Comic Review: Avengers: Citizen Kang

Published: 1992
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: Larry Alexander, Geof Isherwood, Herb Trimpe, Dan Panosian (cover)

Marvel Comics, 223 Pages

Review:

Citizen Kang wasn’t just an Avengers story, it spanned four different annuals in 1992 and also featured the Fantastic Four quite heavily, as well as some characters from the Inhumans and Eternals.

It’s a damn cool story if you are a fan of Kang the Conqueror, as I am. Back when this was current, I loved the story because it gives you the full backstory of Kang up to this point in his history. A lot of the pages collected here are flashback stuff but it’s not by any means boring, even if you know Kang’s previous stuff. Reason being, Kang’s a complicated character with multiple versions of himself running around. So this served to give you the CliffsNotes version of that complicated history.

But this isn’t just a condensed history of Kang, that’s just a small part of this total package. This actually sees Kang try to take down his enemies, be they actual heroes or other villains that have caused him problems.

This was an ambitious and big story and I thought that Roy Thomas delivered. Being that he had been at Marvel for a few decades at the time that he wrote this, he knew a lot of these characters and their histories together very well.

Also, being that this is four annuals collected into one volume, it also includes all the extra side stories and supplemental material. My only gripe with this release was how it was all organized. It just pieced the four annuals together as they were printed. I would have rather had the main story flow in order and then tack on all the extras at the end, instead of having them feel like roadblocks between each main chapter.

Still, everything in this was entertaining and hit its mark.

Rating: 8/10

Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: The Captain

Published: August 11th, 2021
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Bob Layton, David Michelinie
Art by: Mark Bright, John Byrne, Kieron Dwyer, Tom Morgan

Marvel Comics, 499 Pages

Review:

The Epic Collection volume that preceded this one, laid the ground work for Steve Rogers being replaced as Captain America by John Walker, who would later become US Agent.

This volume is where Rogers goes away, Walker steps in and the series becomes really interesting, as it splits its time between the former Captain and his story, as well as the new Captain and the challenges he faces trying to fill the shoes of a man that will always be greater than him.

I enjoyed that this series kind of had a split personality for this run but it was all still tied to the core of the Captain America symbol and what it means for those who represent it and those in power who exploit it.

Where the preceding volume felt a bit “kiddie” in how it was written, the series turns pretty serious and really steps up to the plate when peeling back the layers of John Walker, Steve Rogers, both their sidekicks, the U.S. government’s involvement in all of this, as well as some important deaths and losses.

This really goes deep into the John Walker character and even though he’s been a prick up to this point and does some very dark shit, here, these issues humanize him, his situation and how he comes to the realization that even though he’s the best choice for the role of Captain America on paper, he’s still missing that x-factor that made Steve Rogers the Captain America.

The writing in this stretch of issues really went to another level, which I think was important in conveying the weight of this story. This also had real gravitas and minor characters that initially don’t seem to matter too much, mean a lot to you when certain things transpire, which I won’t spoil.

All in all, I really enjoyed the hell out of this and it’s far superior to Disney’s loose adaptation of it in The Flacon and the Winter Solider.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Black Widow (2021)

Release Date: June 30th, 2021 (Madrid fan event premiere)
Directed by: Cate Shortland
Written by: Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenie, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (cameo), Jeremy Renner (cameo, voice)

Truenorth Productions, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“[to Natasha and Yelena] You both have killed so many people. Your ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red. I couldn’t be more proud of you.” – Alexei Shostakov

I initially planned to see this in the theater but I was travelling for work when this came out and by the time I got caught up and was going to finally see it, it was gone. Also, I wasn’t going to pay an additional $29.99 to watch it on Disney+ when it would be free a few months later. That price tag is stupid, especially when HBO Max drops the new movies without any additional cost. But this isn’t a “bitch about how dumb and greedy Disney is” article, it’s a movie review about the long overdue first (and only) film about one of the greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.

Sadly, this doesn’t live up to any hype one would have for it. Also, it’s five years too late and had it been made five years ago, it probably would’ve been a much better, much more coherent and much more entertaining picture.

Also, this proves that wedging a chapter in the MCU franchise into a previous point in the timeline, further fucks up and wrecks that timeline. Captain Marvel, Avengers: EndgameLoki and probably some other things have also done this and created serious continuity issues, not to mention, altering characters in ways that don’t make sense or ruins them.

If you can completely turn your brain off and watch this without questioning anything, it’s probably an entertaining spy thriller. I can do that with many things but not with the nearly 30th entry into a thirteen year-old franchise that features a title character that has existed in eleven of those thirteen years.

There are so many problems with this movie like its terrible plot and incoherent logic, the fact that Black Widow is apparently made out of titanium, Taskmaster isn’t in anyway Taskmaster, the main villain is by far the worst in the franchise and it has the worst pacing and editing of any MCU movie.

I won’t harp on about how a small prop plane full of bullet holes can’t fly from Ohio to Cuba with S.H.I.E.L.D. in pursuit or how secret intel is sent to a safehouse used by many other people after its existence was made known to S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and everyone else. I won’t talk about how the entire movie was a string of plot conveniences and contrivances where if just one thing didn’t go smoothly, the entire story would’ve been fucked. I won’t grill the filmmakers about the stupidity of a secret flying fortress in a world with the MCU‘s technology, Tony Stark, Skrulls, Kree, satellites and Google f’n Earth. I won’t bring up physics or how the human body reacts to explosions, smashing into hard objects during free fall or how joints, muscles, nerves and nose cartilage work.

So since I won’t spend thousands of words on the stuff just mentioned, I will talk about how the characters never felt right. Natasha’s family felt forced and just wedged in to her personal mythos. Where were any of these people during the events of Infinity War and Endgame? Not to mention the twenty or so other Black Widows that Natasha freed at the end of the film. Mathematically, roughly half of those Widows would’ve survived Thanos’ snap and could’ve been helping Natasha, who was essentially running the show when half the world and its heroes disappeared. Ten-to-twelve Widows would’ve been really helpful in the first act of Endgame and twenty or more showing up for the final battle with Thanos could’ve been a hell of an advantage, especially a Taskmaster fighting on the side of good. Hell, we could’ve gotten a Captain America and Red Guardian team-up moment.

Additionally, we never really get to explore her time in the Black Widow program, which I’m pretty sure was something that everyone was anticipating. So here we have a character that’s appeared in at least half, if not most, of the MCU films and she doesn’t really have an origin story. There’s the ridiculous opening sequence in this movie and a credits montage but beyond that, everything we know about the character’s past is revealed through clunky dialogue. Dialogue which may or may not be reliable considering the villain is well… a fucking villain and Natasha and her sister Yelena have both had their minds altered on some level.

Getting to Taskmaster, I honestly don’t care that the character is a woman and out of respect for her gender, I’ll refer to her now as Taskmistress. My issue with the character was that other than being able to instantaneously learn from her opponents and mimic them, she wasn’t Taskmaster in any other regard. Taskmistress is a completely different character created from completely different circumstances, devoid of personality, devoid of style, missing the iconic skull face and thus, totally lacking the character’s charisma and coolness. Taskmistress is just generic super soldier cyborg lady. And what’s even more distressing is that she is clearly a man until the helmet comes off for what was meant to be a shocking reveal but was honestly, more expected than my cousin Lindsey getting pregnant again.

Look, I like this character and I like Scarlett Johansson and her commitment to this character over what may be a dozen movies now. The problem is that she deserved a movie earlier than this and she also deserved a better story than this. Hell, she probably should’ve had three movie by now, just like the boys on the Avengers team… well, except Hawkeye but that’s another sore subject with me.

Through this, I also liked Florence Pugh as Yelena and I don’t hate the idea of her taking the mantle if Johansson is truly done with it. However, her being sent on a mission to kill Hawkeye for “murdering” her sister is retarded, as the Avengers are more famous in their world than Scarlett Johansson is in ours. Yelena would’ve known that Hawkeye was her sister’s best friend and teammate, as the entire world knows that they’re both Avengers. Man, the MCU is run by idiots these days but just look at what Disney has done to Star Wars.

Before I go, I guess my last bone to pick is in regards to Red Guardian. So we’re supposed to accept that this guy is a smart badass that has high technical prowess and is somewhat on Captain America’s level as a fighter and hero. Yet he’s Fat Thor turned up to eleven with a Russian accent and communist tattoos that make him look like a Portland SJW angrily tweeting from a MacBook Pro in a corporate chain cafe sipping an $11 coffee and eating a $7 vegan muffin. I’m supposed to accept that this slobby juvenile idiot was his country’s Captain America and that he has actual smarts?

Anyway, I’m glad I just waited to watch this for free… or with my existing subscription. It’s not as bad as Captain Marvel was but it’s honestly in the same ballpark. Everything in this is pretty forgettable and as we’ve seen, none of it mattered to the bigger picture of the MCU. At least Captain Marvel set up some things. Not things I specifically want to see but it had more of an effect on the franchise. I guess this will tie directly to the Hawkeye television series but Yelena gunning for Clint Barton is fucking stupid for reasons I already explained.

Rating: 5.75/10

Video Game Review: Spider-Man (PlayStation 4)

I bought this game way back when it came out but I didn’t actually play it until this year, as I had spent about 18 months completely immersed in Conan Exiles and The Witcher 3. Between that, I also spent a lot of time playing hundreds of retro games on my RetroPie.

I can’t say that this was worth the wait, as it’s really just mediocre.

The graphics as far as how the city looks and the smoothness of gameplay are great but the characters’ designs certainly don’t blow me away. Also, most characters don’t look like how you’d expect them to and I’m not sure why. The game sort of ignores the comic book designs and tries to go with something more “realistic” and cinematic, akin to the films. I feel like it’s trying to meet the comics and the films somewhere in the middle but it fails at that.

As far as the gameplay goes, it’s fun but it’s way too similar to the Batman: Arkham City games. Granted, I love swinging through New York City and seeing the iconic sites but after really exploring for a day or so, even that gets old.

My real issue with the game is the story. I just don’t like it and it puts a lot of emphasis on villains that aren’t all that popular to begin with like Mister Negative. While I don’t mind the character, he is the primary antagonist for the first two acts of the story. While Norman Osborn is the mayor and Otto Octavius starts out as a good guy, there are still so many great, iconic Spider-Man villains they could’ve used as a focal point. Is Mister Negative even C-list?

I also heard all this noise about how many villains were going to be in this game and after playing through it, I’m completely underwhelmed. Sure, there are many baddies but it’s the cast of villains that they went with that are the problem. Plus, there are glaring omissions that are a bit baffling.

I get that you might not want to do a full fledged Hobgoblin or Venom story but the game could’ve introduced their normal selves, as both had interesting backstories that tie back to either Peter Parker’s personal life or the lives of his friends and allies.

Beyond that, Mary Jane is just kind of Plain Jane and she’s not even a model or actress. Instead, they made her an investigative reporter and her character is basically just ginger Lois Lane. Mary Jane is nothing like Lois Lane and this creative choice was just strange.

Speaking of MJ, I hate when this game makes you play as her or pre-Spider-Man Miles Morales. I bought this to be Spider-Man. Not his no superpowers having peeps. And there are just too many of these stupid side character sneaking missions.

Complaints aside, this is still a decent game that laid some groundwork to build off of. I’ll probably check out the sequel, if it’s ever made. I’ll also probably play the Miles Morales spinoff when it’s not still full-price.

The thing is, this could’ve been something great had they made it more loyal to the source material and not used a scrub that casual fans won’t know as the big bad for the first two-thirds of the game. Can you imagine if they made a Batman game and the main villain was someone like The Clock King?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: its Miles Morales spinoff game, as well as other recent Marvel games and old Spider-Man games.

Comic Review: Secret Invasion

Published: 2008
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Leinil Francis Yu, Gabriele Dell’Otto (cover)

Marvel Comics, 218 Pages

Review:

Secret Invasion came out after a series of good storylines from Marvel like Civil War, The Death of Captain America and the feud between the two Avengers teams that followed Civil War. I guess this was supposed to be a good payoff for sticking through that solid run of most of Marvel’s major titles. However, this was mostly a clusterfuck that created more problems than the Marvel continuity needed.

This was ambitious, damn ambitious.

Brian Michael Bendis’ ambition really overreached, though, and this mega event became a jumping off point for me back when it was coming out. After a few issues, I dropped it an never looked back.

Since years have passed and Marvel has gotten even worse, I thought that I might enjoy this a bit more and since I never actually finished it the first time, I wanted to give it another shot.

This is just one of those ideas that sounds good on paper but once you start really fleshing it out, you know it’s not going to work. Well, Bendis should have figured that out on his own, especially since the industry considers him a legend.

The biggest problem with this mega event is that it could have worked on a smaller scale. We could’ve seen that the Skrulls had infiltrated the superhero community, replacing some heroes with themselves in disguise. It didn’t need to be so damn grandiose where nearly half the heroes were just Skrulls in hiding. The conspiracy was too big and thus, came across as really fucking dumb.

In fact, this would’ve been much better had the Skrulls just replaced a few key people and there were still less than a handful in disguise. When you expect half the heroes to be impostors, the reveals of who is who loses its impact and you’re left with a half-assed handjob from a drunk instead of great sex from a pretty hot sexual partner.

In the end, when half the characters were impostors, it poses too many questions that just break continuity and it’s way too hard for editorial to keep track of, especially editorial from this era or any after.

Someone really should’ve grabbed Bendis by the shoulders and shouted, “Scale this the fuck down!”

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel mega events.

Comic Review: Civil War

Published: April 11th, 2007
Written by: Mark Millar
Art by: Steve McNiven

Marvel Comics, 196 Pages

Review:

I loved Civil War when I first read it over a dozen years ago. It reignited my interest in Marvel Comics and I stuck with a lot of the core stories that were born out of these events.

For those that don’t know, this pits two factions of superheroes against each other: one group led by Captain America and the other led by Iron Man. It would also go on to inspire the movie Captain America: Civil War, nine years later.

Cap’s group is against a new law that would force superheroes to give up their secret identities and become agents of the government. Iron Man agrees with the law, after a group of C-list heroes are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children. Spider-Man, the third central character, starts the story on one side and then switches after certain events give him newfound clarity.

The story, the idea and its execution are near perfect. In fact, I’m not sure how this wasn’t a story idea before this, as it seems like a natural development for the superhero genre. Regardless, Mark Millar penned magic here and this is, hands down, one of the greatest mega events in comic book history.

Having just read two of DC’s massive Crisis events and seeing how they were massive clusterfucks, this is the complete antithesis of those and goes to show how much better Marvel is (or was) at bringing a massive group of characters together.

I also really enjoyed Steve McNiven’s art and it fit the tone well. McNiven was one of the top artists at the time and his talent was put to great use here.

My only negative takeaway is that this story should’ve been longer than seven issues. It felt like there was a lot more story to tell. But then again, there are literally dozens of Civil War tie-ins that you can read for more context and to see what other heroes were up to during this saga. From memory, a lot of them were also pretty good.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Civil War crossover tie-in trade paperbacks, as well as The Death of Captain America.

Comic Review: Captain America and Crossbones – One-Shot

Published: March 16th, 2011
Written by: William Harms
Art by: Declan Shalvey, Greg Tocchini (cover)

Marvel Comics, 34 Pages

Review:

This was a one-shot that came out with a few other one-shots that focused on Captain America’s villains. That being said, Captain America is only in this story through flashbacks. But that’s okay by me, as I’m a Crossbones fan, anyway.

These are also the kind of stories I really like.

Crossbones is removed from prison by a government agency and then dropped into the jungle where he is supposed to track down some young boy and bring him back. The bulk of this takes place in a derelict nuclear power plant that had a fate similar to Chernobyl. The really cool thing though, is that we see Crossbones have to take on a horde of rabid werewolves.

The vibe of this comic feels like a mix of the original Predator film and Dog Soldiers. That is certainly a winning combination and with the high level of testosterone and action flowing through this, I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear.

Crossbones is underappreciated, in my opinion. My love of the character probably comes from the fact that when I first started buying Captain America comics, Crossbones was front and center, as he had just debuted. But I’ve also liked the character in the same way I like Bullseye, Deathstroke and Taskmaster. In fact, Taskmaster (along with Red Skull) have a small cameo in this story.

This was simply a badass, energetic, action packed read. Honestly, I wish that this was the first issue of an ongoing series.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other one-shots in this series, as well as The Death of Captain America storyline.

Comic Review: Spider-Men II

Published: March 21st, 2018
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Sara Pichelli

Marvel Comics, 104 Pages

Review:

I had really enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ run with the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man since he debuted. I also liked the first Spider-Men event, which brought Miles and Peter Parker together for the first time. So I had pretty high hopes for this sequel series and Bendis’ swansong before leaving Marvel for DC Comics.

Sadly, this was a letdown.

Now it wasn’t terrible but it was just okay. But this should have maintained the momentum and the energy that the previous Miles Morales stories had.

Ultimately, Spider-Men II took the wind out of the sails and brought this once fun to read character back down to Earth in the most Brian Michael Bendis way possible. And I don’t say that to be trendy and trash Bendis’ work like so many others but this is a prime example of what his harsher critics can point to and say, “See, Bendis gonna Bendis!”

This tried to be clever and give fans a swerve with an alternate, darker version of Miles Morales but it fell flat. In the end, the story was a total dud, lacking in a healthy amount of action and any sort of depth or solid character development. It read more like a love letter between “evil” Miles and the Kingpin than something worthy of bringing the two most popular Spider-Men together again.

Miles Morales debuted with a hell of a bang. But for Bendis’ last story for the great character he created, Miles went out with a whimper.

But hey, Sara Pichelli’s art was absolutely top notch, beautiful and up to her great standard. So, at least I got to enjoy the overall look of this book.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Miles Morales stories by Brian Michael Bendis but they’re all better than this one.

Comic Review: Marvel Knights 20th

Published: November 7th, 2018 – January 30th, 2019
Written by: Donny Cates, Tini Howard, Vita Ayala, Matt Rosenberg
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 161 Pages

Review:

When the Marvel Knights line of comics were going strong, I wasn’t paying much attention. I was aware of them but it was the late ’90s and I wasn’t reading comic books as regularly, as I was entering my twenties and didn’t do much other than party hard and sleep little.

I have since gone back and read some of the stories from that alternate Marvel universe and I’ve liked a lot of them. So when I saw that this was coming out to commemorate the 20th anniversary, I had to check it out. Plus, one of the writers is Donny Cates, whose recent work I’ve loved and it heavily features Daredevil.

The premise was kind of cool and I did enjoy this overall. Although, it was problematic in regards to its pacing. This is due to there being too many writers chiming in over the six issues. Cates looked to be credited as the top writer for each chapter but he had different collaborators with each new installment of this miniseries.

The narrative flow was a bit off, as it took too long to get the action going. Once we get to where this needed to wrap up, it felt rushed and the twist finale seemed strange, out of place and too convenient.

There’s a MacGuffin device and all they have to do in the end is hit a button and fix everything. I love Cates but that’s just lazy, outdated 1960s comic book writing. It’s like a random wizard showing up at the end and casting a “fix it” spell, making everything that happened pretty pointless.

I was still glad that I read through this miniseries, as it featured a lot of characters I love. I can’t call it underwhelming but I did have expectations that I don’t feel were met.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: old school Marvel Knights stuff and other recent works by Donny Cates.