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.

Film Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Also known as: Ghost Rider 2 (working title)
Release Date: December 11th, 2011 (Austin Butt-Numb-A-Thon)
Directed by: Neveldine/Taylor
Written by: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer
Based on: Johnny Blaze by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Christopher Lambert, Idris Elba

Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, Hyde Park Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“[voiceover] Why does the devil walk on human form anyway? I have no idea. Maybe he doesn’t know either. Maybe he passes on from body to body, down through history, waiting for the perfect fit. But I know one thing, on Earth, he’s weak. His powers are limited. He needs emissaries to do his dirty work, so he finds them or makes them, using his greatest power, the power of the deal.” – Johnny Blaze

I dreaded going into this, as there was no way it could be better than its predecessor, which was a pretty big pile of cinematic shit.

However, I was wrong.

Granted, I may be alone in my assessment of this picture but I found it to be more palatable than the first Ghost Rider film because it just went batshit crazy from the get go and Nicolas Cage was fully unchained and allowed to be the insane madman he can be when he turns his performance up to eleven.

This is still a terrible film and I doubt I’ll ever watch it more than once but I didn’t find myself wanting to fast-forward like I did with the previous one.

I think it also helped the movie that Idris Elba was in it, even though he should never have to be a part of a production this atrocious. He was a bright spot in this turd, however.

Elba couldn’t save the movie, though, as it had a bafflingly bad script, not a very good story to begin with and then was littered with horrendous CGI special effects and awful acting.

Honestly, based off of the first film, this one should’ve never been made and I think that it was only greenlit, at the time, in order for the studio to try and hang on to the intellectual property rights. I mean, it’s obvious that no one associated with this film gave a shit about it.

Well, except maybe Nicolas Cage, who dedicated himself to the insanity so much that it’s only worth seeing because the level that Cage performs at here, must be seen to be believed.

At the end of the day, the movie feels like cocaine that somehow became sentient and then sniffed itself.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: the Ghost Rider film before it.

Film Review: Ghost Rider (2007)

Also known as: El vengador fantasma (several Spanish speaking countries)
Release Date: January 15th, 2007 (Ukraine)
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Written by: Mark Steven Johnson
Based on: Johnny Blaze by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Sam Elliott, Donal Logue, Peter Fonda, Brett Cullen, Rebel Wilson

Relativity Media, Crystal Sky Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes, 123 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“Any man that’s got the guts to sell his soul for love has got the power to change the world. You didn’t do it for greed, you did it for the right reason. Maybe that puts God on your side. To them that makes you dangerous, makes you unpredictable. That’s the best thing you can be right now.” – Caretaker

Even though 2003’s Daredevil received pretty bad reviews, under-performed and left most moviegoers feeling disappointed, it’s director was still given the character of Ghost Rider to adapt into another live-action Marvel movie.

While I liked the Director’s Cut of Daredevil for the most part, Ghost Rider is an atrocious motion picture from top-to-bottom. Honestly, this came out when Nicolas Cage seemed to run out of gas and saw his career trending downward fast. Honestly, this and its sequel could’ve been the nail in the coffin.

This is terribly acted, except for the scenes with Sam Elliott and the minimal appearances by Peter Fonda. They can’t save the rest of the movie, however, as Cage, Eva Mendes and Wes Bentley don’t really seem to give a shit about anything. Even Donal Logue severely under-performed and he’s a guy that I tend to expect a lot from, as he’s proven, time and time again, that he’s a more than capable actor with good range and convincing performances.

The special effects can’t save the film either, as they’re generally pretty generic mid-’00s CGI shit. Hell, the villains don’t look the way they’re supposed to look and it just adds to this movie’s cheapness.

It’s a vapid, shit film, a complete waste of time and could only be upstaged in its awfulness by its even worse sequel.

I guess I’ll have to review that flaming turd soon.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and other terrible comic book adaptations of the era.

Comic Review: Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment

Published: July 1st, 1989
Written by: Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Roger Stern
Art by: Gene Colan, Mike Mignola, Kevin Nowlan

Marvel Comics, 154 Pages

Review:

I heard a rumor that the second Doctor Strange movie would possibly include the Marvel Cinematic Universe debut of Doctor Doom and that the story for the film would borrow heavily from this story, one I haven’t read since the early ’90s. After reading this, I don’t know how they’d pull it off but I would kind of like to see them attempt it.

Reason being, this is a stupendous comic book. In fact, it’s pretty fucking perfect.

This was originally released as one book in a series of Marvel Comics’ graphic novels. Back in the ’80s and through the early ’90s, Marvel had a graphic novel series that were printed in a larger format than regular comics and also had roughly twice the pages. They sold for more money than regular comic books but they rarely disappointed and usually the stories had a more adult edge to them, which was definitely cool for my pre-teen brain. They also had some of the best artwork of the era, as more time and care were put into these releases.

This story was one of my favorites out of the Marvel graphic novels I read and I’m glad to say that it didn’t just live up to my original opinion of it but it exceeded it. I think that’s because I was able to grasp this more as an adult and the emotional weight of the story really took hold of me.

It also doesn’t hurt that Doctor Doom is my favorite Marvel villain of all-time and I’ve always loved Doctor Strange and the mystic side of the Marvel mythos.

But this story is just so perfect. It brings these two characters together and in regards to Doctor Doom, it really displays his human side and how there might be a good man trapped underneath all that armor, emotional baggage, narcissism and borderline madness.

Doom and Strange unite and take on Mephisto in an effort to free the imprisoned soul of Doom’s mother. It reads like a dark fairy tale but it is packed with lots of action, great magical moments and all sorts of hellish beasts. It’s also all presented with exceptional art.

While this is longer than a regular sized comic book, it is still a quick, easy read. But it shows different sides of these characters and it made Doom a lot more interesting and complex, overall.

It’s also one of the best stories to feature Mephisto and what it is he can do when he’s not just sitting on a throne giving monologues and devising sinister plans.

I read the version that is currently up on Comixology and it also had a few other stories tacked on to it. It’s probably the coolest version of this to be released, if you don’t mind reading comics digitally.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s & ’80s comics featuring Doctor Doom or Doctor Strange.

Comic Review: Iron Man: Legacy of Doom

Published: 2008
Written by: David Michelinie
Art by: Bob Layton, Ron Lim

Marvel Comics, 110 Pages

Review:

While this is my least favorite of the three parts in the Doomquest trilogy, it is still a really fun comic miniseries and it captures the right spirit of the previous tales, even though this one came out a few decades later than the other two.

In this story, Doom finally attempts to get his promised revenge on Iron Man by tricking him into entering Mephisto’s Hell dimension. While Iron Man is stuck dealing with that, Doom then gets revenge on Morgan le Fay and is able to acquire the legendary sword, Excalibur.

Iron Man eventually escapes Hell, confronts a now invincible Doom who can now cut through Iron Man’s armor suit thanks to Excalibur. However, Iron Man then gets suped up after acquiring the sheath of Excalibur.

Eventually, the two have to work together again as a giant kaiju-sized monster made of eyeballs comes into their dimension in an effort to destroy everything in its path.

This story is over the top and fantastical but that’s what makes it awesome and a worthy sequel to the two stories before it.

King Arthur isn’t directly involved like he was in the other tales but Merlin comes in and plays an important role.

I’d suggest reading the first two parts of the Doomquest trilogy before getting into this one, as you’ll miss some important context, but this is still a solid story, especially for fans of either character.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two parts of the Doomquest trilogy, as well as Emperor Doom, Infamous Iron Man, Avengers: The Private War of Dr. Doom and Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment.

Comic Review: New X-Men: The Quest for Magik

Published: June 19th, 2019
Written by: C.B. Cebulski, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Art by: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Paco Madina, Skottie Young, David Finch (cover)

Marvel Comics, 385 Pages

Review:

I already read and reviewed the X-Infernus part of this large collection, so I’m omitting that and letting my previous review on it stand alone. The main reason, is that it’s pretty good where the rest of this collection is pretty monotonous.

Since I first started reading New Mutants as a young kid, I always loved the Magik character. She’s one of my favorite Marvel Comics creations. In fact, she might be my favorite out of the characters that debuted in my lifetime.

Having never read the majority of what’s collected here, I always felt that a large portion of her story was unknown to me. So I wanted to rectify that and fill in the blanks from the ’00s, as I kind of dipped out of comics for most of that decade.

The problem with this, is that I pretty much hate all the New X-Men stuff. I never liked the team, as almost every new mutant teen felt generic as hell and many of the stories felt like retreads of stuff from other teenage mutant books from the ’80s and early ’90s. I think the only character I really liked out of any of them was Rockslide.

So this is pretty heavy on New X-Men shit. To the point that a massive chunk of this collection, mostly the first half, doesn’t even feature Magik. I mean, this is titled The Quest for Magik but we’ve got to get through a boring four-part story before we even get to the subject matter that the book’s title implies.

Once we do get to Magik, everything feels off.

I also have to point out that some of the art is really good but then this collection jumps around to different titles that have a very different art style and in a collection, that can be jarring to the eyes. It goes from a serious, straightforward style, to a cheesy overly anime style, to using colors and gradients in a way that pop too much and make the illustrated work get lost in the colorful clusterfuck.

Overall, this is a disappointment. There were a few solid points and the X-Infernus four-part miniseries is still a good read but ultimately, I’ve got buyer’s and reader’s remorse.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other New X-Men collections.

Comic Review: X-Infernus

Published: December 3rd, 2008 – March 25th, 2009
Written by: C.B. Cebulski
Art by: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jesse Delperdang

Marvel Comics, 96 Pages

Review:

I have always loved Magik and this series has one of my two favorite covers that she’s ever been on. Just ten years ago, heroines could still look super sexy and display the ideal form. Nowadays, the ideal female form is being pushed out of comic books, even though it’s been a very important staple in art throughout history, as well as escapism entertainment. Nowadays, we aren’t supposed to look at things that attract us because that’s implied rape or something. Also, I’m going to excuse the Papyrus typeface on the cover because the art distract from it. But c’mon, Marvel… fucking Papyrus, really?!

This is one of the better stories centered around Magik and her association with Limbo. Although, it isn’t as good as the original Magik miniseries from the early ’80s, it really brought me back to that special place. C.B. Cebulski weaves a good story here but on the flipside of that, his dialogue can induce a bit of cringe sometimes. For instance, here’s an actual quote from Pixie, immediately after she thinks she stabbed Nightcrawler to death:

“Oh my god Dr. McCoy I don’t know what happened Mr. Wagner asked to see my soul dagger so I pulled it out and then it was like it had a mind of its own and the next thing I know I’m all evil and like GRRRR and then it all goes black and Mr. Wagner’s on the ground with my soul dagger plunged into his–“

Yeah, wow… is that bad or am I just crazy? It’s the world’s longest unpunctuated string of dialogue ever but I guess you’re supposed to interpret that as her being scared, nervous and in shock. But really, did she need to say “GRRRR”? Who talks like this?

Apart from that, I don’t have any gripes with this story, except that it felt a bit too short. But the original Magik miniseries was the same length. That one just felt like it had more in it though.

When this starts, Magik is a demon ruling over Limbo. She discovers that Belasco, the demon warlock that made her what she is, has a daughter named Witchfire. While this isn’t Witchfire’s first appearance, it’s the first time that she and Magik have crossed paths.

The X-Men intervene to bring Magik back to the light and to help stop Withfire, who has grown extremely powerful in her quest to rule Limbo and to be more powerful than her underworld peers: Hela, Dormammu, Mephisto, Blackheart and Satannish.

I love Magik and the world of Limbo because these tales bring something really cool to the Marvel universe. They feel like ’80s Dungeons & Dragons stories.

Now this isn’t as good as the Magik miniseries but it’s a great continuation of the things that were established by it.

I also can’t end this without giving props to the art. I loved the look of this book, the character design and the atmosphere of Limbo. Overall, this was a fun, dark read.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Magik-centric stories: the Magik miniseries, the classic New Mutants stuff and the more recent New Mutants: Dead Souls but that one was pretty weak.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Guardian Devil

Published: November, 1998 – June, 1999
Written by: Kevin Smith
Art by: Joe Quesada

Marvel Comics, 180 Pages

Review:

I loved this Kevin Smith run on Daredevil back in the day when it was new. But it is shockingly twenty years old now, which makes me feel old as shit and even though it is still a pretty good story, it doesn’t resonate with me as profoundly as it did back in the day.

I guess I just don’t care about religion or mysticism anymore because I grew up and moved away from the heavy handed religious influence that stifled me in my youth. Also, decades later, I’m kind of over Kevin Smith’s commentary on Catholicism. And while Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil is bound by his Catholic beliefs, it just doesn’t make for an interesting story for me anymore.

I’m going to get into major plot spoiler territory here. So turn away if you want to read this.

The religious mumbo jumbo in this is just a big illusion created by Mysterio, who is mostly a Spider-Man villain. He gives his reasoning as to why he wants to screw around with Daredevil but it’s pretty fucking meh. Apparently, Daredevil has been drugged the whole time. I’m not sure how a drug can last for days on end but I guess this explains why he found it necessary to throw a baby off of a fucking roof. Sorry, but I wanted to throw this book when that happened… way before we got an explanation to Daredevil’s bat shit behavior several issues later.

Additionally, none of the characters really act rational in anyway. I guess, again, this is due to Daredevil being high as fuck but if I have to read six or seven issues before the explanation, I’m just going to assume that the writer doesn’t understand or know these characters. Had I been reading this as a new comic now, I would’ve quit on issue no. 1 or 2.

I’m not even really sure why I liked this story in 1999 or so, other than I thought Kevin Smith was a genius back then, I was still under the influence of religion and I thought that Dogma was Generation X’s Ben fucking Hur.

On to the positives.

I liked the art, I liked the villain lineup and I was really happy with the confrontation between Daredevil and Bullseye. Back in the early ’90s when I was hardcore into Daredevil, a big reason for that was Bullseye. I loved him just as much as Daredevil and maybe even a little bit more. He’s a complete fucking badass and underutilized by Marvel. Hell, he was completely shitted on in the 2003 Daredevil film. So when I can get some solid Bullseye shit, I’m a fan. So kudos to Smith for giving me the Bullseye I love.

Anyway, this was once a beloved book in my collection. Now I just stare at it wedged between the Frank Miller and Ann Nocenti Daredevil books on my shelf and feel like this doesn’t belong.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The Daredevil stories that followed, as well as Kevin Smith’s run on Green Arrow. I hope I don’t hate his Green Arrow story now too. I need to revisit it really soon.

Comic Review: The Infinity Crusade

Published: December 17th, 2008
Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: Ron Lim, various

Marvel Comics, 488 Pages

Review:

Well, I read through the great Infinity Gauntlet storyline and followed that up with the mediocre Infinity War sequel. Naturally, I thought that I should finish the trilogy of Infinity stories with this one: The Infinity Crusade.

However, I wasn’t a fan of Magus and his whole shtick from the previous chapter in this large saga. The reason why I’m pointing that out here is because the setup is essentially the same. Where Magus was the physical embodiment of Adam Warlock’s evil side, the big threat in this story is the physical embodiment of Adam Warlock’s good side. I admit, I rolled my eyes when I was reminded that this was the setup to this story.

Frankly, I thought the plot was lame and what was even lamer was the McGuffin. No longer was the focus on the Infinity Gauntlet, now the focus was on this “Goddess” character and her Cosmic Egg. Basically, she just sits around in her giant cosmic egg using religion to brainwash a large group of heroes to be her holy army. So this is like Civil War but with religion and a giant friggin’ egg.

It also doesn’t help that there is virtually no action, this is overly talkie and just boring. Well, to be fair, the fifth issue in the six issue arc was just straight up action. But outside of that, there wasn’t anything exciting other than a few brief physical spats and some cosmic magic battles, the biggest of which featured psychically projected heads shooting laser beams at the “Goddess”.

Plus, the story suffers from being spread over several different titles. So when I read the collected edition of the main comic, there is key stuff missing from it, as it happened in another issue of a different title altogether. I get that this is how crossover events work but the two previous Infinity sagas kept the main story in the main title and the other comics just had tie-in subplots.

This whole mega event is just proof that Marvel was milking the Infinity thing way too hard. The Infinity War was just okay and then this was a disaster. Neither of them came as close to the greatness that was The Infinity Gauntlet.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Its prequels The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity War.

Comic Review: The Infinity Gauntlet

Published: September 28th, 2011
Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: George Perez, Ron Lim

Marvel Comics, 256 Pages

Review:

Since the new Avengers movie is coming out very shortly and it is about Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, I wanted to revisit those stories in their original comic book format. This is the first of The Infinity Trilogy, which also features The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.

This was the biggest Marvel mega crossover event of my most formative years. I had read Secret Wars I and II, as well as some of the major X-Men centered mega events before this but this one, at least when I was a preteen, seemed like it was legitimately for all the marbles like nothing else that came before it. Therefore, when it was revealed several years ago that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was building towards Thanos and his acquisition of the Infinity Stones, I knew that the third Avengers movie was going to be the biggest cinematic event in the history of comic book movies.

But how does the original body of work stack up now, two and a half decades later?

Well, it’s still really damn good and was a heck of a read.

The story is comprised of six beefy oversized issues. The first three serve to set up the final three, which cover the massive space battle between Thanos and everything the Marvel Universe could throw at him. The first half is a bit slow but it is necessary to understand what is happening. The fourth issue throws Earth’s heroes at Thanos, the fifth issue throws Marvel’s cosmic entities and gods at Thanos and the sixth and final issue sees Nebula acquire the Infinity Gauntlet, causing Thanos to have to reassess his place in the order of the universe.

I think that the biggest difference between this classic version and the upcoming film adaptation is that the build will be much different and it should be.

Here, Thanos is motivated by the petty idea that he can use the Gauntlet to win over the heart of Death. While it does work for the comics, it isn’t something that could really work on film, at least not with a lot more narrative work than the Marvel screenwriters will have time for if they also need to focus on wedging every cinematic hero into the film. By modern standards, Thanos’ motivation seems cheesy but I’ll buy into it because it isn’t something that I couldn’t see the character doing. He’s flawed and egomaniacal, and he would be driven to win over what he feels he cannot have.

I liked where this story went, how it challenged the heroes, how the writers worked it so that Thanos wasn’t “omnipotent” and how it all panned out in the end.

The Infinity Gauntelt is still a great Marvel mega crossover event that deserves the recognition and legendary status it has.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Its sequels The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.