New Avengers, Vol. 5: Civil War – A Graphic Novel Review

I had the distinct advantage of reading this collection well after I read the unified edition of Civil War, so I must admit my perspective would be different from someone unfamiliar with the outcome of Civil War and its fallout.

That said, knowing what I know about Nick Fury, Iron Man, and Captain America’s current storylines, this volume of New Avengers was incredibly insightful and pertinent.

Though Brian Michael Bendis is the writer throughout, each separate issue making up the larger volume is drawn by a different artist and focuses upon a different character from the New Avengers.

While I don’t believe any of these issues are “must-reads” in order to understand the larger storyline of Civil War, they certainly help illuminate character’s motivations and set up plots to come in New Avengers and Mighty Avengers.

I’d also like to say that there is a component to this volume featuring Sentry drawn by Pasqual Ferry that alone makes the entire volume worth buying. I could take or leave Sentry as a character, but Ferry’s rendering of Sentry interacting with the Inhumans is an absolute delight. Certainly Dean White’s colors add to the beauty of Ferry’s art, and I really hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. In my opinion, Ferry is the go-to guy when it comes to interplanetary adventure, as I first learned with his stunning art in Adam Strange: Planet Heist.

New Avengers: Civil War is a great volume if you’re looking for different artists interpretations of some of your favorite New Avengers; it’s enlightening if you desire further character motivation during Civil War; and finally, it’s a nice springboard to new plots in New Avengers.

Had I read this in “real” time I don’t know I would have enjoyed it as much, but with 20/20 hindsight, I thoroughly relished New Avengers: Civil War.

Daredevil: Hell To Pay, Vol. 1 – A Graphic Novel Review

If you’ve been reading Daredevil for any length of time, you know Matt Murdock’s life has been moving pretty fast and furious for literally years. I like this volume in particular because it gives the audience a chance to recalibrate and get a feel for where Murdock has been and where he’s going.

Overall, this volume works to reestablish Murdock’s relationship with his wife, Milla. Milla’s been in this book for some time, but with everything else going on it was easy to put her on the backburner. Writer Ed Brubaker uses the issues comprising this volume to get everyone on the same page about Matt and Milla’s complex relationship as well as set up some conflict involving the two.

It’s not all romance, though. Brubaker also has a new enemy (sort of) for Daredevil to combat, one who is going to give the Marvel Universe as a whole some fits. Before we discover this villain, though, Daredevil must get to the bottom of the Gladiator’s atypical return to mindless violence.

The art by Michael Lark fits the tone of the book perfectly with a great mix of super heroics and crime noir. And the original covers by Marko Djurdjevic are literally breathtaking.

In summation, this volume was largely a chance to reacquaint the readers with Daredevil’s personal life as well as set up some major conflict to come, but at no time did it feel like “filler” material. Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark continue to make Daredevil a must read.

Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out, Volume 2 – A Graphic Novel Review

I’m a tremendous fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ Daredevil, so when the news arrived that he was leaving the title, I found myself distraught. Before Bendis’ run, I’d never really cared much for the character. And though many criticized the level of deconstruction he brought to the line, I always found his work riveting and more than entertaining.

That being said, Bendis left Daredevil in enough of a predicament that I wanted to see how this fella–Ed Brubaker–tied up Bendis’ loose ends. Brubaker’s The Devil, Inside and Out Vol 1 impressed me, but Vol. 2 left me in awe.

Brubaker has somehow, somehow, tied up the many dangling plots left behind by Bendis (I believe they agreed upon this, by the way; Bendis wasn’t leaving a mess for someone else to clean up) in a way that was both satisfying and quite cleansing. New plot possibilities have organically arisen from the old, and while everything isn’t exactly back to normal for Matt Murdock (is it ever?), I do feel as though Brubaker has set the stage to move on with his own agenda for the character and has successfully exorcised the benign ghost of Bendis.

So, in summation, I would like to recommend the entire current run of Daredevil. Kevin Smith got us off on the right foot, Bendis brought consistent quality and depth to a character I had never before respected, and Brubaker seems to keep all of the best aspects of what Bendis did, but has now brought his own brand of action and noir, further enriching an already rich hero.

The Fantastic Four – A Movie Review

Let me begin by stating that while I am a self-admitted comic book fan, I am by no means a die-hard Fantastic Four fan.  I’ve always thought they were a neat team, but I’ve never really been interested in them or their comic. 

Okay, with that out of the way, I think we all understand that I am by no means as critical when it comes to the Fantastic Four as I would be with, say, Batman or the Flash. 

My wife and I went to see the Fantastic Four movie while on vacation from our summer vacation.  I had no expectations whatsoever and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.  Here we had a film that was exactly what it should have been, a lighthearted movie about a family-like team of superheroes who banter and quibble as most families do.  It was a great deal of fun to see their powers showcased, and the film was nowhere near as campy or cheesy as I thought it would be from what I saw in the previews. 

Was this the dark psychodrama of Batman?  No.  Was this the film noir of Sin City?  Not in the least.  What it was, however, was a movie that was plain and simply put fun to watch.

Sorry if I’m upsetting all the Kirby and Lee fans out there who judge me to be committing Fantastic Four sacrilege, but I liked the movie.  Go check it out if you want to have some good old fashioned summer movie fun!

X-Men: The Last Stand – A Movie Review

So the fanboys and the critics have been telling me that X-Men: The Last Stand is awful, yet the movie going audience has been flocking to this baby.  Like the responsible movie fan I am, I had to see for myself.  Read on for my spoilerific review of X-Men: The Last Stand… 

I have to tell you, when Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Films, left to direct Superman Returns, I was a little concerned about the fate of our favorite mutants.  I don’t have any antagonistic feelings toward the replacement director, Brett Ratner, like so many people seemingly do, but I believed the quality would drop just a hair because Singer was so loyal to the source material. 

Ratner, on the other hand, is loyal to making a summer blockbuster.

What I mean by that is that X3 is an entertaining, fast-paced, short, action-filled thrill ride.  What it is not is an in-depth story with well-rounded characters.  In fact, Ratner seemed to feel quite comfortable with breaking routine X-Convention, especially any foundation the first two films laid.

That is part of what made this film so fun, but also part of what made it so frustrating.  Let’s just get a big spoiler out of the way:  Ratner kills off some major, major characters in X3.  So many big characters that an X4 seems pretty unlikely.  The heart of the X-Men are gone, and they were gone pretty early into the film.  That being said, I knew then and there that all bets were off and no one was off-limits.  That certainly increased the tension and suspense for my movie going experience.

But, the deaths of the characters were so out of place, so out of character, they truly seemed forced and rushed.  And that is my ultimate summation of X3-forced and rushed.  It had great moments, some were actually genius, but overall the film had many, many holes.  The sheer number of heroes and villains required four hours of story to avoid any shortcomings, and as the film lasted only an hour and forty-five minutes, well, you can imagine how crammed things got.

However, what worked, and worked wonderfully, were the special effects.  If you want to see these mutants using their powers in all the glory of your wildest imaginings, you will not be disappointed in X3.  It truly felt like a comic book come to life.  You get to see the powers of Iceman, Beast, Phoenix, Colossus, Shadowcat, Pyro, Magneto, and Juggernaut in their full glory, just the way you want to see them.  The only problem is you just don’t get to see enough of them.

Would I recommend this film?  You bet I would.  The spectacle and special effects alone are worth it.  The acting of Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammar, and Patrick Stewart are top-notch for those moments where they’re actually allowed to act.

I think if you are a hardcore X-Fan you will be very disappointed with the directions they took with some of the characters in X3, but if you look at it as just another summer action movie, you’ll be more than entertained.

New Avengers: The Collective – A Graphic Novel Review

Brian Michael Bendis continues to spin out entertaining reads with his take on the Avengers. While characterization is a problem when using cornerstone characters, it is certainly fun to see all of our favorites working as a team.

I’ve been a Bendis fan for a while and I enjoy his interpretation of the Avengers, especially the banter. While it doesn’t go overboard into the realm of flat-out comedy, there are times when I can’t help but laugh at some of the snide remarks. My only complaint is the transition of artwork with the inclusion of Mike Deodato. He’s a fine artist, don’t get me wrong, but I’d gotten so accustomed to the previous beautiful renderings of this series that the drastic change in style with Deodato was a bit of a jolt.

The Collective is a logical follow-up to the House of M series as well as hints at Civil War, and it completely amuses, but again, this arc is not the stuff of character-driven plots. If you’d like to see Bendis at his finest with those sorts of stories, I recommend his masterful run on Daredevil.

I’m really enjoying The New Avengers and recommend the entire series thus far.

Spider-Man 3 – A Movie Review

(I’m almost sure there are no spoilers in this review, but read at your own risk.)

From the get-go, I thought Spider-Man 3 looked a bit … crowded.  I had no idea how they were going to incorporate new angles with Sandman, Venom, and Gwen Stacy, as well as follow up on logical story progressions with Peter Parker, Mary Jane, Harry Osborn, and Aunt May.

Well, in short, the movie lived up to my expectations … it was very crowded.

However, that’s not to say that I thought it was bad. 

In fact, I really enjoyed it.  It moved hyper-fast, with so much going on I literally had to stay on the edge of my seat to keep up with everything, but I did have a lot of fun watching it. 

What I enjoyed the most was the superb acting, but that’s also what makes me the most regretful about Spider-Man 3.  Any one of the film’s multiple plots could have been a very satisfying movie in and of itself. 

James Franco has finally matured as an actor and I found his Harry Osborn both charming and utterly creepy.  He really held his own with Maguire.  I can’t say I cared for his Goblin outfit, but the conflict between the two characters easily could have made for a great film, especially with the chemistry between the two actors.

Thomas Haden Church, always wonderful, brought a depth and sensitivity to Sandman that I wouldn’t have thought possible.  He instantly made me care about the character but his entire subplot was rushed and the audience was totally cheated from what also could have been a remarkable movie by itself.  The Sandman effects, by the way, were out of this world.

Finally, I’m not a huge Venom fan.  I’m not against the character, but I’d much rather see Spider-Man’s classic villains brought to celluloid life.  That being said, I think Topher Grace did a magnificent job with the Eddie Brock character, and the visuals of Venom, while perhaps not everyone’s bag, were pretty disturbing and therefore fun.  I’ve always thought of Grace on par with Maguire in terms of being squeaky-clean, so it was nice to see his arrogant and unlikable Eddie Brock.  In my mind, Grace stole many of the scenes.  That being said, the whole black suit/Venom angle could have been a move all by itself as well.

Instead, they mashed all three of these rich plots together into something that felt like Dr. Frankenstein had gotten into movie making.  Spider-Man 3, while visually captivating and a true action movie, lacked all of the heart and characterization of Spider-Man 2, and lacked the sheer exuberance of Spider-Man 1

Man, it really sounds like I didn’t like Spider-Man 3, doesn’t it?  I honestly enjoyed it very much; I just would have liked to see each of these plots, and actors, given their due.

Ghost Rider – A Movie Review

I am all for movie studios going hog wild with comic book properties.  Most of these characters have literally decades of stories to pull from, so the quality content is there.  Most of them are visually stimulating because of the nature of their genre.  And most of them, no matter how far down the echelon from Superman or Spiderman, have an interesting story about why they do what they do.

However, the danger of the comic book movie is ample.  For one, if the moviemakers do not truly understand who the character is and who the potential audience is, we have an impending disaster on our hands.  Secondly, you cannot take a comic book movie too seriously if you’re the moviemaker; but on the other hand, you also cannot treat it as irrelevant and laughable.  Thirdly, you must, must, must avoid all the clichés that we expect in a comic book movie, because what is written in print and drawn on the page does not always translate to living actors and moving pictures.  And finally, you absolutely positively do NOT have to give us an origin story to make us understand the character’s motivations.  Origin stories are overrated and becoming more so with every comic book movie released.

Okay, so after all that, Ghost Rider wasn’t terrible.  It also wasn’t good.  It was both good and terrible.  It was both terrible and good. 

They totally nailed the “look” of the Ghost Rider.  They also got his bike one hundred percent right.  Homeruns on those accounts.

But, they only had one person who could act in the movie, and that was Nic Cage.  And, as much as I love quirky Nic Cage, the director needed to reel him in a few times.  Everyone else’s acting was clichéd out the wazoo and difficult to watch. 

At times the look and the tone of the film were perfect for a movie about “the Devil’s bounty hunter,” but then it did not keep that look and tone consistently.  The director (who also directed Daredevil, a movie I liked very much despite its flaws) simply seemed to lose track of what kind of movie he wanted to make.  Was this an origin movie?  Sort of.  It starts with a young Johnny Blaze, but then it jumps twenty years to a thirty-sevenish Nic Cage as Johnny Blaze.  And then the progression continues with plots from twenty-years ago.  Why give us the literal footage of Johnny Blaze as a youngster?  In my mind, they wasted about twenty-five minutes of my time.

And this is what finally irritates me about comic book movies when done poorly.  Every single comic book movie does not have to literally show us the origin of the character.  The audience can connect the dots.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to see a comic book movie, I don’t want to wait forty-five minutes to see the comic book character.  I want the movie starting out with a great sequence of that character, and if you want to drop some dialogue or give us some QUICK flashbacks of an origin, fine-just don’t make it an origin film.

Wow, I’ve really gone on a rant.  Sorry about that.

Ghost Rider.  Sometimes great, mostly bad.  Cool costumes, cool special effects, some cool locations, but the acting is bad, the story is downright awful, and it generally couldn’t decide what it wanted to be other than a cesspool of comic book clichés.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – A Movie Review

There are some fanatical Fantastic Four comic book fans out there, and you’ll have to take into consideration that I’m not one of them.  I always found them a little lame, and yes, I have been browbeaten on a regular basis by people trying to convince me of the errors of my ways.

That said, I really enjoyed the first Fantastic Four movie.  In know, go figure.  I thought it was lighthearted with some cool special effects.  Not all comic book movies have to be grim and gritty, right?  I knew the Fantastic Four were a family, and I thought the first movie really captured the essence of that dynamic.

So when I saw the trailers for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, I thought it looked pretty cool.  Again, I’m not a huge Silver Surfer fan.  I never got why a cosmic entity rode a surfboard through the cosmos.  Anyway, when I saw the Human Torch chasing the Silver Surfer through the streets of New York, I decided this was one of the few summer movies I absolutely HAD to see in the theater.

Well, I saw the flick today and I’ve got some good news and bad news. 

The good news-it was a pretty good movie.  What I liked about the first one continued in the second: funny dialogue, interesting character interaction, and nifty special effects.  The Silver Surfer looked (no pun intended) out of this world. 

The bad news-you’ve already seen all the best parts of this movie in the trailers.  Literally.  I get pretty upset when the studios do this sort of thing.  As an author, I understand the importance of building buzz in the hopes of capturing an audience before release, but this was just ridiculous.  I pretty much saw the whole movie in the trailers that were put out over the last few months.  Bummer.

Then what finally got my undies in a bunch is that fact that-

**MINOR SPOILER WARNING, PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK**

-after many, many promises by the execs and creators of the film, the actual figure of Galactus made no appearance at all.  There were grave concerns that he was nothing more than the cloud of dust shown in the previews, but the creators swore the audience would not be disappointed, Galactus would appear in all his glory.

Not so.

He was just a big dust cloud.  Impressively executed, but we did not see the figure made famous Marvel Comics.  I’m not even a rabid Fantastic Four fanboy, and I was pretty miffed they cheated me out of my Galactus fix.  I can only imagine what the die-hards are saying.

All in all, fun movie, the Silver Surfer rocks, no Galactus, and you’ve already seen the best action sequences. 

p.s.  If Galactus appeared after the credits or something, would somebody tell me so I don’t feel like a moron?  Thanks.

The Ultimates 2, Vol. 1: Gods and Monsters – A Graphic Novel Review

Basically an updated version of Marvel Comic’s classic Avengers lineup, The Ultimates is the closest comic book out there to a big budget action movie. The art is hands down astronomical. Bryan Hitch can draw anything and make it look both dynamic and realistic at the same moment. And Mark Millar (whom is often hit or miss for me) writes snappy dialogue that really sets the characters apart from one another. While his overall plots are nothing terribly original, his new takes on classic characters like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk have been tremendously entertaining. We now have heroes in very much the twenty-first century, with all the neurosis, greed, naiveté, and self-doubt that comes with being a denizen of the modern day.

As I said, the overall plots are predictable, but it’s the subplots where the genius rests. Each character has their own story, and it’s those personal stories and interactions that prove captivating. However, when it’s time for the big action of the overall plot’s climax, strap yourself in. That’s where Bryan Hitch saves the day with his art and Mark Millar makes it fun with his dialogue.

If you want to experience super hero comics at their <ahem!> ultimate in terms of action and art, the Ultimates is what you’re looking for.