Thursday, 20 June 2013

Review: Age of Ultron #10

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev, Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, David Marquez, Joe Quesada and others
Published by Marvel Comics

With Wolverine's plot to assassinate Hank Pym averted, the Marvel Universe is allowed to unfold unaltered. Unfortunately, there's still the matter of a killer robot to deal with and the consequences of abusing the timeline. In saving his own world, has Wolverine damned others?

I'd like to say this was a triumphant conclusion to both the Age of Ultron and Brian Michael Bendis' time with the Avengers, but I can't. At least not in good conscience. As sad as it is to report, the man who turned around the entire franchise with his New Avengers relaunch back in 2004, has turned in one of the worst event comics of all-time. Remember how jumbled, confusing and unsatisfying Grant Morrison's Final Crisis was? Well it's got nothing on Age of Ultron, which is lazily plotted, disappointingly resolved, schizophrenically-drawn and far more concerned with what comes next than what's happening in the present.

The issue opens with a brief sequence of Heroic Age Hank Pym working in his lab, being gifted with the knowledge to avert the Age of Ultron, literally delivered to his doorstep. Apparently, he'd developed the relevant programs to put down Ultron years earlier, during Wolverine and Sue Storm's visit, but had the information wiped from his memory so to allow the Marvel Universe to develop undisturbed. It's a wonderfully drawn sequence by Alex Maleev, who could draw two people sharing a cup of coffee and it'd hold my attention. However, it's hard to escape the fact he's had the story's Deus Ex Machina placed in his hands, ready for use. It robs the entire event of all tension and may as well have been a big red button reading "ULTRON ON/OFF SWITCH".

Sufficed to say, there's a prolonged fight scene between the Avengers and the reawakened Ultron, but knowing Pym has the answer stashed in his back pocket, I spent the majority of the issue screaming "GET ON WITH IT!". Bendis tries his best to make us believe that the virus won't work and Ultron will still end up taking over the Earth, but at issue 10 of a series, who is he trying to fool. Pym uploads the virus in the nick of time and the robot falls out of the sky like a tin can. This scene can only be described as going through the motions. Certain things are expected of an event finale and a giant battle is one of them. Taking down Ultron was a foregone conclusion, but the structure of comic books dictated we needed a few extra pages of Thor swinging his hammer to go home happy. If I had to guess, even Bendis himself was disinterested by this point of the story and wanted to move on to juicier subjects i.e. the cliffhangers.

With Ultron defeated and the world saved, Wolverine and Sue Storm are back in the present day, patting each other on the back for a job well done. Or at least they thought it well done. Just when it couldn't get worse, the entire time space continuum shatters panel by panel, causing everyone to convulse in pain. Despite time travel being a long-time trope of superhero comics, this was one time too many. Wolverine's abuse of the timeline has sent tears careening through the Multiverse, even being felt as far away as the Ultimate Universe (who now have 616 Galactus to deal with!). This was clearly Bendis' endgame for the series (and several others if All-New X-Men is anything to go by) and he couldn't get there fast enough. I'm all for wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans (I'm a fan of Doctor Who after all), but I'll be damned if these hiccups have any rhyme or reason. It's far more akin to the writer throwing all his toys in the air and seeing where they land. Especially, the bizzare random addition to the Marvel Universe on the final page.

While time travel stories can be a lot of fun when done right, when done poorly they can be utterly disastrous. This genre is a double-edged sword and Bendis' Age of Ultron came down on the wrong side. No real lesson has been learned, no characters can remember it, hell, besides a few upcoming crossovers between realities, this may as well have never happened. That is the biggest sin a time travel story can ever commit - making the journey utterly pointless.

3 out of 10

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Review: Superman Unchained #1

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jim Lee
Published by DC Comics

An unknown force is disabling satellites and sending them hurtling towards Earth. Only one man can save the day - Superman. Or could there be another?

Superman has always been a particularly difficult character to write, especially in the New 52. His self-titled series has floundered from the get-go, at first under the "guidance" of George Perez and then the omnipresent Scott Lobdell. 'Action Comics' fared slightly better with Grant Morrison's big concepts set in the Man of Steel's early days (essentially rehashing his origin for the billionth time), but has sputtered to a halt due to creative differences that saw top tier talent Andy Diggle leave after only one issue.

'Superman Unchained' is DC's chance to start all over again, giving us the Superman book we should've had in September 2011. Taking their top writer in Scott Snyder and pairing him with their top artist Jim Lee, DC are hoping to give this franchise a super kick up the behind.

I'm loathe to judge a series based solely on one issue, but so far this hasn't been the knockout blow that the publisher was intending. If anything, it's a fairly by-the-book Superman yarn. He performs a few herculean feats of strength, checks in with his supporting cast of Lois and Jimmy (despite no longer working at the Daily Planet) and butts heads with life-long nemesis, Lex Luthor. Even the new threat introduced at the end of the issue failed to illicit any real reaction from this humble writer.

The initial action sequence featuring Superman saving astronauts from a falling space station was quite fun, but nothing terribly original. My favourite part being Superman activating the falling station's heat shield with his eyes to protect the astronauts in their free fall. Having astronauts survive re-entry from space in only their standard issue suits was always a big question mark, so I'm happy to see it addressed and solved somewhat.

Big Blue's interaction with Lex Luthor was another fun scene, with our hero accusing the supervillain of orchestrating the issue's events, even from behind bars and without any evidence whatsoever. I've always been a big fan of the antagonistic relationship between the two characters and in this respect the issue was no letdown. I can't remember the last intelligent confrontation between the fan favourites, so the more Snyder mines this dynamic, the better.

I won't write this series off straight out of the gate, but it does no better job of attracting interest in Superman than his other two ongoing series. Which personally, I find hugely surprising, given the talent involved. In this week's batch of comics alone, Scott Snyder had two absolute masterpieces in Batman #21 (the beginning of Zero Year) and his American Vampire one-shot, The Long Road to Hell. To see him turn in a story so generic is a genuine mystery. Maybe his take on Superman will simply take a few issues to gain traction, but this one makes for a rare stumble on the prolific writer's resume.

6 out of 10

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

News: Mock-up of Captain America 2 costume

A piece of preliminary artwork for the upcoming 'Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier' has hit the web and features Steve Rogers in his new costume.

The design has clearly been influenced by the recent Ed Brubaker mini-series 'Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier'.

This makes for Captain America's third costume in as many films, as Marvel continue to tweak the Star Spangled Avenger's look.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Review: X-Factor #257

Written by Peter David
Art by Neil Edwards
Published by Marvel Comics

As the end of X-Factor draws near, the team are still busy dealing with the repercussions of the Hell on Earth War. Namely, their leader Jamie Madrox is still trapped in the form of a Demon!

Wrapping up a decade old series is no enviable task and this first installment of "The End of X-Factor" is bizarrely stand-alone. You'd think with so many plot threads left dangling, Peter David would have his hands full, but somehow he makes time for a completely different story that doesn't necessarily star X-Factor themselves.

While tracking down the missing demonic Madrox, his wife Layla Miller finds herself butting heads with a devastated Uncle and Nephew, desperate to resurrect their lost loved one. Coming into possession of the transformed private detective, the pair believe him to be a D'jinn capable of traversing a dimensional portal and bringing their deceased relative back to them. Unfortunately, they may not like what they find on the other side.

The story itself is nice enough, with a few cruel twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Most notably, Layla's knowledge of the future is completely wrong in this case. Where memories would tell her that she'd find a Human Madrox and that the Uncle's magic would fail, she stumbles across the still demonic Madrox and very much working magic. Throwing this traditionally all-knowing character into the middle of a genuine mystery makes for a fun dynamic.

The Uncle and Nephew, while noble in their pursuit of bringing back a loved one, tend to veer a little too close to crazy to be 100% sympathetic. By the time their plan has come to fruition, it has failed abysmally, brought a vengeful god unto our world and cost the young Nephew his life. The death of the boy is particularly shocking, as he rushes towards what he thinks is his Mother and crumbles to dust. Rarely do you see such needless death, particularly visited upon a child. One would have thought such a fate would be better suited to a wrong-doer.

However, I still can't wrap my head around the notion that we had six entire issues of the beloved series left and this standalone story was one of them. By all means, David should address the current demonic form of Jamie Madrox, as I fully expect him back to his wise-cracking Human self by the end of the run. But the issue didn't even solve that problem, offering a random side adventure in it's stead. This is the time for prioritizing and the issue simply ignored that.

6 out of 10

Review: Green Lantern #21

Written by Robert Vendetti
Art by Billy Tan
Published by DC Comics

It's the dawn of a new era for the Green Lantern Corps as new leadership ascends through the ranks. Meanwhile, Larfleeze the Orange Lantern aims to take advantage of their distraction to plunder Oa for all it's hidden treasures!

Robert Vendetti faces no easy task. Coming hot on the heels of Geoff Johns' masterful finale mere weeks ago, the new creative team have to keep the proverbial plates spinning, whilst planting seeds for their own run. To his credit, Vendetti turns in a hell of an issue. He effortlessly follows on, without missing a beat.

In a rare breather for the series, Hal Jordan finds himself at a loose end (at least for the moment) and decides to catch up with girlfriend, Carol Ferris aka Star Sapphire. In a clever twist on their powers, Carol fears losing her love for Hal, which is becoming harder each day given his penchant for the dramatic. Should this great love fade, so too would her control over her ring. Something she's just not willing to sacrifice. It's a really clever spin on their dynamic and manages to keep them apart, despite acknowledging their feelings.

Soon called back to Oa to report to the next generation of Guardians, Hal finds them packaging their bags and making for the door. Rather than reverting to the age old status quo, these new Guardians have no intention of leading the Corps. They know being locked away for a millenia would make them terribly ineffective leaders and fearing making the same mistakes as their recently-deceased brethren, they have no desire to follow in their footsteps. In one of their final acts, they appoint Hal the new leader of the Corps, much to his surprise. Seeing this natural rebel have to fight against his own instincts and become a respectable leader is sure to be a major driving force in Vendetti's run. Not to mention, I'm pleased to see Hal partnered up with Kilowog once again. Their double act in the recently cancelled animated series was a sight to behold and I'm glad it's making the leap to the page.

There are several villains in play that threaten the Corps in this issue. The much hyped Relic appears to menace them in a flash-forward that opens the story. While the book closes with Orange Lantern Larfleeze making a play for all the treasures of Oa. I can't imagine the two threats are linked, as Larfleeze reeks of opportunism, while Relic strikes me as far more sinister. The thread that links them both is the call to arms sent out by Hal, as he dispatches hundreds of rings out into the Universe to replenish the Corps' diminished ranks. The rookies the rings bring back appear rather sheepish and nonthreatening, but to be fair, they've just been plucked from obscurity and thrust into a heated battle, so I'm impressed they haven't wet themselves yet.

Ultimately, this is a solid foundation upon which Vendetti can build. He's essentially promising that Johns' legacy remains intact, with wonderful additions like Larfleeze still out there, just waiting to be used. On the flip side, he's using these comfortable surroundings to introduce his own new characters into the fold. The Green Lantern series has been left in such a healthy, successful state, that a writer would have to actively sabotage one's self to muck it all up and Vendetti is no fool. While it will always be sad to see a changing of the guard, we appear to be in able hands for the months to come.

8 out of 10

Monday, 3 June 2013

Review: Doctor Who - Prisoners of Time #5

Written by Scott & David Tipton
Art by Philip Bond
Published by IDW

Landing on an alien planet to recharge the Tardis, the Fifth Doctor and his companions find themselves caught in the middle of a thousand year old war between the Rutan Host and the Sontaran Empire!

What better time to review an issue of Doctor Who than after the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, announces his departure from the long-running serial! The structure of this mini-series has always been somewhat puzzling, having eleven Doctors and yet needing twelve issues. The final issue had been theorised to simply be a multiple Doctor story with all his many incarnations teaming up to defeat the as-yet-unknown villain. Nevertheless, come December, could we be treated with an appearance of the newly minted Twelfth?

But that's ages away and we're not even halfway through the Doctors yet, so let's focus on Peter Davison's installment of this yearlong epic. I'm not terribly familiar with the original series Doctors, so you'll have to forgive me for any glaring misconceptions. However, I know Davison's Fifth Doctor was the closest in spirit to his modern day counterparts, bringing a youthful vigor to adventures, rather than the craggy old man that'd come before. Instead of scalding companions, he'd run and bound and play cricket. A little outdated maybe, but an incarnation I can certainly relate to.

Caught up in the alien war, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in both enemy camps at various points of the issue. Firstly, the Rutan Host, who can only be described as floating jellyfish. Lastly, the potato-headed Sontarans. While the Rutan most definitely hold a grudge against the Doctor for his foiling of a previous scheme of theirs, the Sontarans can surprisingly see the funny side and despite having butted heads with the Timelord before, at the very least respect him as a warrior.

Asked to look over their battle plans, the Doctor quickly surmises that the Sontarans are caught in a no-win situation. Their only choice is to charge the enemy in a frontal assault and die trying i.e. a suicide mission. Ever the diplomat, the Doctor tries to broker peace between the bitter enemies and even offers to evacuate one of the armies in his Tardis. Unfortunately, their true natures win out and they can't resist the allure of a warrior's death, running toward their own demise.

The plot itself hinged entirely upon the old 'Frog and Scorpion crossing a river' metaphor, which even featured as narrative over the resulting battle. I've heard this story so many times over the years, it's almost as if every good (and bad) science fiction series has to make that point at some time or another. Heavy-handed doesn't even begin to describe it. Having seen the Sontarans in action in the television series over the past few years, I'm honestly not surprised to see them charge into danger without a care for their own well being. Even so, it's hard not to view their behaviour as idiotic. How their war lasted a thousand years with strategy like this, we'll never know.

Meanwhile, the overarching threat of the series continues to lurk in the background, periodically popping up to abduct the Doctor's companions for his nefarious scheme. Whoever this is, they're clearly a disgruntled Time Agent ala Jack Harkness. Hell, I wouldn't even be surprised if this IS Jack Harkness. Albeit, his grumpy old man equivalent. The thing I don't understand about the villain's scheme is that shouldn't removing such important pieces of the Doctor's life have had catastrophic effects on the timeline by now? Are we to assume that five Doctors' lives have proceeded exactly as before, only their companions mysteriously disappear each time? That's a hole so big, you could fly the Tardis through it.

6 out of 10