HomeComicsMarvel Reviews: The Punisher #221, Star Wars: Thrawn #1, X-Men: Red #1, and more…

Marvel Reviews: The Punisher #221, Star Wars: Thrawn #1, X-Men: Red #1, and more…

The Amazing Spider-Man #795

Writer: Dan Slott, Christos Gage

Artist: Terry Pallot, Mike Hawthorne

 

With Dan Slott ending his epic run on Spider-Man soon issue #795 operates as a take your breath story. One that comes off as the minor calm before the major storm that is no doubt on the way. In true Spider-Man fashion, he is teaming up with another Marvel character and this time it is the Sorcerer Supreme himself. For those not keeping up with the most recent going ons in the pages of Doctor Strange (on a side note you should be because its great) that person is no longer Stephen Stranger but the god of mischief Loki.

Where this issue excels best is the interplay between Spider-Man and Loki. Of course, based on their past Spider-Man has his doubts Loki wishes to do good, but Loki wishes to prove him wrong. Some standout moments include a call back from everyone’s favorite story ‘One More Day’ and Spider-Man calling Loki Cher, but overall it’s a series of unforgettable events. Events that are propelled by what is not much more than an aggravated slip.

Most of the attention of this issue will come from the developments that occur in the final pages. On the surface, the attention is understandable as it has some intriguing possibilities. Although It does reek of the worst of the 90’s coming back to haunt us. Dan Slott has proven he can take what may seem like a bad idea and make it into something special. With his limited time left on the book he may be giving himself his biggest challenge. A noble pursuit if anything else.


Avengers #679

Writer: Mark Waid, Al Ewing, Jim Zub

Artist: Kim Jacinto

It is good to enjoy an Avengers comic on this level once again. No Surrender continues to be an enjoyable series so much so that even when it is not working on nearly all cylinders there are enough pieces to make the issue strong enough to recommend. Although if more balance is not brought to the overall structure that may stop being the case.

Last issue was mostly full of massive action set pieces while this one deals with the ramifications and exposition that has been building from the start. To the story’s credit, the answers that are provided are not obvious. Plainly it is great to see an event like this not having Thanos as the major villain yet again. They even made the bold step to create new characters rather than solely rely on what is familiar. Nice to also see an event like Secret Wars is still having a lingering impact long after its gone. Some of the more emotional beats are not nearly as well executed. Rogue’s reaction towards the fate of Johnny Storm was one that lacked any weight. Mainly because it’s a relationship that is not very well established. To be honest I did not even know they had a connection on that level. Also, the story transitions quickly to massive dumping of exposition that the moment is generally wasted anyways. 

Kim Jacinto takes over art duties from Pepe Larraz who did the past few issues. Jacinto did not miss a beat and what was most impressive was how close stylistic the art has remained issue to issue. Marvel books as of late have a hard enough time remaining consistent within an issue so to see this level of consistency for a weekly comic is an achievement.

We are near the midway point of No Surrender and it keeps finding a way to work despite some of the problems it continues to create for itself. Every time we get a new piece of this mystery puzzle we find out the board is actually bigger than we realized. Storytelling of that nature could easily become frustrating but the sheer energy these creators have injected into this relaunch keeps it chugging along. Maybe it is low expectations, or maybe it is just the strength of these characters and that are finally getting a stage big enough to properly play in.


 

Black Panther: The Sound and the Fury #1

Writer: Ralph Macchio

Artist: Andrea Di Vito

Black Panther: The Sound and the Fury #1 epitomizes nearly everything that is currently wrong with the comic book industry. You can understand where Marvel is coming from.  Wanting to have a comic that people can easily go to when they want to continue the cinematic high of the latest movie blockbuster. The current ongoing series is not one that new readers can jump onto so a one-shot comic not connected to anything is a good place to go. The issue is this comic gives a completely false expectation of what comics today are capable of achieving. It is a story that lacks any of the sophistication of modern comics with art that is obviously rushed into production

The story is as standard as could be as Black Panther needs to save Dubai from the evil clutches of Klaw. He is using his power to threaten the lives of all of Dubai in hopes of getting rich.  In true Dr. Evil fashion, he is asking for five billion dollars in what I would assume is an attempt to break even with all the tech he had to purchase to gain such power. Luckily T’Challa is there and vows to stop him and save the city.

The art lacks any major detail with backgrounds that are barely ever there. Considering this is taking place in one of the most picturesque cities in the world you would think they would want to take advantage of that. This feels like a Marvel children’s book that was transferred into a comic with little to no change. Maybe that is the desired audience as anyone above double digits will have little to enjoy. Telling a throwback story with a classic style can work. Look at the current run of Captain America for example. What is lacking here is the execution of the characterization of Black Panther. Better dialog can be found in some of Marvel’s mobile video games.

If there is any reason to pick up this book it is the reprinting of Black Panther’s first appearance that is included. Having it right next to this comic does make it that much more apparent how off this mark everything about this issue was. The biggest is this issue will actual drive away poential new comic readers who assume this type of story is a standad affair. If that is you please know that comics are better than this. 


 

Cable #154

Writer: Ed Brisson

Artist: Jon Malin

There is certainly an audience for this current run of Cable. From the art design to the choice of characters there is no question this series is deadlocked in targeting fans who love what the decade of the 90’s brought to comics. If you consider yourself a major fan of Rob Liefeld’s work on titles like The New Mutants or X-Force this will be like reliving your childhood. For those who are not in that camp or simply do not wish to relive those days there is not much left to enjoy.

This issue completes ‘The Newer Mutants’ arc and brings with it a number of blockbuster moments including gigantic plane crashes,  massive explosions, and plenty of major action. Watching this band of heroes take on a oversized version of Gideon provided some fun, and even allowed the character of Blink to demonstrate her capabilities in ways she had not yet in the series. Outside of the entertainment aspect there is not much more than nonsense. For this entire arc the primary focus has been on the Eternals and solving this unsolvable mystery of how they were getting killed. An answer that the actual narrative made obvious yet the purpose of which is as mundane as any villain plot can be.

By far the biggest issue with this series is the art of Jon Malin. Like the series itself, those who are fond of that rough 90’s style will probably take no issue. However, on a pure storytelling level, there are some major flaws that greatly detract from the overall comic. Character designs lack consistency with posing that is awkward and stilted. There is a specific panel of Cable holding a gun that makes it appear as if the pencils forgot to include a weapon so one was added in quickly before colors were added. Even a major moment like Gideon crashing the Blackbird is ruined by a perspective that is unclear and oddly designed. The X-Men books have suffered from some poor art and Cable is no exception.

 


 

Captain America #698

Writer: Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Artist:  Chris Samnee

Chris Samnee and Mark Waid’s run on Captain America has been everything it needed to be up to this point and more. Taking the character of Captain America and reminded the world the type of inspirational figure he can be when used right by utilizing a more classic form of comic storytelling that is sorely missed in today’s more cynical environment. With issue #698 we are seeing a slight change as for the first time since this team took over we are not getting a one and done story. Also it is filled with some more darker undertones and a specific message that is clearly directed at today’s social climate. That transition to some more meaty topics was not completely successful despite including much of what has made this such a phenomenal run so far.

At the end of last issue Cap was once again frozen in ice. He has now awoken years in the future after a band a rebels stole him from the people who were using his frozen corpse as a decoration. A man out of time once again he is dismayed by what the world has become in his absence. The world is now a wasteland where most live in dangerous conditions full of anarchy and despair. Despite the lack of resources the richest of the rich live in luxury leaving all others is destitute conditions. All the heroes have been killed leaving a those left behind without hope. Now unfrozen and make to his former self Cap looks to right so many wrongs to bring back the country he once knew.

You can understand where Waid and Samnee are coming from in this issue. No doubt frustration with the state we find ourselves in the real world has influenced the message of this story. Their hearts may be in the right place but that execution came off as clunky and far too on the nose. Never will I tire of seeing Cap take down fascist dictators so there is still a level of inspiration gained from this. Next issue could easily flesh this out into something more. You do get the sense based on how the last issue ended that not everything may not be as it appears.

It appears this is following the same formula as Chris Samnee and Mark Waid’s run on Black Widow. Whereas it went along Samnee took over more and more of the writing duties until it was his alone. Samnee’s greatest strength as an artist is his storytelling ability. Even in an issue like this that has some narrative issues, it is a work of art to look at. He can capture the movement of Captain America better than anyone. Having clear and concise choreography gives the action beats some major impact.

Overall this is a recommendable issue despite not being as sharp as the past few. At the end of the day, it is just great to see Captain America in the hands of creators that fully comprehend what makes him an icon.

 


Defenders #9


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Marquez

The Defenders has been the best book Brian Michael Bendis has written for Marvel in some time. He gets these characters better than pretty much anyone, and when he puts them together we get some true magic. With the upcoming departure of Bendis this story is turning the corner to its conclusion. There is still a story to be told but I cannot help and be somewhat disappointed in the way this Diamondback story appears to be ending. So much build up to what ends up being not much more than your typical knockout drag out fight sequence.

With that said there is no taking aware the phenomenal artwork by David Marquez. I do not think there is a person in comics today that can draw action with such fervor in the way he does. Whether it is complex martial arts choreography or a massive brawl with people literally throwing cars at one another it is fun, fluid, and full of energy.  Bendis gives him the stage to showcase his talents and he does just that. David Marquez has become one of those names that will cause me to pick up a book no matter what it is about or who else is on it.

Story-wise the issue starts off strong with Jessica Jones pleading with Misty Knight to get the opportunity to speak with the Punisher. Punisher’s place in this story is generally out of sorts. Hopefully, there will be more clarity to why he is in the place that he is in because otherwise some of his actions are out of character. With his help, The Defenders are able to find Diamondback and his forces. Up to this point he has been built up to be such a massive threat it was odd this entire confrontation was in the end a red herring. Sure there may be a more powerful force that is really behind everything, but that force does not have the personal and dramatic connection that has been building since the first issue.

As is often the case with comics you never fully know where this story will go so many of my disappointments with this issue may end up being moot. From a pure entertainment standpoint, this brought the goods. Bendis has had his issues in the past knowing how to end stories in a satisfying way. Let’s pray he leaves this book as well off as he started it.


 

Doctor Strange #385

Writer: Donny Cates

Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta

With Jason Aaron’s run and now Donny Cates Doctor Strange has finally had a continuously great series. Cates and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta came in at just the right time as Aaron’s run was coming to its natural conclusion.They have not completely abandoned what Aaron built instead choosing to continue many of his major threads. As their first arc comes to its end one hopes they are just getting started.

Here Strange is yet again dealing with the ramifications of his actions as the Void is now free and inhabiting his body. Zelma and Loki are left to try to fight off this force before it can become too powerful and threatened all of magic. This was classic storytelling done right. All of the pieces that have been building since the arc began have come together in an especially satisfying conclusion. One filled with all the action, heart, and drama you could ask for. Sometimes it is as simple properly setting up the pieces and letting them naturally flow to their conclusion.

Although this is the first book Cates and Walkta worked on together you would never know it. Their sense of styles fit together so well. Walta faces are expressive in the best of ways. You can see the fear in Loki’s eyes as he sees the horror of what is in front of him. Considering that he is a god and rarely shows that sides of himself those moments immediately feel important. He is not especially known for his ability to stage action and this book has not really called for it as of yet. Here he has a plethora of toys to play with and uses them with great effect. Even though we are only working with a handful of characters the stage feels big. That keeps the intimacy of the story intact with all the craziness.

A lot has been said recently regarding the status quo of Marvel and how so many of their books lack quality. There is some validity in that claim but there is also reason to be hopeful for the future and this series is one of the biggest reasons. Both  Donny Cates and  Gabriel Hernandez Walta are bringing fresh ideas to the world of comics so when you put two creators like that together magic can happen. Fittingly with this book that is exactly what has occurred.

 


Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock #1

Writer: Gerry Duggan

Artist: Michael Allred

Gerry Duggan has quietly been reshaping the Marvel cosmic universe into its past glory. Back when series like Annihilation, Nova, and Guardians of the Galaxy where some of the best books in comics. Marvel must have noticed the success he was having as they have given him the reigns to their next big event and the buildup is already underway. The term event can be a dirty word in comics as the industry has burn many bridges due to over saturation. Despite those past failings Infinity Countdown brings with it some promise. If this issue is any indication of what we are in store for this may actual live up to the hype if its namesake.

This is a true prologue issue solely designed to provide hints for what is to come. When you have a character like Kang the Conqueror though it is enough to get excited about. Duggan has a complete grasp on Kang, which is saying something as he can be a hard character to write. He has the arrogance of someone like Doctor Doom turned up to an even higher degree due to his expanded lifespan. There is a sense of morality though as he has no desire to see the world burn. He just wants to see it kneel to his power. So when something arises that scares even him it causes everyone’s eyebrows to immediately raise. They raise even further when he actually takes the time to seek the help of another individual.

That individual is Adam Warlock who is another character that is hard to define. In this story, he is more of an observer listening to the commands of Kang. For a story that is nearly all exposition, it flows extremely well. Mainly due to the fantastically absurd dialog. When it gets to actual conclusion of Kang’s plan it is dark and twisted as it shows once again Duggan knows what he is doing.

Michael Allred’s art style is not one I expect to see in an event book. It’s a niche look that I personally love, but could see many feeling looks off. His work on Silver Surfer with Dan Slott showed how much personality he can bring to this universe and that is again shown here. He gives it a timeless quality which makes this feel like a book that can exist today or back when Jim Starlin first penned comics for Marvel.

Seeing Marvel coming out with yet another title with the Infinity tag does appear like a cheap ploy to mooch off the anticipation of the cinematic universe. Past attempts like Civil War II have certainly left a bad taste in many readers mouths. Despite that, there is reason to believe in what Gerry Duggan is doing. This issue shows he is a solid writer with a grasp of what makes these characters work. The best way to get people excited for future comics is to make good comics and that is exactly what he has been doing.

 


 

Marvel 2 In One #3

Writer: Chip Zdarsky

Artist: Valerio Schiti

Marvel 2 In One has been this tease in comic form to wet the appetite to the long awaiting return of The Fantastic Four. Chip Zdarsky is not a name I would first go to as the person to write that type of series. Considering the more classic style of the team and his sardonic sense of humor do not go hand in hand with one another. So far he has proven me wrong as he does have a great sense for Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm at least. Their back and forth banter is everything I remembered it being and has me excited for the prospect of Chip Zdarsky utilizing the entire team.

Now three issues in this does feel like the narrative is spinning its wheels a little bit. Considering we are in this race against time to save Johnny’s powers and find Sue and Reed a lot of time was spent with not much story. Ben and Johnny seek out the help of long time friend and sometimes god Hercules to see if he knows how they might get Johnny back to full speed. Knowing Hercules was in a similar situation they thought he could point them in the right direction.

Where this issue shines is the banter between all these different characters. Zdarsky has the voice of each character down leading to some great dialog. Anytime you get the trio of The Human Torch, The Thing, and Hercules together you are going to have a good time if a writer knows what he or she is doing. The issue that occurs is ultimately not much happens in this issue. It felt like a detour that should have lasted a page or two but ended up being the bulk of the issue. Considering this is a miniseries you would assume there would not been that much time to waste.

Valerio Schiti steps in as artist and does not miss a beat. It is sad to see Jim Cheung go, but Schiti is an adequate replacement. They often say the best way to make people want something is to take it away from them. Marvel has had success doing that in the past and they may again with the growing desire of wanting The Fantastic Four to return. This series has basically been an appetizer to a main course that is cooling in the window. At least it has been a good tease and with the reveal in the final issue, it appears events are just about to fully heat up.

 


 

Old Man Hawkeye #2

Writer: Ethan Sacks

Artist: Marco Checchetto

One common thread with Marvel comics as of late has been taking concepts that sound ridiculous or just plain awful and making them work. The Old Man Logan universe is one that will not go away. Not only has Old Man Logan taken the place of his younger counterpart we how have this series telling Hawkeye’s story prior to his epic adventure with Logan. Despite the lack of necessity to tell this story Ethan Sacks  and Marco Checchetto are putting together a book worthy of its predecessor.

It starts with the art of Marco Checchetto. Sacks scripts have their moments but this is a prime case of art elevating story. Looking at the character of Bullseye he has been built up mainly by Checchetto’s staging of the character. Starting with a great design that has a steampunk feel with the bowler cap and futuristic tech. There is a great moment in the opening pages with Bullseye simply sitting at a kitchen table with bodies piled on the group beneath him as if he is a man who can control chaos with little effort.

Hawkeye’s journey is also a heartbreaking one. Having to deal with the haunted images of all his friends being brutally murdered and now knowing his greatest gift is slipping away. There is something about an aging hero going on one last journey that just works. Perhaps its the basic idea of seeing a superhero become human. Whatever it is when it works it works well. 

This issues continues the Western style feel even going so far to have a major shootout in a saloon. Checchetto’s staging of action is fantastic. You feel the brutal force of seeing someone taken out by blunt forced arrow. Even when you have an issue like this one that does not include much story that atmosphere is strong enough to make it an engaging comics. 

Sometimes there are just those universes that open the door for great storytelling. Credit Mark Millar for what he did with the Old Man Logan story originally years ago. By only touching on so much with that story it left room to explore stories like this one that can give us the else world take so many comic fans love.

 


 

The Punisher #221

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg

Artist: Guiu Vilanova

Writing great comic books is not necessarily rocket science. Sometimes it is simple as taking a born bad ass and putting him in a fully loaded metal suit and letting him roam free in a country full of people who deserve justice. That is exactly what Matthew Rosenberg has done with the character of the Punisher and its been a tremendous success so far.

Issue #221 does not break what is not broken. After the events of last issue Frank Castle is looking for some way to fix his new toy armor. A few dead bodies and a short while latter Castle is back on his armored feet causing destruction once again. Rosenberg has made him into a character reminiscent of a horror villain. Stalking his prey by  finding places to strike that are the least expected.

Whether it is hiding underneath a frozen lake or lurking in the shadows as his next victim carelessly walks through their door, Castle is there to bring his brand of justice. There is something darkly humorous about the extremes Castle is going to complete his mission. Anything you would think the Punisher would do in this situation he is basically been doing. He will just nonchalantly pick someone up and fly them miles into the air and let them go as if he was just conducting a elementary school science project on the dangerous of gravity. 

The one element that does need to happen to stop this from becoming stale is establishing a credible threat. Right now it is like watching someone play a video game with the cheat codes on and so far it has been fun to witness the carnage. That can only last for so long before it becomes a  tad bit redundant. Based on the ending of this issue that threat has possibly emerged and should help add some tension to make this book that more enjoyable. So far this story has had the freedom and relentlessness of fan fiction matched with the talent of high quality creators making it one of comics most consistent titles these past few months.

 


 

Star Wars Thrawn #1

Writer: Jody Houser

Artist: Luke Ross

Star Wars Thrawn #1 brings with it a different set of expectations than some of the other Marvel Star Wars title. Unlike those Thrawn is not a character created in the films, nor he is like Doctor Alpha and created in house. He rose to prominence as a character during the explosion of the Star Wars expanded universe. It is unlikely Thrawn will be showing up in the actual films so this will most likely be the only place fans will be able to experience the character. That might explain why the sole purpose of this first issue was to showcase his prowess as a character.

Here we see Thrawn rise through the Imperial ranks. Starting first as a prisoner of war and eventually becoming a working Lieutenant. It is somewhat odd to see a book of this nature to be focus on what is basically space college. He has to navigate the political and social ranks of the Empire while dealing with constant persecution due to being an alien. He does have something special about him as he is a born warrior and tactician. His skills does not go unnoticed as The Empire himself found favor with him. Giving him an advantage over his fellow peers. An advantage he plans to use. 

Much of the emotional core of the series rests in the relationship between Thrawn and his interpreter Cadet Vanto. Due to his inexperience with the basic language Thrawn uses Vanto as a key piece to ensure he is fully comprehending what is being said. Although you do wonder if the use of Vanto is just another tactic for Thrawn. As he always wants to be a few steps ahead of everyone, making people underestimate his grasp of the language would  be a good way to do it. There are other aspects of their relationship that makes you wonder if there is more to Thrawn than his drive.

There is no question Thrawn is using Vanto but at times there is a courtship between them. Thrawn appears to have a level of respect for Vanto outside of his necessary value. That dynamic is by far the most interesting aspect of the book so far. You wonder if he actually cares for Vanto in any way, or is he simply doing everything for his own benefit. Even when he does something as selfless as take literal punches for Thrawn there may be a hidden agenda behind his sacrifice.

What is missing though is a better understanding of the underlying motivation of Thrawn. Clearly he is hungry for power, but where that push is coming from was not really explored. His is this capable enigma that is waiting to be fleshed out more as a general character. It was surprising to see a book like this be solely character driven. It’s a risk that almost paid off in full.  It was so dialog heavy that the pace did get bogged down at times with no place to go.

Artwise Luke Ross’s cartooning did enough to get the job down. He was not given a lot to showcase his talent, which made the utilization of the nine panel grid somewhat surprising. The nine panel grid is a tricky beast that can be amazing when used well, or highlight some of your story problems when used poorly. Here it was somewhere in the middle. Never did it hurt the story but never did it seem like a choice that benefited either. If anything the more it stepped away from that format the better the issue became.

In general major fans of the character of Thrawn will be happy they are taking the time to build up his mythos within the Star Wars lore. Some may take issue with a dry story that lacks any major action or adventure. You do have to give it credit at least for trying to separate itself from the other Star Wars titles.



X-Men: Red #1

Writer: Tom Taylor

Artist: Mahmud A. Asrar

Marvel has been chipping away at their X-Men titles hoping something will stick. Every time there seems to be some progress there will be a stumble and we will be back to where we started. Both X-Men: Blue and Gold have had their moments but neither felt like a major move forward for the X-Men brand. Gold lacks an identity of its own and Blue keeps getting stymied with major crossovers. Oddly enough the book that almost came out of no where may end up being the best of the bunch.

X-Men: Red picks up right after the events of Phoenix Resurrection. Adult Jean Grey is back alive and free of the powerful force known as the phoenix. She has awoken to a world that is more torn apart than the one she left. Where mutants are as feared as ever and without a leader to show them the way. This propels her to develop a plan and seek assistance from many others in order to continue the dream her mentor Charles Xavier started.

Tom Taylor is not reinventing the wheel here. He is just replacing a tire than has long been flat and worn down. Others have come along and set a patch or two as of late,. Taylor though is not content with just fixing another hole. He is making Jean Grey into the figure she needs to be if she is going to lead this book.

First issues of team books tend to bring us all those band getting together moments. When characters find themselves in unexpected encounters leading to a new team forming. Here every encounter is purposeful. Jean is on a mission and watching that missing unfold was quite enthralling. We see her reach out to some unexpected individuals including the king of Wakanda and Namor the ruler of Atlantis. When it is revealed why she did what she did it shows she has a better understanding on how to get things done than most who were in her position prior. In true X-Men fashion it will not work out as planned, but at least an effort was made.

Taylor takes time to have some key character moments as well. Seeing Jean and Nightcrawler converse was probably the best part of the issue. There was a level of beauty watching two longtime friends come togther to share a moment of hope in a world absent of it. Moments like that are what make X-Men who they are.

When X-Men: Red was announced it seemed like an afterthought. An odd name for random group of characters that do not automatically go together. If this is any indication this could end up being the best series of the current X-Men line. For the first time in a while the future is bright for the children of the atom.

 

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