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Literature Review (Part 1: Marvel) April 25, 2006

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Comics, Reviews.

Here’s a follow-up to my recent musing on comic books. In case any of you are even remotely thinking about picking up a graphic novel in the near future, or are simply curious about what I’ve been reading lately (though I can’t imagine why), here’s a brief review of sorts of the graphic novels I’ve collected since picking up the habit again. I’ll focus first on the Marvel titles and write about the DC ones in another installment.

The first title I picked up was Avengers: Disassembled (Brian Michael Bendis/David Finch), which was to be the last Avengers story paving the way for the title’s re-launch. The story focuses on a series of attacks that befall the superhero team that leave Avengers mansion destroyed and several Avengers dead. As the story unfolds, it turns out that the culprit is actually not an arch-nemesis of the team, but rather one of their own: the Scarlet Witch, who’d seemingly gone mad. Personally, the premise of the story was far more interesting than the actual storytelling and the artwork combined, and I must say that it was a rather disappointing first foray for me into Brian Michael Bendis’s work. In the hope that the story arc would open interesting possibilities I also picked up a copy of New Avengers: Breakout (Brian Michael Bendis/David Finch), but was similarly unimpressed.

And then I picked up a copy of House of M (Brian Michael Bendis/Olivier Coipel), and after reading it I was positively hooked. The story picks up from Disassembled, as the New Avengers and the X-men meet to decide what to do about the Scarlet Witch, who is still in a fragile mental state while in their care. As they deliberate, she apparently attempts to set the world aright by using her powers to reshape reality to one where mutants rule, humans are going extinct and all the superheroes live the lives they have always secretly wanted. I can’t say enough good things about this one. The story was well-paced and developed (though not without its flaws) with wonderful pencils by Olivier Coipel. This one is definitely worth it if you want an engrossing title for casual reading.

A few other titles I experimented with: because of their great work on Batman (which I’ll cover in the next installment), I picked up a copy of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Spider-Man: Blue, essentially a retelling why and how Peter Parker fell in love with Gwen Stacy (people tend to forget, she was his first love and her death probably his greatest failure). The storytelling is typical Jeph Loeb, though towards the end I think he ran out of pages with which to wrap things up; for his part, Tim Sale’s draws a decent Spider-man. Without a doubt, this pales in comparison to their critically acclaimed Batman stories, but isn’t hard to appreciate. I suspect that Gwen Stacy fans enjoyed this one thoroughly.

On an impulse I also tried out Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s Inhumans. I remembered wanting to collect the title when it first came out (and missed it) so I couldn’t help myself this time around. This one’s a gem! While telling the story of how Maximus the Mad seeks to escape imprisonment and overthrow his brother and the rest of the royal family, Jenkins also adds plenty of color to the different nuances of in Attilan, where every individual is his own species. Jae Lee’s art was also very well suited to the story. So impressed was I with the title that I picked up their follow-up collaboration, The Sentry. A story about a supposed forgotten hero of the Marvel universe, the book was entertaining (be warned: it amounts to a clever retcon of the Marvel Universe) but nowhere near as good as Inhumans.

Last but not the least, of course, are the X-men titles. Back in the 90’s there was an X-men story arc called the Age of Apocalypse, where (if memory serves) Professor X’s son goes back in time to murder Magneto and ends up killing Professor X instead, sending the world into an alternate future where Apocalypse rules. To commemorate the tenth year of that story arc, X-Men: The New Age of Apocalypse (Akira Yoshida et al./Chris Bachalo et al.) picks up where it left off, demonstrating how the alternate timeline survived as well as how the world rebuilds itself. I hear that the story has a number of inconsistencies with the original story arc, but on its own was well told. Also, I have to admit I am a huge fan of Chris Bachalo’s work, and his pencils on this book are fantastic.

Finally, I also couldn’t help but try out Josh Whedon and John Cassaday’s run on Astonishing X-Men (Vols. 1 & 2). The title (which is still ongoing) depicts the re-establishment of the X-men under Cyclops and Emma Frost (that might be news to you: apparently, Grant Morrison’s run on the X-men a couple of years ago did a huge amount of damage to how traditionalists remember the X-men). The first volume (Gifted) centers on how the team assembles and deals with the discovery of a “cure” for mutation (and thankfully brings Colossus back to life!). The second volume (Danger) focuses on the death of a student in the Danger Room and the series of events it sets into motion. I hear that the creative team have signed on to the title for another year, and I hope they stay for much longer. Cassaday’s realistic style with large panels is refreshing, and Whedon’s writing is well suited to the X-men. In fact, he brings to the title the same charm that made Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel such huge successes (yes, it’s that Josh Whedon!) and is reminiscent of the X-men of old. (Speaking of which: I also picked up copy of the compiled Dark Pheonix Saga thinking that I could make collecting the classic X-men stories my latest project. I was wrong. For some reason, I just can’t get used to the old-school art and story telling. Best to look forward rather than backward, I suppose.)

There you have it. I’ll write about my DC titles soon. I guarantee it’ll be much shorter: I have a lot fewer.



1. Jon Z. - April 24, 2006

bendis’ Avengers stuff is okay (although i’m only basing that opinion on New Avengers. I stayed away from Disassembled and House of M), but the definite gems of his superhero writing are ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and DAREDEVIL.

*especially* Daredevil. pick it up from the start (UNDERBOSS, not Wake Up), and it’s a great deconstruction/reconstruction/demolition of Matt Murdock. Art is an acquired taste.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is consistently entertaining teen superheroics, with 30 years’ continuity distilled into 100+ issues. haven’t read it in a while, but it seems to have lost little of it’s steam.

that said, the ULTIMATE universe generally makes for entertaining reading. although that’s a hefty backlog to go through.

for lighter, entertaining Marvel fare, SHE-HULK is also a good read. And Grant Morrison’s New X-Men was, for a time, THE benchmark of superhero comics, although the art tended to suffer a bit.

geez that’s a long comment. we’re such geeks.

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