Sunday, 10 June 2012

Avengers vs X-Men #5 Review

Marvel's latest summer event ends it's first act with a game-changing issue! When last we saw the company's two most popular superhero teams, they had both found their way to the Moon, the Phoenix Force drawing ever closer and the two sides locked in combat over the fate of the Mutant Messiah and soon-to-be-host, Hope. Captain America wants to take her as far away from Earth as possible, Cyclops wants her to embrace the power and reignite the ailing Mutant race. All the while, fan-favourite Wolverine hovers in the background threatening to gut her like a fish incase this all goes wrong. Never have the heroes of the Marvel Universe ever disagreed to such a degree. The superhero Civil War was a petty spat in comparison. In Avengers vs X-Men, the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance!

As I am only beginning my reviews with issue 5, I feel I should sum up my feelings on the entire event so far to give the best picture of how it is going. Unfortunately, I'm not coming down on it favourably. Ever since the first issue, these typically rational heroes have been acting like colossal jerks. Captain America inexplicably declared war on the X-Men and is talking about imprisoning the entire Mutant race, behaving wildly out of character. Cyclops has come off like a religious zealot, giving himself over entirely to a cause bigger than himself and putting the whole world in danger in the process, behaving wildly out of character. The only person who's actually acting IN character is Wolverine, but his goal of murdering Hope is so despicable, you really wish he would act out of character and try to save her instead. He's betrayed the X-Men at every turn and is actively aiding in snuffing out Mutantdom's last chance at a future. It was never going to be easy for Marvel to find a reason to have their most popular franchises go to war...and they still haven't found it.

This issue inparticular takes place almost entirely on the Moon, taking place over a matter of minutes. Hope keels over in pain at the impending arrival of the Phoenix Force, while the Avengers and X-Men simply hit each other like simpletons for twenty pages. There's an occasional plea by Captain America to Cyclops to stop this madness, but even in such a rational request, everyone is still committed to their own course of action, with no attempt at compromise. You'd think as they're on THE MOON, what's the harm in letting Hope take on the power, see if she can contain it and if not, have Wolverine use those claws he's been sharpening for the past four issues. Ultimately this issue is just another horrible example of Marvel smashing their favourite toys together and seeing what happens, regardless of whether it makes sense.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the schizophrenic creative team behind this series. All of Marvel's top tier writers have taken a crack at writing an issue a piece. I'm assuming that there was a huge group meeting to discuss where exactly the story was heading, but even then, these are wildly different writing styles and inner voices being used with every passing issue. A Brian Michael Bendis comic is a very different beast to a Jason Aaron comic, as it is to an Ed Brubaker comic and so on. They all have their various strengths and weaknesses and as a result, they never come together as a cohesive whole. This particular issue was written by Matt Fraction (famous for his work on The Invincible Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, Defenders, etc). He's well known for taking a step back from the emotional core and focussing on lofty bigger ideas of a grand scale. Considering he's got two superteams on the surface of the Moon scrapping it out, whilst a cosmic force moves ever closer in an attempt to consume them, you could certainly say he's guilty of that here. He does however frame the issue around a lovely metaphor where Hope questions whether she's the pilot of the bomber or the bomb itself. Amidst all the needless violence, I did appreciate such sentiment.

Ironically, the art is the one aspect of the series so far to remain consistant, with John Romita Jr handling every issue of this Act. However, the only reason he's been able to manage this feat is by turning in shoddy half-arsed art that conveys the bare minimum of detail. To be fair, I'm not saying it's the series itself that's bringing this out in him, as he's been coasting on "deadline" art for the past ten years or more. Only in very rare cases has he produced anything even remotely beautiful. For the majority of series he's worked on, he'll turn in whatever he's managed to accomplish in that timeframe, which isn't a whole hell of alot. This actually reminds me alot of his work on the recent relaunch of The Avengers. For the first 12 issues or more, he turned in some of the worst art I'd ever seen and if not for the similar style, would've had me wondering whether this was the same guy who wowed me on Amazing Spider-Man all those years ago. I'm not decrying the art as absolutely horrible, merely functional. There probably won't be any images from this series that stand out as a classic visual of our time, which is a real shame considering the monumental subject matter. I'm far more interested to see what Oliver Coipel achieves in the upcoming second Act.

Finally, the issue ends on a shocking cliffhanger, which I'd be an idiot to not address. So if you're not wanting to know what happens, please do not read beyond this point and go about your business. As established in the most recent issue of Uncanny X-Men, the Phoenix Force was definitely responsible for Hope's birth and the subsequent arrival of the "Five Lights". Not having her acolytes on hand at the time of it's arrival, the Phoenix Force possesses the five members of the X-Men's Extinction Team. Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik have all become living avatars of the Force. After their abrupt transformation, they take the broken Hope in their arms and abscond back to Earth, with their great work still ahead of them. This is actually a fantastic concept for the remains of the series and quickly dispells the notion that the Avengers have been utterly superior up until this point. The X-Men were losing, but now they've changed the game entirely and laid claim to the moniker of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. It'd be extremely easy for Marvel to make these possessed X-Men the villains of the piece and have the Avengers striving to stop their genocidal plans, but I'd be far more interested if their motivations weren't as simple as wiping Humanity off the face of the Earth and instead had the Phoenix wanting to bring about genuine change on a global scale.

6 out of 10  

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Best of DC Comics New 52!


While reverting from Gotham City's one and only Batman back to original identity Nightwing could be seen by some as a demotion, Dick Grayson has proved just as important in his New 52 role as he did pre-Flashpoint. Kyle Higgins has been on writing duties since the relaunch and in conjunction with Batman's Scott Snyder has created the perfect companion piece to the recent "Night of the Owls" crossover event. Just as Bruce Wayne has come to find his life shadowed by the fabled Court of Owls, so has Dick Grayson. Over the course of the first year, it's been revealed that long-time staple Haley's Circus was aiding in the creation of the next generation Talons and Dick was to be a leading candidate, if not for the timely intervention of his adoption and subsequent crimefighting career. All being big developments in the origins of the former Boy Wonder and leave me wondering what might happen next.


This is a bit of a cheat, as there's only been one issue of this series set firmly in New 52 continuity so far. However, in that single issue, Grant Morrison achieved more than some creators have been striving all year for. Due to the luck of the draw, he's managed to pick up exactly where he left off in Volume One. After being hounded for months by a mysterious organisation named Leviathan, their leader stood revealed as none other than Robin's mother, Talia Al Ghul. Not only is the writing top notch, but the art by Chris Burnham evokes the same pop-art sensibilities usually only captured by Frank Quitely. A masterful book that's only ever going to rise in my estimation over the coming months.


Geoff Johns has been writing the spectacular adventures of Hal Jordan consistantly since 2004. Picking up seemlessly from where the last volume left off, following "War of the Green Lanterns", Hal has been stripped of his power ring and banished back to Earth by the Guardians of the Universe, having deemed him too rebellious (whilst secretly fearing his true power). In his stead, long-time nemesis Sinestro has been reinstated and tasked with bringing down the Corps of his own creation, who've invaded his homeworld of Korugar. While not remotely new-reader-friendly, relying heavily on one's knowledge of the past eight years of Green Lantern mythology, this series is unrelentingly entertaining with it's buddy-cop dynamic between the two leads. It's only a matter of time before they have an inevitable falling out and Sinestro is returned to his villainous roots, so I'm enjoying the pairing while I can. In recent months, there have been no end of hints towards a major new story arc entitled "The Third Army". The Guardians have secretly turned against the Green Lantern Corps and are plotting to supplant them with a new galactic police force, just as they did the Manhunters before them. Jump on board now, before the s*** hits the fan.


Anyone who's not reading this series already, what the hell is wrong with you? Admittedly, Aquaman has always been a tough sell (even to me), but this new volume has addressed that criticism head on. Not happy to write a plain old Aquaman story, Geoff Johns has no problem pointing out how the world at large laughs at the notion of a water-based superhero. The first handful of issues are rife with situations where members of the public bombard our hero, Arthur Curry, with ridiculous questions about the usefulness of talking to fish or what he intends to do to stop a crime on land. Instead of shying away from the inherent trouble this character has had in the past, Johns has embraced it, making it one big running joke and taking the sting out of any true criticism. Not to mention Ivan Reis has drawn the King of Atlantis to be the most dashing, awe-inspiring hero of them all. Whether it be stopping a bank robbery on land or fighting off a legion of carniverous sea-life underwater, never has the character looked so good. Put aside your scepticism for a single night and read the first arc, you won't be sorry.


As alluded to earlier, Scott Snyder's Batman is really knocking it out of the proverbial park at the moment. Continuing themes he began way back in his run on Detective Comics, Snyder treats Gotham City as a living breathing entity, that just as soon as you think you have a handle on it, it'll churn out a new threat specifically tailored to mess with your head. In that spirit, it's revealed that as confident and comfortable as Batman has grown in his home town, there has always been an unseen force operating in the shadows, namely - The Court of Owls. Initially hinted at as merely a nursery rhyme to scare the small children as Gotham, the threat becomes increasingly real, attacking Bruce Wayne from all sides. Nests spring up unexpectedly in his place of business and home. The situation ever worsening, the fearful Talon assassins eventually drag Batman down into the depths of madness. Never has an enemy shook our hero's core belief system so utterly. He can no longer trust his place of birth, his methods, even his closest allies. The Court has it's claws in them all. If you were under the impression that Grant Morrison would strole back in after a year and reclaim his mantle as head of the Bat-writers, Scott Snyder stops him dead in his tracks. Where Morrison has been building his masterpiece over the course of years, Snyder has given us one in a matter of months. The collected saga of "The Court of Owls" will undoubtedly become a classic before our eyes.  

Friday, 1 June 2012

Batman Annual #01 Review

While "The New 52" reboot from last September left Batman's continuity mostly intact, a few changes have snuck in over the course of the year. Dick Grayson is back to being Nightwing, Barbara Gordon is back to being Batgirl, etc. Generally these changes have been rolling back the clock on our favourite heroes' careers, making them younger and dare I say more stylish. However, this first Annual of the new volume takes a radical approach and completely rethinks the origins of one Victor Fries aka Mr Freeze. I won't go into details, but it both acknowleges the classic origin of Mr Freeze, as established in Batman the Animated Series' "Heart of Ice" over twenty years ago, and yet spins it off into an interesting new direction that no one was expecting, let alone me.

What will most likely catch any potential reader's eyes on the stands is the "Night of the Owls" crossover banner on the top of the cover. However, I should warn you that this doesn't play into the hugely popular event in the slightest. Apart from a casual mention of the Court of Owls having stolen Freeze's methods to animate their Talons and a nebulous time frame between another Freeze-related scuffle over in "Red Hood & The Outlaws", this is entirely a localised character study, delving deeper into what makes one of Batman's most notorious villains tick.

Furthering this theme, the Annual is bookended by flashbacks to Victor as a child, visiting a frozen lake with his mother. Sufficed to say, any mental disturbances in the mind of Freeze began a long time before Batman or Bruce Wayne became a thorn in his side. I really liked these two scenes. While it had no direct effect on the modern day, it played heavily into the psychosis Victor feels towards his wife Nora. Yet another important woman in his life that met an icy end.

The core story deals with yet another breakout from Arkham Asylum (making three or four across all the Bat-titles since last September alone). Thankfully, this one is far smaller in scale and only Freeze himself, yet all the more impressive for it. Watching him casually despatch staff memebers, whether they be therapists or armed guards is quite the sight. Sometimes relying on his gimmick of extreme cold or in a surprising move, blunt force trauma. He may be a malformed scientist, but he has no problem snapping a man's neck with his bare hands.

Upon regaining his freedom, Freeze heads straight for the the man who "wronged" him and led to his horrific transformation - Bruce Wayne. In this version of events, the good Doctor worked for Wayne Industries in the Cryonics Division. Victor spent months working on a cure to his wife's condition, neglecting all the other projects he should've been working on. When Wayne finds out, he personally fires Fries on the spot. After an unprovoked skirmish, Fries ruptures a canister of coolant and becomes the monster we know him to be today.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with the decision to tie Bruce so intrinsically into Mr Freeze's origin. It reminded me alot of The Riddler in Batman Forever. Jim Carrey was the mad scientist in Wayne's employ, got fired and poured his talents into revenge against his former boss. You could match the stories beat for beat. Now, I'd never accuse a mastermind like Scott Snyder of ripping off a hack like Joel Schumacher, but the similarities are eerie.

As you can imagine, when someone makes a kamikaze run at Bruce Wayne, they're bound to run into Batman. Before that inevitable round of fisticuffs, there was also a welcome pair of cameos in the form of Nightwing and Robin, running interference for their father. Ever since Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne's initial team-up in the first volume of "Batman & Robin", I've long been a fan of the pairing. I'm glad to see their chemistry hasn't been forgotten by DC editorial in the rush to get Nightwing back to a solo hero. It was only a couple of pages worth, but a reminder that not every change to the DCU was a positive one. I miss these two together.

In retrospect, the events of the issue themself aren't anything much to write home about. Infact, it's worryingly basic. But the beauty lies in the small character moments. Being able to understand this new Freeze a little more, even Bruce's personal connection to events. Not essential reading, but pleasant enough, should you want a deeper insight into the New 52.

8 out of 10