Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 5

Published: August 7th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 248 Pages

Review:

This right here is the volume I’ve been waiting to get to! This is the collection of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four where everything changes and the Marvel universe expands exponentially!

This edition of the Masterworks series covers issues 41 through 50, as well as the third annual.

Within this collection, we get a great Frightful Four story, the marriage between Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, the full debut of the Inhumans, as well as the first appearances of Silver Surfer and Galactus! There are also cameos from just about every hero and villain from the Marvel universe of the 1960s! This chapter in the saga literally has everyone and everything!

What’s even better than that, is that Stan Lee is absolutely on his A-game with these stories and scripts and Jack Kirby’s art was on-point.

If you can only ever read one Fantastic Four collection, graphic novel or trade paperback, it should be this one.

This is quintessential Fantastic Four at its finest. It’s the epitome of what was so damn great about ’60s Marvel and the work of Lee and Kirby.

Just buy it, read it, read it a dozen more times and cherish it forever.

Rating: 10+/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Avengers: The Once and Future Kang

Published: 1985-1986
Written by: Steve Englehart, Danny Fingeroth, Jim Shooter, Roger Stern
Art by: Mark Bright, John Buscema, Steve Ditko

Marvel Comics, 278 Pages

Review:

I hate when I buy a thick, hefty collection that is sold to me as one thing, but once I buy it I find out that the thing I bought it for is about a third of the total collection and the rest of the volume is padded with other random stories.

While the issues collected here are presented in chronological order in how they appeared in single issues of the Avengers comics, they are all tied to larger stories or continued in other comics.

It’s pretty fucking infuriating when companies do this because I just wanted to read a Kang story that I had hoped would be pretty epic based off of the page count of this large Avengers release.

Instead, I got a medium sized Kang story and then a bunch of random plot threads that were left incomplete and open ended as they tied to Secret Wars IIFantastic FourX-Men and a story about both ’80s Avengers teams playing baseball.

Had I just read the Kang story, this would’ve been great. It would’ve been even better if it was reduced to the roughly four issues that the story took place in and I was charged a lot less than what I played for this disorganized mess.

Now to be fair, I did like most of this but when you’re pulled in one direction just to be left with blue balls, it’s pretty irritating. Especially, when you’re the one paying for it.

As far as the Kang story goes, I loved it. It was one of the best I’ve read and it featured one of my favorite incarnations of the Avengers team, as I started reading this series around the same era.

Had I known that I was going to get shafted by this, I would’ve just forked out the money for the less than a handful of physical floppy issues I needed for the story I wanted.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Kang-centric stories, as well as other comics that happened around the events of Secret Wars II.

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.

Film Review: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Also known as: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (alternative title)
Release Date: June 4th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Halston Sage

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, 114 Minutes

Review:

“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares!” – Magneto

Well, I guess there’s a new rule. That rule is that if an X-Men film tries to tell a Phoenix story, it’s going to be the worst movie in the series.

I honestly didn’t think that the regular X-Men films of the rebooted/prequel era could get worse than Apocalypse but this one takes the cake.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it, I did. However, for the most part, this movie is a fucking mess and ignores previous continuity more than any other X-film from either era and this comes after they tried to course-correct five years ago with Days of Future Past.

The big narrative problem for me is that it was established that the Phoenix Force in the film universe was dormant in Jean Grey all along. When Days of Future Past corrected the wonky timelines of the film, that shouldn’t have been a reboot of every aspect of the film series. Otherwise, that’s just some J. J. Abrams Kelvin Timeline bullshit.

In this film, Jean Grey gets infected with the Phoenix Force during a space mission. It’s more in line with how it happened in the comics but it doesn’t make sense with what was already established. Also, in just the previous movie, she sort of taps into the Phoenix Force when she’s battling Apocalypse. So it was in her but then it wasn’t? Fuck, these movies are a goddamned clusterfuck of epically biblical proportions!

Anyway, like the three films before this one, this takes place in a new decade: the ’90s. Somehow though, no one fucking ages in these movies even though First Class was thirty years earlier than this chapter. Cyclops and Quicksilver were in their late teens in the ’70s in Days of Future Past. Here they look like they’re maybe in their early twenties. But whatever, it’s not like the filmmakers cared, as Dazzler is wearing her disco outfit in 1992 and everyone else is dressed like its 2019.

Another thing that irked me somewhat, is that I love Michael Fassbender’s Magneto but it took an hour for him to show up. Also, three movies into the subplot with Quicksilver and Magneto still doesn’t know he’s the kid’s father and it’s actually just dropped in this movie and not mentioned.

It seemed pretty apparent that the regulars didn’t want to do this movie. Other than McAvoy’s Professor X, the rest of the main cast were only in half the movie, got killed off or got beat up and put on the shelf. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was insufferable in this installment and I’m glad she got impaled.

The main characters that did actually appear for the entirety of the film were completely misused, however. Professor X was a careless prick and didn’t act like himself, Beast was super emo and almost became Dark Beast and Magneto switched his allegiances on a dime because he conveniently didn’t have all the information.

The threat in the film other than the Phoenix Force was a bunch of shapeshifting aliens that were obviously written to be the Skrulls but probably got changed late in production because Disney bought Fox and they couldn’t have Skrulls in an X-Men movie just after they introduced them in Captain Marvel.

Everything in this film feels scaled down as well. Every big battle is in a small area. There’s the fight at Jean’s daddy’s house, the confrontation on a small island, the big second act battle in front of a modest sized New York City building and its generic lobby and then the big finale which takes place on a train. They definitely didn’t do anything epic in scale, which seems like a missed opportunity considering that this is a movie that features the Phoenix Force trying to cleanse the Earth with fire.

Sophie Turner is also the focal point of the movie and I’m still not sure if she can act or not. This movie doesn’t help her case, as she was monotone in every scene, barely conveyed emotion and just acted like she was completely disinterested in the whole project.

While it sounds like I’m bashing the film and honestly, I probably am, I did like a few things.

For one, the Hans Zimmer score was damn incredible. It’s rare that I even notice music in movies anymore but I noticed it here and it actually made some scenes better and more emotional when some of the actors couldn’t even do that themselves.

I also liked the opening sequence, even if these teens going into space, untested, at the request of the United States President seemed strange.

Some of the new mutants in Magneto’s camp were also pretty cool additions in the New York and train battles but they were just kind of there and then discarded. The dude with the killer dreads was pretty badass; think Omega Red… but with dreads instead of hand tentacles.

I was really happy to see Dazzler show up too but she’s completely wasted in a cheap cameo. She sort of just hangs out in the background and doesn’t do anything else. Fans that have wanted Dazzler since 2000’s X-Men will probably feel cheated, especially since she was played by Halston Sage, who is dynamite on The Orville.

Additionally, I can’t say enough about how good Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are in these films. Their bond transcends the screen, it truly does. It just sucks that the material they had to work with here was so fucking lackluster.

On a side note, I really liked Nicholas Hoult too. He’s a solid Beast, even if I wasn’t initially keen on the casting. But like the other two great actors in this, he also had shit to work with in this picture.

To be fair, a lot of this film’s issues might not be the fault of the actual filmmakers. Simon Kinberg can do some solid stuff and he’s mostly handled this franchise well. However, Disney bought Fox just before this movie was slated to come out. It’s pretty well known now that they meddled with it in post-production because they thought it was too similar to Captain Marvel, which they were banking the entire future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on.

In the end, though, we got a really mediocre movie made by people that don’t seem like they care anymore. I guess it’s fitting that this incarnation of the cinematic X-Men franchise is now dead.

So I guess we’ll have to wait a few more years (or longer) to see what Disney does with the X-Men once they are rebooted into the MCU.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Fox X-Men films and spinoffs.

Comic Review: X-Cutioner’s Song

Published: 1992-1993
Written by: Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David
Art by: Brandon Peterson, Andy Kubert, Jae Lee, Greg Capullo

Marvel Comics, 336 Pages

Review:

This was one of my favorite big crossover events when I was really just getting deep into comics. This blew my middle school mind at the time and it had a lot of influence over my creative output in the comic book medium.

I was worried that revisiting this story would be a big disappointment. A lot of the stuff from this era that I reread now, usually lets me down, as my palate is more discriminatory than it was at thirteen years-old.

I’m happy to say that this was still pretty f’n solid!

In fact, I think it is slightly better than X-Tinction Agenda, which I used to place ahead of this one.

What I really liked about it, is that it features three of my absolute favorite villains: Apocalypse, Mister Sinister and Stryfe. They are all well balanced and they aren’t here to come together in an effort to finally take out the X-Men, X-Factor and X-Force (formerly the New Mutants). Each one of these baddies has their own purpose and agenda within the story and it all just comes together in a really cool way that even sees the X-Men have to turn to Apocalypse in order to stop Stryfe’s chaos.

This is the best big story to come after the epic Chris Claremont run on X-Men. But if I’m being honest and this certainly isn’t a dig at the legendary Claremont, whose work I love, X-Cutioner’s Song was really refreshing and it showed that new blood could liven things up. Granted, Peter David didn’t hang around too long, Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza also moved on to other things, but this was a weirdly perfect storm considering all the changes happening on Marvel’s X-books following Claremont’s departure and many of the top creatives leaving for the newly formed Image Comics.

The art is also top notch, but Brandon Peterson, Andy Kubert, Jae Lee and Greg Capullo are all fantastic and three of those men have become somewhat legendary in their own right.

X-Cutioner’s Song is well crafted, well balanced and it should be a primer on how to write massive crossovers featuring dozens of characters all competing for their moment.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: previous big X-Men crossover events like X-Tinction Agenda, Muir Island Saga, Inferno and Fall of the Mutants.

Comic Review: Avengers: Kree/Skrull War

Published: 1971-1972
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: Neal Adams, John Buscema, Sal Buscema

Marvel Comics, 205 Pages

Review:

I never read the original Kree/Skrull War storyline but I’ve heard it referenced my entire life. But with it being free on Comixology and with my desire to read a lot of the major old school comic book milestones, I had to finally give this a read.

So if I’m being honest, this really is a mixed bag.

Now when this is good, it’s damn good. However, the middle act of this large story feels like it gets off track before it all comes back together for the big finale, which is a space battle between two warring alien races and members of the Avengers team.

This story is at its best when both Ronan the Accuser and Annihilus are front and center. Other than that, it deals with the newer Avengers team screwing up and the original team having to come back and disband them. Ultimately, this leads to the newer Avengers redeeming themselves and it also showcases Rick Jones, a man without any powers, as a brave, courageous badass. Never mind that Ronan nearly slaps him to smithereens at one point though.

The only weak thing about this story besides the middle act, is that it was probably too drawn out. In fact, most of that middle act should have been whittled down. If that was fixed, this would have had better pacing and it would have been much, much better overall.

I really loved seeing old school Ronan and Annihilus though. Man, they’re such good villains when used correctly and not written as fodder for heroes. Most modern comic book fans probably don’t know how scary it was to see either of these guys show up, back in the day. Annihilus, especially, was a terrifying enemy.

Lastly, I have to mention that this was just great to look at. The art of Neal Adams, John Buscema and Sal Buscema was ’70s Marvel perfection.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s Marvel milestone events.

Comic Review: X-Men: Grand Design

Published: October 4th, 2017 – January 3rd, 2018
Written by: Ed Piskor
Art by: Ed Piskor

Marvel Comics, 92 Pages

Review:

X-Men lore is so massive that a series like this is actually pretty necessary for modern fans who don’t know all the details of the older X-Men stories and how things led to where the franchise is now.

X-Men: Grand Design is a fabulous series that goes through the entire history of the X-Men team.

The first Grand Design series was comprised of two 46 page comics. The second series is also broken out over two issues but this is about the original run, which covered the original X-Men team, mainly comprised of Cyclops, the original Ms. Marvel (Jean Grey), Beast, Iceman and Angel.

This comic moves very briskly, as it hits every major storyline in the comic’s original run. We see the origins of all the key players, heroes and villains. We also see how the Sentinels came to be and the formation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, as well as all the hoopla surrounding the arrival of the Phoenix Force.

Ed Piskor did an incredible job of writing this and mapping out the story so well. Everything just flows and it is perfectly accented by his old school pulp-like artwork.

I know these stories but even I don’t remember every single chapter of X-Men history. For old fans and new fans, this really is a must own and a must read. If anything, it just tapped into nostalgia pretty strongly and it has made me want to go back and read some of the classic story arcs.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis.

Comic Review: House of M

Published: February 1st, 2006
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Oliver Coipel

Marvel Comics, 280 Pages

Review:

This picks up after the events that happened in Avengers: Disassembled. This story also has effects that will go on to be felt in Marvel’s Civil War event, as well as X-Men: The Messiah Complex.

So following the tragic events of Avengers: Disassembled, the Avengers and the X-Men meet to discuss the fate of the Scarlet Witch. Wolverine leads the charge pretty much calling for her death, as the potential for what she can do with her powers is too great. Other Avengers and X-Men disagree but ultimately, you get the idea that this is going to go somewhere really friggin’ dark.

After that, Wolverine wakes up in an alternate reality and is aware that he’s not where he’s supposed to be, even though all of his allies are buying into the mystical charade. Wolverine has to go against his friends, search for answers and has to convince his allies that something happened that completely changed reality.

In the end, the Scarlet Witch only leaves like ten percent of the mutants in the world with their powers intact. So Wolverine saves the day, essentially, but the Scarlet Witch with her insane powers is still a crazy bitch.

This story was a cool idea but it didn’t really move forward in a way that excited me. Granted, I wasn’t too fond of Avengers: Disassemble, which lead to this.

This is one of the big Marvel stories of the ’00s and it is certainly better than the schlock they are synonymous with now but it still pales in comparison to the great epics that came before this. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel has some events that were duds in the old days too but this book just missed the mark and frankly, it could have been longer and probably needed to be, as the pace was insanely quick.

I really enjoyed Oliver Coipel’s art, though.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Avengers: DisassembledThe Messiah Complex, also it has ramifications that carry over into the Civil War event.

Comic Review: Avengers: Disassembled

Published: January 26th, 2005
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: David Finch

Marvel Comics, 133 Pages

Review:

This is one of those iconic stories that you hear about all the time in comic book circles. However, I thought that the whole thing was pretty damn underwhelming for what it has been built up as.

The Avengers team gets ripped apart. It is due to the betrayal of one of their own. They don’t know that at first and when confronted with the idea, reject it.

However, the Scarlet Witch has basically gone batshit and blames all of her friends for killing her children that were never actually real to begin with but a psychotic projection of the Scarlet Witch’s will.

Yeah, does this story sound stupid to you? Because it definitely felt stupid to me. I thought Bendis was a big deal but everything I read by him is just as batshit as the Scarlet Witch, Wanda’s fucked up brain in this story. I’ve just never been too keen on Bendis, other than his earliest work on the Miles Morales Spider-Man stuff. His Superman stories, his current job, are also just some weird ass shit.

I don’t know, this book hurt my head. It’s only saving grace was superb art from David Finch and awesome action sequences.

Also, this leads into the big Civil War event that effected all Marvel titles, as well as the major X-Men events: The House of M and The Messiah Complex.

Avengers Disassembled has been talked about fondly for years by many. I’m just glad that this was only 133 pages.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: This leads into the massive X-Men stories The House of M and The Messiah Complex, also it has ramifications that carry over on the Avengers side of things and into the Civil War event.

Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Release Date: May 9th, 2016 (London premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Alexandra Shipp, Hugh Jackman (cameo), Caleb Landry Jones (archive footage)

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Kinberg Genre, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[sends the world’s nuclear weapons into space] Always the same, and now all this. No more stones. No more spears. No more slings. No more swords. No more weapons! No more systems! No more! No more superpowers… So much faith in their tools, in their machines. You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel, but you can never strike god!” – Apocalypse

At this point, the X-Men films don’t give a crap about continuity and I don’t care that Days of Future Past was used to try and fix that. Fox still dismisses a lot of what’s happened and just does what works well for each movie as a standalone picture. Because you can’t have Angel appear as a late teen in a 2006 movie and then have him in his twenties in 1983, regardless of whatever Doctor Who timey wimey shenanigans you try to pull. But truthfully, I don’t care at this point. I sort of just see each film as its own reality where each movie just shares some similarities. Sorry, I’ve got to make it make sense for my brain or I have to just dismiss the absurdity of it.

That being said, I don’t hate this chapter in the X-Men movie franchise. In fact, I liked it quite a bit in spite of its flaws, continuity hiccups and the underwhelming way that they presented Apocalypse.

What made this film work for me was the evolution of Magneto, who is the best character in these films and who seems to be handled with great care. I don’t care so much about all the teens and the constant influx of new characters every time I blink my eyes. It’s the core characters that matter in these movies. That being said, I think McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is damn good too.

When I first saw this film in theaters, my initial reaction was worse than it is now. Having time to digest and reflect on Apocalypse, it really isn’t as bad of a movie as I thought it was at first glance. It is the weakest of the newer generation of pictures but it is certainly better than 2000’s X-Men and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Don’t even get me started on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as I find it less enjoyable than a piranha enema.

The plot in this is a bit rushed and shaky. Apocalypse, one of the most powerful forces in the entirety of the Marvel Universe just shows up, learns all about human history by touching a TV and starts taking over the Earth and brainwashing other mutants to be his “Four Horsemen”. It was interesting that Oscar Issac played Apocalypse because it wouldn’t have really mattered who played him, as he was just a dry, one note tyrant. Frankly, he should have been the X-Men‘s version of Thanos, at least in their movie universe.

The sequence with Wolverine is, by far, the high point of the movie. Hugh Jackman only shows up for about ten minutes but it is some of the best Wolverine action ever put to celluloid. Granted, Hollywood is allergic to celluloid now.

This is an epic film but it doesn’t feel as grandiose as its predecessor. It isn’t as good as its predecessor either and I think that is why I was disappointed with it initially. But the main players in the cast add more to their stories in a good way and ultimately, this enriched the modern X-Men movie universe.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie but I’ll still see it because these films still have more positives than negatives. But really, it’s just time for the X-Men movies to get a much needed reboot and join the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The current crop of X-Men movies since James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender took over the lead roles. Also, the last two Wolverine pictures.