After it became apparent that DC’s Convergence is one of the most phoned in “events” in comic book history I became a bit apprehensive for the start of Secret Wars. Thankfully I should learn not to doubt the talent of Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic and Co. who have blown me away with the opening issue of Secret Wars.
Secret Wars is something builds on what has been happening with Marvel’s line of characters over the past few years. It is also an event that respects its readers and their knowledge of the Marvel Universe’s history. It is not just an excuse to throw character at each other to try and make drama. There is depth and complexity to the big explosions and endless fighting.
But first, a warning before we go any further: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Daredevil: Born Again (Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli)
Daredevil is one of those superheroes that I have never really “got.” Part of me can see the enduring appeal of the character that has lasted for many through the decades (and many bad and down right terrible stories!) but there has always been something that has put me off liking the character as much as I do others. Sure Daredevil is great when he’s teaming up with Spider-Man and the Avengers but I have never been that bothered with his solo adventures. I guess it is the air of seriousness and the trope that everything bad that can happen will always happen to Matt Murdock. So I went into this book not expecting much.
I knew that Born Again is seen by many as THE Daredevil story and seeing a pre-crazy Frank Miller’s name on the cover piqued my interest. But apart from that I was really not expecting to like this as much as I did. I loved it in fact. Dammit I might even say I like Daredevil as a character now! This is because I did not realise we had so much in common. That I share a very personal and at sometimes difficult problem with Matt Murdock.
No I am not blind.
I am talking about depression.
Avengers Forever Part 2 (Kurt Busiek & Carlos Pacheco)
Despite finding the first part of Avengers Forever quite enjoyable I found myself struggling with the story’s second half. Like the first part on the whole I enjoyed it. It is just those niggling problems I had with it Part 1 coming to the surface in a big way during the entire length of Part 2. The continuation of the time warping and mind bending tale of a mix’n’match of Avengers from various points in time is a hard thing to take in at the best of times but when I had such a big gap between reading Part 1 and 2 even with the recap at the start of the volume, it became a confusing mess. It still had that big stupid action feel to it but around a third of the way through I had given up on caring about both the overall story and the characters.
For me to not care about either the story or characters when reading a comic is pretty big deal. I find ways to attach myself to even the most despicable characters but in Avengers Forever Part 2 it felt like a pointless endeavour. I knew nothing happening here would matter and I knew that there would not be any real ramifications for the story long term once it finished. I guess that is the problem with these big time travel stories, they always undo themselves right at the end.
Secret War (Brian Michael Bendis & Gabriele Dell’Otto)
I have always thought Secret War was an odd event/mini series. A lot and I mean A LOT of important things happen over its five issue run that shaped the Marvel Universe for the foreseeable future. It introduces a host of new SHIELD characters that play huge roles further down the line and as a whole it is an entertaining spy story that just happens to have superheroes in it. Make no mistake though, this book has one purpose, take Nick Fury off the table. Moving Fury off the chess board allows things like Civil War, Secret Invasion and eventually Dark Reign to take place. This is because we all know that if Nick Fury got even a whiff of the Superhuman Registration Act happening he would stop it well before Cap and Iron Man started beating each other up.
It is also an odd book because due to its name you would think it would somehow be tied to the older and more cosmic Secret Wars and Secret Wars II books. Apparently the lack of an “s” makes all the difference. So if you are expecting gods, monsters and battles of cosmic proportions move along. Still apart from standing separately from pretty much everything Marvel was publishing at the time it is interesting because it is all apparently loosely based on the details of highly classified and top secret intelligence operations told to Brian Bendis, the writer, by a un-named high ranking officer during Brian’s childhood. So make of that what you will. Just swap Latveria providing super villains with enhanced technology with anti-American governments arming terrorists and you get the general idea.
New X-Men: E is for Extinction (Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely)
Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men is one of my all time favourite runs on any comic. It managed the impossible when I took a chance on the first volume and bought it so many years ago. It then continued to do the impossible as I continued to pick up the trades and explore Grant Morrison’s vision for the X-Men. It was the first time I had encountered his writing and the first time I was blown away by Frank Quitely’s unique and absolutely brillant art. It is a near perfect run in my opinion and like I said, it managed the impossible. But perhaps most importantly the most impossible thing it managed to do was make me care about the X-Men.
Up to reading New X-Men and watching the Bryan Singer movie my feelings towards the X-Men were mixed at best. I loved the cartoon as a kid with its many characters, layers and storylines. I thought the more well known characters where cool (I dare you to find someone who doesn’t think Wolverine is cool) and I knew about the more highly acclaimed arcs and issues. But man trying to get into X-Men comics was like storming an impenetrable fortress with a decaying sea bass as your weapon. Everything references something that happend previously and half of the time the characters were still getting over things that had happend years ago. It was dense reading that was really tough going in the pre-wikipedia days (yes there was a time before your every question was answered by the internet).
Thankfully the prior knowledge requirement for E is for Extinction is at a minimum, instead it relies on paving new ground full of new ideas and a new mission for the X-Men as their challenges grow and change….FINALLY! This is Grant Morrison’s answer to the question of what would happen if Xavier’s dream was on the cusp of happening. To paraphrase a line from Gladiator “There was once Xavier’s dream. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher and Grant Morrison manages to deliver on them on every possible level. It was a treat to revisit were it all started and remind myself why I like this particular run so much. Also it makes Emma Frost one of the central characters for the X-Men franchise and for that I am thankful.
Avengers: Disassembled (Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch)
Avengers: Disassembled is one of those events that really does change the status quo and shake things up to the point that they can not easily go back to the way things once were. Disassembled is also one of those events that splits the fan base down the middle. On one side, the old guard fighting against the sweeping changes to the Avengers franchise that it introduced. The other, newer readers more open to change due to their lack of knowledge and an eagerness to lap up anything with their favourite characters in it.
I first read Avengers: Disassembled many years after it was originally released. I got on board with the Avengers with New Avengers and House of M so this was all stuff that had happend before my time. Looking at it today I feel as though I went about reading it the right way. I waited until I knew a lot more about the Avengers outside of New Avengers and the Bendis era before reading it. That is because this serves as the end point for the old style Avengers, its classic format and team dynamic. Like any event it is chock full of characters but unlike other Marvel events that cover their whole universe of characters this is focused squarely on the Avengers. Who they are, what they stand for and most importantly what they fail to do.
The worst day in Avengers history opens with an huge explosion and does not let up until the gripping conclusion. Tearing down everything you know about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes wether you like it or not!
Marvels (Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross)
I went into Marvels with a lot of excitement. It is one of those books that has been on my To Read… list since I first saw an oversized release of it propped up against a wall in Waterstone’s on Deansgate in Manchester when I was youngling. It is a comic that always stands out when compared to everything else out there. Alex Ross’s realistic painted art is something else and it fits the concept of telling the history of the Marvel Universe from the point of view of a regular guy perfectly. You feel like you are there in the moment as it is all happening. It has an epic quality to it that shows the key moments it focuses on in a grand scale while still managing to keep it all grounded in the very human story of Phil Sheldon’s career of following superheroes emphatically.
Also out of all the books that make up the Marvel Ultimate Graphic Novel Collection that I have read this is by far the best volume that has been compiled. It is packed full of extra features! The back section usually dedicated to writer and artist profiles is full of images and the details of Ross’ workflow. Then during the reading itself you have commentary from the key creators of the book and of course a wonderful forward from the man himself, Stan Lee. It is a selection of features that puts the rest of the collection to shame.
It is a true gem to experience.
Captain America: The New Deal (John Ney Rieber & John Cassaday)
The New Deal is a different Captain America comic from the norm. This is because of the hows and whys of it being made. What initially started as a grim and gritty Marvel Knights relaunch of the book turned into the first post 9/11 Cap comic once the horrific events of that day in 2001 took place. So instead of being a new and darker take and a well known character suddenly writer, John Ney Rieber found himself with the task of giving us Steve Roger’s reaction to the attacks, how it changed him and as a result America. A very daunting task indeed.
What we end up with is a very interesting comic that kicked-off the more politically aware Captain America of the modern age and Marvel as a whole. It could be said that the ground and ideas explored here eventually lead to the gripping run by Ed Brubaker that has only just finished and major Marvel events like Civil War that re-shaped the Marvel Universe and delved into the politics of being a superhero. It is not 100% perfect however and due to the time it came out it is very raw emotionally.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt (J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck & Bob McLeod)
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
This quote from the William Blake poem, The Tyger is the line that closes out the story of Kraven’s Last Hunt. A serious story that many regard as both a quintessential Spider-Man story and a must read comic book. It is a story I have read multiple times over the years because it is such a classic, I love the structure, the themes and pretty much everything to do with it really. I also like that in the long history of Spider-Man comic books this one always stands apart because it is so deathly serious. Sure other Spidey stories go to dark places but Kraven’s Last Hunt is the prototype for these stories and it goes to some really dark places.
A story brought out slap bang in the middle of the Dark Age of comics brought about by the likes of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, DeMatteis, Zeck and McLeod’s circular tale of Kraven’s ultimate victory and end carries huge weight and meaning that allows it to stand shoulder to shoulder to those medium defining books. It cribs the best story telling techniques from both while exploring its own subject matter and characters in a very serious way. By the end of the story both you and Peter Parker have been through hell and learned something and you feel sorry for Kraven. The great hunter becomes a tragic figure as madness and revenge take over him, consuming him whole.
In fact tragedy is the perfect way to sum up this book. It is the comic book equivalent of a Shakespearean tragedy. I gleefully compare comic books to Shakespeare because there are so many similarities! I am of the belief that is Shakespeare were alive today he would either be writing comic books or soap operas. (I eagerly await the English Literature nut who stumbles across this post at some point in the future’s angry email or comment!)
Avengers Forever Part 1 (Kurt Busiek & Carlos Pacheco)
This is the first instalment of the Ultimate Graphic Novel collection that I was not aware existed in the past. Everything up to this point has been things I have either already read or had a passing knowledge of by reading about them online or just by simply reading other comics. (Marvel is good at tying any and everything into past events) So the idea of reading something fresh to me was exciting.
Avengers Forever Part 1 collects the first half of Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco’s twelve issue tale of the Destiny War. A conflict with everyones favourite center of the universe character, Rick Jones, being the linchpin because apparently he is super important for humanity’s future. He is our destiny.
I will let that sink in for a second….
Rick Jones is humanity’s destiny…..
God help us all!
The story is exclusively focused on wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff even down to the team assembled to tackle the forces of Kang the Conqueror and Immortus. (They are the same guy at different points in time. It is a whole thing) Despite the confusing ground it treads (because, TIME TRAVEL IS CONFUSING!) the book actually ends up being an entertaining read.