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!

Fantastic Voyage: FF By Jonathan Hickman Vol. 1 & 2

ff vol 1 FF By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Steve Epting & Barry Kitson
Collects FF #1-5

Right off that bat, I’ve got to throw out a minor complaint about FF. I know it stands for Future Foundation and is an obvious visual and phonic connection to the the Fantastic Four name, but it kind of drives me crazy. This book replaced Fantastic Four for a bit and then both were going at the same time — and I believe still are — but not being able to shorten the title Fantastic Four to FF without causing confusion with this newer title is kind of annoying.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what’s actually in this comic instead of what’s on the cover. If you didn’t read Jonathan Hickman’s fourth volume of Fantastic Four and don’t want anything spoiled, you might want to stop reading here. If you did read it, or just know about comics in general, you’ll remember that Johnny Storm seemingly died protecting his family in order to close the portal to the Negative Zone from the other side, thus stopping a huge invading horde. The idea behind the rebranding of this book is that they’re going by the Future Foundation to not only go along with the ideas Reed has been preaching to the world, but also as a way to deal with the passing of a friend, brother and hero.

As the story unfolds it becomes very clear that, even though this book has a different name than its predecessor, it’s very much a continuation of Hickman’s Fantastic Four story. All kinds of previous threads are picked up and spun together in ways I didn’t see coming. For instance, back in the fourth volume of Fantastic Four, Val went through the portal that lead to the place where some of  the interdimesnional Reeds still survived. What we didn’t see at that point was that four of them made their way to the main Marvel Universe and have since been using aspects of the four cities that have played such important parts in the series to this point as a way to supposedly get back to their interdimensional hangout. As a way to figure out the best way to stop these Reeds, our Reed and Val have agreed to bring in a bunch of villains including Dr. Doom, The Mad Thinker, Diablo, The Wizard and The Hight Evolutionary to figure out the best way to deal with their mutual enemies. This doesn’t sit well with Sue and Ben as you might expect.

Unlike the previous Hickman-penned trades I’ve read to this point, this one definitely felt like more of one story told over several issues. That’s not a dig by any means, just something I noticed. Previous volumes felt like they could be given to someone without much FF knowledge and they’d be fine and that might be the case with this one, but Hickman’s kicking his story into high gear and surging towards whatever the conclusion will be. The only real thing that separates the issues aside from the obvious breaks and interstitial pages is the shift from Steve Epting to Barry Kitson on art. Epting definitely retains the dark, gritty style that made a lot of sense in the previous volume and still makes sense here. Then, Kitson takes over and it’s a little alarming just because it’s so big and old and bright. Again, this isn’t a complaint about Kitson’s art, I think it’s fantastic (puns!), just a bit of a jarring transition.

ff vol 2 FF By Jonathan Hickman Volume 2 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Greg Tocchini, Steve Epting & Barry Kitson
Collects FF #6-11

You might expect from the  paragraph I wrote above that this second volume of Hickman’s FF picks up directly where the last one left off and it does after a fashion, but also spends two issues explaining what’s been up with Black Bolt, the Inhumans and a few other characters who got their start in Fantastic Four, but played big parts in the cosmic books since Annihilation (like Ronan and Crystal and a few others). Specifically, they pick up where War of Kings left off and establish a reason for the Inhumans to return to Earth which makes sense and made for enjoyable stories even though I didn’t read most of WOK. My only complaint about those two issues is that Tocchini’s art is super loose and not very appealing. He gets better by the second issue, but that first one was pretty rough. Oh, one more quick complaint, we’re not all Inhumans experts, so it would have been nice to see a few floating boxes introducing them, just saying. It worked when Geoff Johns wrote the Legion Of Super Heroes in Action Comics, I think it would have worked here too.

After all that, we’re back with the alterna-Reeds, a Future Foundation packed with villains and an impending war between, well, everyone. In this case, the Inhumans arrive just in time to square off against the remaining three bad Reeds who are attacking the Atlanteans while using the High Evolutionary’s machine. As you might expect, many of the villains find their way out of the Future Foundation in this battle thanks to betrayal, capture or both. Reed reunites with Black Bolt for a brief time, he doesn’t learn a whole lot about their plans, but while he, Spider-Man and Nathan Richards are inside, the Inhumans capture two of the bad Reeds and the third makes off with an intellectually castrated Dr. Doom. Essentially, this is but one battle in a much larger war.

And that’s what I love about this whole series. It’s not just a point A to point B and then C story. It takes place in a universe of characters who all have varying levels of history together and each have their own trajectories. Events aren’t simple, they are complicated and even when they seem to end, they don’t. The last arc ensconced in this trade is post-battle, but still does all kinds of heavy lifting for the much larger story at work here. Ronan sneaks into the Inhumans’ stronghold, kidnaps their two Reeds and uses them to rebirth the Supreme Intelligence (I love how the Reeds are considered such intergalactic hot commodities). Meanwhile, Nathan finds himself with the last alterna-Reed and his pet Dr. Doom for unknown reasons. Back at the Baxter Building, Val and the crew are working on what she says will be a giant escape plan for all the people living there. If that’s not a gun waiting to be fired (and better explained) I don’t know what is. And lastly, Spider-Man returned to the house with not only The Thing — who was absent for a few issues — but also a whole crew of Avengers who are offering their services in taking care of this Inhumans problem.

My friends who are more active in the industry and read comics on a far more regular basis make fun of me because I’m so behind in books, but I’m cool with it. I get to mainline whole arcs of quality comics like this while knowing that there are still four more volumes out there for me to devour (two more FFs and two more Fantastic Fours all of which I need to get my hands on). That’s perfect for me. I’ve avoided all talk of what happens in this book and am completely on board for the ride. Knowing that there’s an end to that ride actually makes it better for me because I’m looking forward to seeing how Hickman brings everything to a close. Now I just need those last few comics to find their way to Sequential Swap or become significantly discounted on Amazon because, yes, I am very cheap.

Fantastic Voyage: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Vol. 4

hickman fantastic four volume 4 Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 4 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Steve Epting with Nick Dragotta & Mark Brooks
Collects Fantastic Four #583-588

After having written about volumes one, two and three of Jonathan Hickman’s run of Fantastic Four, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t actually written about the fourth which I read towards the end of last year I believe. I planned to write about the first two volumes of FF this week (and I will, look for that post on Friday), but wanted to complete the series, so I went back and re-read the fourth volume.

In all my previous reviews, I’ve noted how well Hickman balances the variety of different elements inherent in the Fantastic Four concept. You’ve got action and family. Drama of all kinds. Bleeding edge science and galactic heralds. Spider-Man and Mole Man. Basically, there’s a lot of toys in the FF toy box and Hickman’s great at creating stories that use all the best parts in all the best ways.

Take this collection for example, in one issue we actually get to see the ball-busting-yet-truly-affectionate Johnny/Ben relationship which warms the cockles and then a page later Hickman introduces a new version of the Yancy Street Gang made up of white collar dudes who lost their jobs in the economic decline. Humanity, humor and drama seamlessly woven together in seven pages. That’s good stuff.

At the same time, some really heavy, over-arcing elements are at play. Valeria makes a deal with Dr. Doom. The four cities are behaving erratically. Namor makes a play against the Atlanteans. Reed has to explain why there’s a Galactus corpse in the middle of the Earth…to Galactus. A new Annihilation Wave is trying to invade our dimension. And, of course, a team member dies. If you don’t want to hear who it was — even though it was a fairly poorly kept secret — don’t read the next paragraph. In other words SPOILERS AHOY!

Alright, so as you probably know, the Human Torch supposedly bought it in the second-to-last issue of this collection, though we’re never shown a body. On one hand, it’s a comic book death so you know it’s not going to stick (and has probably already come unstuck). On the other hand, Hickman handles the death in such a way that you actually feel it. The whole last issue is silent and drawn by Nick Dragotta who looks like a combination of John Paul Leon and Tim Sale which is an interesting combo. It’s a pretty moving issue capped off by a Max Brooks-drawn conversation between Spider-Man and Franklin Richards about what the death of an uncle can mean to a kid. Basically, Hickman knew that many readers would be dubious of the whole thing, so he went the heartfelt route and it really worked, in part because he never dipped into melodrama too much. Death in comics is kind of a joke, but that’s because most of them seem to be used to show how badass a villain is or let you know that a big event is in the offing. In this case, a hero seemingly sacrificed his life to save, to some extent, the world, but to a larger one, his family. That’s the heart of the moment and it’s an earned one.

Okay, out of spoiler territory. I mentioned Brooks and Dragotta above, but Steve Epting handled most of the art in these issues. I love Epting from his run on Captain America with Ed Brubaker. When I first opened the book I thought, “Ooh, his art worked in Cap because it’s something of a street-based espionage story;. Will that fit in the sweeping cosmic setting of FF?” And the answer was, “Of course.” He’s got the chops to draw everything Hickman throws at him, but there’s also a darker feel to this arc that lends itself well to Epting’s style. My only problem? Johnny looks a little more square than he probably should. I noticed how old he seemed in one scene and it didn’t completely jive with my idea of the character. I realized that he’s often shown with short cropped hair, but, in general, he’s a young, cool, hip guy and should look that way. But hey, that’s an incredibly minor quibble, the kind of thing you only notice when everything else is so spot on.

From what I can tell, there’s two more volumes of Fantastic Four by Hickman and then a total of four FF volumes (I’ve got the first two). As much as I enjoy this run, I’m actually glad that it has an end point and that all or most of the pieces are out there for me to grab and read. For what it’s worth, I’m also pretty thankful that Marvel numbered these trades in a very simple way. Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Vol. 1-6 is super easy to remember. As much as I love Brubaker’s run on Captain America, there’s no way for me to remember which books I have and which ones I need. It doesn’t help that after a read-through of the entire run, I put those books in a box that’s under at least two other boxes. Simple numbering, you guys, it’s important!

Fantastic Voyage Trade Post: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Volume 3

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 3 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Neil Edwards
Collects Fantastic Four #579-582

As I said at the end of my review for the second volume of Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the third volume without having the fourth because that trade seemed to be leading up to this big huge war. I decided to go ahead and take it with me on a trip to New Hampshire last weekend and I was pleased because it’s a great continuiation of the story, but it also didn’t do what I expected it to. The war has been put off, but the magic of Hickman’s FF run is that you almost don’t even realize it. Instead of moving in the direction I expected, it takes a different angle, by picking up a thread first sewn in back in the first volume.

There are several stories being told here while also sticking with the overarching story, but there are some really interesting bits here. You’ve got Franklin Richards and Johnny Storm running up against Arcade with the Impossible Man making an appearance as well as Reed, Ben and Victor Von Doom traveling back in time to their college days with Reed’s dad to battle an alternate reality version of his dad. That lead into a larger part of the story that references the oncoming war and, I’ll be honest, I don’t think I quite picked up everything Hickman was laying down because there’s some pocket universe stuff going on as well as some tampering with time, but I’m excited to see what happens in the next volume and how it continues on into FF. I don’t have those volumes yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a good deal.

I spent a lot of time praising Dale Eaglesham in my previous posts and wasn’t as much of a fan of Neil Edwards on his fill-in issues, but I think he definitely stepped his game up as he took over the regular art chores. He’s still no Eaglesham, but he’s a lot more solid and tight this time around. He’s kind of in the same vein as Bryan Hitch, an artist I think is alright but not as awesome as seemingly everyone else in the world. Anyway, his storytelling and action are both up to par with Hickman’s words, so it’s a nice synthesis.

The interesting thing I just realized about this book is that, I believe you could give just this volume to someone and it would be a fun ride. You’ve got Mr. Fantastic starting the Future Foundation, some classic elements being toyed with like the problem of the Thing’s rock form and some other fun vignettes along with overall storytelling blocks. There might be a few questionable moments or references, but overall, I think that a basic knowledge of the FF would allow you to enjoy even this third volume in a series on its own.

Fantastic Voyage Trade Post: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Volume 2

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 2 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Dale Eaglesham
Collects Fantastic Four #575-578

As I mentioned in my review of Jonathan Hickman’s first volume of  Fantastic Four stories, he does an excellent job of melding the classic bigness of the team with a down-to-earth family side that is the center of what makes this comic tick. His collaborator Dale Eaglesham does the same with his pencils, so it’s truly a match made in comic book heaven.

While the first volume had some really interesting ideas that grabbed me as ar reader, I think this second one really shows what Hickman is/was building towards. At the end of the previous volume Val Richards was paid a visit by a future version of her brother who gave her a carefully worded though seemingly vague prophecy about a coming war between various cities. In this volume we’re actually presented with those cities. It was something that I didn’t quite catch on to immediately, but once I did, I realized how well paced and plotted this comic was. Plus, even though it’s very clearly building towards the third and fourth volumes and into the relaunch as FF (Future Foundation) later on down the line, it still feels like its own complete thing.

Sometimes, when you read comics or watch shows that are clearly building towards something larger, some of the installments feel like wheel-spinning or world building without much substance. That’s not the case here. Actually, I think one of the reasons I wasn’t paying as much attention to the prophecy stuff is because I was drawn into the mysteries or drama that surrounded each of the cities. Hickman makes sure that each issue has enough going on that you’re absorbed while also collecting pieces of the bigger puzzle which is no small task.

And once again, Dale Eaglesham shows why he’s one of my favorite pencilers in comics. This dude just knows how to draw everything and does it well. It helps that Hickman threw in so many fun settings for the artist to explore. You’ve got underwater stuff, scenes on the moon, underground cities, aliens, monsters, the Mole Man, HERBIE, the Negative Zone and a giant Galactus corpse among other things.

I was really bummed when I finished this volume and realized I had missed my opportunity to get all of the Hickman trades on the cheap from Thwipster. I tweeted as such and was clued in that there would be more available during a Black Friday sale. It was only the third volume, which I now have in my possession. I really want to jump in, but a few things are holding me back. First, I’d rather get my hands on the fourth volume and maybe even FF before heading back into the waters, just to make sure I have as much of the story as possible. The second reason is that Eaglesham didn’t draw anything in the next volume and that bums me out. The guy they got to cover is named Neil Edwards, he did some stuff in the previous volume and he’s not bad, but he suffers from not being Eaglesham and also has a style similar to Bryan Hitch, an artist whose popularity befuddles me. Anyway, with Christmas not too far away, maybe I’ll add the missing volumes to my Amazon wish list and have a post-holiday reading marathon. That sounds pretty fun, actually!

Fantastic Voyage Trade Post: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Volume 1

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Dale Eaglesham & Neil Edwards
Collects Fantastic Four #570-574

Fantastic Four is one of those concepts that has limitless potential that doesn’t always get reached. I’ve only gotten a few issues into the series’ original run in my Fantastic Voyage posts, but I do have some on-again-off-again experience with the book. I started reading with Heroes Reborn and then moved over to the Heroes Return Chris Claremont stuff which I could only stand for about five issues or so. It wouldn’t be until I got my hands on Mark Waid’s run of the book until I really experienced how good this team could be. That is one of my favorite Marvel runs of all time and I hope to get back to it in the relative future. For me, the key to good FF stories is emphasizing both the fantastic elements while also dealing with the family drama at the same time.

And that’s exactly what Hickman does in his first volume of Fantastic Four stories. I read most, if not all, of these issues while I was still working at Wizard, so this was more of a revisiting, but I had just as good of a time the second time around as I did the first.

So, what does the book contain? Three stories, actually, which is impressive considering the collection only contains five comics. First and foremost, we see Reed join a pan-dimensional group of Reeds who have banned together to help change all of the universes. The question he’s posed with–and one that’s central to our version of Reed–is whether he’s willing to risk his humanity (read: family) and fully embrace his world-changing brilliance. After that, Johnny and Ben (with tagalongs Franklin and Valeria) head to their own alternate world and help save the day. I believe this was the location featured in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run on the book which I could not bring myself to read after about half the first issue. Finally, we end with Franklin’s birthday party which is a fun family and friend moment followed by a mysterious traveler essentially laying out the next year or so of Hickman’s story (cryptically, of course).

As I said, Hickman does a great job balancing the family and fantastic elements, but he also balances one of the other difficult things about the FF: continuity. These guys have been around consistently for 50 years. That’s a helluva lot of stories for writers to borrow from or base their own stories off of. Sometimes–as in the case of the Claremont issues–the continuity is just too deep and confusing. Other times, writers go on and do their own thing. Again, Hickman balances these elements very well. The history and continuity are there, but they’re not primary to the story. As long as you know the basics of the FF–and maybe not even that, I’d absolutely hand this book to someone who knows nothing about the team–you’re good to go.

Dale Eaglesham matches Hickman perfectly on this book. He’s been one of my all-time favorites for years because his figures always look big and iconic, even when they’re doing something small, like talking to a loved one. He’s the perfect match for this book and you can feel when he’s not drawing the issues. They’re still good, but not as good as you know they could have been. It’s a small complaint, but I want me more Eaglesham!

Casting Internets

Well, between traveling for Christmas to New Hampshire, getting a flat tire ten minutes from home and surviving the Snowpocalypse of last night (we got 18-24 inches), I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging. Anyway, I did read a few things here and there and wanted to pass the goodness along. Sure it’s a little late now, but Scott C posted a Showdown from Elf and I just had to link to it. That’s one of my all time favorite Christmas movies and possibly Will Ferrell’s best performance.

Tim Bruckner’s DC Dynamics Joker statue looks amazing, check out some of the shots over on Pop Sculpture.

I don’t think I knew that George Romero and Marvel were working on a project together. Thanks Comic Books Legends Revealed!

Hugh Hefner got engaged again? Wonder if Bridget or Holly are pissed. The missus and I were big fans of Girls Next Door.  (via Esquire)

I really enjoyed Jonathan Hickman’s early issues of Fantastic Four, but fell off the wagon along with a lot of other books a while back. I’ve heard good things about it still, but this whole “killing off a member of the FF and putting it in a polybag” reeks of 90s moneygrubbing. Reed’s already “died” once, right? Ah well, I’m sure I’ll catch up on the trade eventually. (via Robot 6)

Finally, Archie Comics released this mysterious teaser that lots of places, including Robot 6, think might be a way of announcing a new Mega Man comic. Depending on how they handle this book, it could be either a really good kids comic or an interesting look at a character with a deep, deep mythos just waiting to be explored by a great comic book writer. I’m available for either, even though I’m not technically a comic book writer. Just wanted to throw that out into the internet ether.