Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Age of Ultron #10AI Review

(w) Mark Waid
(a) Andre Araujo

Age of Ultron #10AI is less about being an epilogue to Age of Ultron as it is about being a requiem of Hank Pym's life. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it just feels out of place as a bookend of a series about time travel, warlord robots, and the breaking of the multiverse. Yes, the documented time is technically after all of that happens, thus it sits at the end, but nothing about this issue screams cohesive. Not even Mark Waid's stellar writing can make it feel right.

Now, Waid's writing is spot-on here. I've nothing to complain about on that front. If this was a one-shot called Pym or even Avengers A.I. #0.1, I'd be satisfied, but none of what happens fits into the themes of Age of Ultron. Brian Michael Bendis' opus to the dangers of time travel was about taking responsibility for damaging the fabric of space and time and, eventually, suffering the consequences. Age of Ultron #10AI is about Hank Pym freeing himself from responsibility to do whatever he wanted, which led to Ultron in the first place. In many ways, this issue feels regressive, like Pym didn't learn anything from this horrific event.

I want to stress that Waid writes a good issue here, it's just the context in which Marvel decided it should go just doesn't make sense. Most of the Avengers have seen an alternate timeline or two, including Hank Pym who has always been at the forefront of science. Why now, after all these years, are the visions of a destitute future haunting him? The easy answer is that the "Age of Ultron" was his fault. But the better answer is that there isn't a sensible answer because it's not logical. (Again) Pym is man of science who understands the nature of the multiverse and that, in the end, he prevented the nightmares of Ultron from ever actualizing in the first place. Certainly a man dedicated to science could understand and reconcile the non-happening of something bad?

Apparently not.

Mark Waid's look into Hank Pym's history is intriguing and gives a lot of context for the character's decisions and actions over the years. Pym feels like a more fleshed out hero now, and that's always a good thing. If Marvel had published this in a better fashion, it would have been a home run. As a final send-off for Age of Ultron, if feels cheap and overbearing, preachy and depressing. In the end, it's worth reading for Waid's writing alone.

GRADE
7/10

Spotlight: Batman/Superman #1

(w) Greg Pak
(a) Jae Lee and Ben Oliver


** SPOILERS ABOUND! **


Batman/Superman #1 is already being touted as the best #1 since the initial 'New 52' relaunch in September 2011. I'm inclined to agree. You'd be hard pressed to find another debut issue in the lineup that has as much grace, style, and readability as Batman/Superman #1. The creative pairing of Greg Pak and Jae Lee is an instant success and is simply stunning to behold. What really makes this issue shine, though, is how new it actually feels. Batman/Superman has been marketed as a series chronicling the early days of both the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel, and this initial arc is about the duo's first meeting.

The whole "first meeting" thing has been done on a number of occasions, in various mediums, but there's one major element that connects all these depictions: how each character feels about the other. Batman always just considered Superman an overly optimistic boy scout-type who had the luxury of trusting people because he was a demigod, while Superman saw Batman as a depressed loner who relied too heavily on fear and anger to drive his mission. Pak's Batman/Superman #1 basically throws out the old handbook and gives these two major players an entirely new relationship.

But a lot is different in the 'New 52', which means Batman and Superman's relationship must be based on something different. In the old universe, both men knew of the other prior to meeting, which gave them to chance to develop preconceived notions about one another. Batman/Superman #1 begins in a time when Clark was still sporting the tee shirt and jeans costume, and Batman was still an urban myth. The term 'superhero' hasn't been coined yet because it's not a reality yet. This is the world where Batman and Superman meet for the first time; not with a population that knows and accepts what superheroes are and mean.

Both men, interestingly enough, become defensive in the face of the unknown. 

For Batman, Superman represents the culmination of what he cannot learn: superhuman abilities. There is no tactical compensation for super speed and a punch that can crush a semi truck, only quick thinking and dumb luck. Bruce immediately assumes the worst and defends himself against an alien he's sure is intent on destroying him. Batman's response wonderfully conveys the type of paranoia and over-analysis he's known for, but it also reminds us how foreign and frightening a seemingly invulnerable man must seem to a mortal man.

Superman, on the other hand, becomes aggressive when he misinterprets Batman as a criminal attempting to murder a child. He's "fought bullies, mobsters, and neo-Nazis", but Batman is the first real monster, "a murderer dressed up as a bat." Clark's ability to sense heart rates distinguishes Batman's as the most calm, the most collected, the most like a murderer when everyone else is scared out of their minds. The nature of Superman's abilities and his relative inexperience at this stage in his career both lend to his snap judgement about Batman's intentions.

Jae Lee's artwork really seals the deal. Few artists can truly depict emotion through body language, yet Lee makes it look easy. The way Batman's body crunches in when Superman slaps him away, Clark's stance as he incinerates a TV set falling directly above him, the way the children in the opening scene interact -- all of these ar examples of how Lee's amazing art lends to the storytelling.

Batman/Superman #1 is a triumph. This is the right book at the right time with the right creative team. Though Ben Oliver hands the artwork for the last seven pages, Lee's influence on the tone throughout is evident. Greg Pak has such a handle on both characters, their inspirations, their passions, their fears, and their impulses as young men. This is the series that I didn't even know I wanted, and now I would write a strongly worded letter to DC if they said I couldn't have it anymore.

GRADE
10/10

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Week in Revue (June 26 - July 2, 2013)

------- Spotlight
Batman/Superman #1
(w) Greg Pak
(a) Jae Lee

------- DC Reviews
The Flash #21
(w) Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
(a) Francis Manapul

Justice League #21 
(w) Geoff Johns
(a) Gary Frank
CHECK OUT THIS REVIEW ON DC COMICS NEWS!

Justice League of America #21
(w) Geoff Johns
(a) David Finch
CHECK OUT THIS REVIEW ON DC COMICS NEWS!

------- Marvel Reviews
Age of Ultron #10A.I.
(w) Mark Waid
(a) Andre Araujo

X-Men #2
(w) Brian Wood
(a) Olivier Coipel

Young Avengers #6
(w) Kieron Gillen
(a) Kate Brown

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wonder Woman #21 Review

(w) Brian Azzarello
(a) Cliff Chiang


** SPOILERS, BECAUSE WHY NOT? **


I love Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman. I could go on and on about how both men have dedicated themselves to this series and how the artwork -- at this point -- is as much of what makes Wonder Woman as great as the writing, but that would be boring and completely theoretical concerning DC's editorial decisions and the company's value on punctuality over quality of product. So we'll skip that.

This series, overall, has been pushing the boundaries of the idea of divinity in the DC universe, giving the Greek gods a less elegant, more pragmatic look and tone. Even down to the fact that they call themselves by their English names -- War instead of Ares, Hell instead of Hades, etc. Deities are as flawed as mortals (just look at most ancient mythology and religious beliefs), and Wonder Woman is very much the natural evolution of that idea, that gods and goddesses walk amongst humans and manipulate their lives on a very personal level.

Wonder Woman #21 is a transition issue from beginning to end. Azzarello has been creeping up to this moment for months; the epic showdown between Zeus' First Born and Diana's posse. While the fight itself isn't incredibly epic, the repercussions are astounding. The ongoing narrative very much feels like it's reached the end of it's second act. Act I featured Diana facing off against Hell for the fate of Zola's baby. Much like Star Wars: A New Hope, Diana tackles an enemy that seems impossible for a cause that's just and righteous. 

Act II has been about the power struggle on Mount Olympus and the coming of Zeus' First Born child. The Unnamed One is all grown up (well, thousands of years old, actually) and mad as hell that he's been locked in the center of the planet for a few millennia. Much like The Empire Strikes Back, darkness begins to fall over Diana and her allies with the coming of the New God Orion and his decree that a scion of Zeus would destroy the universe. Oh, and Apollo wrestled control of Olympus from Hera and made her mortal in the process. Things are at an all time low for the gang in Wonder Woman

Like I said, Wonder Woman #21 is the final part of Act II; Diana faces off against the Firs Born, Orion shows up to lay the smackdown at Diana's side, and everything changes with the press of a boomtube button. After Orion smuggles Diana, Zola, Hera, and the baby through an interdimensional portal, back to his home of New Genesis, we are left wondering what becomes of the First Born back on Earth. His power is immense, so, to believe that Lennox's sacrifice to close to boom tube meant the First Born's death would be premature. Unless Diana can go back, evil will defeat good and the First Born will take control of Olympus. 

So I find myself wanting Diana to get back to Earth as quickly as possible to handle her brother. But also NEW GODS!!! Azzarello and Chiang are bringing back Jack Kirby's New Gods, which is phenomenal, and also means major changes for how deities are portrayed in the DC universe, and how the different pantheons correlate.

GRADE
9/10

Uncanny Avengers #9 Review

(w) Rick Remender
(a) Daniel Acuna

It's quite obvious to me that Rogue and Scarlet Witch's argument represented the real-life arguments online after the release of Uncanny Avengers #5. In that issue, Remender intended to convey the idea that people shouldn't be judged by their race, gender, sexual orientation, or mutation. This was misinterpreted by many as advocating for assimilation instead of diversity. Remender's meltdown on Twitter was widely circulated, and he apologized shortly after, but Uncanny Avengers #9 is where he really gets to let it all out.


** SPOILERS AHEAD! **


At the beginning of the sequence, I assumed Scarlet Witch's argument defending Havok would come out on top. Fortunately, Remender keeps things balanced and allows Rogue to have her own opinion without it sounding condescending. Both women make valid points about what was said by Alex at the press conference, and neither budges from their point of view. If this sounds familiar, it's because this is how most people are, in general. Debate is all well and good, but not often are individuals swayed from their established notions.

As far as the story itself is concerned, Uncanny Avengers #9 advances the narrative for the Apocalypse Twins by setting in motion their plan to annihilate all human life on the planet and start fresh on a new mutant world. Remender is doing an excellent job weaving is grand narrative about Apocalypse -- which began with Uncanny X-Force -- into the world of the Avengers. Wolverine's hard choices have come back to haunt him and now threaten to divide the team when they need to be united the most. Insecurities bubble up, bitter truths are spoken, and everything the team stands for begins to break down.

Uncanny Avengers #9 is an excellent issue. From a long-form perspective, Remender's casting choices have been truly excellent in bringing diversity and balance to the title's tone. It feels like human-mutant relations in the Marvel universe may never be completely peaceful, and the Avengers Unity Team is beginning to internalize this feeling more and more.

GRADE
8/10

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Green Lantern: New Guardians #21 Review

(w) Justin Jordan
(p) Bradley Walker
(i) Andrew Hennessy

Kyle Rayner is my favorite Green Lantern. Well, he's a White Lantern now. But all the same, Kyle is my absolute favorite ring-slinger around. There are a lot of different reasons, but the one that relates to my feelings about Green Lantern: New Guardians #21 is Kyle's personality. Not since Ron Marz and Judd Winnick has Kyle sounded so much like himself. The former of those writers created Kyle, and the latter carried the character through some of the most difficult situations in his Lantern career. 

Both Marz and Winnick understood just how 'matter of fact' Kyle is, and they conveyed that consistently. Since Geoff Johns took over the GL franchise, Kyle has had a largely reduced role, even in titles like Green Lantern Corps. When the 'New 52' started, GL: New Guardians looked promising, but it soon became evident that it would be just another Lantern book used to bolster the main title.

Justin Jordan proves this will not be the case. He has successfully found Kyle's voice again and it's just so awesome. That's really as eloquently as I can put it because I'm just so thrilled that Kyle is back. It saddens me that Kyle has somewhat given up on having a normal life, but that's what the story demands, and the packing sequence in his apartment is so grounded and personal that it almost makes it worth it.


On the subject of the Templar Guardians, it's quite obvious that these new guys were cut from the same, self-righteous cloth. The difference is that the Templars go about their mission with selflessness while the now-dead old Guardians were swept up in their own arrogance. So it's understandable that Kyle -- along with the rest of the universe, it seems -- is skeptical of the Templars' intentions.

Justin Jordan has an amazing hold on any character he gets his hands on. Just look at The Strange Tale of and The Legend of Luther Strode, as well as his recent work on Superboy, a series he saved from the deep pit of darkness it found itself within. Green Lantern: New Guardians #21 provides an excellent introduction to the Justin Jordan era of the title, and it's going to be epic. Not to mention that the title 'New Guardians' now finally makes sense.

GRADE
9/10

Spotlight: Age of Ultron #10

(w) Brian Michael Bendis
(a) Alex Maleev; Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary; Butch Guice; Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco & Roger Bonet with Tom Palmer; David Marquez, Joe Quesada

This is what disappointment truly feels like.

I defended Age of Ultron in nearly every review I wrote about the series. And while it has indeed been a fun and generally enjoyable ride, Age of Ultron #10 simply fizzles out where it should have been explosive. And one vague, surreal explosion doesn't count after nine issues of build-up.


** SPOILERS AHEAD. THOUGH, YOU PROBABLY READ A LOT OF THIS ONLINE ALREADY. **


Why do I not like Age of Ultron #10? Let me count the ways. One: there are far too many artists on this issue. Two: introducing Angela in the final pages is such an obvious grab for money that I nearly slammed by laptop's screen shut in frustration. Three: this issue is the epitome of anticlimactic.

There are ten different artists credited to Age of Ultron #10 with no guide as to who has drawn what. Sure, I've got some idea based on what I've seen in other books, but overall, it's extremely jarring to see one issue go through so many different styles. Now, Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, and Carlos Pacheco were featured throughout issues one through nine, but that was for a reason. Hitch drew the original timeline, Peterson drew the 'Age of Iron Man' segments, and Carlos Pacheco tackled the sequences set in the past of the Marvel universe. There were three distinct styles for three distinct parts of the story, and generally, it worked well. The only reason that I can imagine Marvel had for employing so many artists was the nature of the story's conclusion. And even if they did -- which is highly unlikely -- the experiment was not worth it because it looks bad.

Angela, Angela, Angela. Everyone is so excited about Angela, and it turns out her presence in the issue amounts to little more than a cameo. Now it makes sense how Bendis was able to "write" a special new part for the character. I phrased it like that not because I believe Bendis can't write, but because it's not a real sequence. Angela's appearance is just her inner monologue with a two-page spread by Joe Quesada as the backdrop. That's not enough. That's just pandering. And I'm sure there are those out there who loved seeing Angela on those final pages. But if you're unfamiliar with the character, this 'epic conclusion' is just confusing.

Which brings us to the fact that Age of Ultron #10 is the most anticlimactic ending to an event Marvel has produced since...well at least before House of M. The biggest revelation we get is that the multiverse is now bleeding into itself, meaning various universes will cross over with relative ease. While this is a big change in status quo, there's only one single splash page that's interesting. The rest is panning images of space and bright lights. It might be menacing and mysterious, yes, but these are the final pages of Age of Ultron

The big battle we get is basically a reprint of Avengers #12.1 from two years ago, and though it ends differently here than it did before, it's just a big letdown. Alright, sure; the Avengers defeated Ultron before he ever started his apocalyptic invasion of Earth. But we knew that was going to happen. What we needed here was something bigger to keep the momentum going now that the event is over. Unfortunately, Marvel thought giving us one glimpse of Galactus and a spread of Angela would do the trick. And even though the crossover nerd in me did summersaults when I saw Miles Morales facing down Galactus 616, it was a fleeting emotion because the only real reason it was included was for that specific reaction, not because it had anything to do with Age of Ultron.

Age of Ultron wasn't a huge failure. Bryan Hitch's artwork for the first five issues was fantastic, Carlos Pacheco's style fit the 1960s sequences perfectly, and the goal of the entire narrative was achieved by the end of Age of Ultron #10. Brian Michael Bendis set out to create an grand story about the dangers of abusing technology we don't understand. Unfortunately, this sentiment becomes hollow when the lesson isn't learned. Wolverine isn't punished for basically unraveling all of time and space, while Hank Pym believes he can correct the errors in Ultron's programming instead of understanding that creating and manipulating consciousness -- biological or artificial -- isn't right. So what was the point? 

Bendis threw the biggest players in the Marvel universe through the ringer for no reason. The characters don't truly grow because they haven't learned from their mistakes, which makes it all the more obvious that the true endgame of Age of Ultron was to allow Marvel to dig into it's plethora of fan-favorite characters with far more ease. This might sound harmless at first, but it means the characters were simply props throughout this event. All the tie-ins, all the deaths; none of it technically matters. And that's a problem. As an event, Age of Ultron was mediocre. As the final issue Age of Ultron #10 was completely lackluster.

GRADE
5/10

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Week in Revue (June 19-25, 2013)

------- Spotlight
Age of Ultron #10 of 10
(w) Brian Michael Bendis
(a) Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, et al.

------- DC Reviews
Green Lantern: New Guardians #21
(w) Justin Jordan
(a) Bradley Walker and Andrew Hennessy

Wonder Woman #21
(w) Brian Azzarello
(a) Cliff Chiang

------- Marvel Reviews
Captain Marvel #13
(w) Kelly Sue DeConnick
(a) Amanda Conner

Uncanny Avengers #9
(w) Rick Remender
(a) Daniel Acuna