Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: The Bloodstone Hunt

Published: April 25th, 2018
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Kieron Dwyer
Art by: Mark Bagley, M.D. Bright, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer, Ron Lim, Al Milgrom

Marvel Comics, 495 Pages

Review:

Well, this is probably the greatest string of Captain America issues that I have ever read. The first few were a bit shaky but they laid the groundwork for the start of the two primary stories, here, The Bloodstone Hunt and the Captain America portion of the Acts of Vengeance crossover and its fallout.

The Bloodstone Hunt was pretty incredible and a hell of a lot of fun. It was like an Indiana Jones story as Cap and Diamondback, now essentially his partner, raced against Baron Zemo, Batroc and their crew to try and hunt down five magic gems. It wasn’t clear why Zemo wanted them until the end, where he attempts to use them to resurrect his father, the original Zemo. However, he resurrects the powerful soul that was locked in those gems instead.

That story also features the debut of Crossbones and John Jameson (a.k.a. Man-Wolf) becoming Cap’s pilot. Sadly, we don’t get Man-Wolf action but this series of issues drops some hints that Jameson might not be able to suppress his cosmic werewolf alter ego for much longer.

After that, we get a two-issue arc that sees Cap and Crossbones fight for the first time. Man, I forgot how much I loved Crossbones in these early stories. He’s such a good sack of shit and a perfect rival for Cap. I really wish they would’ve used him better in the MCU movies, especially with Frank Grillo in that role.

Following that, we get the Acts of Vengeance stuff, which sees Cap have to fight Namor, his ally, as well as The Controller and Crossbones, again. There are also side plots about The Hellfire Club being raided and Magneto kidnapping and burying Red Skull alive in a tomb due to his ties to the Nazis, which a young Magneto and his family were victims of.

There’s just so much in this volume and all of it is damn good, once the story gets rolling.

Mark Gruenwald might be the best Captain America writer of them all. Additionally, the art throughout this stretch was superb. I still remember buying a lot of these single issues off of the racks, many of which I still own, and I remember loving back in 1989. I’m glad to say that this aged exceptionally well.

Rating: 10/10

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: Captain America – Epic Collection: The Captain

Published: August 11th, 2021
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Bob Layton, David Michelinie
Art by: Mark Bright, John Byrne, Kieron Dwyer, Tom Morgan

Marvel Comics, 499 Pages

Review:

The Epic Collection volume that preceded this one, laid the ground work for Steve Rogers being replaced as Captain America by John Walker, who would later become US Agent.

This volume is where Rogers goes away, Walker steps in and the series becomes really interesting, as it splits its time between the former Captain and his story, as well as the new Captain and the challenges he faces trying to fill the shoes of a man that will always be greater than him.

I enjoyed that this series kind of had a split personality for this run but it was all still tied to the core of the Captain America symbol and what it means for those who represent it and those in power who exploit it.

Where the preceding volume felt a bit “kiddie” in how it was written, the series turns pretty serious and really steps up to the plate when peeling back the layers of John Walker, Steve Rogers, both their sidekicks, the U.S. government’s involvement in all of this, as well as some important deaths and losses.

This really goes deep into the John Walker character and even though he’s been a prick up to this point and does some very dark shit, here, these issues humanize him, his situation and how he comes to the realization that even though he’s the best choice for the role of Captain America on paper, he’s still missing that x-factor that made Steve Rogers the Captain America.

The writing in this stretch of issues really went to another level, which I think was important in conveying the weight of this story. This also had real gravitas and minor characters that initially don’t seem to matter too much, mean a lot to you when certain things transpire, which I won’t spoil.

All in all, I really enjoyed the hell out of this and it’s far superior to Disney’s loose adaptation of it in The Flacon and the Winter Solider.

Rating: 8/10

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: Super-Villain Classics: Galactus – The Origin

Published: May, 1983
Written by: Stan Lee, Mark Gruenwald
Art by: Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Bob Layton (cover)

Marvel Comics, 36 Pages

Review:

This was one of those odd things that’s been on my bucket list for quite awhile. I finally came across one at my local comic shop, so I picked it up. Weirdly, the value has gone up in the last few years.

This is essentially a one-shot. I’m not sure if Marvel had more of these planned for other villains and then pulled the plug on them but it was a neat concept and it could’ve been used for other characters.

Basically, this is the origin of Galactus. I’m not sure how much of this was taken from earlier Fantastic Four stories, as I still haven’t completed the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run but this is a perfect compliment to the Galactus-centric stories that those two greats produced over their 100 issue run.

The plot here is solid and I absolutely love the Kirby art, which should always go without saying.

This gives Galactus a backstory and helps to flesh him out into a character with much more context than just being a chaotic force of cosmic nature. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to read about his genesis and it made him more interesting, even though he’s already one of my favorite classic Marvel villains.

There’s a lot that I learned from this comic that I didn’t already know, which honestly, makes it well worth the price I paid for it. If you aren’t willing to pay an arm and a leg for a copy, I’m sure that it is collected in a trade paperback with other Galactus stories.

If you’re a fan of the character, I’d call this a must own.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: early Galactus and Silver Surfer stories from the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four.

Comic Review: The Eternals: Secrets From the Marvel Universe – One-Shot

Published: December 18th, 2019
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Peter B. Gillis, Ralph Macchio
Art by: Rich Buckler, Ron Wilson, Todd Nauck (cover)

Marvel Comics, 54 Pages

Review:

I had no idea that this Eternals one-shot was coming out until I saw it on the shelf at my comic shop last week. I picked it up and figured I’d give it a read without knowing much about it.

It’s a series of short stories making this an Eternals-centric anthology. The stories mostly serve to add more to the Eternals mythos, as they go deeper into the team and the Celestials’ origins while also covering the creation of the Inhumans.

The book features most of the important Eternals, as well as the Celestials, but it also makes room for the Kree, Ronan the Accuser, the Supreme Intelligence and the Inhumans themselves.

The stories are mostly written by Mark Gruenwald but we also get a story each from Peter B. Gillis and Ralph Macchio.

The art style is very Jack Kirby-esque, which gives the book the classic look that the original Kirby stories had. It really sets the tone, makes this feel like a real throwback and ultimately, taps in to the same sort of feelings one got reading those original Eternals comics in the mid-to-late ’70s.

The Eternals: Secrets From the Marvel Universe is a pretty cool comic for 2019 standards. It fits well within the already established early stories while building off of them and giving Eternals fans more meat to chew on.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Jack Kirby’s original run on The Eternals.

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.

Comic Review: The Mighty Thor: The Eternals Saga, Vol. 2

Published: 1978 – 1980
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Roy Thomas
Art by: Keith Pollard

Marvel Comics, 214 Pages

Review:

I guess the actual Eternals vs. Asgard saga ended in the previous volume.

The first issue in this collection deals with the aftermath but then the bulk of the other issues collected deals with Thor talking to Odin’s long lost eyeball. However, the last two issues bring the Celestials back into the mix and we finally see Thor confront them and get their final judgment as to whether or not Earth can continue to exist without the Celestials destroying it.

The highlight of this whole thing was seeing the Destroyer face off against the Celestials in what was really, the first example of how powerful these cosmic beings are. For old school Marvel fans, seeing the Destroyer get ravaged so damn bad is pretty friggin’ incredible.

Now while most of this collection doesn’t really involve the Eternals or the Celestials, it does still tie into all that.

Plus, even though Thor is hanging out with his daddy’s giant floating eyeball, the writing is still solid and it’s a pretty entertaining classic Thor story that hits the right sort of notes.

However, coming off of reading a lot of the earliest Eternals stuff and the first half of The Eternals Saga, I just wanted more of that and because that element was lacking, I feel like calling this “part two” of The Eternals Saga is a bit misleading.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: This collection’s predecessor, as well as Jack Kirby’s The Eternals, which is set before this big saga.