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.

New 52 Trade Post: OMAC & Green Arrow

OMAC volume 1 OmactivateOMAC Volume 1: Omactivate (DC)
Written by Dan DiDio & Keith Giffen with Jeff Lemire, drawn by Giffen & Scott Kolins
Collects OMAC #1-8

Do you ever get a group of trades and pull the ones you’re least interested in to the top and read those first? I can’t say it’s something I’ve done a lot of. When I was a monthly comic reader, I’d move the books I was most excited about to the top and get to the rest later. But, I recently came into a stack of New 52 books and wanted to read a few of the more random ones first just to see how they were.

One of those books was OMAC. I wasn’t super excited about the creative team or the fact that yet another one of Jack Kirby’s creations was getting yet another make over. But you know what? I was pleasantly surprised by this series, which only lasted the 8 issues collected in this book. This new version actually stands for One-Machine Attack Construct unlike the One Man Army Corp of the original series (which I can’t believe I read three years ago at this point). Set in the new DCU, the human component this time is a scientist named Kevin who gets moved all over the chessboard by Brother Eye to do his bidding.

Basically, this whole series is a love letter to Kirby, or at least that’s how I’m looking at it. Giffen is clearly paying homage to The King’s style with his pages, all of which feature at least one of Jack’s trademarks: squared off fingers, Kirby crackle or the four panel pages he seemed to like. You could also say that some of DiDio’s story elements take their lead from Kirby’s. Not everything is explained super well and things just kind of happen, much like they did in Jack’s DC books.

I like the approach I mentioned above, but it does have its fair share of problems. There’s basically three levels you can enjoy this book on. Let’s called the homage one level. Then there’s the more basic level of a superhero smash ’em up bonanza which it definitely delivers. But, the third layer is a lot less satisfying. I mean, we’re never even told why Brother Eye chose Kevin. Worse than that, it’s never explained why Brother Eye (who annoyingly says “Eye” instead of “I”) even needs a human-hosted OMAC. Why doesn’t he just use a robot? I wish these questions had been answered in these eight issues but they weren’t. I can still enjoy the story that is told on the page, but it definitely could have been more satisfying.

KEEP/DUMP: I’m going to keep this one for now. Not sure if it’ll stay in the collection after a re-read later on down the line, though.

green arrow volume 1 midas touchGreen Arrow Volume 1: The Midas Touch (DC)
Written by Dan Jurgens, J.T. Krul & Keith Giffen, drawn by Jurgens & George Perez with Ray McCarthy & Ignacio Calero
Collects Green Arrow #-6

I fell in love with the character of Green Arrow when Kevin Smith brought him back from the dead and was on board with the series up until a few years ago when Judd Winick left Green Arrow & Black Canary. I even started collecting the previous volume by way of lots on eBay and back issues found at conventions. As such, I’m always leery when I experience a new version of the character.

I haven’t written about it much on the site, but I actually really enjoy Arrow on The CW because they gave Oliver Queen a really solid, interesting and believable back story that I can sink my teeth into and enjoy. I can’t say that’s the case for this New 52 series, though. Sure you’ve got rich Oliver Queen dressing up in a superhero costume and running around fighting supervillains, but why?

This is something that I think some of the New 52 books completely failed on and others nailed really well: the question of why this book exists. I understand that DC and Warner Bros. wanted to continue with a book that had done fairly well before the relaunch and also wanted something that eventual fans of the series could read if they were so inclined, but in the book itself, what’s the point of it existing?

Much of the plot of the first arc in this book focuses on younger supervillains who get their jollies committing crimes and sending that out over the internet for people to watch. It’s the next level up from schoolyard or bum fight vidoes in a world with super powers. For some reason, this aspect of the story never grabbed me. It didn’t feel super new (Will Pfeifer did something sort of like this in the amazing HERO). I think I didn’t care about that part of the story because I didn’t care about Ollie. Sure you see him in his civilian identity blowing off the guy who runs the larger Queen family company, but that’s not enough. This is supposed to be a brand new universe where anything can happen, you can’t rely on old stories for that, you need to put enough on front street to suck me in or get me with one crazy hook and unfortunately Green Arrow had neither of those.

It did have one issue — #6 — drawn by Ignacio Calero who looked like a more stylized JLA-era Howard Porter. I’d like to see more from him in the future.

KEEP/DUMP: This one’s going up on Sequential Swap where it will hopefully get me another book.

Justice Society Trade Post: JSA All-Stars Glory Days & JSoA Supertown

JSA All Stars: Glory Days (DC)
Written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Freddie Williams II & Howard Porter
Collects JSA All-Stars #7-13

I fully intended to write this post towards the end of last weekend, but lost track of time. In the end, I guess it doens’t really matter. Anyway, like I said in that post (or maybe didn’t, it was so long ago, who can remember?), I read these four JSA trades back to back to back to back in the order they’re presented in these posts. As you’ll remember, JSA All-Stars was a spinoff book that featured the more proactive (and younger) members of the fairly unwieldy group. When I say proactive, I don’t necessarily mean the usual “we’re gonna go after the bad guys instead of wait for them to attack” idea, but a team that is well trained in order to be more active and effective when they fight the bad guys.

The second trade features three stories, the first dealing with SPOILER Atom Smasher’s death during Blackest Night, the JSA fighting a gang of gods running amok and a two-parter answering the question: why are there so many Cyclones running around?

While the actual death of Atom Smasher might have been told in a one-off mini that held almost no baring on the larger Blackest Night story (I’ll get around to reviewing that book eventually), but the issue here was actually pretty heartfelt as it followed Judomaster exploring her feelings towards AS in depth.

I wasn’t as interested in the details of the gods story, but I will say that any script that offers Freddie Williams II the chance to draw monkeys riding tigers in the jungle, some iconic super heroes and building-big gods, I’m happy. There were some revelations and characters moments that were pretty important to the larger story as well, which I also appreciated. The multiple Cyclone story was also pretty cool, kind of along the lines of a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode over two issues, with an ending that actually had me going, “Whaaaaat?” I’d really like to see how this book wrapped up. I believe there was one more trade’s worth of issues, but don’t know if DC has any intention of collecting them right now. Anyone know?

Justice Society of America: Supertown (DC)
Written by Marc Guggenheim, drawn by Scott Kolins & Mike Norton
Collects Justice Society of America #44-49

Supertown is a little but of an outsider when it comes to this particular quartet of JSA books. The first JSoA volume I read lead right into the two JSA All-Stars books, but the original book has a collection called Axis of Evil that I don’t have and a crossover with JLoA that I’m holding off on until I go through all the post-Infinite Crisis JLA books. So, I don’t have as great of a sense of this team and its motives in the wake of the split, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a more difficult comic to read, I just like having all the pieces of the puzzle, you know?

Anyway, this arc revolves around the battle with a super powered terrorist named Scythe. The JSA takes him on in the first issue and tells young member Lightning to, essentially, go supernova and blast the crap of him, destroying a huge area of the town. Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott gets mortally wounded in the battle and we soon discover that he and Golden Age Flash ran into this thing as a child experiment in WWII.

With the fallout, Flash focuses his efforts on rebuilding the whole city, a job that takes a lot longer than it usually does in comics, taking a more real world approach to that trope. More terrorists show up to give our heroes a hard time, but we also get a brand new design for Alan Scott’s costume, which is pretty clunky, but actually serves a purpose.

I’ve talked before about how I get bored with comics that feel too familiar with other comics I’ve read, especially when said older comics are from the same character or team’s history. This one included a few elements that have been very popular in the last few years for the JSA: a major member gets nearly killed (actually two in this collection) and a villain that comes out of nowhere with seemingly all the answers. However, I thought Guggenheim did a pretty great job of building this story around different character beats and moments. I’m still not sure about the GL costume, but I’d definitely be interested to see how JSA ended just prior to New 52.

Trade Post: Final Crisis Rogues’ Revenge

FINAL CRISIS: ROGUES’ REVENGE (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge #1-3, Flash #182, 197

To say that Final Crisis was a confusing event would probably be putting it lightly. I was still reading comics on a weekly basis as it rolled on and I had very little clue what was happening. However, after reading all of the Morrison-written stuff together in the FC collection, I actually really enjoyed the story. I don’t think I understand it 100%, but I had a great experience reading it and want to revisit it and hopefully gain a little more insight. I think one of the stumbling blocks for DC was taking a Grant Morrison story–which tend to be weird and wild–and turning it into an event. It probably should have just been it’s own thing, but considering how huge of a story it was, it would have been strange for it to not be referenced anywhere else. Adding the “Final Crisis” tag to books like Rage Of The Red Lanterns which had little-to-nothing to do with it didn’t help.

Anyway, Rogues’ Revenge is kind of one of those books as well, but it does feature Libra one of the big bads in FC, so I guess it makes sense. Johns and Kolins return to the characters they made awesome during their run of Flash and do a pretty damn good job which is saying a lot considering the Rogues just got done murdering a grown-up Bart Allen in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, a book I didn’t even read for free. There’s also some vague references to Countdown that aren’t that important. But, I think Rogues’ Revenge works really well on its own, but you do need to know a few things. Inertia tricked the Rogues into killing Bart Allen, Libra has killed Martian Manhunter and turned most of the villains of the DCU into an army, but the Rogues want nothing to do with him, which makes him angry. Also, Pied Piper was tied to the original Trickster for a while after the death of Bart Allen, which seems to have messed Piper up. They were both trying to infiltrate the Rogues when Bart got killed. Most of these details are included in the story as it progresses, but I figured I’d throw it out there because the book doesn’t have an intro (which it really should).

Anyway, this book, while it might have a few continuity questions for folks, acts as this awesome revenge action story. Think something like Payback or Crank but with supervillains instead of Mel Gibson or Jason Statham. The Rogues are looking to get out of the villain game because they broke one of their own rules by killing the Flash, but they want to pull one last job: kill Inertia. Captain Cold takes the lead for the most part, but Mirror Master, Heat Wave, Weather Wizard and the kid Trickster all have cool moments as they tear through imposters (originally seen in Batman: Gotham Underground which I thought I reviewed, but apparently not) and deal with an Inertia trained by Zoom as well as Libra himself. These are very bad men doing very bad things very well.

With all the violence, death and rain, the book takes on a kind of noire feel to it, but Kolins’ artwork is as bright and vibrant as ever. The rain is really serious in the book and Kolins makes them look soaked without getting sloppy. It really is a great collaboration between two creators who have great chemistry together. Giving the Rogues the spotlight was a cool move that could have been done at any time and not tied in to Final Crisis, but the elements of that story that are included make sense and actually make them look even more badass. Telling Libra to kiss off more than once is pretty epic, but would have been more so if I could remember what the deal with that character was. Anyone remember?

If you like revenge movies, the Rogues or high quality stories that give villains the spotlight, the this book is definitely up your alley. By not dealing with heroes (Flash only appears in flashbacks and at the very end) the Rogues get to show how dangerous they really are and it’s a wild ride to keep up with.

Annihilation Trade Post: Books 1-3

ANNIHILATION BOOK ONE (Marvel)
Written by Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Mitch Breitweiser, Scot Kolins, Ariel Olivetti & Kev Walker
Collects Drax The Destroyer #1-4, Annihilation: Prologue & Annihilation: Nova #1-4
Back in my days at Wizard, I wound up being the go-to guy for Annihilation interviews. I had just read Infinity Gauntlet for the first time and was pretty high on the idea of Marvel’s space characters getting a jump start. With very few exceptions, I had very little experience with these characters, so it was kind of fun to just be thrown into the middle of all this craziness and see where it went. When these issues were coming out, I had trouble not comparing the Annihilation set-up with that of DC’s Infinite Crisis. Both had four four-issue minis leading up to a main series. At the time it felt like Marvel did the whole thing better because their minis lead into the main series better. I can’t say I necessarily feel the same way now, but at least we didn’t have to get four one-shots to actually cap those stories. But, as usual, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Continue reading Annihilation Trade Post: Books 1-3