Marvel Trade Post: Escape From The Negative Zone & Rick Remender’s Venom Volume 1

Uncanny X-Men/Steve Rogers Super-Soldier: Escape From The Negative Zone
Written by James Asmus, drawn by Nick Bradshaw, Ibraim Roberson & Max Fiumara
Collects Uncanny X-Men Annual #3, Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier Annual #1 & Namor: The First Mutant Annual #1

Escape From The Negative Zone is one of those books I wasn’t super interested in, but I had set up a Swap with someone when it turned out they forgot about trading one of the books I wanted. I scanned the list, saw that this starred a post-Reborn Captain America and thought it might be a fun read. And, luckily, that’s exactly what it is.

I don’t believe I’ve ever read one of Asmus’ comics before, but I thought he did a great job combining superheroes I’m (mostly) familiar with, a situation that’s fun (them trapped in an alternate dimension) and even some prison-escape elements. Basically, Cyclops, Hope, Dr. Nemesis and Namor get accidentally teleported to the Negative Zone where they run afoul of Blastaar. Blastaar wants to kill Reed Richards and asks for him to come to the NZ, but Steve Rogers goes instead. The five of them then need to work together (well, four because Namor’s going crazy without water) to get home as their previous mode of exit changes.

I also like that this is the kind of story you can enjoy without knowing much about the characters. It’s not the kind of story where you get a lot of background — I still know next to nothing about Nemesis or Hope — but you get a good feel for the characters. You might not know what Steve Rogers’ deal is, but you know from the way he’s written what kind of guy he is, same for the other characters. Dynamics and attitudes are shown instead of told in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned. All that combined with a fun story that never slows down until the end and you’ve got a really fun comic.

Oh and the art is bonkers-good. I don’t believe I’ve read comics by Bradshaw, Roberson or Fiumara before, but I definitely want to moving forward. Bradshaw looks kind of like Art Adams in the amount of detail he puts in but a little cartoonier.  I definitely want to see more of his stuff. Roberson is a different matter all together, his figures are big and bold and everything looks painted, sort of like a far less digital Ariel Olivetti. Then you’ve got Fiumara who’s something else altogether, kind of a cross between Jae Lee and Skottie Young with style in spades. I’m not always a fan of a collection with so many different artists, but I loved this one, specifically because these guys are so good.

My only complaint about the collection is that it’s pretty pricey. Mind you, I didn’t actually purchase this book, I traded for it, but somebody out there is. I appreciate that it’s a hardcover and in the deluxe format, but $20 for a book whose comics would have cost you $12 total is a bit rough. Still, the larger size really shows off that rad art and story, plus they went with a white color for the cover which really stuck out to me for some reason.

Venom By Rick Remender Volume 1
Written by Rick Remender, drawn by Tony Moore & Tom Fowler
Collects Venom #1-5

The complete opposite of EFTNZ, I was actually really looking forward to checking out Rick Remender’s run on Venom. He’s a guy whose work I’m slowly catching up on, but has a real talent for coming up with rad concepts that are sometimes a little too awesome for Big Two comic readers (I’m thinking specifically of Frankencastle). However, I was left a little flat after reading this collection.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept behind this book, it’s that the government has captured the (a?) symbiote suit and, by using drugs and whatnot, have essentially turned it into living armor for a soldier. In this case the soldier is familiar to Spider-Man fans as Flash Thompson, a vet who lost his legs in service for his country and now uses the suit to take on bad guys while trying to keep control of the suit and not get addicted to it.

My biggest problem with this book is that it seems to have been printed funny. I kept having trouble focusing on Tony Moore’s art in the first issue which was bothersome because I think he’s great. I’m not sure if the lines didn’t come out right or if something was just the slightest bit off, but the whole book had a kind of fuzzy quality to it that I had trouble pinning down. Making matters worse, it’s not a consistent problem throughout the book. I’d be squinting and trying to focus, turn the page and then get treated to some crisp art, but it would be something less than dynamic like two characters talking.

I had a few story problems as well, but I think that’s because I don’t read Amazing Spider-Man or have a deep knowledge of Flash Thompson. For instance, I assumed the Betty that Flash is dating was Betty Brant, but her last name wasn’t actually said until something like the third issue. There’s also a point later on in the book where Thompson says something about his boss being blind, which there was something that came out of nowhere for me. I even went back and looked at his other appearances and saw no indication of him being blind, though it could have been mentioned in the dialog and I missed it.

Aside from those problems, though, this is a really fun idea. One of my favorite What If?! stories has Punisher getting his quite-gloved hands on the Venom symbiote. There’s a lot of that idea here, but instead of Thompson mentally defeating the symbiote, Flash is constantly in fear or losing control, something that I’m not very interested in. That’s your basic werewolf premise and something that’s all over the place in comics. I also could not help but wonder if this idea would have been better serviced as a creator-owned comic. I know it wouldn’t have had the fan wow factor, the pedigree or — I assume — the financial benefits, but I wonder if Remender’s the kind of creator who might wind up working much better outside the set constraints of a shared universe like Robert Kirkman does. But, like I said, it was a fun story that I’m sure Spidey fans dug, it just wasn’t the kind of thing that really got me excited.

Jeff Parker Trade Post: Agents Of Atlas Turf War & Mysterius The Unfathomable

Agents Of Atlas: Turf Wars (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Dan Panosian & Paul Rivoche
Collects Agents Of Atlas #6-11

In an age filled with comics that mine past characters and stories like blood diamonds, Jeff Parker’s Agents Of Atlas is one of the best. Maybe it helps that I don’t have an incredibly deep knowledge of characters like Jimmy Woo, Venus, Gorilla Man, The Uranian (formerly Marvel Boy), Namora or M-11, but it almost doesn’t matter because Parker is a master of giving these characters amazing personalities and back stories that I am completely absorbed by.

I’ve written about the volume before this one already, but not the original on the blog. I actually first wrote about it for Wizard as a Book of the Month and it was a pleasure. One thing that I’ve thought from the very beginning, though, is that this should have been presented as a series of minis like B.P.R.D. instead of this strange stopping and starting that happens because, unfortunately-but-not-surprisingly, the comic book market can (or will) not support a quirky fun book like this that offers tons of entertainment, but doesn’t necessarily drive the overall story of the Marvel Universe, though it does play well within the bounds of things like Dark Reign.

Anyway, the story itself revolves around the continued adventures of the Agents as they support Woo in his efforts to change the evil Atlas organization into one that does good. This involves their continued ruse to Norman Osborn that they’re still bad guys as well as some scenes between Namorita and Namor in an attempt to have their two kingdoms join forces, but the real meat of this volume comes in the form of a war between Atlas and another similar organization that’s headed up by Jimmy’s ex girlfriend. Here’s another thing that Parker excels at: mixing legitimate character beats and overarching plots with the kinds of things that are awesome but can easily be handled poorly, like M-11’s upgrade or the dragon fight (or lack thereof). In the hands of a clumsy writer these could have been groan-worthy, but I was so invested in these issues and characters that I was full-boat in. BLOW EM UP, M-11!

On the art side of things, this collection definitely has a solid group of pencilers like Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Dan Panosian and Paul Rivoche. They each have a fun, dynamic style that fit their individual issues, but I have a pair of minor complaints. First, I wish there was a list of which artists drew which issues somewhere in the collection. I also, as much as I like the individual artists, prefer for series’ like this to keep a consistent look throughout. Really, any one of them could have done it, but I get a little thrown when I’m constantly noticing the differences from issue to issue and I can’t easily look and see who did what. Again, that’s not a huge complaint and it didn’t bother me a ton, but it’s something I noticed that took me out of the story just a bit. Otherwise, though, I think Agents of Atlas is one of the best damn superhero comics around and should be read by everyone, superhero fans and not, alike. I need to get the rest of these collections.

Mysterius The Unfathomable (Wildstorm/DC Comics)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Tom Fowler
Collects Mysterius The Unfathomable #1-6

Mysterius is the first non-Marvel comic of Parker’s I’ve ever read. I was a little worried because sometimes writers work really well within the world of the Big Two but don’t when allowed to write whatever they want. Thankfully, that is not the case here and Parker produced a fantastical action drama starring Mysterius, an immoral magician/conjurer and his brand new assistant Ella who goes by the alias Delfi at Mysterius’ behest as they encounter a demonic version of Dr. Seuss, a man trying to become a god at Burning Man and even more craziness all woven together into not only a great example of episodic fiction, but also overarching storytelling.

Before getting into more of the story details, I have to take a moment to sing the praises of Tom Fowler. Bangarang, this is a nice looking book that wavers between pretty and ugly in all the right ways. I’m sure I’ve seen Fowler’s art before, but this was the first time I really found myself drooling over his pages. There’s a cartoony style to this comic, that works so well, balancing the dark real world moments in the first few pages to the completely bonkers world and demons found in the Dr. Seuss-type guy’s dimension. I was blown away by those pages and stared at them longer than a lot of pages I’ve looked at recently. So awesome, you guys. A lot of times, art in comics feel less important than the story–much like the visuals in some movies–but in this case, it’s equally if not more important. They seem to lift each other up, it’s great.

Storywise, Parker pulls a bit of a trick on the readers by getting us to think the book is initially going to be a series of vignettes, but winds up connecting all the different elements to create a satisfying combination of–and I’m starting to sound like a broken record here–the episodic and the long range ways of telling a story. Plus, the very idea of a Dr. Seuss-like writer putting demonic incantations into his books is ingenious. There’s a lot more going on, but that is easily my favorite part of the book.

I actually tweeted to Parker how much I enjoyed the book and asked if there are plans for more stories to which he replied that he and Fowler “badly want to make more.” You can add me to the list of folks on that list as well. We need more Mysterius in our lives.