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: The New Mutants – Classics, Vol. 5

Published: September 8th, 2016
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: Arthur Adams, Jackson Guice, Rick Leonardi, Keith Pollard, Mary Wilshire

Marvel Comics, 269 Pages

Review:

This follows the Demon Bear Saga, the first Legion story and the short arc just after that.

This volume in The New Mutants starts with a two-part annual issues crossover with The Uncanny X-Men. The story sees the two mutant teams swept away to Asgard for some trickery and shenanigans involving Loki, the Enchantress and Hela. Frog-Thor, the Warriors Three and Surtur also make appearances.

I really dug the Asgard story, though, and I finally know how Dani Moonstar became a Valkyrie because it was always a bit of a mystery to me, as one day she wasn’t and then one day she was. I had never read these annuals, so I wasn’t sure how it all went down and why.

After that, we get a story that involves The Beyonder, as well as one that sees Magneto take over the team in place of Professor X. That is the more interesting plot thread, as it sees Emma Frost with help from one of her Hellions, convince Magneto to let her take over the New Mutants training, essentially merging them with the Hellions.

While with the Hellions, the New Mutants form some bonds with the teens they’re used to fighting. For those who have read X-Force, it’s pretty apparent which Hellions member will eventually align with the New Mutants once Cable comes in to lead them into adulthood.

Overall, this is a damn good collection and the Asgard and Hellion stories are two of the best arcs I’ve read thus far in the series.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other New Mutants comics, as well as the other X-Men related titles from the ’80s.

Video Game Review: Captain America and The Avengers (Arcade)

If you were a kid or a teen in the early ’90s, chances are that you’ve played this game either in the arcade or on the Sega Genesis, where it was ported and ported rather well.

If you haven’t played this but played the early ’90s X-Men arcade game, this is incredibly similar.

In fact, the graphics are really close, as is the game play, controls and general aesthetic.

This is a side scrolling, beat’em up game where you get to choose between four Avengers characters: Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye and The Vision. You also get some assistance from other Avengers throughout the game. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled with the lineup and thought this could’ve used more playable characters but it’s still fun, regardless.

The game is also littered with a ton of villains, some minor and some major. The big bad of the game is Red Skull but he definitely forged a solid alliance with some of the Avengers greatest foes and a giant Sentinel robot.

The gameplay is straightforward but there are some different modes. Some level let you fly a vehicle or just fly around as Iron Man or Vision as you battle aircraft and flying robots.

Most of the game still relies on the standard beat’em style, which was super popular at the time.

All in all, this isn’t a bad game; it’s actually pretty cool. My only real complaint is that I wish it was a bit longer and that you had more characters to use.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the X-Men arcade game, Spider-Man for Sega Genesis and Maximum Carnage.

Comic Review: The Amazing Spider-Man – Epic Collection: Ghosts of the Past

Published: July 4th, 2019
Written by: Craig Anderson, Peter David, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Bob Layton, Stan Lee, Louise Simonson
Art by: Sal Buscema, Paty Cockrum, Ron Frenz, Mike Harris, Greg Larocque, Bob Layton, Bob McLeod, Mary Wilshire

Marvel Comics, 473 Pages

Review:

Being that this beefy volume was an Epic Collection, it was chock full of several story arcs. Luckily for me, most of them were really good. But then this also came out in a great era for The Amazing Spider-Man comic series.

The first big arc features Hobgoblin and it is a follow-up to Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin, which I recently reviewed and f’n loved. In fact, I think it’s the first Hobgoblin story after the arcs that were featured in that superb collection.

Beyond the Hobgoblin story, we get about a half dozen short arcs featuring a myriad of villains and other heroes. This also includes the first appearance of Silver Sable, which was a pretty neat story.

After the Hobgoblin stuff, the two that really stick out are the one where Frog-Man and Toad team-up and the Firelord story that brought in the Avengers.

The Frog-Man and Toad tale was goofy and just filler but it was also fun and engaging. However, I’ve also always liked Frog-Man, despite his ineffectiveness as a real threat to anything.

The Firelord story was cool as hell, as Spider-Man was truly tested, as the villain is a cosmic powered being and damn near invincible when facing off against a sole Earth hero. The Avengers had to get involved and it also showed Spider-Man coming pretty close to going over the edge. Knowing what I know now, it was probably due to the effects of him recently wearing the Venom suit.

In the end, this was a cool run of issues. It takes place between Spidey getting the Venom suit and his first encounter with Venom. He switches between the classic red-and-blue suit and the safe black suit throughout this. I always found that confusing when I was a kid, as I wish he just would’ve worn the black outfit for that stretch.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Spider-Man stories of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: Justice Is Served

Published: April 5th, 2017
Written by: John Byrne, J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Gruenwald
Art by: Mike Zeck, various

Marvel Comics, 511 Pages

Review:

I wanted to read this beefy Epic Collection of Captain America stories, as it sets up the era where Steve Rogers quit being Cap and the role was then given to the man who would later become US Agent. With that, Rogers picks up the Nomad persona and travels the country, fighting villainy.

Those events don’t happen until the collection of issues after this one but this lays all the groundwork, introduces us to the future US Agent and gives us a solid Cap and original Nomad team-up. There are also stories featuring Scourge, Wolverine, Yellow Claw, Flag-Smasher and a great story where Cap is trapped in Red Skull’s “haunted house”. We also get the debut of D-Man and some cool Frog-Man stuff.

I loved a lot of these stories when I was a kid and it was cool reading them now, as it’s been so long since I’ve read Captain America from this era. While they’re not as great as my memory made them out to be, most of the stories here were enjoyable.

I actually forgot that Cap was already sort of a nomad before becoming Nomad. I also forgot that he had a side hustle as a comic book artist, which comes off as really odd, now that I’m reminded of that as an adult. But it does add some interesting complexity to the character and kind of shows you that there’s a certain sensitivity behind his top iconic layer.

This is really good and it’s prepped me for the US Agent stint as Cap, which I also wanted to reread, as the character is finally debuting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a part of the Falcon and Winter Soldier television series.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s Captain America comics, especially those involving US Agent.

Comic Review: Eternals by Neil Gaiman

Published: June 18th, 2008
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Art by: John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics, 231 Pages

Review:

The thought of reading an Eternals comic written by Neil Gaiman was an exciting one. I loved the original Jack Kirby series, as well as the second big Eternals story that saw them appear in the pages of The Mighty Thor for over a year.

Sadly, this was an underwhelming disappointment.

What sucks even more about this is that the art was done by John Romita Jr., one of my favorite artists, whose work I fell in love with when I discovered him during Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil run.

The big problem with this story is that it’s just really boring. It features many of the core Eternals characters, brings in the Celestials and the Deviants, while also featuring Iron Man, Yellowjacket and Wasp. Still, it’s drab and reading this was a slog.

I really wanted to like it. It seemed like a potential perfect storm of awesomeness. It just left me feeling bored and empty.

It’s hard to peg why this didn’t work but maybe Gaiman was resting on his laurels. While I mostly liked the Romita art, it also felt like it was unfinished. Maybe the coloring was the issue but for whatever reason, nothing truly popped off of the page.

Frankly, this was a weak effort and a really forgettable comic regardless of the names attached to it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other earlier Eternals stories, primarily those by Jack Kirby and their early crossover with Thor.

Comic Review: Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle

Published: March 3rd, 2010
Written by: Bob Layton, David Michelinie
Art by: Carmine Infantino, Bob Layton, John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics, 167 Pages

Review:

This collection of Demon In A Bottle was a pretty cool read. However, people have referenced the story for years and truthfully, it’s not a big arc like many insinuate or imagine. In fact, this covers multiple arcs but each has a common thread and that’s Tony Stark’s fall into alcoholism.

Ultimately, this ends with him overcoming his demons and trying to fix the damage he’s caused, rebuilding himself into who Iron Man needs to be.

It’s also important to mention that this debuted the long-time Iron Man villain, Justin Hammer. Hammer was created as a character similar to Tony Stark but one who stayed on a dark path. He was also deliberately made to look like Peter Cushing and in this story, John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton did a stellar job of conveying that.

The story also features the Avengers, Namor and a slew of C-list villains that Hammer employs in an effort to overwhelm Iron Man. Overall, this is just as action-packed and exciting as it is dramatic and full of real human trauma and emotion.

While it’s not my favorite classic Iron Man story (or stories), it is a very important piece of the character’s history and served to build up his character in a pretty dynamic way. It does what most modern mainstream comics don’t do and that’s showing weakness in a hero.

In fact, this is about a hero’s journey and personal evolution, which is something that was lost in the storytelling art of superhero comics. Hell, it’s been lost in most mainstream media, as we constantly get characters that are made to be perfect and “special” without faults or real struggle.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Iron Man stories of the ’80s, most notably the Armor Wars saga.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 4

Published: June 5th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 272 Pages

Review:

I’ve been blowing through these Fantastic Four – Masterworks collections pretty fast. But these represent the collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at its best while also showcasing the earliest stages of the Marvel universe, as it was still developing, taking shape and hitting its stride.

This one kicks off with the second Fantastic Four annual and then collects issues 31 through 40.

I’ve always wanted to read the second annual and man, it did not disappoint. It actually tells the origin of Doctor Doom, as well as showing him meet Rama-Tut a.k.a. Kang the Conqueror for the first time. I knew enough of what was in this massive 72-page issue but I never got to read it until now.

Beyond that, this gives us more Namor, the return of the Mole Man, as well as a great Skrull story. Probably my two favorite things come in the second half though, which sees the debut of the villainous Frightful Four, as well as the first time that the Fantastic Four meet Daredevil, which is a great story on its own.

This was a real high point for me in the overall grander Fantastic Four mythos. A lot of cool stuff happens and this just keeps building up the Marvel universe in a great way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 3

Published: March 6th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 247 Pages

Review:

Man, I’m really glad that I started reading Fantastic Four from the beginning. There’s just something unique and truly special about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creations and collaborations. And while these stories are hokey and not as refined as they would become, it’s really cool seeing the earliest version of the Marvel universe take shape.

Each volume in the Masterworks releases really builds off of the previous ones and expands the larger universe more and more.

Here, we get to see stories with the Avengers, as well as the X-Men, bringing several core Marvel characters together in their earliest days. I also liked that the Hulk came back for a multi-part story arc. Although, this one was lacking in Spider-Man magic. But I also just love old school Spidey and FF stories.

This brings back most of the main villains from previous issues and even introduces some new ones like The Hate-Monger. I actually own that comic in its original floppy form, so reading it here means that I don’t have to physically touch my already weathered copy.

Stan Lee really seems to be hitting his stride with these characters and these stories while Jack Kirby’s art seems a bit more fine tuned and dynamic. Granted, Kirby was one of the most dynamic comic book artists in history but his work in this collection really shows how much he’s enjoying drawing these characters. It just has this little extra flair that’s hard to describe. I guess it’s like eating a meal made with love, as opposed to eating a meal that was just made out of necessity.

Overall, this was thoroughly enjoyable and it kept moving the story forward while constructing a very young universe that would grow into something massive.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 2

Published: June 24th, 2009
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers

Marvel Comics, 298 Pages

Review:

While this isn’t the peak of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby 100-issue run on the Fantastic Four, they really start to slide into their grove here, as the larger Marvel universe has expanded and this is the first collection that sees the Fantastic Four meet other heroes.

In this volume, we get to see them meet the Hulk, Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Wasp for the first time in Fantastic Four titles. The Hulk issue is particularly important, as it is the first time that Stan Lee created heroes crossed over in Marvel continuity.

In addition to that, we get more stories featuring Namor, Doctor Doom, the Puppet Master, as well as new villains like the Super Skrull, the Impossible Man, Molecule Man, the Mad Thinker and Rama-Tut, who would later become Kang the Conqueror, one of Marvel’s greatest and most powerful baddies.

This is simply a fun and entertaining read. As hokey as the earliest Stan Lee era stuff can be, it’s just enjoyable as hell and pretty endearing. He was one of the greatest creatives in the comic book medium and it’s really apparent here, as he travels in a lot of different directions, from issue-to-issue and covers a lot of ground, laying the foundation for the Marvel comic book universe, as a whole.

Incorporating the heroes of other titles into this, really sets the stage for the broader continuity. We also get to see a Watcher for the first time, which kind of propels things forward in the cosmic realm for future Marvel stories.

Where the first ten issues felt kind of random and like they were trying to find their way, these ten issues (plus an annual) seem to be building towards something. While I’m not sure if Stan Lee already had Galactus in mind, the man has definitely cleared the path for that massive introduction, which wouldn’t happen for another two years.

I also have to give props to Jack Kirby, who had an incredibly consistent art style his entire career but definitely looks as if he found his grove with these characters and their world. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.