Sunday, July 29, 2012

Avengers: Some Assembly required

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AVENGERS ASSEMBLE  # 1 – 5  (May –September 2012) Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Mark Bagley, penciler.  Danny Miki, inker.  Paul Mounts, colors.  VC’s Clayton Cowles, letterer.

When I first saw the announcement of a new monthly Avengers book in PREVIEWS  I wasn’t very excited.

Aren’t there enough Avengers books?  Why glut the market with yet another one?  Who could possibly make up the roster of this team?  Isn’t every non-X-Men hero a member of one Avengers team or another?  Who’s left? 

When I learned that this new AVENGERS ASSEMBLE team would mirror the characters in the wildly popular AVENGERS movie I immediately concluded = marketing decision.   The AVENGERS movie just might create new interest in these characters and drive new customers into comic stores and book shops in search of Avengers books to read. (Barnes & Noble mostly – sometimes I wonder how well they do with comics sales. I believe they cornered the market for manga.)  Why not put something out there they recognize and get them comfortable?   I’m not against that marketing decision - - it’s a smart business move, especially since the movie has exceeded all attendance expectations and is the summer movie of 2012  the others want to beat.  (I suspect BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES might be just a little too dark to accomplish that.)  But, I also suspected that AVENGERS ASSEMBLE would be geared towards the general public (less familiar with the source material) and not necessarily a book for true fans.   I was wrong.

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With Bendis writing the stories and Bagley illustrating them Marvel has re-united the long running team from ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.   That got my attention.  I would have to check out the first issue at least.  I’m now well acquainted with all issues, right up to the current AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #5. 

If you can only read one AVENGERS title, this is the one.  It stands apart from the other books and is not inter-connected in story line (all of them crossing over into AVENGERS VS X-MEN presently).  What you will find is a fun read, both amusing and entertaining while it holds your attention, and the best art I have seen from Mark Bagley in a long, long time. 

Just to help new readers identify this book on the newsstands, the first three covers feature the full team.  They don’t depart from this format until Issue #4, which features an awesome scene of an arrow-riddled Hulk holding an unconscious Thor in one hand and raising his hammer with the other.  Issue #5 is a sultry cover featuring Black Widow and Hawkeye in a passionate embrace sure to make every male extremely jealous of Clint Barton.  (Yeah, I know that Hawkeye’s appearance has now been altered so that he more closely resembles actor Jeremy Renner.  And, with AVENGERS ASSEMBLE we are also treated to a Hulk with facial features similar to actor Mark Rufalo).

I’m not going to regurgitate very many plot elements here.  Suffice to say this is a good book worthy of your time.  Here are some of the highlights:

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  •      ***  A new Avengers tower that serves as headquarters and housing for the Avengers.  (Sure - - of course it resembles Stark Tower from the movie).
  •      ***  A re-vamping of the Zodiac team of super-villains (going way way back in Avengers lore).  The new team has powers that more resemble the signs of the Zodiac rather than representative costumes.  Aquarius converts to a giant water spout/form and Taurus has incredible bull-like strength and looks to boot.  (He almost takes down two very powerful Avengers single-handedly.  This mysterious group is empowered by a behind-the-scenes benefactor, apparently not from Earth and displeased with humanity.  We only get to see the new Zodiac in action briefly in Issue #3 before the Avengers figure out how to beat them.  It’s a little disappointing  - - there’s a lot of potential and I hope to see Zodiac again.
  •     ***   The art!  The art!  Wow! Bagley out-does himself. Very cinematic, probably purposeful.  But I’m not complaining. It’s great!  There are great visuals every single issue.  Look at what the art team put together for the two-page spread of galactic battle in Issue #5.  The inks and shading really enhance Bagley’s pencils.  More wow!

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    ***   The return of the Ultimate Nullifier,  a favorite weapon/tool/power device of Marveldom.  And to pair it up later, add some Infinity Gems. These items don’t belong together, unless you can match them up with the Cosmic Cube.  What a trifecta!

    ***  The return of Nick Fury’s floating sports car  (as in the original NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. series from the old STRANGE TALES comic).

  ***  Thanos is back, big and bad as ever.  It makes sense to feature him after the ending of the Avengers movie.  Why not bring the curious in to see what this villain is all about? 

  ***  Tony Stark contacts President Obama (portrayed in shadows, but that’s a distinctive profile)  to inform him:  “Mr. President.  This is the difference between our existence and our not existing.  We are at Def Con One Thousand, sir.  . . . Blow the place.”   What?  Giving up?  Read this to find out more.  Check out the outstanding centerspread in Issue #4.

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   ***  This is where it gets a little crazy and I’m not as sure I’m liking the direction.  Just as the Avengers are concluding that they are in over their head, another team with more-suited cosmic field experience shows up to assist = THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.  (Wanting to create a little buzz for that movie announcement, perhaps.)

Still, in spite of all that clutter, I’m gong to see this story line out.  It also appears to be the one and only storyline as AVENGERS ASSEMBLE seems to end with Issue #8 to make way for Marvel Next.  That makes it a neat little collection for someone who doesn’t want to pursue a huge volume of work.

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, Round Eight + spoilers: Say Namor

 

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #8  (September 2012)  Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman = story.  Brian Michael Bendis = script.  Adam Kubert = Pencils.  John Dell = Inks.  Laura Martin with Larry Molinar = colors.  Chris Eliopoulos = letters.

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If John Romita, Jr. can’t be back yet, Adam Kubert is a very welcome alternate artist.  The opening two splash pages with an angry Phoenix-enhanced Namor attempting to destroy Wakanda all by his lonesome is pure dynamite and only the beginning of some marvelous illustrations throughout the issue. 

This is a battle issue but don’t confuse it as an expansion of AVX: VS - - this is much more serious and intense.  I prefer it this way.  Without spoiling too much of the action for you - - Namor is stopped but not without consequences for the remaining Phoenix-powered X-Men and further challenges for the Avengers.

I find the opening roster page with the character icons to continue to be very revealing, almost like a silent summary of the proceedings. This time it is very lop-sided with only The Phoenix Five (Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik, Namor) on the X-Men side with only Magneto and Professor X shown as associates. (By the end of the issue we can no longer be sure if Professor X will continue to be a bystander or take action.)  Hope is now straddling the line between both groups.  The Avengers also number four mutants on their side (Wolverine, Beast, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch) while no standard super-hero has yet to align with the X-Men and agree with their viewpoint.

This series continues to entertain and surprise - - - I’m going to see it through to the finale and encourage you to jump onboard anytime.

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AVENGERS ACADEMY #33  (September 2012)  “What The Heart Wants” conclusion . . . Christos Gage, writer.  Timothy Green II, penciler.  Jeff  Huet, inker.  Chris Sotomayor, colorist.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer.

This wraps up the story that began in AVENGERS ACADEMY #32 with an empowered Emma Frost determined to destroy the Sentinel robot befriended by human Juston Seyfert.  Juston has a deep emotional bond to the robot, and his sympathetic co-students and administrators stand up to Frost in their defense.

You may anticipate the outcome of this, and you’d be right considering the powerful forces now powering Emma Frost.  However, it’s the telling of the tale that is special and there are some heart-warming moments and meaningful exchanges of opinions.  Quicksilver makes a special appearance and plays an important role in the proceedings which shows him to have some heart as well.

The work of guest artist Green gets even better this issue, as if he is getting more comfortable here. Too bad, since the regular team returns next issue.  Also too bad, as events at the end of this story seem to point the way towards the end of the AVENGERS ACADEMY title.  I’ve been impressed by everything I’ve seen here, and anticipate that Gage will be given a deserving new assignment in Marvel Next.

Rating for AVENGERS ACADEMY #33 - - - - THREE STARS

UNCANNY X-MEN #16 (September 2012)  Kieron Gillen, writer.  Daniel Acuna, artist.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer. 

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The summary on the credits page reveals a detail that I don’t recall being explained in previous issues.  It may have been hinted at, but some of us may have missed it. . . . . “Meanwhile, Mister Sinister has been building his underground city of Sinister London.  He has created a race of Sinister clones, each one capable of carrying on the sentience of Sinister. But to continue to power his Creation Engines, Sinister needs the Phoenix Force and aims to place it into six clones of Madeline Pryor.”

As the Phoenix Five lay siege to Castle Sinister, Mr. S throws many surprises their way - - Cyclops clones, Marauder clones, a Krakoa clone, Gambit clones, Cannonball clones -  all designed to confuse and delay the X-Men.  Namor loses patience (again!) with Cyclops concentrated plan of attack and breaks off to bust into the castle alone.  Emma Frost is assaulted by enhanced cow-pies (you need to see this for yourself) and Cyclops’ group seems to be separating (by Sinister’s design).  Being confronted by multiple Madelynes seems to have crushed Cyclops’s spirits in multiple fashion. 

This issue is full of battle scenes yet Acuna’s work here seems rushed. But, it’s not awful - - I just feel he is capable of doing even better than this.  It still remains a very colorful and energized issue.  I guess I miss the awesome work of  Dustin Weaver in his one-shot appearance (UNCANNY X-MEN #14).  Marvel, let’s see more of this talented artist!

Rating for UNCANNY X-MEN #16 - - - THREE STARSWolverine-and-the-X-Men_14-674x1024

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #14 (September 2012)  “My Dinner With The Phoenix”  Jason Aaron, writer.  Jorge Molina, penciler.  Norman Lee, inker. Morry Hollowell, colorist.  Chris Eliopoulos, letterer.

Colossus returns to the Jean Grey School to invite Kitty Pryde to dinner, during which he intends to pose the big question to her.  Icemen sees some evidence to indicate that while the Phoenix Five may be the great benefactors of Earth they also seem to be attaining god-like egos and deal without mercy to any who oppose or question them. 

The chat between Kitty and Peter is portrayed so well.  It’s the highpoint of the issue, both script and art working together to paint the proper picture of events.  You can well imagine the outcome of this one as well.  Both dinner participants have second thoughts during the aftermath.   During the prologue Iceman, Angel and Rachel return to the school, having seen the error of their ways in siding with Cyclops’ group. 

Rating for WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #14 - - - FOUR STARS

X-MEN LEGACY #270  (September 2012)  Christos Gage, writer.  David Baldeon, penciler.  Jordi Tarragona, inker.  Brian Reber, colorist.  VC’s Cory Petit, letterer.

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From the credits page plot summary:  “Ambushed by Ms. Marvel in New Orleans, Rogue responds in turn and takes her captive.  But Rogue is shocked when Magik doesn’t teleport their prisoner to the brig, but instead to a volcanic piece of the hell dimension Limbo that she’s brought to Earth.” 

What happens in this issue is that Rogue has first doubt, and then a change of heart. She attempts to free Ms. Marvel from the prison.  That’s the storyline in a nutshell.  It seems that the X-Men are having issues within the ranks, and may be fragmenting.  (I still feel good about the Avenger’s chances.) 

It’s the detailing of this hellish prison and the creativity of both writer Gage and artist Baldeon that make it special.  This is very gruesome as well as inventive.  Rogue uses her special powers in a slightly different way that shows she is gaining a comfort level and the confidence level to do what must be done. It’s a maturing point in the development of this character - - perhaps a secondary player no longer.

RATING FOR X-MEN LEGACY #270  - - - THREE STARS

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A vs. X cross-overs: I still think Avengers will prevail

 

I think I’ll go back to my stack of AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN cross-over books.  Despite my working off a number of these in my last few blogs - - this is still a good-sized stack.  I don’t want to think what I’ve spent trying to explore this mega-event.  I remember commenting earlier that I appreciated that Marvel wasn’t deliberately trying to include essential elements of the main story in any of the cross-over books.  The idea was that they were there if you wanted to read more, but they would be side-stories that may provide extra detail or background but wouldn’t contain any key moments in the big story.  In spite of that I picked up many of them.  A good story just makes me want to explore further.  Maybe Marvel is finally listening to the general readership and finding a way to present these mega-events without expecting everyone to get all the titles. As long as they include good stories and don’t cheapen up the art teams certain readers will buy enough of the side-line books to help sales numbers.   Everybody is happy.  Maybe. 

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THE AVENGERS #26 –27 (July + August 2012) Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Walter Simonson, pencils.  Scott Hanna, inks.  Jason Keith, colors.  VC’s Cory Petit, letters. 

It’s great to see the master Walt Simonson on a regular title.  I’ve always liked his work (and his Thor scripted books also) and his individualistic style with elements that recall the art of Jack Kirby and John Romita, Sr.  The best example of this is the feeling of hopelessness so aptly conveyed by the two-page centerspread in Issue #26 showing a defeated Avengers and Quincarrier adrift in space. 

These two books are linked to events that occur in SECRET AVENGERS #26-28 so it would be very hard to consider this a stand-alone.  It does make a two-part story that could be appreciated without reading the other Avengers title but would leave a lot unexplained. Get these two issues or grab the others as well.  They both contain good stories. 

The Avengers mission to halt the Phoenix Force in space is not successful but does get one small triumph = on a second attempt a piece of the Phoenix “energy” is captured. This could be taken back to Earth for Tony Stark and Hank Pym to study and see if it reveals a weakness in the Phoenix Force. However, the Kree have their eyes on the prize as well and have one of their agents working on the inside to help them capture it.  (Okay, it’s the Protector - - but one glance at the cover and you would have figured that out on your own.)  I’ll just touch on some of the highlights.

A grim-faced Captain America gives the best short explanation of the threat represented by the Phoenix Force heading towards Earth:  “It’s a destructive parasitical force of cosmic proportions that latches on to a biological host . . . It then uses that vessel to lay waste to the surrounding environment.”

The Protector has been dating an Earth girl, Annie. The scene where he says his goodbyes to her is very touching and handled very well by Bendis and Simonson.   It’s ironic that it’s the Protector who devises the method by which the Avengers get their second chance and then he has to steal the prize away. He thought he was protecting both Kree and Earth interests but that’s not the case.

Good story.  Good art.  In spite of that I’m not compelled to keep going. Next issue brings a new story with the Red Hulk featured.  This seems like a place to jump off.  Not a stand-alone. Not essential, just an interesting side story.

RATING FOR THE AVENGERS #26-27 - - - - - TWO STARS 

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THE NEW AVENGERS #28 (September 2012)  Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Mike Deodato, artist.  Rain Beredo, color art.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letters & production.

We take a break from the training of Hope at K’un Lun and return to Earth where the focus this issue is on Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and Hawkeye as they attempt to break out of the X-Men’s prison.  Each have their own schemes and tactics to put into play, and it’s fun to watch it unfold.  Spider-Woman seems to have the best moves. She can be a real bad-ass.  A great moment occurs when Hawkeye thinks she’s a shape-shifter and she refers to a personal part of his anatomy so he realizes it’s really her.

I’m still admiring the recent work of artist Mike Deodato and feel it’s worth picking up this book just to enjoy that.  While a prison setting doesn’t lend itself to the same elaborate mystical background scenery as the last few issues of THE NEW AVENGERS has,  Mike and the art team do some nice work with panel placement, shadows and dark tones here.  I’m reminded a little bit of Paul Gulacy. 

Good story. Good art.  I do want to see what else Bendis and Deodato will do, especially when the preview hints at the Illuminati next issue.  Wow. It’s truly a stand-alone story.  You could read and enjoy this without benefit of any other issue.  Neat!  Of course it’s non-essential.

RATING FOR NEW AVENGERS #28 - - - - - FOUR STARS

AVENGERS ACADEMY #30  (July 2012)  “Protective Services, Part 2”  Christos Gage, writer.  Tom Grummett, penciler.  Cory Hamscher, inker. Chris Sotomayor, colorist.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer.

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One thing I’ve really appreciated about the AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN books is that the majority of them have featured great art teams, and this issue of AVENGERS ACADEMY is no exception.

Within the former West Coast Avengers compound that now serves as the Avengers Academy the mix of super-powered teens includes several mutants.  Because of the impending arrival of the Phoenix Force these mutants have been confined to campus (“protective custody”)  and this is the focus of the conflict here.  Complicating matters is a recently escaped Sebastian Shaw, wandering the grounds somewhere in a mad rage.

There is a great amount of discussion and debate among the teens as to what is right and what side to take that is very interesting to read. Gage does a nice job of presenting all points of view without favoring one over the other.  When a mutant has to stand on the side of the school and help confine other mutants it strains the sense of duty and right and wrong. Further complicating matters is the inclusion of a good Sentinel (best friend and pet of  student Juston) to patrol the perimeter.

RATING FOR AVENGERS ACADEMY #30 - - - THREE STARS (not a stand-alone and not essential)

AVENGERS ACADEMY #32  (August 2012)  “What The Heart Wants, Part 1”  Christos Gage, writer.  Timothy Green II, penciler.  Jeff Huet, inker.  Chris Sotomayor, colorist.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer.

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The staff at Avengers Academy have made a decision to let the young mutant students leave. Juston Seyfert has programmed his bodyguard Sentinel with a new list of priorities, but he can’t seem to erase the original directives to apprehend and destroy mutants.  He has to settle for making it the lowest of priorities.  This doesn’t sit well with remaining mutant X-23 who wants a complete erasure of the unit’s memories and a re-boot.  Juston resists, as he feels that would mean losing his “friend” forever.  X-23 relents, but a bigger problem emerges when Emma Frost shows up with the same thing in mind - - erase/eradicate the Sentinel.

The arguments back and forth are well-said and touching.  Good story. Good art. Not a stand-alone – it’s continued.  And that makes me want to continue.  Still non-essential to the main book.

RATING FOR AVENGERS ACADEMY #32  - - - - - THREE STARS

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More Avengers vs. X-Men Crossovers: “Are you feeling Sinister?”

 

 . . . with apologies to the music of Belle & Sebastian for borrowing their title                     NOTE: Spoilers are scattered throughout this blog

UNCANNY X-MEN #15  (September 2012)  Kieron Gillen, writer.  Daniel Acuna, artist.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer.  Daniel Acuna, cover art.    “This Strange, Unpleasant Land”  Part One of Three.

          In my last review of UNCANNY X-MEN #14 I implied that writer Kieron Gillen may have “inserted” some Sinister parts into the AVENGERS VS. X-MEN min-series for the sole purpose of being able to tell this story, perhaps one that he couldn’t wait to get to.   New information in UNCANNY X-MEN #15 would indicate otherwise and suggests that Mister Sinister has been playing a manipulative background role in these events for some time.  Oh, come on!   Excuse me for feeling cynical (apologies to Belle & Sebastian yet again) but I still stand firm on my first opinion.  However, give credit to Gillen for his hard work in finding a way to fabricate the thinnest of threads linking Sinister to the Phoenix Force and then pulling at them for all it’s worth in order to plant some support for his position.   I say let the man tell the story they way he wants to.  It’s so much better than some of the obvious fill-in, going through the motions cross-over stories like UNCANNY X-MEN #13.  I’m really looking forward to this Sinister war. 

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          Let’s be fair to Gillen.  I also believe that writer Brian Michael Bendis created a back-story attempting to establish a historic connection  between the Phoenix Force and Earth. He made it seem as if  that goes back several centuries and links to the training of Iron Fists and the mystical kingdom of K’un Lun as well as ancestral linkage to a family of red-haired, green-eyed maidens.  (See recent issues of THE NEW AVENGERS for details.)  So, if those manipulations forced an essential connection to the main storyline which I acknowledged, then what Gillen is doing here should also be thought of as essential. I willingly relinquish the coveted “essential star” for this rating.   If I enjoy this Sinister episode as much as I’ve enjoyed the Iron Fist connection then I’m very willing to overlook these “insertions”.  Artistic license, I say.  Why, it’s really not that different than what is occurring all over the DC NEW 52 as they reboot the whole universe.  The writers can bring in whatever they want to the mix and call it part of the new continuity - - can’t they, Mister Snyder?

            UNCANNY X-MEN #15 features yet another new artist, the third one in as many issues. Welcome aboard Daniel Acuna.  I like his style, including the semi-painted look to things. But I’m really missing that steam-punk atmosphere that artist Dustin Weaver brought to Sinister London.  I hope he makes a return visit to the pencils before this storyline ends.

There are some short but interesting sub-plots here, such as Colossus/Juggernaut trying to regain his individuality back from the demon Cyttorak and Magneto bonding with Psylocke over their new second-fiddle status among the X-Men.  But the main story is about Cyclops convincing the “extinction team”  that the Avengers are not the biggest threat they face right now and “it’d be a better place world without Sinister in it.”  Emma reveals that “Hope knew about the Phoenix.  Someone told her.  It was Sinister.”  Oh, come on!  There were months and months when Hope was being coached by Cyclops and the X-Men on how to handle the Phoenix Force.  She was told about it a long time ago! By the X-Men!  Dammit, quit trying to change the facts like a politician.  So, Sinister must have some ulterior motive for telling Hope and it can’t be good so Sinister London must be located (ironically in Anchorage, Alaska) and attacked.

As the Phoenix Five descend into Sinister London they are met by a barrage of cannon and musket fire from the marauder battalions.  I’ve reminded of a favorite movie scene where proper British troops are massacred in a wave of Zulu warriors in a foreign land.  Mister Sinister gets the last word:  “There’s a spectacle to appreciate.  and damn me, if I say it myself . . . . . it’s everything I imagined it would be.”

RATING FOR UNCANNY X-MEN #15 - - - - - FOUR STARS 

Good story. Good art.  Makes me want to keep reading.  Seems essential to the main storyline. (See my rationale above.)   But not a stand-alone story. You’ll want to pick up the prelude in #14 and then stick around for the next two issues.

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #13 (September 2012)  Jason Aaron, writer. Nick Bradshaw, penciler.  Walden Wong, Cam Smith & Nick Bradshaw, inkers.  Guru EFX, colorist.  Chris Eliopoulos, letterer.

Gladiator, current Emperor of the Shi’Ar Empire, has traveled to Earth to pick up his son Kid Gladiator and get him away from the threat of the Phoenix Force.  Kid Gladiator is presently a student at the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning and has been residing there along with his bodyguard Warbird.

It’s a battle issue for sure, but there is a side story that redeems it and makes it worthwhile. Also, the art of Bradshaw is superb and the inks and color team make the panels pop with vibrancy.  Gladiator and his troops mix it up with the Phoenix Five while Warbird does her duty and keeps Kid Gladiator protected and safe from the action, despite his protests to join his father.  The better story is the childhood and training of Warbird, told through her reflections on times past. 

Good story. Good art.  It is a stand-alone story in its own way. But I’m not that engaged in this book and may not check out the next issue.  This is non-essential to the main storyline as well.

RATING FOR WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #13 - - --  THREE STARS 

AVX: VS #4 of 6  (September 2012)  DAREDEVIL VS. PSYLOCKE by Rick Remender, writer; Brandon Peterson, artist; and VC’s Joe Caramagna, letters and production.  THE MIGHTY THOR VS. EMMA FROST by Kaare Andrews, writer/artist and VC’s Joe Caramagna, letters and production.

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The once-cute Q & A on the credits page is getting old by now, even though they change it up a little, and is beginning to annoy me.  I’ll try not to read it next time. 

I liked the Daredevil-Psylocke battle, but was glad when it ended.  Peterson’s art made it special. There is some great use of shading and shadows to add to the atmosphere as they battle across rooftops.  As simple as this story is, there is a lot more depth to it.  The small amounts of dialogue exchanged between DD and Psylocke as well as their personal thoughts as the battle progresses (detailed in captions) conveys the sense that they respect each other and really don’t want to fight.  They were both trained by The Hand and seem to mirror each other’s moves. Both get a change to make a kill-shot when the other displays caution or courtesy and both hesitate to see it through.  The final verdict is as you may suspect: a draw.  This is my second favorite match-up so far, after the Captain America vs. Gambit fight.

The Thor vs. Emma Frost battle is not the miss-match you might think, especially if you add the Phoenix Force to the already strong mind-bending powers and diamond resistance of Emma Frost. Thor acts like the God he is - - confident and respectful and then doing what needs to be done in quite brutal fashion.  Emma Frost is the more arrogant of the two and hurls more painful insults to enrage Thor.  I was sure that was a sure knock-out that Thor delivered, but you can’t discount Emma’s ability to pull it back together.  Surprise.  Ho hum. 

RATING FOR AVX: VS #4 - - - - - TWO STARS 

What story?  Good art.  It is a stand-alone. Doesn’t make me want to continue.  I think Marvel is counting on a fan’s need to complete a set, knowing that I’m going to see it to the end.  (Won’t be the first time I got tired of a limited series before the end but kept going anyway.)  Absolutely non-essential. 

A vs. X = catching up to the cross-over stories (some spoilers)

 

I’ve been exploring many of the side-stories of the AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN mini-series. I have been very pleased and only mildly disappointed a few times.  I’ll continue to use my personal five-star rating system to help guide  you to those books deserving of your time and to spotlight those that are the most worthwhile. Good story earns a star, and so does good art. If the story is a “stand-alone” and doesn’t depend on any other issue to either understand or enjoy it - - it earns a third star.  If the story makes me want to read further into this particular title it also gets a star.  And lastly, if the issue manages to connect to the main story and relate an essential piece of the tale - - it would receive the coveted fifth star.  Here are some of the issues I’ve been reading . . . . . 

xmen legacy 266          xmen legacy 267

X-MEN LEGACY #266 – 267  (July, 2012)  Christos Gage, writer.  Rafa Sandoval, penciler.  Jordi Tarragona, inker.  Rachelle Rosenberg, colorist.  VC’s Cory Petit, letterer.

These issues focus on what happens back at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning as Wolverine has left to assist the Avengers and Beast is doing the same thing on a space mission.  Rogue and the remaining X-Men protect the school in their absence.  Their main objective is to watch the school and not get involved in the outer struggle between Cyclops's X-Men team and the Avengers.  During a briefing meeting we learn that things have changed.  Iceman and Rachel decide to join Cyclops.  Everyone else decides to stay and maintain the routine so the students don’t get agitated.  Staying onboard are Rogue, Shadowcat, Husk, Cannonball, Gambit, Frenzy, Mimic and Chamber.

Rogue seems to be the center of attention these issues and Gage explores her inner turmoil.  The last time she fully utilized her powers this way disturbed her (and those she absorbed powers and memories from) for years.  It took a long time for Rogue to get her powers under control.  She is afraid to use them again, even though she is capable of taking out a team at a time.

Naturally the peaceful calm at the school is only temporary and is disrupted when some Avengers (Falcon, She-Hulk and Moon Knight) come to visit and issue warnings.  And someone crosses the agreed upon line that should not be crossed and melee ensues.  This forces the Avengers team to call in their back-up player = Iron Man.  With that much power on the opposing side, Rogue is forced into tapping her old powers.  There are still consequences - -  having so many conflicting personalities and thoughts running through her mind can make her see every individual in the battle as her foe.  When she absorbs the thoughts of a semi-crazy Avenger with multiple personalities (guess which one), things become even more difficult for her. But Rogue prevails and in the process realizes that she is not the same person as long ago.  There has been a maturing process and while her powers have unfortunate consequences she is now better prepared to handle them. 

If you are a fan of Rogue you’ll want to read these two issues.  Otherwise, X-MEN LEGACY #266-267 is like a two-issue extended battle from AVX: VS although a bit more serious and much less light-hearted.  The story earns a star, and so does the art.  The full two-page confrontation in #267 is great visualization.  Since you can’t read one issue without the other, it’s hard to consider this a stand-alone tale.  As much as I enjoyed it, it doesn’t really encourage me to read further into this title. (I did anyway).  And it isn’t essential to the main story.

RATING FOR X-MEN LEGACY #266-267 - - - - - TWO STARS

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X-MEN LEGACY #268-269  (August, 2012) Christos Gage, writer.  David Baldeon, penciler. Jordi Tarragona, inker. Brian Reber, colorist.  VC’s Cory Petit, letterer.

X-MEN LEGACY #268 is a spotlight issue on Frenzy, and it’s a good story.  Rogue has decided to join up and assist the X-Men and she has enlisted the entire staff and student body at the school to the same cause.  Frenzy is dispatched to a clean-up mission in a third-world country where the Phoenix Five have just ended a violent civil conflict.

A new art team including Baldeon and Reber takes over, and manage to maintain the overall look on this book while still showing some instances of individuality in their style.  I especially like the red and black shading in the flashback scenes – it heightened the effect of those panels.

  Prior to this I felt that Frenzy was sort of a one-dimensional character  - -  all hot-headed and full of hate for the human race.  Gage does a fine job of  defining her personality and showing us how she came to be that way.  It makes her a more sympathetic and compassionate character than has been seen before, and the events this issue effect her enough to break down her defensive wall and show a more caring side.  It’s a great stand-alone story.  But it feels  disconnected enough from the regular LEGACY title that I’m not really induced to get another issue.  Again,  everything here is non-essential to your understanding and enjoyment of the main AVENGERS VS. X-MEN storyline. 

RATING FOR X-MEN LEGACY #268 - - - - - THREE STARS

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X-MEN LEGACY #269 begins with Rogue using her powers to assist the X-Men and the Phoenix Five perform tasks for the greater good of mankind.  Just as she is feeling good about herself and her powers in a long time she gets a reminder of  a regretful past when Ms. Marvel shows up wanting to talk.  But in typical Marvel fashion, Rogue punches first and asks questions later - - and so it begins.

This would seem like another expanded fight issue like AVX: VS were it not for the dialogue and exchange of opinions that Rogue and Ms. Marvel engage in while still using their fists and battle skills.  Rogue felt that she was helping to make a better planet and some seeds of doubt have been planted. The prison designed for Ms. Marvel would tend to support the opposing point of view.  And the preview panel indicates that Ms. Marvel will be involved in the next issue - - so I have reason to believe that this is a two-part or more story. 

RATING FOR X-MEN LEGACY #269 - - - - - TWO STARS

UNCANNY X-MEN #13  (August, 2012)  Kieron Gillen, writer.  Billy Tan, penciler.  Cam Smith & Craig Yeung, inkers. Guru eFX, colorist.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer.

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This issue occurs between AVENGERS ACADEMY #31 and coincides with AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN #5.   Billy Tan brings a little realism to the art style, particularly the human form of which there are plenty from panel to panel - - head shots, body postures, etc.  The rest of the art team highlight and enhance his work.  It’s a nice combination to see.  However, the best art is on the cover (by Adam Kubert & Morry Hollowell).  It’s a purely symbolic image which has absolutely nothing to do with the issue contents.

Using Pixie’s teleportation powers a small band of young mutants drop into Utopia, since Hope left them a note indicating that the robotic prisoner Unit may have some answers for them.  While anyone reading this book already knows that Unit has selfish and perhaps not-so-noble intentions only the youngsters are surprised when he turns on them.  The other events in this issue concern Magneto, Psylocke, and Storm having a campfire chat (kind of) regarding the five X-Men on the blue area of the Moon and how could they get there to help them.    Yes, there are some minor insights in this issue. But, overall this is a throw-away issue that doesn’t need to be read.   I’m sorry, Gillen.  I enjoy your work most of the time. This reads like you are just going through the motions.  A holding pattern, indeed.

RATING FOR UNCANNY X-MEN #13 - - - - - ONE STAR FOR ART

UNCANNY X-MEN #14 (August, 2012)  Kieron Gillen, writer.  Dustin Weaver, artist.  Jim Charalampiois, colorist.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer. 

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“Who doesn’t love a castle?”

Wow. What a difference one issue makes.  Gillen makes up for the mess that is Issue #13 with this new story.  It’s been a very long time since I have read anything related to X-foe Mister Sinister so I have some catching up to do.   Sinister had been replicating himself and populating a section of San Francisco with his engineered clones.  The X-Men chased him out of town.

This issue updates his whereabouts.  The pale, tall and dark Victorian figure has created an even larger and more elaborate “Sinister London” deep underground and bides his time for the right moment in the Phoenix Force’s return to Earth.  Gillen devotes this issue to providing details about this society of Sinister clones and goes deep into the character of the main man, revealing more of his sick and twisted mad genius persona. 

“I am a sick man . . . I am a wicked man.  I am an imperfect member of a perfect species, that forms a single perfect society, which forms a knot in my damned belly of which there is no hope of a reasonable cure . . . . . My sickness is a belief that the imperfection is theirs, not mine.” 

Most of the story is told through captions apparently narrated by a Mister Sinister clone.  And would not that clone be a part of the greater whole that is Mister Sinister?  Might as well be. However, the clone’s narrative expresses some doubt and even hints at rebellion.  But he is a part of Sinister, correct?  Could it be that Sinister creates specific clones for specific purposes - - perhaps to represent another point of view, to define that doubt separately and free his mind, or to help him achieve 100% assurance that he is pursuing the right course?   If I answer that question now, I’ll spoil this story for you.   Very big ego, to be sure.    By the end of the issue we are exposed to all the major details of Sinister’s scheme and learn how prepared he is for the next step. He definitely seems to be preparing for war.

The art, including the lettering seems perfectly suited to the steam-punk atmosphere of this micro-world.  It’s very impressive and worth going through the issue a second time just to get another impression. 

“I am a modern Prometheus and I will steal fire from outdated heavens.”  To hear Sinister tell it he “prompted little Hope Summers’ development” and “knew it (the Phoenix Force) would find hosts elsewhere.”  The man sure likes to take credit for a an awful lot. 

This seems to be a continued story as the preview panel of the next issue seems to indicate.  However, it also serves as a stand-alone tale with an update on this baddie.   I’m inclined to give it just a half-star for the stand-alone rating.   I’m also giving it a half-star for whether it is an essential piece of this story. I’m not entirely buying that Sinister is so smart that he set this whole thing up and his manipulative skills would make it happen.  That would certainly make it seem essential.  Rather, I’m inclined to believe that Gillen really wanted to begin telling a story about Mister Sinister and needed a hook to keep the editorial staff happy that he was working an AVENGERS VERSUS  X-MEN  cross-over element into this title.  Time will tell if I’m right.  I’m happy either way - - we are treated to a great story.

Good story.  Good art.  Definitely makes me want to further explore this book and certainly the next issue.  I’m deducting a half-point each (as mentioned above) for stand-alone and essential properties. But I do recommend you pick up this one.

RATING FOR UNCANNY X-MEN #14 - - - FOUR STARS

Monday, July 9, 2012

AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN: ROUND SEVEN

 

September 2012 cover date.  JASON AARON, BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS, ED BRUBAKER, MATT FRACTION AND JONATHAN HICKMAN: story. MATT FRACTION, script.  OLIVIER COIPEL, pencils.  MARK MORALES, inks.  LAURA MARTIN, colors.  CHRIS ELIOPOULOS, letters.

It is getting harder to write about this  series without letting spoilers slip in.  I will keep trying to tell you what’s good and worthwhile about these books without detailing too much of the plot.  I do not regret investing my time and money in this saga.  I’m being entertained and sometimes surprised.   The books seem to be doing well, and perhaps helping Marvel stay in the limelight.  As of the last update from the PREVIEWS website - - - AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #6 was the #1 ordered book among comic retailers in June, followed by AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #5  in the #2 position.  AVX: VS #3 managed to crack the Top Ten, being the #10 most ordered book in July. 

After the turn of events in Issue #6, the advantage in this battle has clearly swung to the X-Men side.  With the addition of The Phoenix Five they are almost unstoppable.  Now that Cyclops has made that fateful proclamation - - “No More Avengers” - - Captain America, Iron Man and their allies been forced to duck and run, satisfying themselves with smaller and shortened attacks just to show they aren’t giving in.  avengers vs xmen 7

          The art by Coipel (still filling in for John Romita, Jr, I presume) is again very good in most places but is not as consistent as last issue’s work by him.  It seems forced or rushed in places, and the opening battle scene is displayed in a sloppy fashion that makes it difficult to be sure which of several light-haired women on the X-Men team are hurling those Phoenix fireballs - - is it Magik, Emma Frost, Magma, or Polaris?  I’ve looked over these panels many times and I struggled to figure it out. (It wasn’t until many pages later that it becomes clear which X-lady put a really big hurt on an Avenger.) Also, which of them was knocked down by the Scarlet Witch?  Her back is to the viewer, and because the costume is adorned in a radius of Phoenix flame you can’t distinguish the colors.   However,  it is a decisive battle in this issue so you don’t want to overlook it.  Some of the fighters do not walk away unscathed - - in fact they need to be carried away and tended to as soon as possible.

          Fraction shows in a later page (set in Utopia) that the X-Men are becoming a little fragmented, maybe not so much united as before, in the aftermath of the opening battle.  Some advocate war versus containment,  murder versus just putting pressure on their opponents.  Some see certain Avengers as an evil that needs to be purged.  With so many changes occurring in this story it’s bound to create some uncertainty among the ranks on both sides, and it’s good to see that Fraction recognizes this and gives it some panel time.  There is some definite friction among two key members on the X-team. One considers them to be winning while the others scorns any reference to games and simply wants to rule. (As much of a hint as I care to drop here.)

Even the optimistic Captain America gets discouraged, impatient and frustrated.  After much discussion they seem to agree on one thing that still scares the X-Men and works to find a way to amplify that effect.  Meanwhile we finally learn when and how Hope found her way to the mystical city of K’un Lun as seen in the NEW AVENGERS issues.

And this issue ends on a cliff-hanger.  We’ll need to wait two more weeks for Issue #8.  If you’ve been following this story there is no reason to drop out now. It continues to entertain and surprise. It’s worth the time.  If you are just coming onboard you won’t have too much trouble getting immersed in the story. The synopsis on the credits pages have been very well written and informative. They keep reminding me of certain points I might have forgotten about otherwise.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

These AVENGERS: No Longer A Best Kept SECRET

 

In my opinion SECRET AVENGERS is the best of a slew of Marvel books featuring THE AVENGERS in one form or another.  If you only read one AVENGERS title a month, this should be the one.  Rick Remender took over the writing chores as of Issue #22 and has breathed new life into this title.  It’s fun.  It’s entertaining.  The characters have a unique chemistry, sometimes volatile.  It’s good stuff!

Flashback to 2010 in the aftermath of SECRET INVASION, DARK AVENGERS and SEIGE – just as the HEROIC AGE begins.  A new AVENGERS title is announced - - - SECRET AVENGERS - - - written by the great Ed Brubaker (who thrilled with his work on DAREDEVIL and CAPTAIN AMERICA) and featuring a new team led by Steve Rogers, Super-Soldier.  I really looked forward to this debut.

I wasn’t very excited after reading a few issues.  The mix of team members didn’t seem right.  They didn’t seem to relate to each other well.  The conflicts and plots were not holding my attention.  I kept buying the issues and stock-piling them in hopes that things would improve.  Finally, Dave at Captain Blue Hen expressed his thoughts that SECRET AVENGERS was an over-looked Marvel title and encouraged me to write about it.  I was eager to re-visit the book so I went back to my inventory and read through the first story arc and well into the second storyline.  Nothing had changed for me.  I wasn’t feeling very warm about this title.  I told Dave that I had to decline -- as I prefer to write only about books that I truly feel are worthwhile and also need some more attention. 

Even a change in writers failed to prompt my return.  Nick Spencer took the title through the FEAR ITSELF cycle with SECRET AVENGERS #12.1 through #15;  and Warren Ellis took over the scripts beginning with Issue #16.  Although I admire and enjoy the work of both of those writers I still stayed away.

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     It was Arthur Adams who enticed me to pick up this book again,  with the great cover art on SECRET AVENGERS #22.  I was a little disappointed after flipping through the pages and not seeing Adams on the interior art, but the prospect of a brand new team and the writing skills of Rick Remender were encouraging enough to give it a second chance.  I bought it.  Wow!

     SECRET AVENGERS #22  (April 2012)  Rick Remender, writer.  Gabriel Hardman, artist.  Bettie Breitweiser, color artist.  Chris Eliopoulos, letterer.

     “New Life” indeed.  I think I have read this particular issue almost five times by now and I still get enjoyment each time.  Remender doesn’t waste any time with extra-long explanations here and opens many new doors of exploration simultaneously.

     It took me awhile to adjust and accept the transition between the styles of cover artist Adams and interior artist Hardman. Hardman’s work doesn’t have the same kind of flash but it grows on you. The best description I can think of is a blend of Alex Maleev and Don Heck (from the early early Avengers days!). 

By protecting her infant son from a terrorist bomb in Pakistan, a mother exhibits unusual abilities/powers and draws the attention of a secret empire-building organization who call out their sleeper cell agents (“adaptoids”) to collect the budding “descendant”.  This energy signature also draws the attention of the Lighthouse monitors and prompts Captain America to dispatch the Secret Avengers to investigate.  The new team is led by Hawkeye and includes Captain Britain, Black Widow, Beast, Valkyrie and Ant-Man. 

There’s an amusing and awkward moment when Captain Britain assumes he has been recruited to be the leader of the team and begins his acceptance speech only to be cut off by a brash and cocky Hawkeye. Already things begin to boil.  Others members crack jokes at others expense or tease and cajole. But it’s chemistry, even though it may get explosive, and they mesh like a team albeit a little dysfunctional.  My only quibble is that the miniaturized headquarters and the Pym-portation technology used to get the members inside reminds me suspiciously of a similar set-up in DC’s FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.

Their very first mission doesn’t end admirably, with the Adaptoids making off with the prize. In the concluding pages we see who is pulling the strings and it’s a roundtable of familiar faces (from both sides of the fence). Are they the real McCoy or imitations?  It’s nice to end with a mystery.

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SECRET AVENGERS #23 (April 2012) same creative team as Issue #22, with cover by Adams  “A Victory For The Little Guy”

SECRET AVENGERS #24 (May 2012) same creative team as Issue #22, with cover by Adams  “Core Beliefs”

SECRET AVENGERS #25 (June 2012) same creative team as Issue #22, with cover by Adams  “Grandfather Clause”

Those covers are fantastic!  Oh, if only Adams could be persuaded to draw an issue once in awhile!

“I’m just a dirt bag hoping if he helps enough people, maybe, someday, he can look himself in the mirror again.”  Remender tells us a lot about the current Ant-Man (who has hitched an undetected ride on an adaptoid escaping with the abducted mother and son) in just four panels.  These quick capsule glimpses of team members helps build the characterization and interest without interrupting the action. Nicely done. The roster of villains grows as we learn that Deathstrike and other Reavers are also present in the “Core” of “Home”. 

Back at the Lighthouse Beast and Henry Pym banter back and forth in friendly jibes, but at the core is Beast’s fear that Pym could create another evil robot (ala Ultron).  Cap seeks more help and recruits both Jim Hammond (the original android Human Torch) and Flash Thompson (Venom).  Although Hawkeye has a temper tantrum as he doesn’t feel Thompson can control the symbiote Venom and decides to keep him out of the second mission. That obviously will change.

In Father, Remender has introduced a new intriguing villain and manages to make all his talk of superior godlike races and evolution sound less clich├ęd and familiar than it is. The Core is an entire city (also reached via teleportation) populated by the Descendants - - with “every citizen committed to one cause: Serve Father.  Protect the Core.  Kill all Avengers.” 

In a strange consequence, the Descendants react to the Human Torch’s rescue of a beaten-down Captain Britain with bows of worship as their “Grandfather.”   Those familiar roundtable faces turn out to be Doombots, Life Model Decoys, Sentinaughts, Reavers,  Androids and Adaptoids  - - all variations on synthetic life.  The matriarchal Father has called them all together not to consider their opinions, but to “give” them their opinions.

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My favorite lines occur while Hawkeye tries to stop the bleeding of a serious-wounded Beast. Hawkeye to Beast:  “Listen. Don’t die, Hank.  It’ll make me look horrible. . . . And . . I’m sorry I screamed at you before, okay?”  Beast’s response is:  “N-not your fault - - overcompensating - - for never being seen as A-list.”

The Human Torch has a confrontation with an cyborg  Miss America who addresses him as a “Messiah, the first of our people” and shares with him their history, beginning during the Cold War as scientists (“Brother”, “Mother”, and “Father”) sought to create an army of controllable androids using a blend of science and magic.

The first story arc ends with a minor success for the Secret Avengers. They escape with the boy, but not the mother. However, Jim Hammond has been altered (can’t say anymore than that) and it appears he’s not the only member who changed.   This is a really nice beginning to Remender’s run on this title.  I hope to see more of the Descendants and the Core.

 

SECRET AVENGERS #26 (June 2012)  Rick Remender, writer.  Renato Guedes, artist.  Bettie Breitweiser & Matthew Wilson, color art.  Chris Eliopoulos, letterer.  Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Laura Martin, cover art.   Avengers Vs. X-Men tie-in

SECRET AVENGERS #27  (July 2012) same creative team as Issue #26, including cover artists  “Operation Phoenix: Part 2 -  Sacred Ground”

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The roster page for Issue #26 shows a completely different group, with the only common members being Beast, Valkyrie and Captain Britain.  They are joined by Thor, Ms. Marvel, Protector, War Machine and The Vision.  This issue is central to the AVENGERS VS. X-MEN min-series in that it details the special team dispatched to space to try and head off and halt the coming of the Phoenix Force. It’s also important in that another plot thread is unraveled, one detailing the Kree’s involvement and use of the M’Kraan Crystal. 

There is a nice interlude with a boisterous Thor trying to persuade a reserved Captain Britain to get drunk and rowdy with him. 

The art work of Renato Guedes is a lot easier to go down.  It’s a somewhat unique style, like a metamorphosis of Mobius and Jim Starlin.  It’s very appropriate then, that this story has a cosmic theme.

The Avengers team fails to stop the Phoenix.  Thor, War Machine and Captain Britain are injured. The Kree succeed in getting the attention and re-direction of the Phoenix Force.  The Avengers divert their ship to Hala, where they hope to get help for their injured.  The Protector and Ms. Marvel seem to have a strange alliance.  And here comes the latest version of  - - - Captain Marvel (aka Mar-Vell).   Remender deserves some credit  - - he jumped right into the Avengers Vs. X-Men melee – added an interesting side-story to the proceedings and kept this just as entertaining as the last four issues.

RATING FOR SECRET AVENGERS #26 - - - - FIVE STARS  (all criteria met)

The events in SECRET AVENGERS #27 take place before the outcomes in THE AVENGERS #26-27.

Thor and Captain Britain continue to bond, this time as Thor consoles a remorseful Braddock.  But there’s dissension in the ranks as the new all-powerful Captain Marvel with two loyalists savagely attack the Avengers. And one loyalist seems to deeply love him.  Something occurs in the general populace of Hala that stirs some memories in Mar-vell as if to imply that he may not be totally under the control of the Supreme Intelligence.

RATING FOR SECRET AVENGERS #27 - - - - - FIVE STARS  (this seems essential to the main story)

SECRET AVENGERS #28  (August 2012)  Rick Rememder, writer.  Renato Guedes, artist. Matthew Wilson with Jeremy Mohler, color artists.  Chris Eliopoulos.  Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Laura Martin, cover art.   This story also takes place before the events of THE AVENGERS #26-27.

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     Captain Mar-Vell realizes he’s been listening to the wrong crowd and moving in the wrong direction, just as the Phoenix Force arrives on Hala. Most of Hala has been influenced by another Marvel - - Minster Marvel - - who misguidedly seeks to atone for the disgrace of the Marvel family honor. Remender does a fantastic job of making us understand this fanatic (through his short speech)  without agreeing with him. Well done.

     A lot of heroes step up to the plate in a moment of pure valor, ready to risk everything to halt the Phoenix Force.  Only one succeeds with dire consequences.  Hala is saved, but the Phoenix Force moves forward.   A lot happens in the final pages of this issue.  Remender handles it with tact, sincerity and does it in concise fashion.  If you have any attachment at all to some of these characters, you will be moved.  It is a fine piece of powerful story-telling.

     Make Mine Remender.

     RATING FOR SECRET AVENGERS #28 - - FIVE STARS (a hat-trick)