magneto and a few others. But most of this is Doom having schemes that typically involve Namor. It pits them (well, mostly Doom) against superhero teams like The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the ’70s version of The Champions but it also sees Doom come into conflict with other major villains.

For the most part, this is a really fun and energetic series that highlights what was great about ’70s Marvel. However, the series kept switching writers and artists and some of the issues aren’t nearly as great as the more solid ones.

It’s definitely better written in the first few issues, as those duties were handled by the great Roy Thomas. Towards the end, the book gets more exciting, as a lot of characters get wedged in but the earliest stories were just better written tales.

All in all, this is definitely worth picking up for those out there that are into ’70s Marvel and/or Doctor Doom. If you can find the collected trade paperback for as cheap as I got it, you should definitely pick it up and give it a shot.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the Avengers and Fantastic Four comics of the ’70s.

Comic Review: X-Men: The Age of Apocalypse – The Complete Epic

Published: 1995-1996
Written by: Scott Lobdell, Jeph Loeb, John Francis Moore, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis, Fabian Nicieza, Larry Hama, Howard Mackie, Terry Kavanagh
Art by: Roger Cruz, Terry Dodson, Steve Epting, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, Carlos Pacheco, Joe Madureira, Tony Daniel, Salvador Larroca, Chris Bachalo, Ken Lashley, Steve Skroce, Ian Churchill, Joe Bennett

Marvel Comics, 1462 Pages

Review:

I’ve really only heard great things about The Age of Apocalypse storyline since it started back in 1995, an era where I wasn’t really reading comics for awhile, except for Dark Horse’s Star Wars stuff.

In fact, the last major X-Men related event that I had read before this was X-Cutioner’s Song, a pretty good epic. But shortly after that, I got pretty burnt out once the top Marvel guys went off to form Image and then those comics were constantly hindered by delays and irregular schedules.

Based off of all the praise I heard, I always wanted to read this but it was such a massive story, spread over multiple collected volumes that I never really wanted to fork out the over $100 it would cost to buy the whole shebang. So, all these years later, I took advantage of a massive X-Men sale on Comixology and got the entire saga with its prelude for about $20.

Now that I’ve read it, I’m glad I only spent $20 because like Game of Thrones, all my friends and all the critics lied to me about how great this was. It’s not, it’s a clusterfuck of biblical proportions showcasing a lot of the things that were wrong with mid-’90s comic book art from the major publishers.

I’ll start with the art and just come out and say that this was mostly an eyesore to look at. The biggest reason was the colors, which relied so heavily on what I assume are digitally created gradients and overly vibrant colors that this was like staring into the asshole of a tropical fruit salad for hours. Everything is too busy, every single issue collected is made to be overly grandiose and if everything is larger than life and overly vivid, then that becomes the norm and thus, makes everything kind of boring.

Additionally, there is such a mix of different artistic styles that it becomes jarring as these collections jump from issue to issue every twenty pages or so. Some of the artists had great pencils but many of them illustrated in a style that didn’t feel like Marvel and instead felt like the artists were trying to emulate indie comics from Image and Valiant. Besides, the stuff that was illustrated well, ended up being wrecked by the primitive gradients and crazy colors that looked like a giallo film puked all over a box of Prismacolor markers.

When it comes to the narrative side of this, that’s also a mess.

This suffers from trying to be way more ambitious than it needed to be. The whole story is comprised of about seven or eight different subplots that are and aren’t intertwined. Some of them merge towards the end into the bigger story but some stuff just happens within this new timeline. But the story jumps around so much that it makes the whole thing hard to follow as a singular body of work. This is the same problem I have, right now, with all the new X-Men related titles that are tied to a bigger narrative but don’t feel connected as much as they should. But this is what happens when you have a half dozen different titles and different writers, all of whom want to explore different territory in their own way while being trapped within a common framework.

In fact, the only plot I actually enjoyed was the one that dealt with the characters that aren’t tied to the X-Men.

There was a two issue miniseries called X-Universe, which focused on what other Marvel characters were up to during this event. We check in on this timeline’s version of Gwen Stacy, some of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom and a few others. I found this more interesting and it showed me that this alternate timeline could provide the right sort of environment for cool and refreshing takes on old characters.

While I should probably feel the same way about all the X-Men related characters and their stories, it is hard to focus on any of them because of how this jumps around so much. When I got to the non-X-Men characters, it felt like a nice break from the X-clusterfuck I was pushing myself through.

Ultimately, I was really disappointed in this. I kept powering through it because I was hoping that all these subplots and characters would unify into something coherent that clicked at the end but that didn’t happen. We eventually get to a resolution but it’s not all that satisfying.

On a side note (and spoiler alert): the way that Magneto kills Apocalypse is pretty f’n badass.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossovers of the ’80s through ’00s.

Comic Review: X-Men: The Fall of the Mutants

Published: 1988
Written by: Chris Claremont, Peter David, Louise Simonson, Steve Englehart, Mark Gruenwald, Ann Nocenti
Art by: Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Bret Blevins, June Brigman, Kerry Gammill, Jon Bogdanove, Kieron Dwyer, Keith Pollard, John Romita Jr., Walt Simonson

Marvel Comics, 803 Pages

Review:

This was a story so big that it was collected into two massive volumes. But I figured I’d read both and give the whole thing a single review, as one body of work.

But that may have not been the best approach, as this crossover doesn’t really crossover in a way that makes one big story. This is more like an anthology of events that were going on in all the different X-books at the same time. And weirdly, this isn’t collected in chronological order but as separate stories without much overlap or characters meeting.

This big event also has some short stories focused on Hulk, Captain America, Daredevil, Black Widow and the Fantastic Four. In those tales, it shows what they’re up to during the events of what is happening in some of the X-books.

The Fall of the Mutants takes place between Mutant Massacre and Inferno. It is also the last of the ’80s X-Men crossovers that I hadn’t read in its entirety.

Out of all the tales here, I thought the X-Factor one was probably the best as it concludes the Apocalypse and Angel storyline, as it introduces Archangel for the first time. Also, the X-Factor arc showcases Cameron Hodge turning on the team, revealing his true agenda to set up what would eventually be the superb crossover event X-Tinction Agenda.

The New Mutants part was the weirdest but it also featured Hodge’s heel turn and kind of sets things in motion for X-Tinction Agenda and Inferno. This is also where the New Mutants dump Magneto as their teacher and return to the ways of Charles Xavier.

Ultimately, this was kind of a mess when read as one body of work. But it does do a proper job of bridging the gap from Mutant Massacre and the next two big events to follow.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other major X-Men crossover events from the ’80s and ’90s.

TV Review: X-Men (1992-1997)

Also known as: X-Men: The Animated Series
Original Run: October 31st, 1992 – September 20th, 1997
Created by: Eric Lewald, Sidney Iwanter, Mark Edens
Directed by: Larry Houston
Written by: various
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Ron Wasserman, Shuki Levy, Noam Kaniel, Amotz Plessner
Cast: Norm Spencer, Cathal J. Dodd, Lenore Zann, Iona Morris, Alison Sealy-Smith, George Buza, Chris Potter, Tony Daniels, Alyson Court, Catherine Disher, Cedric Smith

Saban Entertainment, Graz Entertainment, AKOM, Fox Kids Network, 76 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This animated show was the absolute highlight of my week back when it first came out and for a few years until high school took over my life and with it, the pursuit of other things. Honestly, I kind of checked out on this show around the same time that I checked out on comics because I was playing sports and trying to impress girls.

I did end up watching the show in its entirety, years later, after it was all available to stream on Netflix some time ago. I liked it and I thought that the show mostly maintained its consistency till the end, minus a few bad episodes, here and there.

Now that it’s on Disney+, I felt compelled to revisit it, as its been awhile and my memories of it are so fond.

However, despite still recognizing its greatness, it doesn’t quite resonate the same way for me anymore. I don’t blame the show, though, I blame the age of the viewer: me.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s harder for me to sit through long bursts of animation. I’m not sure why but I watched a handful of episodes and found my mind wandering, looking at my phone, looking at the clock and then thinking that I’d rather just read the comics that these stories are trying to adapt.

Again, it’s not X-Men, it’s me.

I then talked to a friend about it and he said that he feels the same way with most of the cartoons he used to watch. He’s 44 and I’m now 41. So I wonder if 40 is some sort of point where the mind severs itself from this type of entertainment? But then, I can still watch Batman: The Animated Series and the Marvel/Sunbow era of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

That being said, I can’t shit on the show for my personal inability to sit through it now.

It’s a stellar animated series, one of the best of its era. The stories were well adapted, even if they took a lot of liberties and didn’t follow the same sequence as the comics.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel animated shows from the ’90s.