Comic Review: What If THIS Was the Fantastic Four – A Tribute to Mike Wieringo

Published: June, 2008
Written by: Mike Wieringo, various
Art by: Mike Wieringo, various

Marvel Comics, 48 Pages

Review:

Back in the early ’90s when I was spending all of my allowance money on comics, the short-lived Fantastic Four team of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk and Ghost Rider blew my adolescent, pre-teen mind. I was always kind of bummed that it was over as quick as it started but I loved the team and had always wanted to see more of them as a unit.

While they never got a series or anything more than a few issues and a Marvel trading card, the world was given this pretty cool issue of What If?, which was also a tribute to Mike Wieringo, who was working on the issue when he died.

Due to Wieringo’s passing, this issue was completed by other people stepping up to get it done and to get it out as a tribute.

This is a pretty cool story but because it’s a single issue of What If?, they have to cram a lot into a limited space. So this progresses through time quickly, once it gets rolling.

There are several villains and some hero cameos in this. The highlight for me was seeing Sandman form a new Frightful Four team that included himself, Venom, Sabretooth and Abomination. While I don’t like the lineup as much as the original Frightful Four, it was a cool villain group tailor made for the new Fantastic Four.

All in all, this was a blast to read and it churned up feelings of nostalgia for when I first read the debut of this team nearly thirty years ago.

Rating: 7/10

TV Review: WandaVision (2021)

Original Run: January 15th, 2021 – March 5th, 2021
Created by: Jac Schaeffer
Directed by: Matt Shakman
Written by: various
Based on: Scarlet Witch by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby; The Vision by Roy Thomas, John Buscema
Music by: Kristen Anderson-Lopez
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kat Dennings, Evan Peters, Debra Jo Rupp, Fred Melamed

Disney Platform Distribution, Marvel Studios, Disney+, 9 Episodes, 29-47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

There’s been some criticism over the last few years that movies set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe have become too formulaic and predictable. Well, with the announcement that there would now be MCU television series streamed exclusively on Disney+, the possibility of breaking the mold and doing something very different had apparently arrived.

WandaVision is pretty ambitious and it doesn’t fit into any mold that came before it, MCU or otherwise. Because of its originality, I at least found it refreshing, interesting and intriguing, as it was initially hard to figure out where it could go.

However, its attempts at being so different also kind of bogged it down in the first half of the season.

The show recreates the world of sitcom television through multiple eras. As each episode progresses, we see WandaVision through a new decade’s lens. It starts with two episodes that take place in what appears to be late ’50s/early ’60s sitcoms then moves on to the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. It was a cool concept but it started to get tiresome by episode three. Thankfully, the show evolved beyond just the sitcom format at the end of episode three and started to allow the regular Marvel Cinematic Universe to creep in, as it began to show the real world outside of the sitcom setting.

By episode four, we’re introduced to new characters for the show, many of which we’ve seen before in the films. This is where things started to be revealed and the mystery behind what was going on got really interesting. While there were some Easter eggs and clues in the first three episodes, the fourth one is where everything took shape and got the viewer grounded in the concept.

For the most part, I liked this show. It has its hiccups and faults but the chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany was so damn good that it kind of overshadows everything else that one might find faulty or annoying.

I also really liked Kathryn Hahn in this but then I like her in everything. It was really cool seeing her get to do something so large beyond just comedy, though. She obviously does the comedy parts well but when she has to get serious and more dramatic, she proves she can hang with actors on the same level as Olsen and Bettany.

Additionally, I liked Teyonah Parris, as the adult version of Monica Rambeau, who becomes another version of Captain Marvel in the comics. She’s pretty solid in this show and really carries the production on her back in the real world scenes. Also, this show serves as her superhero origin story, as we see how she gets her powers towards the end of the series. Granted, her excusing Wanda’s behavior at the end was baffling and weird and shows that the writers may actually lack any understanding of actual morals.

WandaVision was a pretty cool concept and it was mostly executed well, even with a pretty shaky ending. While I’m familiar with the comics well enough to kind of know what was happening from the get go, the show still had some good surprises that kept my interest till the end.

But no, it’s not okay that she did horrendous shit to lots of people and just walked away because she was grieving.

Also, the guy made out to be the villain the whole show was actually right about everything. But whatevs, white authority guy bad!

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other films and television series that take place in the MCU.

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.