Comic Review: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Published: 1980
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

Does it make me a terrible X-Men fan that I have never actually read The Dark Phoenix Saga?

I’ve tried to round up all the single issues over the years but some of them are pricey and there’s nine issues that make up this arc. But in my defense, I know the story very well, as it has been referenced a million times over throughout X-Men history. I’ve also seen various interpretations and adaptations of the plot. Granted, none of them are really accurate in regards to this, the source material.

This is free for Comixology Unlimited subscribers though, so I thought that delving into it was long overdue and that I really didn’t have an excuse anymore.

I expected this to be enjoyable but it still took me by surprise, as it was better than what I anticipated and all the years of hype I’ve experienced, didn’t diminish it in anyway.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is quintessential Chris Claremont. I can’t say that this is where he peaked but this is certainly a very elevated highpoint in his long run writing X-Men related stories.

This also came out in a time when Marvel wasn’t addicted to big crossover mega-events. This was a mega-event for its time but it wasn’t marketed or structured in the way that these things are now. It was just a good, lengthy story, limited to one already existing comic that found a way to utilize a lot of characters but in a way that balanced them all out and made them all useful to the plot.

One cool thing about this arc, is it also features the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club and Dazzler. There’s a bunch of stuff going on within this story but it doesn’t off track and still builds towards the big battle between Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix and her X-Men family. It’s, at times, heartbreaking and tragic but it also makes you love all these people all over again in an organic, natural and emotional way. This hits emotional notes in the reader in ways that comic books never seem to come close to in 2019.

I can’t just give credit to Chris Claremont and his stupendous writing though. The art by John Byrne is absolutely superb and it is just as rich, colorful and meticulously crafted as the story its telling.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told. It’s classic Marvel and truly represents what I loved about the era and how I fell in love with this creative medium in the first place.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other early Chris Claremont X-Men comics.

Comic Review: Venom: First Host

Published: August 29th, 2018 – September, 26th, 2018
Written by: Mike Costa
Art by: Mark Bagley, Ron Lim, Paco Diaz

Marvel Comics, 113 Pages

Review:

Venom: First Host was a really cool miniseries for me for several reasons.

To start, I love Venom and whenever he gets a story that expands his character, I’m usually always pleased. This story helped to give the character and his history more depth and further moved him along to where he no longer has to be solely attached to Spider-Man stories. This, along with Donny Cates’ current run on the regular Venom title, have made this iconic anti-hero much more interesting in 2018, thirty years after his first appearance.

Secondly, I love the creative team on this book. Mike Costa was one of my favorite G.I. Joe writers of all-time. In fact, I wish he would return to that universe, as it’s pretty much getting run through the muck, lately.

As far as the art, you’ve got Mark Bagley and Ron Lim, two guys that I was a huge fan of in the ’90s. Bagley did the art in so many books that I read and Lim did all that fantastic art in the three Infinity events in the early ’90s. I’ve also always liked Paco Diaz’s work too. So, for me, this was like an all-star team comprised of guys I liked on different projects, brought together to give me a miniseries on one of my all-time favorite characters.

The story itself is really interesting, as well. It introduces us to the Venom symbiote’s first host, a disgraced and violent Kree warrior. It also deals with a new offspring of Venom, which Brock and the symbiote treat and see as their child. So we have Brock in the young symbiote suit teaming up with a female Skrull to defeat a Kree madman with the Venom suit. It’s nuts, it’s fun and I had a blast reading this story. I’d like to see more of Venom in space, actually.

Now this may be confusing, as it is somewhat of an unexplored origin and it is happening at the same time Cates’ origin of the symbiote is also being published. But these two stories work well together and while all this new Venom backstory stuff might be overwhelming and a bit confusing, each current Venom comic works well on its own.

And frankly, between this miniseries and Cates’ stuff, I’m really excited to see the Venom movie, which is just a few days away at the time of this writing.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Venom: Rex and the upcoming Donny Cates Venom stuff.

Comic Review: Infinity

Published: February 5th, 2014
Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 866 Pages

Review:

Since new ideas are hard to come by, Marvel decided to sort of rehash the Infinity events from the ’90s in this modern version of a story that features Thanos and every single Marvel hero that can possibly fit on a splash page.

I’m not knocking the technique, if a story is good, it’s good. All stories borrow from something else and Marvel (just like DC) likes to recycle the core elements of their big crossover events, again and again. Marvel has had two Civil War storylines, Avengers Vs. X-Men, which was practically like Civil War, and multiple versions of Secret War. Then there are massive Skrull events that seem to have happened an awful lot too.

I guess the main similarity between this and the ’90s Infinity events is that it features dozens upon dozens of Marvel heroes against a seemingly omnipotent Thanos. However, Thanos’ purpose is different here and there is no sign of the Infinity Gauntlet. In this story, he comes to Earth to find his long lost son Thane. Why? Because Thanos wants to murder him, as he’s done with his other offspring.

I read the large collected edition of this, which was well over 800 pages. It was massive and thick and took some time to get through. At first, it started slow and I felt like I didn’t know what was going on because I haven’t read a lot of modern Marvel stuff and there are all of these new heroes I’ve never experienced. Don’t worry, this still has every classic hero in it too. Every major player is here, as should be expected with an event like this.

Reading this, I can see where it also influenced the recent Avengers: Infinity War movie, as it has the introduction of the Black Order, who played a big part in that film.

The story also deals with a threat from the Builders, who basically want to destroy the universe because villains do those sort of things in comic books.

There are a lot of layers to the story and it can feel overwhelming and overly complicated but the core of it is very good. This event had some really awesome and powerful moments and also featured some of the most badass stuff Thor has ever done.

It also gave us Thane, a character that is more dangerous than his famous father and who looks to be a massive threat for the heroes after the conclusion of this story.

I thought the pacing was good, once the story really got going. The six Infinity issues were certainly the high point of the story where the Avengers and New Avengers issues that were part of this collection served to give more exposition to the larger narrative.

This massive collected edition is capped off by a Silver Surfer story that takes place alongside these events. The Surfer didn’t appear in the main story but he had his own tale that was worth telling, as he was on the other side of the galaxy dealing with the same events in a different way.

And I guess another really important thing about this mega event is that the art was fabulous. I loved it, every panel, every page and every issue of every comic series collected here was visual perfection. Kudos to the artists: Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The ’90s Infinity trilogy of events: The Infinity GauntletThe Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.

Comic Review: The Infinity Crusade

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

Marvel Comics, 488 Pages

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comic Review: The Infinity Gauntlet

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

Marvel Comics, 256 Pages

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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