Avengers Arena Trade Post: All Three Volumes

avengers arena volume 1 kill or dieAvengers Arena was one of those books that I heard about because it raised the ire of the internet (or at least the part where people who can’t accept that comic characters are pretend) because it killed off some beloved younger characters from the Marvel U. When I saw all three volumes available on the library system, I requested all three and dove right in.

The idea here is that the book, written by Dennis Hopeless and mostly drawn by Kev Walker, revolves around a mysteriously powered-up Arcade brings 16 young heroes to Murder World and tells them they have 30 days before they can leave. At that point, only one can exit, so they should probably kill each other. As it happens, this is something that a great deal of the characters from Avengers Academy, Runaways and other books don’t have a big problem with the idea. Continue reading Avengers Arena Trade Post: All Three Volumes

Marvel Double Feature: Avengers Age Of Ultron & Ant-Man

avengers the age of ultronRight off the bat, I’ll admit that I did not actually watch Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man as a true double feature. We probably watched the latter a month ago and just peeped the former yesterday. But, since I didn’t write about the Avengers sequel, it seemed liked a proper time.

I went into Joss Whedon’s Ultron with fairly low expectations. It seemed like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter and actually communicate with weren’t super into it. The general feeling I was picking up on seemed to be that, while it’s got all kinds of spectacle, it didn’t live up to the original.

And that was my experience as well, but then again, this is a different kind of blockbuster super hero movie. The original — which I love — seemed custom built to show that all of these series-leading, mega stars could come together, fight the bad guys and look good doing it. Meanwhile, this film seemed built with a different goal in mind: showing how said group (plus new members) can work together even when times are tough.

It’s also clearly a bigger piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle leading up to Captain America: Civil War and the Infinity War movies. To me as a viewer, the first felt like it was worked into the bigger tale while this one was more obviously built to lead to something else. This is something I’m not usually a fan of in comics and even less so in comic films and it all just boils down to a feeling I get while watching.

And yet, I still found myself enjoying this darker take on team superheroics. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision all make interesting additions to not just the team, but the universe at large. Plus, it’s not all dark. I could watch an entire TV series about the Avengers hanging out like they did at that party. I also just adore James Spader (as I mentioned here) so watching and listening to his take on the killer robot Ultron was a treat as he’s basically Blacklist‘s Raymond Reddington but crazy and a robot.

I think that the problem with this movie as related to the first one comes down to this fact: I don’t want to rewatch it a bunch. I probably could have sat through another showing of Whedon’s first Avengers film right after the first one and even stop flipping or pop in for a few minutes every time I see it on TV. I don’t see that happening here. In other words, it’s not nearly as fun as the first one, which it clearly wasn’t supposed to be, but it’s still a bummer.

ant-man posterAnt-Man is far from a bummer, though, which is great. I admit, my feelings towards these movies have been a bit tainted by elements from beyond the movies themselves. I’m not sure how I feel about every single film moving forward painting towards this gigantic epic that will end Phase Three. I love the inter-connectivity between these films, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want them all to be about this one big thing leading forward.

And then I watched Ant-Man and it felt like a nice step away from all that intergalactic craziness to just tell the story of a few people trying their best to not make the world a worse place. I love the approach of using this intelligent thief to wear a potentially fatal suit in an attempt to stop tech from ruining the world. It’s perfectly comic book-y, but also fits in so well with this universe and Paul Rudd just kills it. I also really enjoyed watching Michael Douglas who seemed to break the rule that every old dude in a Marvel Studios movie turns out to be bad. Oh, and how fun is Michael Pena? And how bad ass is Lilly? More of both of them please! Basically, everything came together to give me a beautiful mix of heist and hero that gets a major thumbs up from this guy.

However, all respect to director Peyton Reed who did a great job, but I still wish we would have been able to see Edgar Wright’s version of this film which we reported on all the way back in the days of Wizard and ToyFare. Yes I bet it would have been an amazing movie, but it more so bums me out that a relatively slow filmmaker like Wright spent ALL that time on a movie that just didn’t happen. He’s got such an amazing vision for what he makes that I want him to make all the movies he can and this felt like a major entanglement that resulted in a great vision for Ant-Man, but not a full-on Edgar Wright movie.

And, yes, I still remain a bit nervous about Marvel tying up too many of their films to Infinity War, but then I must remind myself that Guardians Of The Galaxy did a great job of incorporating some of that into its movie and this one basically skips over all of that. Back to what I was saying above, it feels like Ant-Man is its own thing that will get incorporated into the larger goings-on of the MCU instead of the other way around. I like that and as long as that’s the way these things go, I’ll keep enjoying them.

Ambitious Summer Reading List 2015

ambitious summer reading list 2015The other day I was cleaning out the garage and came across a few boxes of unread books that I was able to combine, but only if I pulled a few out. I figured that was as good a reason as any to try my hand (and eyes) at another Ambitious Summer Reading list. There’s just something about the warm weather that makes me want to stay inside and read, I guess.

As usual, I’ve got a pretty eclectic selection here. From the top, Ghosts And Things is a spooky anthology from 1962 that includes stories by Henry James, Ambrose Bierce and others. I’m thinking about reading these stories in between other books, but the James story was SUPER boring, so I’m not sure if I’ll stick with that plan.

Below that is the 1979 Avengers novel The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by the awesome David Micheline. In the 90s I read a lot of superhero novels and am curious to see how this early example is. Then there’s Freddy Krueger’s Tales Of Terror #2: Fatal Games. My buddy Jesse sent me this and I’m pretty excited to read it because I love Freddy and this looks like the Christopher Pike novels I read in grade school.

You can also see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I’ve heard a lot of different things about this series over the years and made sure to get the pre-revised version of this book, so we’ll see how this goes. Switching gears completely, I’ve also got Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. I listened to the audiobook version of Klosterman’s IV a few years back and picked this up not long after. I’m a sucker for music related autobios, so I’m sure this will be awesome.

I know absolutely nothing about Twilight Of The Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg other than the fact that it was like a dollar at one of all time favorite discount stores that’s no longer around. But, hey, it’s about superheroes, so it should be in my wheelhouse (I hope). At the bottom of the pile you’ll see another comic-related book, this one Mark Evanier’s column collection Comic Books And Other Necessities Of Life. For some reason I thought this was a collection of interviews, but I must be thinking of ANOTHER book in one of my boxes. Evanier’s one of the best comic historians around, so I’m sure this will be an interesting read.

That brings us to the last three books. Trevanian’s The Loo Sanction is the sequel to The Eiger Sanction, a book I read last year and really enjoyed. There’s also my first Raymond Chandler book Farewell, My Lovely and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I must have read about that last one ten years ago and always wanted to check it out, but haven’t gotten around to it until now!

As you can probably tell, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to these selections. I tried to balance out longer books with shorter ones just to take it a little easy on myself. I haven’t been taking much time to read actual books lately, but I’m hoping that this will push me in that direction. I’m kicking off with The Loo Sanction because I actually started it like six months ago and want to finish it. I’m about halfway through and trying to spend more time with good books, so I’ll hopefully be posting about that one soon!

Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man Is Awesome

amazing spider-man the fantastic spider-manIt might have been a few months since I wrote about how much I enjoyed Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man, but I’ve been burning through every subsequent trade and issue leading up to Superior Spider-Man with a quickness and anticipation I haven’t felt in a long time. Since we’re talking about nine more trades here, I’m going to talk in a few broad strokes about this excellent piece of longform comic book storytelling.

As I wrote last time, I was emotionally blown away by what Slott did with ASM #655. He didn’t stop there. In fact, he got me again not much later when Spidey joined the Fantastic Four after Johnny Storm seemingly died. It’s been a while since I read those FF issues, but I was really moved by how Spidey honored his good friend and also worked with these new teammates.

In fact, Spider-Man’s team interactions are a real high point for me in these books. He’s a great superhero on his own, but he’s even better as part of the FF and the Avengers. Some solo books do their best to avoid the idea of calling in the teammates, but Slott has Spidey utilize them in ways that make sense and feel organic (they are all in NYC at the same time, after all).

I also love how complex, yet surprisingly easy to understand the villains are. These are characters older than your parents and yet Slott makes them feel fresh, new and yet filled with just the right amount of history (instead of info dump/continuity overload territory). He makes you love and hate characters like Lizard, Morbius and even Doc Ock in ways that make them real.

amazing spider-man ends of the earthAnd then Slott goes and does the unthinkable, he made me love a story about everyone in New York getting Spidey powers. When I heard about this mini event, I kept thinking of things like JLApe, but it turned out to be an incredibly compelling crossover that felt big enough and important enough to keep me interested. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about the “Ends of The Earth” story which finds Doc Ock threatening every living thing on earth as he gets closer to his deathbed. This was by no means a bad story — in fact, seeing Spidey, Black Widow and Silver Sable try to save the world is pretty rad — but I think I have had my fill of Big Two “the world might end” stories. Slott does a great job of getting me interested, mainly from the villain side, but the more of these stories you read the harder it can be to suspend your disbelief. Of all the books in this series, this one took me the longest to read.

And then BAM, I was right back into it with the amazing Lizard story which also circles back around to Morbius. It just so happens that I read and wrote about Morbius’ first appearance for Marvel.com last Halloween, so I knew the background on this particularly strange relationship. This added some depth to what I was reading and also gave me the slightest insight into how much fun this book must be for longtime, diehard Spidey fans.

amazing spider-man 700Speaking of the fans, I’m sure they were pretty distraught when they read what happens to Peter Parker at the end of ASM #700. As someone who covers comics, I knew about the big reveal (which I won’t spoil here, but will in the next paragraph) so reading this whole run was kind of like watching Usual Suspects for the second time. I knew where it was going (to some extent) and could keep an eye out for the seeds Slott planted throughout.

Okay, SPOILER time. How amazing were those last few issues where Peter is just desperately trying to save himself, not because of ego, but because he’s worried that Doc Ock (now inhabiting Spidey’s body) will surely do some evil stuff with it? The way Slott figured out how to keep that from happening was great. I didn’t know about that specific bit, so it was a wonderful surprise that makes me incredibly excited about diving into Superior Spider-Man which is not something I thought I’d say after enjoying a character for over 50 issues and losing him.

I can easily say after reading this run on Amazing Spider-Man that it is one of my all-time favorite runs of comics and that Slott is a ridiculous talent when it comes to crafting these kinds of stories. Now on to the next nine-or-so trades!

Mighty Marvel Trade Post: Thanos Rising, Silver Surfer Vol. 1 & Avengers Vs. X-Men

thanos rising Thanos Rising (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Simone Bianchi
Collects Thanos Rising #1-5

I’ve been requesting a ridiculous number of trade paperbacks from the library recently. I’ll sign into the system with an idea about one book to put on hold and the next thing I know, I’ve got a dozen or so books in the hold section and am getting a few messages a week from the library telling me my stacks are in. In an effort to put my thoughts down and get these books back into the system, I’m going to do some brief reviews here and move along.

First up we have Thanos Rising, an origin story for one of Marvel’s most powerful villains (and the driving force behind the fantastic Guardians Of The Galaxy) written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Simone Bianchi. I think this is probably the first interior work by Bianchi that I’ve actually read and I think he did a stellar job bringing the intensity and detail seen on his covers to the interiors.

Of course, it also helps that Aaron wove a compelling story about the bad guy who’s in love with death. This story starts with Thanos’ birth and travels with him as he grows into the genocidal maniac we’ve all come to know and love in Marvel’s cosmic adventures. Heck, there were even times when I felt bad for a character who almost killed Captain America. This feels like a great book to pass to someone who’s seen a Marvel movie and might be interested in getting into comics because it’s very much unattached to the more complicated universe.

silver surfer volume 1 new dawn Silver Surfer Vol. 1: New Dawn (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott, drawn by Mike Allred
Collects Silver Surfer #1-5

When I’m sitting on the computer trying to think of books to look up, I try to remember which runs everyone seems to love. Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer popped into my head and not long after, I had it in-hand. I’ve only just started reading Slott’s excellent Amazing Spider-Man work, but Allred’s an easy sell for me because I love Madman and his work on iZombie (I reviewed volumes one, two and three and have four waiting for a read).

Silver Sufer is an Allred-illustrated book that felt more like an Allred-penned comic, which was an interesting experience. The Surfer is on a vast vacation world, hanging around with a young quirky girl who could easily be played by Zooey Deschanel and having trippy nightmares about being trapped on Earth again. There’s also an awesome appearance by SS’s Defenders teammates Dr. Strange and Hulk. The story itself wasn’t my cup of tea, but how cool is it seeing Allred draw those characters? The answer is that it’s very cool. Overall, this story didn’t really latch onto me, but I liked the art enough that I’ll probably give the second volume a look just to see where it goes.

avengers vs. x-men Avengers vs. X-Men (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman & Matt Fraction; drawn by Ed McGuinness, Frank Cho, John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel & Adam Kubert
Collects Avengers Vs. X-Men #0-12, Point One #1

Back in my days at Wizard I was fully up to date when it came to the big time Marvel and DC events. But, it’s been about five years since I got the axe and a whole lot of craziness has gone on since then. DC implemented a complete reboot and Marvel rolls out an event roughly every year (plus more character or team-based side events). As I’m trying to catch up and dive into some X-books, it seemed pertinent to check out Avengers Vs. X-Men.

And I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed this book. I worried going in that it might feel like Civil War which, no matter how hard any of the writers tried, always seemed very much in favor of Captain America’s side, but in this case both Cap and Cyclops have pertinent points. Better yet, Cyke gets possessed by the Phoenix Force, so you don’t have to worry about his side making sense. More impressively, though, were the little bits and pieces that hit home. The second issue does a great job of framing these events that might seem commonplace and making them seem cool and huge.

I was also impressed with how well these issues flowed considering six different writers and five artists were working on the issues. I’m not always the biggest fan of events because they can easily get bloated and plot-driven, abandoning character along the way, but that wasn’t the case here so it gets a big thumbs up from me. Oh, also, it resulted in more mutants, so that’s cool!

Marvel Mini Trade Post: Thor Blood Oath, Beyond! & Union Jack London Falling

thor blood oath Thor: Blood Oath (Marvel)
Written by Michael Avon Oeming, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Thor: Blood Oath #1-6

As you might have noticed, posting’s been a little sporadic around here these days. That’s because our youngest has been a little on the angry side, but also because we’re in the middle of buying a house. I’m super excited to get into a bigger space and have my own office, but to get to that place, we need to do a lot of packing. I started almost immediately, but haven’t tackled the trades on my bookshelf just yet. The other day I pulled out about 10 books I wanted to go through and see if they will make the move. Most of them were collections of minis that I haven’t read in a while.

While on the subject, I’ve got to say that the mid 2000s were a great time for Marvel miniseries’. I was at Wizard at that time and just absorbing as much as I could, including these three books. A common thread through all three of these books — as well as something like the original Agents Of Atlas, Dr. Strange: The Oath and Ares that also came out in that time frame — is that these stories feel timeless. Sure, there’s some continuity in there, but, for the most part, you could hand these books to newbies and they’d have a pretty good idea of what’s happening.

That’s exactly the case with Thor: Blood Oath, one of my all-time favorite Thor stories. In addition to being a timeless tale that takes place sometime after Thor first appeared on Earth, but before he stopped being Don Blake, it also doesn’t revolve around Loki! Guys, I kind of hate Loki. He’s fine in the movies, but I feel like a lot of writers depend on his trickery way too much when penning Thor stories. I realized this while reading a huge stack of 70s and 80s Thor comics a while back and it turned me off of both characters for a while.

So, without Loki, who does our hero face off against? All kinds of mythological characters, actually. Thor’s pals the Warriors Three accidentally kill a shapeshifting giant. To appease the deceased’s father, Thor and the Three agree to acquire a number of items from various realms including Olympus. It’s a really fun, cool trip through Marvel’s various mythological places that also showcases why Thor is so cool. He’s impetuous and heroic and loves his friends, but he also takes his tasks seriously. Basically, Blood Oath is one of those great shared universe comics that takes many of the character’s classic elements, weaves them around a new story through more modern comic storytelling sensibilities and results in a wonderful, self-contained tale that showcases that character really well.

Oeming has long been considered one of the best when it comes to mythology-based superhero comics and he really shows that off well in this book. And then you have Kolins who is just fantastic on this project.He drafts these godlike characters who look as huge and majestic as they should. Both creators work really well together to mix not only the huge action scenes, but also the smaller moments between Thor and his friends. I love when friends love each other in my entertainment.

beyond

Beyond! (Marvel)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Beyond! #1-6

Of this batch of minis, Beyond! is probably the least accessible to new readers, but I’m still a huge fan. The book acts as a kind of sequel to Marvel’s Secret Wars, an event that found a bunch of heroes and villains plucked from their homes to fight it out on a new planet. Whoever winds gets whatever they want. For what it’s worth, I’ve never read the original, but will remedy that soon.

The same thing happens here, but with a more eclectic group of characters that includes Hank Pym, The Wasp, Kraven Jr., Medusa, Firebird, The Hood, Gravity and Scorpion-Venom. Deathlok (a personal favorite), Dragon Man and other familiar faces also show up. The line-up itself might be considered a barrier for many because some of them aren’t around anymore or were fairly of-the-moment. Heck, I still don’t really know anything about Firebird, but if you don’t let yourself get too hung up on all that, you should be okay. Personally I like being introduced to some of these characters I don’t know much about and not feeling like that lack of knowledge is inhibiting.

For me personally, the breakout performances here are from Gravity, Hank Pym and Deathlok. Gravity was a new character created by Sean McKeever in another miniseries from that era of the same name. He was a cool, fun new hero who flipped many of the superhero conventions and got to really shine in this crazy scenario. This book also gets into some of the history between Hank and Janet, but not in an overly involved way. Pym probably has the most complicated relationships in comics, but I thought McDuffie did a stellar job of showing this one with Wasp from both sides. And, finally, Deathlok is just so darn cool all around.

The big reveal of who’s behind all this might not be the most shocking one in the world, but it does play with expectations a bit. There’s also a few questions about when and how all this stuff takes place. According to the story, Deathlok has been on this planet for a really long time and he’s seen other heroes and villains who have appeared show up, fight, escape or die. Still, I like that McDuffie took such an odd mix of characters, put them in this alien setting and allowed them to bounce off of each other so well. And, once again, Kolins came in and did his thing so well that I smiled at just about every page.

union jack london falling Union Jack : London Falling (Marvel)
Written by Christos Gage, drawn by Mike Perkins
Collects Union Jack #1-4

Union Jack: London Falling is actually a nice combination of what I like about Blood Oath and Beyond. It’s not only a timeless tale of a cool hero like the former, but also a collection of strange characters I didn’t know much about like the latter. In this case, Union Jack is asked to do some government work (he’d been hunting vampires for a while) as R.A.I.D., an offshoot of A.I.M. plans a huge terrorist attack on London that utilizes a small army of supervillains. Since the timeframe is so short (a few hours) and other heroes aren’t available, Jack teams with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, Arabian Knight and Sabra to save the day. Together they run across the city trying to save as many people as possible while Jack does his best to keep the common man as safe as the rich.

Tone and look-wise, Union Jack feels very much a part of what Ed Brubaker was doing with Captain America. Bru’s book launched the year before this mini came out and both feature darker corners of the Marvel U, espionage and patriotic heroes doing their damndest to save the day. Mike Perkins’ art also looks like it belongs right along with Steve Epting’s thanks to their shared interest in dynamic, bold figures and the darker-yet-shiny color pallet in both books (and Bru’s Uncanny X-Men for what it’s worth). So, if you dig the now-classic run on Cap, give Union Jack a read. Oh, and don’t worry about not knowing who Sabra is, finding out is all part of the fun.

Another common element I found in all three of these books is that they feel like they came from an artistic place. Sometimes, when it comes to a miniseries, especially one that ties into an event, they feel like they were just banged out to make some dough. But, all three of these feel like they were pitches from passionate creators who had a great Thor, Union Jack and Gravity-Deathlok-etc. story to tell. You can feel that passion coming through from the writers and artists as it comes across the page so well. So, while this reading experience might not have lightened my packing load, it did remind me of some great self-contained comics that easily earned their places on my soon-to-be-much-larger bookshelf.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: The Avengers

Over the weekend, I introduced my daughter to a bunch of Avengers toys I was sent years ago as a way of hyping the toy tie-in line from Hasbro. Everything came in a super cool, locker-like box but the toys inside proved to be a lot more interesting three years later. My daughter’s just at the right age to actually play with the smaller scale figures and get a kick out of things like a Hulk mask and Iron Man repulsor ray. We’ve also got that shield-slinging Cap which is fun, but the real highlights are the 3 3/4 inch figures which have made their way with us on various outings.

Personal story aside, I forgot how crazy the rap was in these Avengers toy commercials. Wowzers.