Quick Thoughts on VENOM by Rick Remender & Cullen Bunn (Marvel)

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I’ve been reading through the latest run on Venom, by Rick Remender and Cullen Bunn and, while I haven’t been moved to write a full review, I did want to just flag it up as a series that is well worth reading. The covers above are for the latest two collections that I’ve read. There are six Venom-only books in the series, which a couple of cross-overs (Spider Island and Minimum Carnage).

Remender kicked off the series, and does a great job of making it stand out among the Spider-Man related series. For one thing, it’s not nearly as quippy as other Spidey series, which means it didn’t quickly become irritating, and I was able to read through three collections without wanting to confine the protagonist to the trash heap of comicdom (as can so easily happen with the uneven Amazing Spider-Man). It is a darker series, overall, and works very well. What I like best about the series is that it largely avoids the Marvel glibness, which (in my humble opinion) has ruined too many series (e.g., Captain Marvel). Instead, and despite the supernatural/Hell-related storylines, this is somewhat more on the horror side of things. Very welcome indeed.

I much prefer the non-super-heroing storylines in this series. The plethora of other symbiotes were less interesting to me, to be honest, but they do on occasion add another element of tension and emotional angst for Flash.

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Remender shows us how Eugene “Flash” Thompson is not your typical hero. For one thing, unlike many other Marvel heroes, he started out as a bully: Peter Parker’s tormentor at school. Rather than just telling us that he is a bully who has come good, Remender instead builds Flash’s background brilliantly and gradually. Present day scenes are interspersed with flashback to his childhood, abused by his alcoholic father and emotionally betrayed by his beaten-down mother, and the emotional damage this has done. Coupled with his double-amputee existence, made bearable by the Venom symbiote, he is constantly struggling to become the hero he always wished he could be. He is confronted by the lasting damage of his childhood; the damage he caused as an angry jock, and then as an alcoholic and also as Venom. Bunn picks up this character development expertly, and doesn’t miss a beat, building on what Remender started really well.

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I know I’ve focused on the two writers, but it should also go without saying that the artwork is excellent – from the controlled action and off-mission scenes to the Venom’s-Taken-Over-And-Gone-Crazy moments (which are far less frequent than you might think, especially in the latter-half of the series), it is an eye-catching, visually impressive and brooding series.

Definitely recommended.

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Marvel Graphic Novel Catch-Up: Fearless Defenders, Avengers, and Thor

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Three new Marvel NOW collections that I’ve read and enjoyed recently. I had my doubts about the new re-launch/re-boot, but I have actually rather enjoyed the stories themselves (despite, sometimes, only have movie knowledge to get me situated…).

Reviewed: Avengers, Fearless Defenders, Thor: God of Thunder

FEARLESS DEFENDERS, Vol.1 – “Doom Maidens”

FearlessDefenders-Vol.01Writer: Cullen Bunn | Artist: Will Sliney | Colors: Veronica Gandini

New team! New villains! New creators!Valkyrie and Misty Knight are the Fearless Defenders, and not since Power Man and Iron Fist has an unlikely duo kicked this much – well, you know.

Collects: Fearless Defenders #1-6

Cullen Bunn offers up  an all-female team of super-heroines, with a distinctly mythological slant. The story is fun and quirky, with Bunn’s signature, gentle humour often on display – witty asides, amusing narrative moments, and pretty great characterisation. I wasn’t wholly gripped, as I have been with some of his other work (The Sixth Gun remains one of my favourite series of all time). The artwork is good, sometimes a little exaggerated (think Marvel in the 1990s, perhaps). There’s some darkness in the story, too, which offered a nice balance to the levity, although I think I would have preferred to see that a little more developed. By the end, I thought I knew the characters rather well, but that the story had been a bit thin.

It was recently announced, I think, that this is being cancelled. That’s a pity, as I think this could have grown into something pretty cool, if given time. I’ll certainly be reading the remaining issues, though.

*

AVENGERS, Vol.1 – “Avengers World”

Avengers-Vol.01Writer: Jonathan Hickman | Artist: Jerome Opeña (#1-3), Adam Kubert (#4-6) | Colors: Dean White, Justin Ponsor, Morry Hollowell, Frank Martin, Richard Isanove (#1-3), Frank D’Armata (#4), Frank Martin (#5-6)

The greatest heroes in comics together on one unbeatable team! The Avengers “go large”, expanding their roster and their sphere of influence to a global and even interplanetary level. When Captain America puts out his call – who will answer? Big threats, big ideas, big idealism – these are the Avengers NOW!

Collects: Avengers #1-6

Captain America and Iron Man are rebuilding the Avengers. They’re using a more sophisticated organisational model, this time (it’s not as dull to read about as that sounds…). Meanwhile, Ex Nihilo, Abyss and Aleph have been terra-forming Mars and lobbing “evolution bombs” at Earth, re-writing Evolution. As you do. And, collaterally, killing whole bunches of people all over the world. Naturally, this irks the Avengers. After the core Avengers team confronted them at the start, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor and Hawkeye are held captive by these new baddies. Ex Nihilo likes to monologue. Cap is sent back to Earth to “bring everyone”. And then… We get one of the most anti-climactic conclusions in issue/chapter 3. It’s a total deus-ex-machina, couldn’t-be-bothered moment. Sadly fails to deliver, and I felt rather disappointed.

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Recruiting, Avengers-Style

The second story in the book looks at the clean-up after the evolution bombs, from different perspectives, coupled with the backgrounds of some newer Avengers recruits (new for me, at any rate). First, Hyperion (a rather emo-God-type from another dimension, who seems to miss his former station on his world). Second, Smasher (a female “guardian”, or “subguardian” – basically, a Green Lantern with cool tech, a mask instead of a ring, and attached to the Shi’ar Empire, rather than the, uh, Guardians…). And third, Captain Universe (who appears to be a god… or perhaps the origin of all things… It’s not entirely clear…).

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Three Moments of Levity: Bruce Banner explains himself (top), Thor confuses Tony (bottom, left),
and Thor is unimpressed by puny human’s idea of “Godlike”…

Overall, though, this isn’t a bad start to the new Avengers series. There’s a lot of rather cryptic information. Certainly, the Avengers are going Bigger. Hopefully it won’t become too silly in the future, but I am looking forward to reading Vol.2, “The White Event”. The artwork is pretty fantastic, too. Lots of great detail, rich colors, and it really pops throughout.

*

ThorGodOfThunder-Vol.01Thor: God of Thunder, Vol.1 – “The God Butcher”

Writer: Jason Aaron | Artist: Esad Ribic | Colors: Dean White (#1), Ive Svorcina (#2-5)

Throughout the ages, gods have been vanishing, their mortal worshippers left in chaos. Now, Thor follows a trail of blood that threatens to consume his past, present and future. The only hope for these ravaged worlds is for Thor to unravel the gruesome mystery of the God Butcher!

In the distant past, Thor follows the bloody wake of murdered gods across the depths of space. In the present, the Thunder God discovers a forgotten cave that echoes with the cries of tortured gods… and is shocked to find himself among them! And thousands of years from now, the last god-king of a ruined Asgard makes his final stand against the God Butcher’s beserker legions. As three Thors from three eras race to stop the God Butcher, the full extent of his vicious scheme takes terrifying shape!

Collects: Thor – God of Thunder #1-5

Another great start to a new Marvel NOW series. This is the first Thor solo series I’ve ever read, and I think Aaron does a great job of offering a starting point – given that the story hops between three times (past, present, and very far future), there’s no need to be greatly versed in the Thor mythology (Norse or Marvel’s). We see the character develop a bit, and a millennia-long struggle against the God Butcher, who – true to his name – has been working his way through the various pantheons of the universe, culling the numbers of deities. Thor, the only one to give him much of a challenge, has been chosen as the Last, in order that he sees his fellow gods killed, one-by-one.

It’s a solid story, and I’m certainly going to try to stick with the series for a little while. The writing is great, the story and artwork complement each other brilliantly, too. Definitely recommend this one to anyone who either likes the character already, or wants somewhere to jump on.

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The Sixth Gun, Vol.3 – “Bound” & Vol.4 – “A Town Call Penance” (Oni Press)

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Volume Three. Still awesome.

Writer: Cullen Bunn | Artist: Brian Hurtt (#12-13, 15-17) & Tyler Crook (#14, #23) | Colors: Bill Crabtree

Traveling by secret railroad, Becky and Drake accompany an order of mysterious monks on a quest to bury General Hume’s body on holy ground. But malevolent forces spurred by a sinister necromancer stage a terrifying attack on the train. Drake vanishes without a trace. Alone, Becky continues her journey to a secluded mountain fortress where she discovers how deeply her fate is entwined with that of The Sixth Gun. Meanwhile, Gord revisits a haunted mansion from his past hoping to discover a means to destroy the Six, but the ghosts he stirs have no intention of letting his quest continue.

Vol.3 Collects: The Sixth Gun #12-17
Vol.4 Collects: The Sixth Gun #18-23

Ah, The Sixth Gun. Without a doubt, this is one of my favourite comics series. It blends Wild Western adventure with some supernatural shenanigans. There’s action, humour, spooky stuff, and a plot that will hook you from the very start. I loved both of these books.

In “Bound”, Drake, Becky and the fellas from the Sword of Abraham are taking the Six and the body of the dead evil general, via train… somewhere safer. Naturally, nothing can go smoothly, as a necromancer raises an undead posse to retrieve the guns and the body of Evil General Hume (he’s someone you just have to always include the “Evil” when you mention him…). We’re introduced to Asher Cobb – a big, fuck-off mummy. Sent by the same necromancer to retrieve the evil body, while the surprisingly-spritely undead posse take care of the living. However, Cobb has a history with Drake… We get his story in #14 – a really cool extra.

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The story then moves forward a few days, as Gord heads home to collect the books on the Six from his former owner, who was in league with the Evil General. This was a nice diversion, and added a lot more to the whole spooky-supernatural side of the story. Not that the, you know, mummies, undead and magic guns weren’t already pretty obviously in the Weird Stuff arena…

With Drake missing, Becky is taken to the Sword of Abraham’s keep, and told she can never leave. But, an old friend is at hand to help, and she learns more of the power of the Sixth Gun.

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In “A Town Called Penance”, we re-join Drake after his short-lived disappearance from the train assault. He’s been captured by the Knights of Solomon, who he joined after the war – they are also the enemies of the Sword of Abraham, before attempting (unsuccessfully) to prevent her from going to Drake’s aid. The Knights of Solomon want Drake back working with them. As well as the Six, of course. Becky comes to rescue him, but there’s something not right with the town called Penance…

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As with the previous two books, I zipped through these two books, unable to put them down. The story is gripping, fast-paced, and very well written. And the artwork is great, too – atmospheric, consistent and just all-round excellent. I particularly loved the “silent” chapter – Becky’s near an explosion, and bursts her eardrums. Then she goes on a bit of a rampage through the underground lair of the Knights of Solomon. She’s joined by Drake. They kill a LOT of people…

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There is a really interesting revelation at the end of chapter five in this second book. It bodes very well for the future, so I will definitely be coming back for more of this series. Final chapter of Volume 4 features Kirby Hale, who we first briefly met in Volume 2, when he seduced Becky. We’re caught up on his story, and there’s a really nice parallel between his new trajectory and Drake’s in issue #1. A nice bit of writing, I thought.

Both of these books expand and build on the series superbly. We get more character development and also more world-building. I can’t recommend The Sixth Gun highly enough. Love this series. An absolute must read series for fans of comics, Westerns, and speculative/genre fiction of all stripes. Superb.

Sixth Gun, Vol.2 – “Crossroads” (Oni Press)

SixthGun-Vol.02Writer: Cullen Bunn | Artist: Brian Hurtt | Colors: Bill Crabtree

In the aftermath of the tragic battle of the Maw, Drake and company hide in the sprawling city of New Orleans. But as they plot their next move, they find themselves embroiled in another harrowing adventure. Unexpected threats, new enemies, and a host of strange spirits are already aligning against them.

Collects: Sixth Gun #7-11

This is just a really quick review – it’s actually been a while since I read this (and have since blitzed through the next two), but I wanted to mention it on the blog. The Sixth Gun is one of my favourite series, hands down. This makes it very tricky to review. So much of my enjoyment comes from the surprises and unexpected directions the story takes, as well as the excellent dialogue, plotting and artwork. Needless to say, if you like supernatural tales in a Wild West and 19th-Century American setting, then The Sixth Gun is a must-read.

“Crossroads” gives us an expansion on the already-awesome supernatural elements introduced in Volume 1 – this time, we get some voodoo and Southern weirdness, which I always like to read about. There are swamps and strange Haitian-inspired beasties, as Drake attempts to find a way to rid himself of the pistols (he has collected a four of them, from the cold, dead hands of their previous owners). Adding to Drake’s impatience (and Becky’s, as she owns one of the Six as well), evil forces will forever be drawn to the Six, and with only the chance of passing them on from a dead (wo)man’s hand, things are going to get very dangerous for them.

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We meet a new face, a potentially a recurring character: a smooth-talker who Becky maybe takes a shine to. He has an ulterior motive, however, and he quickly becomes involved in the hunt for the Six.

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I really love that Bunn & Co. are deepening and expanding the series mythology. The Sixth Gun is a great series, and “Crossroads” does exactly what a second volume is meant to do: it builds very nicely on what has come before, and lays down the foundation for yet more action and dark adventure to come.

Excellent and highly recommended.

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Marvel: THREE New Wolverine Titles…?

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Last year, I had a chat with the President of a comics company in the US, and we joked about Marvel’s addiction to Wolverine and how he features in an ever-increasing number of their titles. With the roll-out of the Marvel NOW not-a-reboot-honest, readers will (of course) be offered some more titles that are all about Wolverine: Wolverine, Savage Wolverine and the soon-to-be-launched Ultimate Comics – Wolverine. Can there be too much of a great character? After all, he is a member of the Avengers, too…

Wolverine is written by Paul Cornell, with art by Alan Davis – the first issue of this series will be published tomorrow.

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Savage Wolverine (first two issues already available) is written and drawn by Frank Cho.

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Ultimate Comics – Wolverine is written by Cullen Bunn (one of my favourite comic writers – see The Sixth Gun), with art by David Messina and Gary Erskine. The first issue of this series is also published tomorrow.

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