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.

Comic Review: Civil War II

Published: February 1st, 2017
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Jim Cheung, Oliver Coipel, David Marquez, Marko Djurdjevic (cover)

Marvel Comics, 317 Pages

Review:

Man, this was bewilderingly bad.

Historically, I’ve been pretty 50/50 on Brian Michael Bendis’ writing but man, it’s like when he did this, he already knew he was leaving Marvel. It also reads like he was given orders to use certain characters and he was begrudgingly forced to work them in. Granted, he’s also created some of the terrible modern characters.

While I’ve been well aware of the criticism that the Captain Marvel character gets in modern times, I always liked her when she was Ms. Marvel. But this new, short-haired, suddenly pushed into a leadership role Carol Danvers is not even the same character, remotely.

Based off of how she’s written here, as a self-righteous, fascist, tyrant bitch, I totally see why fans can’t stand her. If this story is an accurate portrayal of how she is post-2015 or so, I have no interest in following her character unless she’s actually made into a permanent villain. But even then, there are so many better villains I’d rather read about.

And I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to interpret her character. Is she supposed to be psychotic, god-powered, tyrannical piece of shit? Or am I supposed to empathize with her point-of-view?

What made the first Civil War so great was that you could emphasize and relate to both points-of-view and it made for a compelling read. Civil War II just made me hate Carol and every character that so easily sided with her. These characters aren’t heroes, as their actions in this story crossed the line into villainy.

Whatever. Fuck this comic. Fuck Bendis. Fuck post-2015 Marvel. But at least the art was really good.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: all the other Civil War II crossover tie-in trade paperbacks.

Comic Review: Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson, Vol. 1

Published: March 6th, 2014
Written by: Frank Miller, Bill Mantlo, Roger McKenzie, David Michelinie, Marv Wolfman
Art by: Frank Miller, Klaus Janson

Marvel Comics, 326 Pages

Review:

I recently got to scratch off one of my comic book bucket list items. That item was the completion of the entire Frank Miller Daredevil run. I now own all the single issues and it feels good. So to celebrate, I thought that I’d re-read through them all, as they were collected in three beefy volumes that I also own.

This first collection starts with two issues of The Spectacular Spider-Man, which featured Daredevil and had art by Frank Miller. Getting into the start of his run on Daredevil itself, the first handful of issues aren’t written by Miller but he does do the art. But once Miller fully takes over and Klaus Janson comes in to do Miller’s inks, this book really takes off in a new and exciting way, as it becomes grittier and almost has a noir vibe to it.

In this collection, we see the Bullseye character evolve more into the lunatic he actually is. We are also introduced to Elektra, as she makes her first appearance here.

Now nothing is truly wrapped up in this volume and it mainly just lays the foundation for the rest of Miller’s tenure on the title. But it sets things up nicely, really changes the landscape of the title, as long-standing love interest Black Widow moves on with her life and Daredevil is pulled into two new romantic directions.

This also establishes the real tension between Daredevil and The Kingpin.

As the first of three collections covering this run, this book is damn stellar. It’s also a great jumping on point for fans that want to read some of the best years in Daredevil’s long history.

Frankly, I’d read all of Miller’s run and then follow it up with the Ann Nocenti era.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Frank Miller’s run, as well as Ann Nocenti’s and the stories in-between.

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: Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up

Published: March 4th, 2015
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 458 Pages

Review:

This was a comic book series that I had wanted to read for a long time. I was collecting all of the single issues, in an effort to get the whole shebang before reading any of them, as I wanted the full experience.

However, I found the beefy collected edition at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet for like $4.95. So I couldn’t pass up that deal and because tracking down the whole series, as well as its crossovers was taking some time.

Anyway, this wasn’t exactly what I had hoped it was but it was still a really fun comic, especially as a fan of Doctor Doom, who is mostly the main character, alongside Namor, throughout the series’ run.

What I had hoped (or assumed) this was, was a book that put two villains together like a tag team in an effort to see them fight their regular nemeses. I expected more of a mix up of villains but the vast majority of this pairs Doom and Namor. And honestly, most of the time, they’re at odds with each other, so “team-up” isn’t all that accurate.

Other villains come into the series towards the end. We get to see Red Skull, Arnim Zola, The Hate-Monger, Magneto and a few others. But most of this is Doom having schemes that typically involve Namor. It pits them (well, mostly Doom) against superhero teams like The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the ’70s version of The Champions but it also sees Doom come into conflict with other major villains.

For the most part, this is a really fun and energetic series that highlights what was great about ’70s Marvel. However, the series kept switching writers and artists and some of the issues aren’t nearly as great as the more solid ones.

It’s definitely better written in the first few issues, as those duties were handled by the great Roy Thomas. Towards the end, the book gets more exciting, as a lot of characters get wedged in but the earliest stories were just better written tales.

All in all, this is definitely worth picking up for those out there that are into ’70s Marvel and/or Doctor Doom. If you can find the collected trade paperback for as cheap as I got it, you should definitely pick it up and give it a shot.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the Avengers and Fantastic Four comics of the ’70s.

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.

Comic Review: Uncanny X-Force, Vol. 5: Otherworld

Published: November 21st, 2012
Written by: Rick Remender
Art by: Phil Noto, Billy Tan, Greg Tocchini, Dean White

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

Coming off of a pretty big epic story that took up two separate trade paperbacks, this chapter in Rick Remender’s X-Force run was still entertaining but also sort of a bridge between the The Dark Angel Saga and the finale (also spread over two TPBs) Final Execution.

This sort of wraps up some of the stuff from the previous saga while building towards a big crescendo.

The bulk of the story takes place in Otherworld where Captain Britain leads his own corps. It pits twin sister, Psylocke, against twin brother, Captain Britain, while also throwing in their older brother Jamie Braddock Jr.

This also further develops Fantomex’s character, as well as his relationship with Psylocke.

If I’m being honest, things happen here to set the stage for the finale but ultimately, this was kind of boring when compared to the previous chapters. It seems to tap into a lot of Excalibur nostalgia. Now I did like that comic series, as well as Captain Britain, but I never read enough of it and it’s been a really long time.

Still, if you’ve made it this far into Remender’s mostly solid run, this is a necessary step on the way to the big, two-part finale.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force run.

Comic Review: Avengers: Emperor Doom

Published: 1987
Written by: David Michelinie
Art by: Bob Hall, Bill Oakley, Ken Lopez

Marvel Comics, 64 Pages

Review:

I used to own this and I need to round up another copy. It was one of my favorite “big” stories of its time. But all of the Marvel graphic novels of the ’80s that I owned, all have a special place in my heart.

Reading it now, it was still a really engaging story that featured my favorite Avengers of the ’80s, the West Coast Avengers. It also throws in Captain America and Namor. However, Namor is initially one of the villains of the story due to his allegiance to Atlantis and his willingness to do anything to secure his homeland’s safety.

The main villain is Doctor Doom, if the title wasn’t enough of a hint. This is also one of his grandest schemes and he actually pulls it off and succeeds at becoming the Emperor of Earth. However, the Avengers do end up coming to their senses and stop Doom.

This story also features the usually underutilized Purple Man. It’s his power that Doom steals and then harnesses on a global scale, giving him control of humanity’s minds.

Under Doom, the Earth finds peace and some of its major problems are solved. However, those pesky Avengers have to muck it all up because humans should be free to make their own decisions and not be mentally enslaved by some global puppet master. I don’t think that modern Marvel writers would agree with that but hey, they’re also killing their own company.

Emperor Doom is a solid story. However, it may have benefited from more space than a 64 page graphic novel could allow. This could have been a major crossover event and maybe have been better than it was.

Still, it is a good use of its 64 pages and it was a hell of a lot of fun to revisit.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel graphic novels from the era.

Comic Review: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird

Published: April 27th, 2016
Written by: Jason Aaron
Art by: Chris Bachalo

Marvel Comics, 115 Pages

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve read Doctor Strange. I used to love picking up back issues of stuff from the ’70s and ’80s when I was a kid. But I didn’t like much of the late ’90s or ’00s stuff. But I heard good things about Jason Aaron’s run, so I figured I’d start at the beginning and give it a shot.

This was a pretty fun read and it’s creative, as well as interesting. I also really liked the art style.

My only real complaint is that this Doctor Strange doesn’t seem like the same character I enjoyed in his classic stories. He’s lacking the sense of authority one got from him in the ’70s and ’80s and here he is just kind of quirky and goofy.

Despite that, it’s not a big distraction, it’s just that the character feels off. It’s also very salvageable moving forward and it doesn’t deter me from reading more from Aaron. Hopefully, he finds his footing a bit more after this first story arc.

The threat here also doesn’t feel as big as the story makes it out to be. I guess I’ll have to see what’s next but knowing what Doctor Strange has faced before, this threat seemed lame and unconvincing. Sure, all other Sorcerer Supremes from other realms and worlds are gone but the story still feels thin and is missing the weight of that.

I’ll give the second volume a shot in the very near future, so I hope that sort of rights the ship.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Jason Aaron’s other Doctor Strange stories.

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.