Sunday, April 29, 2012

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY - - - 2012 EDITION 5/5/2012

 

Prior to my becoming a customer at Captain Blue Hen FREE COMIC BOOK DAY was just a day where I could pick up a few free comic books if I visited my local store on the first Saturday in May.

Since I started shopping at Captain Blue Hen FREE COMIC BOOK DAY is the one day that I absolutely did not want to miss being there - -  because they make an event of it.   If you need examples, just look over the schedule below (taken from their web site).

If you are reading this article and are within driving distance of Newark, Delaware - - I urge you to spend some time here this Saturday.  I know many of you are loyal to your regular comics source and I respect that.  I’m not asking you to cheat on them.  Why not stop there first and pick up your books, then head over to Captain Blue Hen to partake of the fun.

I’m planning to be there from open to close and I’ll be looking for you.

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Posted By Dave on April 23, 2012

Saturday, May 5 Captain Blue Hen Comics throws a family-friendly party to celebrate comic book fun

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FREE COMIC BOOK DAY

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Events from 10AM to 5PM

Everyone gets a free comic just for showing up.

  • Show a library card for an extra free comic.
  • Dress in costume for an extra free comic.
  • Donate canned or dry food for an
  • extra free comic.
  • Additional donations accepted for additional free comics. Monetary donations to be determined–ALL donations to go to Newark Arts Alliance and a library or school to be determined.

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Schedule for Artist Workshops at Newark Arts Alliance

12:00 to 12:30 Thom Zahler – Love and Capes

12:50 – 1:20 Ken & Buz – Living Corpse

1:30 – 2:10 Rich & Jamar – Roboy Red & Grosse Point Adventures

2:30 – 3:00 Dan Parent – Archie Comics

3:00 to 4:00 Zenescope Comics – World’s Most Dangerous Animals

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Costumed Characters

Spider-Man, Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, Batman and MORE!!!

11:00 to 4:00

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Dan ParentArchie Comics

Thom ZahlerLove and Capes

Neil VokesFlesh and Blood, The Wicked West

Buz HassonThe Living Corpse

Ken HaeserThe Living Corpse

Scott RobertsPatty Cake, Spongebob Comics

Jamar NicholasFist Stick Knife Gun (comic), Comic Book Diner Podcast

Rich FaeberRoboy Red (comic), Buzzboy (comic), Comic Book Diner Podcast

Zenescope – Various creators/artists (TBA)

Neil KingElvis Must Die, My Sister the Dinosaur

Sean BishopSmorgasbord Productions

Tom Lynch – webcomic ’30 Extra Lives’

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Lion Dance between 12-1

Hung Gar Kung Fu Studio

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NEWARK ARTS ALLIANCE

ACTIVITIES

Face Painting * Make a Mother’s Day Card * Food and Concessions * Mask Making

Thanks to Newark Art Alliance, Newark Development Group, Chick-Fil-A and our Market East Neighbors

AVENGERS, AVENGERS, AVENGERS, AVENGERS

 

Now that I’m entangled in the AVENGERS VS X-MEN net,  I picked up some back and current issues in a haphazard attempt to update myself on their current events.  Since I chose the side of THE AVENGERS it’s been mostly Avengers-related books so far . . . . . . . . . . and as you may suspect - - - spoilers are everywhere.

THE AVENGERS #23  (Marvel, April 2012)  Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Daniel Acuna, artist.  VC’s Cory Petit, letters. Renato Guedes, cover art.

avengers 23

I haven’t read this title since the opening story arc.  The line-up has changed since then.  Current membership includes Iron Man, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, The Protector, Jarvis, Captain America, Storm, The Vision, The Red Hulk and Quake.  I picked this up mostly because I saw The Vision on the cover  (my favorite Avengers member of all time).  It’s also nice to see The Hulk back on the team, even if it is the Red Hulk. 

I am grateful for the synopsis that explains what occurred in the prior issues.  It wasn’t hard to pick up the story from this point and follow it.  Norm Osborn has escaped from prison, resurrected  the H.A.M.M.E.R. organization and is playing the “dirty politics” game of pointing the finger at The Avengers and accusing them of various crimes against the citizenry. 

Osborn is obviously mad.  The federal government is not complying with his ultimatum to re-appoint him as director of all defense systems.  He holds most of the Avengers hostage and has the combined might of A.I.M., Hydra and The Hand to back him up.  Even the government can recognize a crazy, misguided person.  Unfortunately,  not all of the citizenry can and some of the local population believes that Osborn is “the man.”  Sometimes closet fanatics are just looking for someone like-minded to follow.

Some Avengers escape, others are re-captured and the issue ends in a showdown with Osborn (who didn’t get the message) proclaiming:  “By the authority vested in me as leader of the World Peacekeeping Task Force, I, Norman Osborn, hereby declare you enemies of the State.”  Yawn.  In spite of the action nothing here has really got me excited about this story.  Daniel Acuna does a first-class job on the art, using a little shadow and dark colors here and there - - but nothing excites me here either.

THE AVENGERS #24  (Marvel, May 2012)  Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Daniel Acuna, artist.  VC’s Cory Petit, letters.  Daniel Acuna, cover art.

Thanks to the science team at A.I.M. labs, Osborn now has super-powers a la The Adaptoid.   Dan Acuna likes to shade a lot of panels as if everything were being viewed through either infrared goggles or black light, and it becomes annoying when the faces stay red in succeeding panels.  A little of this goes a long, long way.  Sigh. 

avengers 24

Norman doesn’t succeed.  How he is defeated is hinted at earlier in the story but not clearly defined when the moment comes  - - so it’s normal to feel confused (as I did).  Sloppy work here, Bendis.  How The Avengers (with an assist from The New Avengers)  can take down so many of Osborn’s team when they are clearly outnumbered is not clearly defined either. I guess Bendis didn’t want to take anymore time trying to tie up the loose ends.  Maybe eager to get onto the next story.

Oops, looks like they let Madame Hydra escape (along with “the science of the super-powered community in her pocket.”)  The last page of this issue shows her rallying the forces for a new Hydra initiative. 

It’s this type of grind-it-out (formula) story that makes me restless and bored.  More of this and I’ll be turning my back on standard super-hero titles again. 

THE AVENGERS  #24.1  (Marvel,  May 2012)  Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Brandon Peterson, artist.  Sonia Oback, color art.  VC’s Cory Petit, letters.  Brandon Peterson, cover art.

I was getting very discouraged after reading those last two issues.  Now this is more like it!

It was the return of  The Vision that persuaded me to pick up this title and give it another chance . . . and it may be The Vision that keeps me hanging around longer.  This issue focuses on his character and it’s a great story.  If you only can pick up one of the four books reviewed here, make it this one.

Avengers 24.1

The artwork by Peterson is a major, major improvement over Acuna.  Action scenes are more dynamic. Character close-ups are more expressive.  There are some very exciting panels to view here.

The Vision is nearly back to full strength and function and is starting to ask questions about what has happened since his dormancy/absence as well as why things happened to him.  He learns that it wasn’t a fully-in-control She Hulk that ripped him in half.  It was his former wife, Wanda/Scarlet Witch who controlled/manipulated those events.

The Vision’s quest for information related to Wanda leads him to Utopia and a confrontation with his father-in-law, Magneto. Magneto does not welcome the intrusion and questions and both sides threaten great harm to each other, but neither side really acts on it.  It’s ironic that Magneto has worked so long for the cause of mutant rights while he seemingly displays little regard or empathy for the feelings or needs of an android/robot.   The only thing that stays his hand is the knowledge that The Vision was the one person who made it possible for his daughter to experience true happiness for a short while.

I especially enjoyed the ending of this story, with Captain America consoling a distraught Vision.  He also knows “what it feels like to wake up in a world that you don’t understand anymore” and urges that “you need to look forward.”  Classic story.  If you are a long time Avengers fan  -- you will want to read this issue. 

THE AVENGERS #25 (Marvel, June 2012)  Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Walter Simonson, pencils.  Scott Hanna, inks.  Jason Keith, colors.  VC’s Cory Petit, letters.  Daniel Acuna, cover art.

avengers 25

When I saw the cover to this issue cast in dark red light I thought Acuna must be back on art again.  Fortunately (for me) he just worked on the cover art.  Another artist takes over and it’s a veteran - - Walt Simonson.  As may be expected, Simonson’s style brings a classic feel to this book. 

This book features the A vs X banner on the cover and is a tie-in to the AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN series, although only three pages of this issue focus on events related to it. 

Most of this issue focuses on Captain America’s dissatisfaction with how the public currently perceives the current Avengers team and his discouragement in his new role as head of world security.  He gets a pep talk from the returning Thor.  No sooner does Cap share that “I just need a win.  A solid, unqualifiable win.”  than Noh-Varr/Protector discovers the location of A.I.M.’s major hidden lab.  So a major battle ensues and Cap gets his wish.  The best part of this is that Simonson gets to portray some battle scenes which are lots of fun to observe.  However,  it wasn’t very satisfying and I’m getting bored again.

The last page with the big reveal of a potential traitor within the Avengers and a new plot thread/complication related to the Phoenix Force arrival holds some promise.  It’s either going to enhance that storyline or just needlessly complicate it.  Time will tell.

Since this is tied in to A vs X,  I’ll use my rating system on this book . . . ..

RATING FOR THE AVENGERS #25  . . . .   2.5 stars . . . .  (1/2 story; 1 art; 1/2 stand-alone story; 1/2 related to main Phoenix storyline; 0 points for generating interest in reading more of this book.)

 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN: ROUND TWO

 

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #2  (Marvel, June 2012)  Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction = Story.  Jason Aaron = Script.  John Romita, Jr. = Pencils.  Scott Hanna = Inks.  Laura Martin = Colors.  Chris Eliopoulos = Letters.

Av vs Xm 2 cover

          I have to admit it.  I’m now immersed in the Avengers Vs. X-Men mega-saga.  I got hooked.  I’m going to be writing about more than just the main primary title.  I’d also like to provide some type of guide for the more casual reader and anyone who wants to explore this just a little bit.  If I can help point out the essential best bets as well as the issues it’s safe to avoid - - I would like to provide that service.

          I’ll be using a five-star scale = one star for good writing; one star for good art; one star for a well-done stand-alone story that can be enjoyed as is;  one star for effectively connecting to the bigger main storyline and either moving that along in an important way or revealing some important background information and/or insight; and one star for making me want to read further and return to this particular title.

*****SPOILER ALERT !!  SPOILERS BEGIN FOLLOWING THIS WARNING !! *****

          The credits page tells you everything you need to know in order to pick up on the story.  I thought it did a fine job of getting to the heart of the matter.  So good, that I’m going to repeat it here for the benefit of new readers:

“The Phoenix Force is returning to Earth.  It is a destructive entity of cosmic proportions.  Seeking a host to channel it’s power.”

“The X-Men believe it will bring about the rebirth of the endangered mutant race.  The Avengers believe it will destroy all life on the planet.  Both sides believe that Hope Summers, the mutant messiah, is the Phoenix’s chosen vessel.”

“The Avengers have come to the X-Men’s island home of Utopia to take Hope into custody.  The X-Men are determined to stop them . . . at any cost.”

          The roster page that shows images of each team’s members seems a little better balanced than it did in Issue #1.  The ratio of Avengers to X-Men is now 24 to 21, with two more individuals (Wolverine and Storm) straddling the line between both teams, as if they are undecided.  In Issue #1, Wolverine had come over to the Avengers side by the end of the issue.  Does this new image here mean that he is having second thoughts about it and may jump over to the X-Men team?  What about Storm?  Will she be having second thoughts and crossing over to the Avenger's’ side?

a v x page

          The opening shore assault is a little too reminiscent of the Normandy Beach invasion.  It isn’t really implying anything or being disrespectful.  It does disturb me a bit to make that connection.  Maybe that was the intention - - - to make the reader open up some memories and be affected by it. 

          Aaron uses lots of captions to make statements and attempt to make some things seem more profound that they are.  When the severity of the depicted situation is readily apparent to the reader these captions tend to come off as obvious, unnecessary and redundant.  After a while, they just become a bit annoying.

          John Romita Jr.  returns this issue and continues his excellent portrayal of these events in vivid wide-screen panels.

          Another one of my guesses/speculations turns out to be wrong as Quicksilver decides to join the battle and rushes to the side of the Avengers.  His first assault is against his own father, Magneto.  Can Wanda be far behind?  We are given a brief preview of a disturbing and prophetic image from her journal.

          Lest I forget to mention it, there are some great battles inside = Cyclops vs. Captain America; Thing and Cage vs. Namor; Emma Frost vs. Iron Man vs. Magneto; Hope vs. Wolverine; and Dr. Strange vs. Magick.  Awesome stuff.

Rating for AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #2 . . . . . 4.5 stars  (1/2 point on the writing)

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #9  (Marvel, June 2012)  Jason Aaron, writer.  Chris Bachalo, penciler/colorist.  Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey, inkers.  Chris Eliopoulos, letters.

wolv xmne 9

        The cover throws down the challenge and proclaims:  AVENGER OR X-MAN?  A CHOICE MUST BE MADE.

         That is what Issue #9 is all about - - - giving more detail and background on the Phoenix Force returning to Earth and showing the events that lead up to Wolverine’s decision and why he made the choice he did.

*** SPOILER ALERT  ***  SPOILER ALERT  ***  SPOILER ALERT  ***

          I really enjoy the light-hearted style that scripter Aaron employs on this title.  It is different and refreshing from his other works.  I previewed Issue #1 of this title and saw many indications there.  I’m glad to see in Issue #9 that he has maintained that tone.  This still remains a serious book and a vital part of the current X-Men saga.  It’s just the way that Aaron finds humor in all situations and is able to point it out, make us chuckle while still holding our respect and concerns for the individual characters.  It’s a nice blend and a fine balance that not all writers can pull off so successfully as here.

          The opening two pages set the scene perfectly.  A pack of unruly aliens drink and carouse on Planet Sin while placing bets on what appears to be some type of racing event.   It turns out to be wagering on which planet will be next to be devastated by the Phoenix Force as it passes by.  Naturally, the planet chosen by these gamblers as most likely to be visited and destroyed next is . . . . . Earth.

         What I appreciate most is that a casual reader could pick up this book, and based on these two pages plus the synopsis given on the credits page, quickly acclimate themselves to events and get immersed in the current activities.  They/you/I don’t have to read all the other linked titles (even the primary Avengers Vs. X-Men limited series) in order to appreciate the singular story presented here.  Now that’s how to do it right!  This is a good story all by itself and needs no outside help. 

          The art by Bachalo will not be appreciated or enjoyed by all.  It’s a different style that takes some getting used to.  It’s been some time since I have read any books that he has worked on.  This is better than my memory of his style.  Things sometimes appear a little simplistic;  and sometimes they appear a little cluttered.  However, Bachalo accomplishes a lot within the format (small panel, multi-panel per page) employed here.  Some of the point-of-view angles and perspectives show some creativity.  I’m reminded a bit of the late 1970’s works by Walt Simonson and see traces of his style here.  His long-shots of characters can sometimes appear cartoony (or like stick figures) but once accepted it is easier to appreciate.  It’s fun to see how Bachalo visualizes some of these characters, especially Captain America.

         Aaron shows a side of Wolverine here that you don’t always see - - - as a caring school superintendent thoroughly immersed in the welfare of both his students and staff and very much aware of the mentor/lead-by-example role and responsibility as it relates to personal development and growth.

         As to that decision made by Wolverine (in the midst of conflicting interests) I could claim a continuity error if I wanted to nit-pick - - - but I am willing to overlook it in the interest of a better story.  When Wolverine gets the news from Captain America about the oncoming Phoenix Force in AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN #1  he gives Cap some insight into the anticipated difficulty of taking Hope into custody but declines to take a side and appears very non-committal.  In the longer meeting detailed here, Wolverine does take a stand and agrees when asked to help the Avengers.  Let’s just consider that the events in AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN #1 relate a different and earlier meeting when Cap first spoke of this to Logan.  In WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #9 Cap returns with new and confirming information; and this second request persuades Logan to make up his mind.  There, I’ve settled it!

        There is some more detail here that is not critical if missed, but also helps to enhance the story going on in the main AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN book.  Logan/Wolverine states to his staff:  “I’ll be on that team.  My responsibility is to protect this school.  No matter what.  And that’s what I’m going to do.”  Beast worries that there is a deeper meaning to his words and cautions:  “I know why you’ve always kept your distance from Hope.  It’s because you knew this day would come.  And if she starts to go Dark Phoenix like Jean did, you figure you’re the one who’ll have to kill her.  I just want you to remember, she’s only a child.”  (Now go back to AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN #2 and look again at the key moment between Logan and Hope.)  We also learn that Gladiator, the current lord/ruler of the Shi’ar home world, means to protect his son (Kid Gladiator, a student at the School) and agrees to activate the Death Commandos (a Phoenix =-related preventative measure).

        There’s also time to learn a little more about student Idie Okonkwo, Toad the janitor, and some day-to-day events/calamities that occur on campus.  This is a very good book.

Rating for WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #9 . . . . .  4.5 stars  (1/2 point on the art).

new avengers 24

THE NEW AVENGERS #24  (Marvel, June 2012)  Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Mike Deodato & Will Conrad, artists.  Rain Beredo, color art.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letters & production.

         As with WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #9, THE NEW AVENGERS #24 is not an essential reading requirement for following the main AVENGERS VS X-MEN storyline.  However, bypassing this issue would mean you miss out on the most compelling story of the trio reviewed in this article. 

          The script is worthy of 2 stars.  However, I am not about to violate the rating system I just set up earlier and start bending the rules - - - so it stays at 1 star for story rating.  It’s a very strong star, and a very moving story with a take-away social message/insight on current American family demands and priorities.

        I am familiar with the work of artist Mike Deodato and I don’t recall being as impressed as much as I am with the illustrations in this issue.  The teamwork of Deodato and Conrad really puts a bolder definition on the art and the detail is very sharp and crisp.  As with the story, the artwork is my favorite of the three issues reviewed.  That says a lot, because one of those other artists is John Romita, Jr. ( a personal favorite) and THE NEW AVENGERS #24 is mostly barren of dynamic action panels/fight scenes.

*** SPOILER ALERT  *** SPOILER ALERT  *** SPOILER ALERT  ***

          The story this issue is book-ended by the arrival of the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier above the island of Utopia and spends a little time reflecting on the conversations inside just before the ground assault.  The Red Hulk does his best to be a major motivator/confidence builder/cheerleader.  The final images of the Avengers descending to the ground are the most powerful of the issue.

        The middle story revolves around the return of Jessica Jones and baby daughter to Avengers HQ and a heartfelt conversation between her and Luke Cage on their path forward.  Following some threats by Norman Osborn, she had left the team and secreted herself and the baby from public sight.  Their family conversation is beautifully drawn and beautifully written.  It’s a familiar conversation to some and concerns parents torn between duty to job and duty to family and how they set priorities.  Given the nature of their jobs, it has much more impact and implications here but should strike a nerve with any parent who spends their working time in law enforcement or public defense.  (Or any parent with a demanding job, absorbed in their job, or following a rigid career path).  Everything comes to a critical moment when Captain America calls the team together to explain the current threat and mission plan.

Rating for THE NEW AVENGERS #24 . . . . .  5 stars.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ultimate Spider-Man (Disney XD)

The new "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series sets itself up from the beginning to tell a different version of the Peter Parker story than we've seen before. After soloing for a year, Spidey's approached by Nick Fury offering S.H.I.E.L.D. training with other young heroes so he can become the "Ultimate" hero. Peter accepts (or we wouldn't have a show), spinning Spider-Man's second year in costume off in a direction we've never seen.

I'd prefer a Spidey solo show with the classic villains, but we already had that show recently. Unfortunately "Spectacular Spider-Man" -- whose head writer is now in charge of the excellent "Young Justice" -- got cancelled in the Sony/Disney business deal that gave the Spider-Man animation rights back to Marvel. And, I have to admit, now that all the properties are under one roof for the first time maybe ever it would be foolish for Marvel not to do a show that includes as much of their rich universe as possible. In this case, it's mainly by partnering Spidey with White Tiger, Nova, Power Man & Iron Fist -- Yes, Luke & Danny are teenagers in this version. (One assumes that means Luke didn't get his powers in a prison experiment.) -- but also including villains like the Frightful Four and Doctor Doom, and an episode featuring Iron Man and the "Iron Spider" armor from Civil War.

There are some great people involved in this show: Brian Bendis has a producer credit, Jeph Loeb, "Man of Action" (Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Duncan Rouleau & Steven T. Seagle) who have already created two hit shows have writing credits, and Paul Dini wrote the two-part pilot. The show is aimed younger than "Spectacular" (but not nearly as young as "Super Hero Squad") and is more comedic: Peter talks to the camera a lot, and there are a lot of "Teen Titans Go" and "Family Guy" style asides. I thought the first two episodes, "Great Power" & "Great Responsibility" were a good start. The jokes were mostly funny, and balanced well with Peter's sense of responsibility without getting too serious. (For instance, the main reason he considers turning down Fury's offer is that he knows he'd feel responsible for the safety of his partners.) Dini has Peter tell about his origin, friends and powers mostly through brief asides. I especially enjoyed the one about how Harry Osborn & Peter became best friends.

However, I haven't felt the later episodes kept that balance so well. I don't mind Peter being a little less responsible in this version, but he's out-and-out reckless & goofy in some of them and sometimes I think they'd be better off with fewer, funnier jokes rather than the "if you didn't like that one there's another one coming in three seconds" school of comedy. They're already overusing the "Scott Pilgrim" videogame graphics during fights gag, and Fury's getting dangerously close to becoming every ineffective adult in "Ferris Bueller". On the other hand, there's a neat update of the old S.H.I.E.L.D barbershop elevator, and Agent Coulson (posing as Peter's school principal) wanting to bring the full weight of the agency into balancing the school budget was pretty funny. (Fury: "He's gone native!") There's also a drop-dead funny "Super Hero Squad" gag in the "Iron Spider" episode.

The animation is very good; I think people who think the animation in "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" is too simple will like the look of this show better. (Those people are wrong, by the way, but that's a different rant.) It's a fun show, and I do like it even though I'll like it better when (if?) they tweak the comedy/action/drama balance a little bit. Of the shows in DC & Marvel's weekend animation blocks, however, I have to rank it as my least favorite. Not because it's a bad show, but because the other shows are SO good. My ranking is "Young Justice" (the last few first season episodes were brilliant), then "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" (though I worry about what the back half of this season will be like when the USM crew takes over from Chris Yost), then "Green Lantern" (which is VERY close to being second) and finally "Ultimate Spider-Man". Give it a try, especially the pilot if you can find it, and let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Avengers Vs. X-Men - - - - - the opening round

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1  (Marvel, June 2012)  Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction = Story.  Brian Michael Bendis = Script.  John Romita, Jr. = Pencils.  Scott Hanna = Inks.  Laura Martin = Colors.  Chris Eliopoulos = Letters.

A vs X #1 detail

So far, these have been beautiful illustrated books to examine.  Artist Frank Cho does some of his best recent work in AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #0 and is followed in Issue #1 by the very dynamic John Romita, Jr.  The art and action/battle panels explode off the page.  The story is equally epic.  If  you enjoy sprawling sagas then you should be reading this series.

The reason for my optimism?  . . . . . . . . . .  The way this is playing out so far reminds me of the monumental CIVIL WAR epic of some years back.  That series had a dramatic impact on Marvel events that followed it and led to some equally great story-telling.  I am hoping that AVENGERS VS. X-MEN re-ignites some of that greatness and makes Marvel books more interesting to me again. ( In spite of how it will eventually thin out my wallet.) 

SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT

The Phoenix Force is the catalyst for the dispute between the leadership of The Avengers and X-Men teams.  To reinforce the seriousness conveyed by Captain America and Iron Man in Issue #0, the opening pages show the massive destruction the Phoenix Force is capable of.  In a touching sequence, a father and son await the end together as the Phoenix Force wipes out an unidentified planet as it travels along the path to Earth.  It takes place within four pages of fiery wide-screen carnage.

The logo page that shows head shots of the two teams seems rather lop-sided in favor of the Avengers in a 22-to-6 ratio, with both Wolverine and Beast straddling the fine line that separates the two teams.  Which side will they take?  My gut says they will both side with the X-Men (despite their present membership in Avengers of the New and Secret teams).

Some of the highlights for me in AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1  are: 

1)  The art team !  Romita excels as page after page of his crisp illustration wins me over.  The colors by Martin just want to pop off the page.  It’s hard for me to pick out a favorite art sequence - - there are so many great moments to marvel at:  Nova crashing to earth;  Hope unleashing some of the latent Phoenix force already within her as blasting the crap out of Cyclops as Magneto and Emma Frost view the argument with deep concern;  Cyclops focused beam that centers on Captain America’s shield and knocks him across two pages; the arrival of the massive S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier to Utopia and the assembled back-up force waiting onboard.

2)  Bendis at his best!  He keeps the story moving along at a rapid-fire pace but still manages to work in his signature stylings - - the comic asides during moments of high tension, and the “talking heads” expository sequences that impart both deep meaning/explanation and reveal the implications/consequences of what may follow.

3) Surprises!  Only a few short paragraphs before I commented that I expected Wolverine and Beast to side with the X-Men.  Wrong!  - - and I don’t mind admitting it.  So Beast joins the group of Avengers heading into space on an apparent “suicide mission”  to halt the progress of the Phoenix Force.  And in the concluding pages we see Wolverine (who earlier seemed reluctant to support either side because of concerns for his students) among the team ready to air-drop into Utopia and assist Captain America.   When the story is not so predictable and the unexpected occurs, my interest is enhanced.

A vs. X page detail

4) We have a classic confrontation here = two sides (represented by Cap and Cyclops) both convinced they are taking the right course of action.  It’s going to be either ‘death and destruction” or “rebirth.” One side wants to prevent calamity and defeat the anticipated destructive force.  The other side wants to allow it to arrive, find it’s focus, and hopes to control/manage that force for a greater good.  Both leaders firm in their convictions and sure of the path forward.  Obviously, the readers can see both points of view and agree with most of the major points.  For my two cents worth,  I think Captain America is the more practical/pragmatic and realistic of the two and knows what needs to be done. Cyclops certainly has noble intentions but too much is riding on his belief that the Phoenix Force can be controlled.  It doesn’t even appear that Hope can be controlled and coached.  Sorry, Cyclops.  I think it’s a pipe dream.  I ‘m going along with Cap. 

5) Technology augments the comics experience.  Marvel has done two different and admirable things here.   Each issue contains a code for a download of a free digital copy.  (I haven’t done this because the download is valid for one use only, and I plan to purchase an Apple IPad in the next 30 days.  I’ll wait until then.)  Secondly, they have incorporated throughout the story an AR icon for smart phones.  By downloading a free app that will open up additional motion panels when held over the graphic - - comics move even further into the future.  (Again, I have to wait to experience this once I get my IPad.  My present smart phone is the property of my employer and this type of usage is not permitted.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Make Mine whatever: confessions of a former True Believer

 

I have earned somewhat of a reputation among the regular visitors to this blog site as the source for reviews, etc. of alternative reading in comics.  I certainly do enjoy writing about  genres other than super-heroes - - - focusing on more independent publishers, controversial subjects and themes, horror and sometimes autobiographical and illustrated history. I’ll gladly take that badge and wear it proudly!

That doesn’t mean I don’t also read standard super-hero fare.  I also buy a good amount of books from the “Big Two” publishers.  I’ve devoted quite a bit of column space in the last six months to the DC NEW 52 titles.  DC right now seems to have a good grasp of what readership has been asking for.  They have assembled a great group of creators and the stories have become exciting again.

However, if you look over my collection you will find that MARVEL issues outnumber the DC issues by a ratio of 4 to 1.  I never followed any DC books on a continuing basis, a practice that began for me back in the early days.  In my comics-reading formative years, I was weaned on a steady formula of Lee and Kirby.  I was able to relate to Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and other MARVEL characters more.  They seemed closer to not just my age, but also my values, principles and beliefs.  I could never get into the “head” of any of the wooden DC characters back in the 1960’s – 1970’s.  (I did immerse myself much more in the DC universe in the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s – but it didn’t last.)

It was MARVEL that held the super-hero magic for me.  To further reinforce my preference in recent time - - - along came AVENGERS DISSASSEMBLED, CIVIL WAR, and SECRET INVASION  to hold my attention.  But since those days,  I find myself enjoying MARVEL books less and less.  The classic characters are still there - - but they aren’t pulling me in like before.  It seems like the only new things from the “House Of Ideas”  is to stack one mega-crossover on top of another and stretch out  story concepts across multiple titles far further than they ought to be.  (The upcoming crossover in the DC Bat-titles  - - the Council Of Owls storyline – has me feeling both anxious and apprehensive. One of the things I liked about the NEW 52 was the promise of concise and compact story arcs and no more crossovers. Well, at least it lasted almost six to seven months.)

So, the AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN mega story / mega crossover has me intrigued.  It’s been a very long time since I used to follow both teams on a monthly basis.  When the X-MEN expanded to multiple titles I lost interest in trying to keep up (in the late 1990’s).  When the same thing occurred with the AVENGERS in the last five years or so I gave up on them as well.  So, it will be interesting to see if I can renew my interest by following AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN for the next six or so months it takes this mega-event to play out.  I’m committed to the limited series only.  We’ll see if I venture into any of the other titles that this battle will continually cross over into.  (I will probably sample one issue of the secondary series - - the  A vs. X “battle” issues - - for sure.)  It’ s going to take something major or shocking  to occur (as in AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED and/or CIVIL WAR) to win me back.  Show me what you’ve got, Marvel !

If I feel the magic has returned,  I’ll be commenting on that right here.  And, since I’ve decided to write something about every issue as it comes out - - if this series turns out to be garbage it will cause me to violate one of my personal rules for reviewing .  That rule is “don’t write negative reviews.  Write about books that excite you; books that could benefit from further attention and need more readers.  If you don’t like it, ignore it.”   I sure hope that doesn’t happen.  So, without further delay, let’s get to it ! . . . .

*** Alert!! - - Spoilers beyond this point ***

AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN PROGRAM GUIDE one-shot . . . . .

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Those of us who frequent their  local independent comics stores on a regular basis were able to snag this little gem back in February.   There are short previews of both AVENGERS VS X-MEN #0  and AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1.  The clues are all there - - the major threat/challenge in this series and also possibly the event that causes the battle lines to be drawn between The Avengers and The X-Men is the return of the Phoenix force to Earth.  The current line-ups are shown for The Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine & His X-Men.  Storm and Namor are part of The Uncanny X-Men while Beast is shown with The Secret Avengers.  Wolverine doesn’t get a spotlight (yet) but he can be seen in a tiny shadowy panel with Uncanny X-Force.  There is also a page with six  “Wild Cards” posing the question  “Where will they stand?”  Here are my guesses - - Scarlet Witch will fall back in with the X-Men (based on a snub in AVENGERS VS X-MEN #0) and Quicksilver will stand with his sister.  Deadpool and Cable should be on the X-side.  I can’t think of any reasons why they wouldn’t.  Nova and Hulk will side with the Avengers.  (We’ll see how well my predictions are soon enough.) I’ll cover the #0 preview in the following paragraphs.  Here’s what up with the #1 preview =

The Avengers alert the U.S. government that the Phoenix is headed to Earth and looking for a new biological host - - and they feel pretty sure they know exactly where it is headed.  Captain America makes an early attempt to enlist Wolverine and his school but doesn’t get a reply from a reflective and remorseful Logan.   Cyclops/Scott suspects that Hope will be the target and is contemplating allowing it to happen in the hopes (pun)  that she can be trained to control the energy force for the good. 

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #0  :  Writers = Brian Michael Bendis (Scarlet Witch story) & Jason Aaron (Hope story).  Artist – Frank Cho.  Color Art – Jason Keith.  Letterer – Chris Eliopoulos.

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Nobody will complain about this choice of writers - -  both Bendis and Aaron are at the top of their super-hero scripting games (although they may slip a little from time to time, these two are consistently solid).  It’s also great to see Frank Cho back drawing a super-hero team.  His clean and fluid style is very inviting.  He goes all out in this preview with some big panel action, some of it exploding across two pages.  The rest of the art team makes it all look awesome.  I loved what Cho did with The Avengers a few years back and was sorry to see his assignment end too quickly.  (Rumor is that he couldn’t keep up with the monthly deadlines - - hope that doesn’t happen again with this series.) 

In the opening story by Bendis, the Scarlet Witch returns and interferes with an assassination attempt by M.O.D.O.K. and some A.I.M. forces and constructs.  She gets an assist from some Avengers  followed by an invite to visit their HQ.  This Scarlet Witch is very beautiful and “wholesome” as portrayed by Cho, and I like the touch of modesty and self-consciousness Bendis brings to her.  She’s been out of practice for some time and is far from being sure of herself.  The first person she meets at the door of Avengers Mansion is The Vision, who makes it clear she is not welcome.  The Vision was one of my favorite Avengers back in the 1970’s and it’s cool that Bendis is bringing him back to the forefront.  I always liked his cool demeanor and logical statements tempered with a soft and sensitive side.  How else could an android win the heart of a mutant witch except with sincerity and conviction?    I didn’t expect the exchange of conversation between the two to come off the way it did here.  It’s a neat surprise and makes sense after what happened.  And Bendis/Cho hint a little that the Vision is not as unaffected as he wants it to appear.   The page that has almost no dialogue and just shows the body language/reactions of several team members is priceless, as is the lonely and discouraged expressions of Wanda.  Cho does it right by isolating her on the far right of the page against a blank white background.  Hey, I’m warming up to this book.  This is the kind of story telling that gets my attention!  Especially when we are getting to this in the #0 issue !  My favorite line in this issue occurs after M.O.D.O.K. tries to humble Wanda by reminding her of the damage she caused in the super-team ranks.  She responds with = “Please. I’m begging you.  If I wanted to hear a crazy monologue I’d move back in with my father.”

In the second story by Aaron,  Hope shows just how tough she is. First she holds her own both verbally and physically against Cyclops.  Then she takes on the Serpent Squad and puts them down.  Scott/Cyclops is trying to guide her but she has her own ideas and values.  She is ready to meet the Phoenix. Scott thinks she can be their savior but is apprehensive because of what happened to Jean Gray many years back. He worries she may be killed or driven crazy.  My favorite line in this story was Hope’s retort to Scott  = “And here I thought this place was called Utopia. Funny name for a prison.”

I like the way this series is starting out.  Things are actually happening here.  Obviously both Wanda Maximoff and Hope Summers will be major players in the events to come.

NEWS FLASH:  After an immediate sellout of Avengers VS. X-Men #0 in comic shops all across the country, Marvel has bumped up the on-sale of Avengers VS. X-Men #0 Second Printing Variant to April 18th .   Not only will Avengers VS. X-Men #0 Second Printing Variant be available in time for Avengers VS. X-Men #2, but a second printing of Avengers VS. X-Men #1 as well!