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.

Film Review: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Also known as: X-Men 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand (working titles), X3, X III: The Last Stand (alternative titles)
Release Date: May 22nd, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Powell
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Dania Ramirez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Bill Duke, Daniel Cudmore, Eric Dane, R. Lee Ermey

The Donners’ Company, Marvel Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you will ever know. My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.” – Magneto

From memory, this was the worst X-Men film of the lot. Well, after about a dozen movies with spinoffs and whatnot, this one still takes the cake in that regard.

This really killed the film franchise, at least for its time. It wouldn’t bounce back until First Class rolled around and gave the series a bit of a soft reboot.

Here, we see the original trilogy of films come to an end and unfortunately, that end is a very unsatisfactory one. Granted, none of these films have aged particularly well and they actually feel quite dated now.

That’s not to say that some of the performances aren’t great or iconic, a few of them are. Specifically, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. This is probably also why they tried to find ways to include these guys in the X-Men films that followed during the reboot era.

The plot for this is pretty fucking atrocious and the film spends more time killing off beloved characters than trying to tell a good story. It’s like it went for shock and cheap emotional grabs but it failed in generating any real emotion because it all felt soulless and cheap.

I think the biggest issue with the film was that Bryan Singer left to make that big bust, Superman Returns. While Brett Ratner probably wasn’t a bad choice, the final product makes me feel like he was sort of just inserted into a movie that was already well into production and found himself in over his head.

The film is also pretty short when compared to the two chapter before it. It makes me wonder if a lot was left out of the final movie. It certainly feels like it’s lacking story, context and depth.

In the end, this is okay if you want to spend a little more time with these characters and if you turn your brain off, it has some neat moments, but overall, it’s a sloppy misfire.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: X2: X-Men United (2003)

Also known as: X2 (original title), X-Men II (working title), X² (alternative spelling)
Release Date: April 24th, 2003 (UK premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter, Zak Penn, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu, Daniel Cudmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 134 Minutes

Review:

“You know, outside the circus, most people were afraid of me. But I didn’t hate them. I pitied them. Do you know why? Because most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.” – Nightcrawler

When this came out, I was pretty much blown away by it. Seeing it seventeen years later, not so much.

X2 is a film riddled with problems but it’s still good for what it is and for its era. It’s slightly better than its predecessor but after having just watched the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, it pales in comparison to the first two films in that series. In fact, I like the wonky Spider-Man 3 a hair bit more than this.

That being said, this does still have one of the greatest sequences in comic book movie history and that’s the part where the military squad attacks the X-Mansion, abducting the children and sending Wolverine and a few of the younger mutants fleeing into the night. I especially liked the inclusion of Colossus in this scene but that also made me wonder why he didn’t come back into the picture because he would’ve been helpful during the final battle. But I guess someone’s got to protect the kids hiding out who knows where.

Anyway, this is a film that is too driven by plot convenience and poor execution of those conveniences.

For instance, Storm can unleash dozens of tornadoes on military fighter jets but no one is worried about the innocent people living on the ground? And she does this while flying a high tech jet. Where was this immense wind power when the jet was going to be hit by raging water?

Which brings me to another poor plot convenience moment that saw Jean Grey have to push back a raging river while trying to lift the parked jet in an effort to save her friends. She’s powerful as fuck, why couldn’t she have just lifted the jet? An hour earlier, she stopped a missile with her mind. And getting back to Storm, where’s that wind power in this scene? Did you not pick up your power-ups in the final level?

I know I’m being pretty nitpicky here but these moments could’ve been shot better, explained better and just not been as stupid and devoid of logic. It seems like really lazy writing and if you needed to kill off Jean for the story, there are better ways to do it and they still could’ve had her sacrifice herself for those she loves. It just felt cheap and baffling.

This also must’ve been made in the era where they didn’t sign actors to multi-film deals because they spent so much time developing Nightcrawler but then he’s nowhere to be seen in the third film. His arc from the original X-Men trilogy is left incomplete. That just adds to the overall sloppiness of this film franchise. And it sucks because Alan Cumming was great as Nightcrawler and he was one of the high points in this trilogy.

The overall story in the film is pretty good though. I thought that the big finale was too long and could’ve been whittled down somewhat but it moves at a good, brisk pace.

Also, the set design, cinematography and overall look of the picture was a big step up from the previous one.

Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman kill it in just about every scene but Jackman really is the scene stealer, which is impressive when you think about where he was at in his film career in 2003 versus Stewart and McKellan.

In the end, this is still a decent way to waste a few hours but it’s not the great, epic film I saw it as when I was young and didn’t have such refined taste. Also, its since been overshadowed by the Raimi Spider-Man pictures, Nolan’s Batman movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: X-Men (2000)

Also known as: X-Men: The Movie (working title), X-Men 1.5 (longer cut)
Release Date: July 12th, 2000 (Ellis Island premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: David Hayter, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park, Tyler Mane, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[to Senator Kelly] You know, people like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child.” – Mystique

This was the movie that really got modern superhero films off the ground. It became the launching pad for several sequels, spin offs and what eventually became the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve sat down and watched this one though. Compared to what is the norm today, twenty years later, this one feels really small and you can immediately tell that it had a smaller budget than what similar films today have.

That’s because this movie was a big risk in 1999 when it was filmed. Comic book movies other than the two Tim Burton Batman films and the first two Christopher Reeve starring Superman pictures just didn’t have a great track record and most of them were made deliberately cheesy and campy. The sequels to the films I just mentioned also fell victim to this creative misstep.

X-Men, however, took itself seriously and it succeeded because of that.

Granted, it’s a pretty flawed film with a lot of creative choices I wasn’t a fan of. These choices would actually go on to hinder the rest of the X-Men movies that Fox made but I think it was probably hard to see anything beyond just this movie when it was being made.

The acting is pretty solid for the most part but the heavy lifting in this chapter is primarily done by Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Anna Paquin. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t bad dialogue and bad acting, there is, but the high points greatly outshine the low ones.

Still, this is a weak adaptation. It chose a strange mix of characters to start with and by choosing these characters, the series sort of fucked itself going forward. It also altered the origins of most of the characters pretty drastically and it set some things in stone that would later lead to the film series’ continuity getting really screwed up. Some of these problems became even more clear after revisiting this.

The general plot is also wonky and weird and I’m not a big fan of it. The whole MacGuffin machine that Magneto wants to use to turn people into mutants was goofy as hell and it sabotaged the initial realism that this picture seemed to have. Well, it was as realistic as a film about superhero mutants could be before we got a hokey old timey comic book superweapon introduced.

From memory, but I’ll find out in a week or so, the sequel was much better. It delved deeper into the lore and tried to get past some of the missteps here.

In the end, this isn’t bad, by any means, it just isn’t as great as I felt that it was in 2000. Sure, it has issues but it also opened the floodgates for the superhero genre to enter the cinematic medium in a more serious way.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Video Game Review: Wolverine (NES)

I never played this game when it was released, as it came out after I moved on to 16-bit consoles. But it plays a lot like the NES Spider-Man game.

It’s a simple, side-scrolling platformer full of action and some of Marvel Comics’ most iconic X-Men related characters.

The game is fairly weak though, due to only having a handful of rather short levels. Additionally, the levels are pretty basic and not well designed.

Wolverine could’ve been better with more complex design and not just longer levels but more levels.

Also, you only get to fight two iconic villains. In this game you face Magneto and then the final boss, Sabretooth. Honestly, that feels like it’s backwards, regardless of Sabretooth being Wolverine’s biggest rival. Magneto is a much stronger threat with a real trump card when it comes to dealing with Wolverine and that’s his magnetic powers versus Wolverine’s metal skeleton.

Anyway, this was still enjoyable enough not to hate. I’d call it basic bitch shit and uninspiring but for a game based on a licensed property, it’s still better than most and infinitely better than the NES X-Men game that came out a few years earlier.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling comic book games of the 8-bit era.

Comic Review: Giant-Size X-Men, Issue #1

Published: 1975
Written by: Linda Fite
Art by: Werner Roth, Gil Kane (cover)

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

This is where the X-Men team that I grew up with came to be. Yet, I had never read this until now, despite being a massive X-Men fan once I embraced them in the late ’80s.

Now this came out more than three years before I was born and I felt like I knew the story well enough but actually reading it was a worthwhile experience, as the story had a bit more character development than I could’ve anticipated. Especially in regards to Wolverine, Sunfire and Storm. It also allowed me to get more familiar with Warpath’s older brother, Thunderbird, whose superhero career was very short-lived.

This story also involves the island of Krakoa, which is a major aspect of the current X-Men related comics.

All in all, this was solid. I felt like the team was thrown together rather abruptly and it was a dangerous mission without them really training for it but it worked out and we got to see this new crew gel in spite of them all being pretty selfish and petty in the beginning.

What’s really great about this, is that it tells a beefy, deep story with just 37 pages. It really shows the difference in pacing in the comic book medium from the time when this was made up to the ’90s (or so) when comic stories felt like they flew by too quickly.

Additionally, the character designs and the art in this were superb.

I didn’t anticipate this being great, I always just thought of it as a a simple introduction. And while it’s not great, it is still better than I thought it’d be and it just made me appreciate this era of Marvel even more.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s X-Men comics.

Comic Review: Wolverine – Epic Collection: Madripoor Nights

Published: December 10th, 2014
Written by: Chris Claremont, Peter David
Art by: John Buscema, Gene Colan

Marvel Comics, 495 Pages

Review:

As big of a Wolverine fan as I am, I have never read his earliest solo stories that revolved around his time in Madripoor when he was going by the name of “Patch”. I knew enough about this era but nothing is ever as good as reading it for yourself.

I read this on Comixology after buying it pretty cheap during a Wolverine sale. Normally, it’s like $30 but I know I got it for less than $10 and it was well worth that price tag.

This is a beefy collection that covers the first 16 issues of his solo comic, as well as the story that came out just before it and another comic that takes place within the same time frame. It makes for one nice long epic of Logan’s life in Madripoor. I’m not sure if he sticks around there after this collection and for how long but this really gives you the important stuff from that era.

I also knew that Jessica Drew a.k.a. Spider-Woman was around for some of this but I didn’t realize that she wasn’t Spider-Woman here and that she was pretty much just herself, as a ninja badass. I also didn’t realize that she was actually a big part of the Wolverine Madripoor stuff.

We also get a cool plot that teams Wolverine up with the Gray Hulk a.k.a. Mr. Joe Fix-It for the first time. It’s a pretty cool tale and it also fits well within the larger tapestry that sees Logan trying to fight the criminal underworld in this fictitious Asian island nation.

Almost everything here is written by the great Chris Claremont, who probably knows Wolverine the best. Some of this is also written by Peter David but he’s a legend too and he knows how to write a story with great energy.

Ultimately, this wasn’t close to being my favorite Wolverine story, and it may actually be a bit underwhelming because of that, but it is still damn entertaining and really reflects a truly unique time in the character’s mythos.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Wolverine solo stories from the late ’80s into the early ’90s.

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.

Film Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Release Date: May 25th, 2011 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Plat, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ironside, Ray Wise, James Remar, Hugh Jackman (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Ingenious Film Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.” – Professor Charles Xavier

While I haven’t seen this picture since it was in the theater, it left a great impression on me and gave me hope for the future of the X-Men franchise in film. Granted, we’d get two pretty good movies and two mostly poopy ones, but the weak whimpering farts of the second half of the prequel series of films didn’t take away my satisfaction with this one and its followup, Days of Future Past.

It was nice to revisit this, all these years later, as it holds up fairly well, even if I’m not as optimistic about the franchise now.

To start, this was much better than the last of the first run of films, X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie left such a bad taste in my mouth that anything better would have made me happy. Luckily, this was a lot better but I think that my original impression was a bit over-inflated due to the precedent set before it.

That’s not to say that this isn’t solid, it is. This is, in fact, a damn good superhero film and one of the best in the schizophrenic X-Men series.

What really sets this one on a pedestal is that the story was pretty good and the acting, at least from the core actors, was convincing and impressive. I didn’t know much about Michael Fassbender, before this, and I wasn’t yet sold on James McAvoy, but this picture cemented both men as two of my favorites over the last decade.

On the flip side of that, you also had some really weak performances from January Jones, who felt out of place and awkward, as well as the younger actors in the cast. A few of them would become better actors over time but they all mostly felt green, here.

I did like the inclusion of Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in this, as well as character actors Michael Ironside, James Remar and Ray Wise. While the character actors had small roles, they added an extra level of legitimacy and coolness to the picture.

I loved that this took place in the ’60s, tied to the Cuban Missile Crisis and also went back into Nazi Germany to establish the relationship between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. The general look and aesthetic of the film were really good and it actually fits with the previous X-Men films, despite those being set over thirty years later. One thing Fox did well, while they managed the X-Men movie franchise, was that they kept everything sort of visually consistent.

My only real gripe about the film is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the actual “first class” of students, which this film is named after. They all felt generic and disposable, cast to play archetypes and nothing more. Sure, some of them are major comic book characters but they didn’t feel that way in this movie.

Overall, this was a good, fresh, soft reboot of the series. It eventually ties to the older films and the series becomes an even bigger continuity clusterfuck but at least this generation of the franchise started out on the right foot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox X-Men films.

Comic Review: X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong

Published: December 14th, 2005
Written by: Greg Pak
Art by: Greg Land

Marvel Comics, 123 Pages

Review:

After reading the Grant Morrison Dark Phoenix story, I didn’t have much hope for this one, which follows it pretty closely. However, this was a big step up and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Phoenix Force comes back to Earth in an effort to rejoin Jean Grey but it discovers that Jean is dead. So it reanimates her corpse and poses as her, making for some painful moments with Wolverine and Cyclops. But this is also where Emma Frost has to step up and become a real leader on the X-Men team, after she had spent years as one of their greatest villains.

The thing that I loved most about this is that the stakes were real and you got a sense of the immensity of the terrible situation the heroes were in. However, the story stayed fairly small and close knit to a small group of X-Men members, as opposed to trying to make this a mega event that pulled in every character from the Marvel universe.

Greg Pak did a superb job in writing this and I’d say it’s my favorite story of his that I’ve read after the masterpiece that was Planet Hulk.

While Greg Land is a somewhat controversial artist that’s been accused of tracing photos, which there is actually a lot of evidence to back that up, I still really liked his art here and it felt top notch. I’m not as “offended” as some within the comic industry and its fans have been about the possibility of the man not being a “legit” artist. That’s because the finished product is still spectacular and he truly understands how to stage and set a scene, whether it’s slice of life moments or action. For more on Land, Comic Tropes did a good video on the guy here.

Overall, this was a really good, refreshing read that took the messy Phoenix story that preceded it and sort of fixed it. This was a satisfying conclusion to the string of Phoenix sagas that led up to this. Granted, it wasn’t the last Phoenix tale but this still brought things to a gratifying close for a short time, anyway.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other story arcs about Jean Grey as Phoenix.