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.

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: X-Men: Phoenix In Darkness

Published: 2004-2005
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Phil Jiminez, Marc Silvestri

Marvel Comics, 234 Pages

Review:

Well, this started out fairly interesting and strong but then it tried to go out with an explosion but instead, came out like a bathtub fart.

Written by Grant Morrison, a legend, with some of the art done by Marc Silvestri, another legend, this was pretty underwhelming and far from the best work that either man can do.

The story taps into the Phoenix Force, a plot device that was already done to death before this came out, and it doesn’t really offer up anything all that worthwhile to try and justify bringing it back into an X-Men story.

In fact, I actually enjoy Phoenix tales when done well but just like it’s been overused in movies now, it’s been overused in comics for a lot longer.

This story was a disjointed mess and in fact, it’s basically two different arcs collected into one book like it’s one plot. The first half was good and intriguing, the second half which shows a potential future for the X-Men was shit. And just like Phoenix-centric stories, potential X-Men futures have also been overused. In fact, it’s been overused and completely bastardized more than Phoenix plots.

Overall, this felt like a complete waste of time and the only real thing memorable to come out of it is that this appeared to be the start of the Cyclops and Emma Frost relationship.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other story arcs about Jean Grey as Phoenix.

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: X-Men: The Return of Magik – One-Shot

Published: September 3rd, 2008
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 44 Pages

Review:

I’ve seen this comic floating around for years in back issue bins, so I figured I’d get a copy and read it, as Magik is my favorite Marvel hero.

Sadly, this one-shot is pretty disappointing. This is just comprised of reprints of short stories featuring Magik from her era in New X-Men, a series I’ve never been too keen on.

Also, all of the stuff here is collected into a trade paperback that I already reviewed: New X-Men: The Quest for Magik (see here). You might as well just read that, as it features all of this, as well as a bigger story and more context.

I’m not sure why Marvel reprinted these in this format but whatever, I guess it just gets me one step closer to completing my collection of all Magik’s appearances.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: old school New Mutants stuff, as well as the Magik miniseries from the early ’80s and any other Magik-centric story arc.