A strange combination of having had a ton of spare time to read and a new job means I probably won’t be able to write my usual-type of review for many of the books and graphic novels I’ve read over the past couple of months. For some books, I will still write longer reviews, but for many (if not most) I’ll include them in occasional round-/catch-up posts with mini-reviews. Today, I take a look at recently-read Marvel titles.
Reviewed: Amazing Spider-Man “Red-Headed Stranger”, “Return of the Black Cat” & “The Gauntlet Vol.1”; Rick Remender’s Venom Vols.1-3, Ultimate Comics – X-Men Vol.1, Ultimate Comics – Hawkeye, Daredevil Yellow
Amazing Spider-Man: Red-Headed Stranger
Writer: Fred van Lente, Brian Reed | Artist: Barry Kitson, Robert Atkins, Javier Pudilo, Luke Ross, Rick Magyar, Yanick Paquette, Mark Farmer | Inks: Rick Ketcham, Barry Kitson, Victor Olazaba, Joe Rubenstein | Colors: Jeromy Cox, Antonio Fabela, Javier Rodriguez, Rob Schwager, Nathan Fairbairn
The Chameleon returns with a terrifying new mission that has Mayor J. Jonah Jameson squarely in his sights!
Meanwhile, the Anti-Spidey Squad narrows its dragnet around the Web-Crawler, and Peter Parker gets a brand new job – will it bring him closer to the newly-returned Mary Jane, or push her further away?
Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #602-5
Ok, so the villain Chameleon is pretty creepy. This isn’t a bad story, over all. It doesn’t delve too deeply into the relationships between Peter’s crowd (which I would have liked), and the Mayor is cartoonish in his irrational hatred of Spider-Man (Zeb Wells writes him better, though no less Spidey-hating, in the first issues of Avenging Spider-Man).
The issues included in the book don’t feel as focused as other series I’ve read, but then, these are beyond the 600th issue, so there’s been a ton of story- and world-building beforehand. It has a more round-about way of telling the story. In some ways, Amazing Spider-Man feels a little like a sitcom that’s been on the air for years and we’re comfortable just randomly dropping in to the story. It’s good for that reason, actually. But, also, not as satisfying as it could have been.
Amazing Spider-Man: Return of the Black Cat
Writer: Joe Kelly (606-7), Marc Guggenheim (608-10), Joe Kelly (611) | Artist: Mike McKone, Adriana Melo, Marco Checchetto, Luke Ross, Rick Magyar, Eric Canete | Inks: Andy Lanning, Mike McKone, Justice, Smith, Benes | Colors: Chris Chuckry, Jeromy Cox, Fabio D’Auria, Andre Mossa
“WHO WAS BEN REILLY?”
Raptor is back for revenge against the man he claims killed his family – Ben Reilly, the clone of Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the only person alive that fits Ben’s description is Peter Parker. As this super-powered psycho with a thirst for vengeance targets Peter, his family, and his friends, even Spider-Man might not be able to save the day this time.
Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #606-611
This is another not-particularly-focused book, to be honest. The Black Cat story was short, but good, as she and Spidey tackle a strange case involving Diablo and some cut-price “steel”.
Then there’s a continuation of the Ben Reilly fallout from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36 (which was included in Died In Your Arms Tonight). It’s a pretty good story, actually, but throwing in Kaine as well near the end meant I got a case of clone-overdose… (I read this before I tried Scarlet Spider, so I wasn’t familiar really with who Kaine actually was).
Finally, there’s a Spidey-Deadpool story, which was… well, just nuts. It also foreshadows the long (perhaps drawn-out) storyline, “The Gauntlet”. (See below.)
Amazing Spider-Man: The Gauntlet, Vol.1
Writer: Mark Waid (#612-14), Fred van Lente (#615-616) | Artist: Paul Azaceta (#612-614), Javier Pulido (#615-616) | Colors: Dave Stewart (#612-614), Javier Rodriguez (#615-616)
The wife and daughter of Kraven the Hunter want Spider-Man dead and they’re sending his oldest enemies to do the job… First up, Electro and Sandman! Plus: Norman Osborn seeks to check off the number one item on The List: Kill Spider-Man!
Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #612-616
This is the first of five volumes covering “The Gauntlet”, featuring confrontations with Electro and Sandman. One thing to say from the start: I didn’t get that these two villains were “sent” by Mrs. Kraven and her evil offspring… Rather, it seemed to just be Their Turn to go up against Spider-Man, in their never-ending roundabout of fight, defeat, incarcerate, fight, defeat, incarcerate…
We start off learning about Electro’s fall, how he got to the sorry point he’s at now (yes, involved Spider-Man royally kicking his ass and foiling his various Nefarious Plans). On page 17, Electro offers a rousing “rooftop rant” for the 99%, following news of a bailout for Dexter Bennett, a billionaire and owner of “The DB” (formerly known as the Daily Bugle). Then all hell breaks loose for Spidey, as Electro rides the wave of Wall Street frustration and popular unrest. The Thinker (awful name for a villain) helps Electro power up, before he takes off to fulfill a vendetta against Bennett. It doesn’t go well for all concerned, and things will change for Peter and everyone else at The DB.
The tale featuring Sandman involves a kidnapped a girl who started calling the bad guy “daddy”, after he dated her mother for a little while. Spider-Man goes to Governor’s Island to rescue her. They fight. It’s a pretty straight-forward story, but not bad. It ends on a tragic note, though.
The book finishes up with “Dark Reign: The List – #8 Kill Spider-Man” (writen by Dan Slott, art by Adam Kubert and Mark Morales, colors by Dean White). I really love the artwork here. I couldn’t quite figure out how it fit in with the series continuity, though. Nevertheless, it’s a decent story, as Peter/Spidey steals some key information – video-logs of Norman Osborne’s heinous crimes and human experiments – and tries to get the information out into the world. It’s a very strong story, actually, I just wish it had fit a bit better.
Daredevil – Yellow
Writers: Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale | Artists: Richard Starkings & Wes Abbott | Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
In this retelling of the early career of The Man Without Fear, the Eisner Award-winning team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have taken an inspiring action adventure story and blended it with a romantic comedy. The result is the heartwarming and heartbreaking story of two young people in love: Matthew Murdock and Karen Page.
Collects: Daredevil – Yellow #1-6
The first thing that jumped out at me in this book is the great artwork. It’s moody, subtle, with really nice use of greys and black in the start, the only color being Daredevil’s red outfit:
In the story, Matt Murdock is writing a letter to “Karen”, and decides to look back at the start, to how it all began for him as Daredevil. Later on, it became clear, for the uninitiated (including myself), that “Karen” is Karen Page, Murdock & Nelson’s secretary – someone both Matt and Foggy had crushes on. Naturally, Karen only had eyes for Daredevil… So Lois Lane-Clark Kent/Superman…
Matt reminisces about his father’s boxing career. Issue one takes us up to the catalyzing event of his father’s murder (very like the movie, actually). In issue two, Daredevil is born, and goes after those who killed his dad (a little time has past by this point).
The story takes a little time to get going, but I found myself reading throughout. Matt’s new in town, still making a name for himself as both a lawyer and also Daredevil (he goes after Electro), that sort of thing. Usual origin-story stuff.
I really love the New York details in the artwork – lots of noticeable city landmarks, well realised on the page.
The story skips towards the end to post-Karen, tying up the whole book. But without telling us what actually happened to Karen. All we get is:
“The rest of the story you know too well. It’s been told a lot of ways, with many other people in my life, but this is the way I choose to remember it when I think of you. Foggy never found love. You found out that Daredevil and Matt Murdock were one and the same. And now… And now you are dead.”
Daredevil’s an interesting character, still. In some ways, he’s not only physically blind, but also emotionally. His father was crooked, but redeemed himself (almost selfishly) at the end, and this act has left its permanent fingerprints on Matt’s own approach to justice.
Summing up, this isn’t a bad book. It’s a slow-burn comic, more about Murdock & Nelson, rather than Daredevil. Quite good, also a bit sad and emotional. I think I prefer Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil, though. (I’m not sure if that’s still being published, though… I know he’s started the rather excellent Indestructible Hulk as part of the Marvel NOW re-boot.)
Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye
Writer: Jonathan Hickman | Artist: Rafa Sandoval | Inks: Jordi Tarragona | Colors: Brad Anderson
Hawkeye’s back in a bad way. Armed and dangerous, Clint Barton is tasked with his most perilous mission yet. And what he discovers will reverberate across the entire Ultimate Universe. Tasked on a covert and dangerous mission, Hawkeye finds himself in the middle of an international arms race – but on the brink of obtaining a serum that will change the course of mutant history, has the eagle-eyed hero aimed too high to succeed?
Collects: Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #1-4 (Complete Series)
Ok, a really short review: ultimately, it boils down to “I really enjoyed this.” There’s a lot of action, as everything in the Southeast Asian Republic (SEAR) goes nuts. You see, the SEAR leaders have developed a new breed of super-humans. Why does this matter? Well, in the Ultimate Comics universe, not only have mutants been hunted to near extinction, but many of them were wiped out in Ultimatum. So yeah, a bit of a game-changer. Hawkeye’s sent to SEAR to see what’s going on, and to steal a sample of the serum against the new virus that the SEAR government also unleashed on the world. The four issues tie in with certain events in Ultimate Comics: X-Men, and leads into the second issue and beyond of Ultimate Comics: Ultimates (which I still have to read).
Sidebar, I really like the cover for the fourth part of the series:
Ultimate Comics: X-Men Vol.1
Writer: Nick Spencer | Artist: Paco Medina | Inks: Juan Vlasco | Colors: Marte Gracia
The biggest mutant cover-up has gone public as the true history of the X-Gene is revealed. the United States government has been outed as the X-Gene’s creator and mutants have been branded terrorists. as an identity crisis rocks the mutant world, the mistrust between man and x-man gets deeper… and it is in this insanity that the X-Men emerge. Who are the X-Men? and how will they fare in a world where they are criminals? Will these outlaw mutants be willing to defend mankind, when all of humanity cries out for their imprisonment?
Collects: Ultimate Comics X-Men #1-6
There’s a really shocking opening scene in this book, as Karen Grant (formerly known as Jean Grey) visits a family whose daughter has recently manifested mutant abilities. Then we’re re-introduced to the mutants from Ultimate X: Origins, and also Kitty Pryde:
“I’m sixteen years old – And this is the story of how I became the most feared and hated terrorist in the history of the United States.”
Jimmy Hudson, Wolverine’s son (who also has the same powers), has left the group and gone on a solo-journey to find out what happened to his father. Meanwhile, the rest of the group of young mutants face off against various aggressive and hostile forces, and eventually a particularly zealous anti-mutant crusader. Shit goes down, I can tell you.
The artwork can be a little off, sometimes (for example, the president’s press secretary’s fingers at the announcement near the beginning; Quicksilver’s eye when he’s with Fury and the US President; and a couple others). But, for the main it’s excellent: bright and vivid, clear and eye-catching. There are also plenty of instances of great nuance in the characters’ facial expressions. It’s not often that I come across comic art that can do so much with small twitches and changes to characters’ expressions. Really impressed.
Overall, this is a pretty cool start to the series, with the group forming, some world-building going on, and the usual beginning-of-series inclusions. It’s not particularly deep, but the story taps into a Government-as-Bad-Medical-Experimenter conspiracies pretty well, and sets things up nicely for the future. I think they were playing this a bit safe, perhaps unsure if people would take to the new direction.
Venom, Vol.1, Circle of Four & other issues
Writer: Rick Remender | Artist: Tony Moore | Inks: Crimelab Studios, Sandu Florea, Karl Kesel (#1-2) | Colors: John Rauch
America… meet your newest Hero! The lethal alien symbiote known as Venom is in the custody of the U.S. military… and with a familiar face from Spider-Man’s world inside the suit, the government’s own personal Spidey is going into action as one of the nation’s top covert agents in hostile territory!
Collects: Venom #1-5
Eugene “Flash” Thompson wears the symbiote suit. But he can apparently only do so for 48-hours, otherwise it will bond permanently with him, and start exerting more control over Flash’s psyche and body. I thought this was a pretty interesting development. I first ‘met’ Flash in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, in which Chameleon has taken on Peter Parker’s identity. Pseudo-Peter attends a photo-op with the Mayor, to which Flash has been invited – he’s a double-amputee war hero – and Chameleon makes some time to take the piss out of Flash (they went to high school together, and Flash was the jock who took out his insecurities on Peter, despite idolizing Spider-Man).
The book drops us right into a war zone. Shit’s goin’ down, and we’re not given much time to figure out what or take much of a breath. It’s fast-paced, furious, and there’s some trouble with Jack O’Lantern (presented in a truly horrific, evil version of the character). O’Lantern crops up throughout the issues I’ve read (all the way up to #14), and he just gets madder and more brutal as the story goes on. I bought him as a genuinely dangerous, psychotic villain.
The rest of the book develops into a great character piece as well as an action tale. Flash is not only Venom, but also a recovering alcoholic, depressed, suffering from some PTSD, trying to make things work with his girlfriend Betty Brant, and attempting to avoid his father (who is ill and possibly dying).
Some lines of dialogue are used a little too often (for example, inserting the idea of pulling off a Hail Mary, and specific things related to rage and how that effects the symbiote). They’re not terrible, but it’s noticeable that they are either a vocal/authorial tic or a crutch.
This is a great book, though. I’m really glad i picked it up – and have, in fact already read #6-12 (which, for some reason, have not been collected together). The story continues to grow and deepen, as Flash deals with some more changes and tragedy. The fact that a criminal overlord knows his true identity is also putting strain on him, as a marker is finally called in.
I really enjoyed the first book if Venom. The next bunch of issues were also good, but kind of went off the deep end in some ways, and the quality and my interest dipped the more I read. Perhaps I overdosed, I’m not sure.
Specifically, the trip to Hell in “Circle of Four”, which teams Venom up with Red Hulk, X-23 and Ghost Rider (a new, female one, which was interesting). The misfits are in Las Vegas, but get sucked into Hell, as a demon prince decides to bring Hell to earth – through a casino. Naturally. The story’s ok, but it didn’t grab me as much as the earlier issues.
Overall, I think this series is worth a look, especially if you’re looking for a slightly edgier-Spidey series. I prefer Scarlet Spider, but this will do in a pinch, also. I’ll read more, but I’ll probably wait until it’s on sale again on ComiXology.
One thing I do really like? When the symbiote takes over, and Venom goes mental: