Over here in the UK there is this great little mail order collection thingy called (take a deep breath because this is a mouth full), The Ultimate Graphic Novels Collection: Marvel as it proudly says on the top of every trade that comes through my letter box. The basics of it are simple: You give the publisher your money and every couple of weeks you get sent a couple of special trade versions of both modern classics and true classic tales from across the history of the Marvel Universe. Each volume comes with some extra bits and bobs like profiles on the characters, writers and artists involved in that particular story.
The selection is broad and I love the idea of it all. It gives me a nice unified collection of trades while allowing me to relive my favourite stories and filling in the gaps I have in my knowledge of Marvel Comics. Over the past few months I have built quite the back log of volumes I have to read. (I moved a few times, I got married, I’ve been VERY busy!) So I’ve decided now that I have a small mountain to get through that I might as well review each one as and when I read them.
These are going to be short and sweet reviews they will cover the basics and give you my impressions of the story being told. But this is me so I’m sure with one or two of them I will go very in depth.
To begin with lets very quickly fill you in on what I have already read:
The Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home (J. Michael Straczynski & John Romita Jr.)
One of my all time favourite Spidey stories and one of the highlight’s of Straczynski’s controversial run on the book. It is a fresh take on the whole reasons behind why Peter was bitten by that radioactive spider and as a result how the Marvel Universe functions thematically. It is a revelation that comes from eating Pizza which is mind-blowingly awesome. Morlun is a great new villain for Spider-Man to face and the couple of times he has popped up since this story have always been exciting stories. John Romita Jr. is my favourite Spider-Man artist and his art in this book is astonishing. It is one of those Spidey books that needs to be read by any fan.
Uncanny X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Chris Claremont & John Byrne)
I’ve never been the biggest fan of the X-Men and in particular the importance placed on both Jean Grey and this particular story so I went into this volume with several presumptions clouding my judgement. By the end of it I was really glad that I had read it. It is very much storytelling of a different era. Thought bubbles everywhere, the writer as narrator, high drama and even higher stakes action. It was good fun to read and I can understand why there is such love for this tale of the death of Jean Grey. I miss the old style of way of telling superhero comic book stories and things like thought bubbles and third person narration in modern comics always excite me because they are a rarity these days. So to read a volume full of them was a treat in and of itself.
Iron Man: Extremis (Warren Ellis & Adi Granov)
This has been on my to read list since the first Iron Man movie came out in 2008 (seeing that film in the cinema was one of the best nights I have ever had). This was the starting point for what would be Tony Stark’s rise to premiere Marvel superhero again. Granov’s art and suit design are amazing and Ellis crafts a compelling tale that updates Iron Man’s origins while adding further flourishes to the modern Iron Man. It is one of those stories that has you eagerly turning the page wanting to see what happens next. It is always moving. Always building. You can see why they are going to be including elements of it in the upcoming Iron Man 3.
The Ultimates: Super-Human (Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch)
I must have read The Ultimates at least two dozen times by now. The main reason I enjoyed receiving this copy of it was that it can replace my by now well worn first copy of the book! This comic has everything and wholly embodies everything that the Ultimate Line of comics used to stand for (these days it is a very different story). Millar takes the classic Avengers origin story and updates it, running wild with it in the process. Bryan Hitch’s art amazes and the story oozes thought and cool. As one of the few people on the comics reading internet that is an open fan of Millar’s output. This book, for me, is the best thing he has ever done and it only gets better with The Ultimates 2. This is the comic book as widescreen action epic blockbuster and by jingo it is a ripping yarn!
This volume collects the key issues that make up the Birth of Venom epic. There’s some stuff with the black suit acting up and Peter finally getting rid of it. Then there’s a brief jump forward to the suit coming back for Peter. Finally another jump that sadly skips over The Death of Jean DeWolff although that is understandable due to the limited page count and we have the birth of Venom. Venom is very much a product of the time he was created in, a dark and violent mirror to the usually cheery Spider-Man. It is interesting to see how it all happened and comparing the Venom of then with the way Venom and the Symbiote is used in the modern Marvel Universe. From the Birth of Venom until the 2000’s the Symbiote and Eddie Brock were pretty much inseparable now the suit get given to a new host every decade or so with the current one being Flash Thompson! This volume also includes All My Pasts Remembered which is one of my favourite Mary-Jane centric stories and an issue full of brilliant Peter & MJ moments.
I actually bought this in single issues when it initially came out and revisiting this in one collected volume makes it infinitely better. This is Straczynski trying his hand at redefining Thor for the modern age and to a certain extent it works. The setup is interesting and there is a potential for interesting stories yet to come. However there is this niggling feeling I got when reading it that all is not as good as it could be. One of the problems I tend to have with Thor comics is that they can be very dense with information. Thor being a god means he has to face huge god-like problems and threats all the time. The result is that everything that happens has importance so half of the time with Thor you are being given the CliffsNotes version of past events. This is meant to be a good jumping on point type book for Thor but the story is constantly held back by needing to fill in the reader about things like the Ragnarok event that caused this reboot and the superhero Civil War that saw a clone of Thor running around the place. Coipel’s art however is amazing and it is worth checking out just for that alone!
BOOM! there you go all caught up to where I am up to now so expect more reviews to trickle in as time goes on.