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.

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.

Comic Review: Moon Knight – Epic Collection, Vol. 1: Bad Moon Rising

Published: October 1st, 2014
Written by: Doug Moench, Steven Grant, David Anthony Kraft, Bill Mantlo
Art by: Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike Zeck, Keith Pollard, Don Perlin, Jim Mooney, Keith Giffen, Jim Craig, Gene Colan

Marvel Comics, 482 Pages

Review:

I’ve always liked Moon Knight but I’ve never read his earliest stories. Being that a Moon Knight television show was just announced, I figured I’d go back and give his first few appearances a read.

He first appeared in a small arc in Werewolf by Night. This collection starts with that story and while its enjoyable in a ’70s Marvel horror pulp kind of way, the Moon Knight character still feels undeveloped.

The rest of this collection does a better job of expanding on him, as well as his trusty sidekick Frenchie.

As this rolls on, it gets more interesting but it doesn’t really find it’s groove until you get to the few issues collected here that were the start of the first ongoing Moon Knight series.

A lot of this is really great to look at and admire, especially the portions where the art was done by Bill Sienkiewicz. Plus, you really see his style evolve just in this short sample size.

This collection is also full of a lot of Moon Knight’s earliest appearances in other titles. There are stories with the old Defenders team, Spider-Man and The Thing.

I’d say that this was a pretty fun comic and it’s neat seeing Moon Knight in his earliest stages but I wouldn’t say that this is a must read. Moon Knight really didn’t hit its stride until his own series was rolling for about a year. But I think I’ll jump into those stories next, as they’re collected in a volume that follows this one.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the Moon Knight – Epic Collection volumes that follow, as well as other late ’70s Marvel comics focused on street level crime.

Comic Review: X-Men: Mutant Genesis

Published: 1991
Written by: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Fabian Nicieza, Whilce Portacio, Peter David, Len Kaminski
Art by: Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Kirk Jarvinen, Tom Raney, Terry Shoemaker, Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, Jerry DeCaire, Ernie Stiner, Steven Butler, Art Thibert

Marvel Comics, 437 Pages

Review:

I’m pretty excited for the current Jonathan Hickman run on the X-Men titles. I haven’t started reading them because the two miniseries that are coming out are doing so just about weekly. So I want to wait to have all twelve issues before giving it a read. But from what I’ve heard, it’s absolutely solid and quite refreshing.

However, before getting into the new stuff, I wanted to travel back to the height of my time reading and buying X-books: 1991.

The reason I wanted to go back there was because it was a transitional period, as the original X-Factor team came to an end, the New Mutants became X-Force and two new X-Men teams formed, each with their own ongoing monthly series. It was also a transition from the Chris Claremont era into the era of Jim Lee.

This thick trade paperback collects multiple story arcs but all of the arcs are unified in their purpose, which was to end an era and to create a new one.

Here we have the final stories of the first X-Factor team, as well as stories involving the newly formed X-Force and New Warriors, Freedom Force and the X-Men team as it existed when Claremont moved on from the series.

This almost feels like an omnibus.

It also features a lot of great creatives on the writing side and art side.

Ultimately, this was a hell of a fun read that flew by despite its meaty 437 pages.

We get dozens of heroes and a whole slew of major X-villains like Magneto, Apocalypse, the Shadow King, Proteus and Fabian Cortez, just to name a few.

While a lot of the ’90s comics I go back to don’t have the same effect on me as they did when I was twelve, this is a solid f’n read. Seriously.

And what’s really surprising is that it has all these creatives working on it and it still turned out to be a really well managed and fully realized vision that brought an era to its end, quite epically, and generated real excitement and enthusiasm for what was to come.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other major X-Men crossover events from the era: X-Tinction Agenda, X-Cutioner’s Song, etc.

Comic Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 2

Published: October 11th, 2006
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Steve Epting, Michael Lark, Mike Perkins

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

This was a pretty good second half to the original Winter Soldier story. I liked the first half a bit more though. But I think that’s because reading this lacked tension, as I knew that Winter Soldier was actually Bucky and that he’d come around and start to see the light.

That lack of tension is my fault for taking so long to read this story. It’s certainly not Brubaker’s fault and I’m sure this was tense as hell for those that read it for the first time in 2006 without any knowledge of the Winter Soldier character.

I like that Brubaker does spend a good amount of time flashbacking to World War II and the Invaders era. The context was nice and the parallels between Cap and Bucky’s lives then and now was well done.

This story also adds in Falcon and Iron Man, which obviously influenced the MCU films that saw these two characters chime in on Cap’s relationship with Winter Soldier.

Like the previous volume, the art was really good and Brubaker truly benefits from having solid artists on his Captain America books, as they definitely enhance the atmosphere and tone of the plot in the right way.

For Cap fans who haven’t read the Brubaker run, you’re doing yourselves a disservice. Hell, for fans of just the movies, this is definitely worth checking out just to understand the depth of these characters’ bond.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Also known as: Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 (informal title)
Release Date: June 26th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Martin Starr, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Billingsly, J.K. Simmons (cameo), Robert Downey Jr. (archive footage), Jeff Bridges (archive footage), Ben Mendelsohn (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t ever apologize for being the smartest one in the room.” – Mysterio

After Avengers: Endgame I don’t feel as invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as I was for the last eleven years. At this point, I feel like I don’t have to watch every movie Marvel puts out and I’m just going to see things based off of how I feel about the trailers on a film by film basis.

However, I liked the first Tom Holland starring Spider-Man film and I also like Jake Gyllenhaal and the character of Mysterio, so I wanted to give this movie a shot.

I’m glad that I did, as it exceeded any of the expectations I had for it and is a better film than its predecessor, Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as the pretty lackluster and confusing Endgame. It’s also much, much better than Captain Marvel and is thus, the best MCU movie of 2019.

I know that Tom Holland has been criticized by some but I dig his Spider-Man. I also know that some have criticized his relationship with Tony Stark but I enjoy it, as he’s a kid that’s already dealt with a lot of loss in his life and he’s needed a father figure to look up to. Is it a bit over the top? Yeah, probably. However, it’s still believable and you can’t help but to be touched by their immense bond over the films where they shared scenes.

And that carries over really well here in how the whole plot is structured around Peter Parker evolving beyond just being Stark’s sidekick. He has to become a man here and the whole story is a test to see if he is actually worthy of Stark’s empire, as Stark believed he was.

On top of that, it was really refreshing to have Jon Favreau return as Happy Hogan to help Peter along the way. I feel as if the Hogan/Parker dynamic can and will evolve into something just as strong as what Peter had with Tony. But it’s probably a more mature bond, as Parker doesn’t idolize Hogan like he did Stark but instead bonds with him over the two men losing a dear friend.

Adding another layer to that is the inclusion of Quentin Beck a.k.a. Mysterio, who Parker tries to envision as his new Tony Stark. Obviously, things go sideways in that regard, as Mysterio is one of Spidey’s greatest villains but the scenes between Holland and Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio are really f’n good.

I’m still not keen on the other teenagers in the film but they serve their purpose and they don’t get in the way too much. MJ also evolves nicely and even if she is sort of a millennial hipster cynic, she finally lets Peter in and shows a more endearing side to her character.

The story is well structured and it flows at a perfect pace. While they alter Mysterio’s backstory, the alteration is somewhat of an improvement, as it makes more sense in the cinematic world that this Spider-Man lives in. And what’s best about the whole thing, is the new angle makes sense and it allows for Mysterio to be more powerful than he traditionally is in the comics. He’s smarter, more cunning and has Stark’s toys at his disposal.

We also get Nick Fury and Maria Hill back but there is a twist to that. Still, it’s good to see them and I wish that Marvel would use Cobie Smulders’ Hill more than they have over the last decade.

I wasn’t initially keen on the European setting, as Spider-Man is really in his element in New York City. However, it works for the story and the final act taking place in London made up for the lack of skyscrapers and architectural scale that was missing in the earlier parts of the film.

All in all, this was an energetic, emotional and fun movie. It hit the right marks and even though this is really fresh in my mind, I’d have to say that it’s the second best Spider-Man film ever made after 2004’s Spider-Man 2.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: all the MCU films featuring Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.

Comic Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 1

Published: March 1st, 2006
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Steve Epting, Michael Lark, J.P. Leon

Marvel Comics, 167 Pages

Review:

At the start of Ed Brubaker’s historic Captain America run, I wasn’t paying attention to comics. I found my way back to them around the time that Cap died, a few years into Brubaker’s tenure. So I never got to read the original Winter Soldier story.

I’ve got to say, this pretty much lives up to the hype. However, I’m only speaking as someone that’s read the first part, as the story covers two volumes.

So I don’t know how this will conclude or where it will go in the immediate future but this was a damn fine setup.

This may be the best and the most human Steve Rogers has ever been written. This explores the layers to his character and it does a fantastic job of giving the reader the right context without just relying on them to know Cap’s backstory. Additionally, it also doesn’t just dwell on the past and act as a lengthy modernized recap of those events.

I also love the art. And honestly, it’s the evolution of comic book art that really brought me back to the medium. And one of the books that lured me in was Captain America.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.