Time to Assemble! Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron: Review

avengers_posterby Aaron Einhorn
It’s a good time to be a fan of things superheroic and comic-related right now. Comic-book based shows are all over network and cable TV, Daredevil has just erupted onto Netflix to critical acclaim, and there is at least one new superhero film scheduled to hit the theatres every six months from now into 2020.

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been seven years since the Marvel Studios train got started with Iron Man, and that it has only been three years since we first saw superhero films connect as never before with The Avengers.

This weekend marks the release of what is arguably Marvel’s riskiest film release yet, with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Very few would argue that the first film did something unprecedented, bringing together three separate film franchises into a single film, filled with a team of heroes, an alien invasion, and some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Director Joss Whedon truly captured lightning in a bottle with that first film. But can he do it again, with the stakes even higher, the cast even larger, and the story even bigger?

It shouldn’t surprise you to discover that I certainly think so. But read on to find out.

Synopsis

Marvel Studios presents Avengers: Age of Ultron, the epic follow-up to the biggest Super Hero movie of all time. When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as the fate of the planet hangs in the balance. As the villainous Ultron emerges, it is up to the Avengers to stop him from enacting his terrible plans, and soon uneasy alliances and unexpected action pave the way for an epic and unique global adventure.

Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron stars Robert Downey Jr., who returns as Iron Man, along with Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk. Together with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and with the additional support of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill, the team must reassemble to defeat James Spader as Ultron, a terrifying technological villain hell-bent on human extinction. Along the way, they confront two mysterious and powerful newcomers, Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Pietro Maximoff, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and meet an old friend in a new form when Paul Bettany becomes Vision. Written and directed by Joss Whedon and produced by Kevin Fiege, Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series The Avengers, first published in 1963.
(from Marvel.com/avengers)

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The Feature

If you were a fan of The Avengers, then the good news is that this movie provides more of the same. Much more, in fact. Structurally, this film is incredibly dense, weaving in a battle against Hydra, the creation of Ultron, the reveal of the Black Panther’s nemesis, several battles of Ultron with increasing stakes each time, the introduction of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as villains and their eventual conversion to Avengers, the creation of the Vision, expansion on the role of the Infinity Gems, and Ultron’s defeat. Along the way, it sets up events for Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, and it does all this while giving us some character growth, tons of Whedon-esque wit and humor, and some of the most impressive action sequences we’ve seen on film.

I’m exhausted just writing that recap.

The bad news is that Age of Ultron is not the game-changer that The Avengers was. But then, it couldn’t be. The game has already been changed, and Marvel has established that they can bring superheroes from disparate films together into a single epic and make us love it. So, that this one doesn’t bring something new to that element is not a complaint.

Avengers - Disassembled

Avengers – Disassembled

Evans’ Steve Rogers remains the Cap we’ve gotten to know in his previous three films, and the same can be said of Downey’s Tony Stark, Hemsworth’s Thor, Jackson’s Nick Fury, and most of the supporting cast. Three of the core members of the Avengers get to expand on their inner lives and personalities, and it is perhaps no surprise that those are the ones who don’t have their own film franchises to dominate – namely Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk. Renner gets to actually show us who Hawkeye is this time around, something he was largely denied in Avengers, but more significantly, the relationship we see between Johannson’s Natasha and Ruffalo as both Banner and the Hulk leads to some of the most sincere and moving moments in the movie.

The new additions to the cast are also very good, although they get a little less time than we may have liked. Elizabeth Olsen is very convincing as the conflicted Wanda Maximoff, and if Aaron Johnson’s Quicksilver is not quite as memorable as the one from X-Men: Days of Future Past, that is simply because he has so much more to compete with.

Seriously, you know things are going to be bad when the redhead’s hair starts raising into the air on its own…

Similarly short-changed, but with glimpses of a fascinating character to come, is Paul Bettany as the Vision. Bettany gives us a truly alien performance, which both his body type and his voice lend themselves to quite well. We don’t meet the Vision until the final act of the film, so we get less of him then I wanted, but he’s absolutely compelling every time he appears on-screen, and I look forward to seeing much more of him in Infinity War.

But really the show-stealer is James Spader as Ultron. Although I was unprepared for the humanity in the physical design of Ultron (and might have preferred the non-moving mouth with the Kirby dots), Spader steals the screen as the mechanical monster. His decision to exterminate mankind is entirely plausible, and while he may not quite evoke the sympathy that Loki or Magneto can command, it’s hard not to feel a little bad for him – even as he remains a terrifying presence. Ultron is, after all, a child – and he has the emotional maturity of one. He just happens to be a child with an unstoppable robotic body, an army of robots at his command, and a supercomputer for a brain.

avengers-age-of-ultron-hd-background-wallpaper-18

The movie does drag at points, but that is largely because of how dense the film is – and if the set-up for future films does drag on the action of this one, I can still appreciate the groundwork that is being laid for the continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Would I have minded seeing it tightened up a little? Sure. Because at two-and-a-half hours of runtime, there are always going to be some desired trimming, but I can also state that those one-hundred and fifty minutes passed very quickly for me.

The Good

Great action sequences abound, with each hero more than able to showcase their abilities. Joss Whedon’s characteristic humor in writing shows through, and the laughs come frequently and sincerely. Ultron is a rich villain, and the new Avengers each get a chance to shine.

The Bad

There are pacing issues in the film’s middle – in some ways it feels a bit too much like they’re trying to mirror the pacing of the original Avengers

The Ugly

Although I pointed out frequently how the original film was a great counterpoint to the reckless disregard for civilians shown in Warner Brother’s Man of Steel, the direct calling out of “We need to clear civilians” was a bit too heavy-handed this time around.

avengers-age-of-ultron

Final Thoughts

As I sat down to write this, my first thought was “How to turn superfanboyspazflail into a coherent review?” At risk of understating things, I really loved this movie. It’s not perfect – but that doesn’t change the fact that I was deeply entertained for the entire run-time of the film.

My biggest complaint about this film as compared to the first Avengers is that film was the culmination of several films – it didn’t have to set anything else up (although it teased us with Thanos), and so nothing was wasted. This film sets up Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. With so much set-up, that means some elements get less time than they should have. It’s a balancing act – like spinning plates for a circus, and if some of the plates wobble a bit, at least none of them fall.

I am a Marvel fan, and especially a fan of Captain America, so I was predisposed to like this movie going in, but I was thoroughly impressed with Marvel’s latest offering, and I am looking forward to the film’s general release so I can take Cordy and Mira with me to see it again. It’s not my favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe releases (that honor goes to either Captain America: Winter Soldier or the original Avengers), but it was still very enjoyable, and will be given a place of honor on my Blu-Ray shelf once it arrives.

Bonus

Stan Lee has been afforded the opportunity to do a cameo in almost all of the Marvel films to date, and that remains true this time around as well. It may be one of his funniest cameos yet. And as we’ve come to expect, there is a mid-credits stinger scene that sets up a future Marvel movie, but in a departure from all of the other Marvel films, there is no post-credits sequence to stick around for.

(Disclaimer: I was provided a free preview pass screening to attend Avengers: Age of Ultron. I received no other compensation for writing this review, and all opinions and views expressed are my own.

Weekly Comic Round-Up, January 22, 2014 Edition

by Aaron Einhorn
Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

All-New_X-Men_Vol_1_22.NOWAll New X-Men #22.Now (All-New Marvel Now #1)
Moving past last week’s issue, we’re jumping straight into the Trial of Jean Grey, which will serve as a six-issue arc that crosses back and forth with Guardians of the Galaxy (which is fortunately already on my pull list.) The issue begins with the team spending time in the new Xavier Institute, training, goofing off, eating, or in the case of Jean and Scott, dealing with the monstrous baggage they have between the two of them.

Let’s face it – teenage romance is hard enough for normal people, and is certainly no easier for superheroes. But add into it the pressure of spending time around a whole bunch of people who know exactly how intense and complicated and weird your future relationship will be, especially the relationship of Jean Grey and Scott Summers, and you’d find it weird too.

And then there’s Jean’s telepathy, meaning that this weirdness is always going on. Always.

The irony of course is that this is perfect foreshadowing to see the Sh’iar take Jean Grey to hold her on trial, presumably for Phoenix-related crimes. Yet again, teen Jean is going to be held accountable for things that haven’t happened to her, and because of the nature of time-travel, may never happen to this version of her.

The appearance by the Guardians of the Galaxy at the issues’ end is too brief to count as anything more than a cameo, but it will be interesting to see what role the Guardians play. If I didn’t already read both of these titles, I might be annoyed with the nature of this crossover, and how it will effectively pull three issues “away” from continuity with the rest of the book, but since I do, I’m looking forward to reading the next part of this story.

avengers_25Avengers #25
It worked for the X-Men, so why not pull younger, earlier versions of the core Avengers team out of a parallel timeline (or at least a parallel Earth) and bring them into the current 616 continuity?

That was mostly rhetorical, but someone is listening, because that’s exactly what happens here. While AIM is continuing to do some experiment or another, younger versions of the Avengers appear through a portal, and immediately begin to stake out a claim on our Earth.

The big differences between what’s going on here and what is happening with All-New X-Men are significant, however. First of all, there is no reason to believe this will become an ongoing state of being. The alternate Avengers are temporary visitors, and are no doubt tied to the Incursions that the Avengers have been dealing with since the beginning of Marvel Now! Also, while the original five X-Men are recognizable as the younger versions of themselves we remember from the early days of X-Men (seen through the filter of a different creative team, of course), these Avengers are not the Avengers we remember. Thor is an arrogant jerk, far beyond any “godly mantle” he has ever shown in the regular pages of our comics.

And of course, there’s the mystery over the dead Hank Pym, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s involvement.

This doesn’t feel like a complete issue – it feels like Part One of a story, but it’s still a solid read, and some of the better writing I’ve seen to come from the hand of Hickman.

Disney_Kingdoms_Seekers_of_the_Weird_1_CoverDisney Kingdoms Seekers of the Weird #1
If you look at my film reviews, then the knowledge that I am a Disney fan is quickly apparent. I make no apologies for this – the House of Mouse has always been a source of some incredible entertainment – and as a father, I appreciate anything that I can watch with my daughters that we can all enjoy. We recently made a trip to Walt Disney World resorts, and have another trip planned for this coming year – and the Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite attractions in Magic Kingdom. So, how could I not be interested in the Museum of the Weird?

The first issue is a mixed bag, unfortunately. We’re introduced to Max and Melody, along with the rest of the Keep family, and we get to see the beginnings of the Museum. I love that they’re based on the original designs and notes from the Disney Imagineers, but the pages are so busy that the action of the story is getting lost.

Beyond that, I simply don’t find that I much like either Maxwell or Melody, and even their “adventuring Uncle” is a bit of a jerk, and not in a way I find endearing. It’s hard for me to care about the Coffin Clock, or the Shadow Society, or even that their parents have been taken – because so far, I don’t care about any of these people.

I get that this is a mini-series, and so they probably didn’t want to waste too much time before getting into the adventure, but I feel that a less frantic pace might have given me time to care about the Keep family before their adventure really kicked off, and that might have made me care more. As it is, I’m torn about picking up the next issue.

indestructiblehulk_18_inhIndestructible Hulk #18.Inh
I have to confess that, after the first issue, I found myself largely uncaring about Inhumanity. The Terrigen explosion across the world really isn’t that much different than the return of Mutants at the end of A vs. X, and I’ve never been all that amazed by the Inhumans that I felt like we desperately needed to see more of them. Not that it’s a bad thing, it just didn’t make me care.

So, I probably would have skipped this .INH title, if it wasn’t for the fact that I really adore the Hulk, in just about every incarnation, and seeing this version of Banner trying to out-think and out-perform against Henry Pym, Henry McCoy, Tony Stark and Reed Richards is just fun.

Banner’s plan to use chronal particles to stop the Terrigen, of course, didn’t work. Because there was no way we would see the event undone in the pages of one of the tie-in books, but damn if it wasn’t clever. And it was deeply gratifying to see the other geniuses of the Marvel universe acknowledge Banner as their peer.

One almost wonders if Banner will get a seat on the Illuminati.

I’m also finding myself caring about the largely interchangeable members of Banner’s team. They haven’t captured my attention all that much to date, but this particular arc is actually getting to me. And Maria Hill, in her role as reluctant watchdog over Banner and crew, is more fun than she has any right to be.

This wasn’t the most memorable title I read this week. It wasn’t the best. But it may have been the most fun, so kudos to it for that.

Meanwhile, in Avengers World #2, Smasher is recruited by the Supreme Scientist and the Entropic Man to be their messenger to the world, Batwoman #27 continues the fight against Wolf Spider in an issue that fails to pay anything off or really set up any new action, Cataclysm: Ultimate X-Men #3 shows the X-Men escape from the Gah Lak Tus swarm, only to reappear at the feet of Galactus himself, Invaders #1 brings Namor, the Human Torch, Cap and the Winter Soldier together to get the McGuffin that will allow the Kree to control the gods, and X-Men #9 continues the Arkea saga as Monet finds herself thoroughly humbled against the power of Amora, Typhoid Mary, Lady Deathstrike and Arkea.

Weekly Comic Round-Up, January 08, 2014 Edition

by Aaron Einhorn
Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

marvel_now_1All-New Marvel Now! Point One #1
So, Marvel is starting a second phase to “Marvel Now,” and this issue basically serves as an introduction to each of the series that are being started, ranging from Ms. Marvel to Black Widow to Silver Surfer to Avengers World to Loki: Agent of Asgard (and a few others), with a loose framing device wrapping the story as we see Loki collecting a series of keys that he can use to obtain a nifty magical sword, all in service to the All-Mothers of Asgard.

This isn’t really a comic. It’s a preview guide of the various series included in the tome, and as such, it’s hard to gauge it as an actual comic.

All of which would be fine, if it weren’t for the $5.99 price tag. This isn’t a comic we should be purchasing, this is one Marvel should be including as a free digital download with the purchase of any of the Marvel titles this month.

That said, it did its job. I picked it up, and it has reinforced for me that I want to buy Ms. Marvel, and it even made me consider picking up Silver Surfer and Invaders, but I still rankle at having purchased this book when the book is mostly an advertisement and not an actual story. But with this review, hopefully you don’t make the same mistake.

Avengers_World_Vol_1_1Avengers World #1
One of the greatest side-effects of Inhumanity was that the Avengers returned to taking responsibility for the world on not just a global scale, but on an interstellar scale. “This is our world,” they told the Universe, “And it is protected.” We see the after-effects of that now, as the Avengers begin a more closely hand-in-hand relationship with SHIELD, and we see Avengers teams heading across the globe, from Madripoor to AIM Island to outer space, all coordinated by Captain America and Maria Hill.

It’s a nice global superhero, but the really notable element can be seen in the writing credits. Jonathan Hickman is no stranger to huge global stories, but often times, his characters feel like props and not people. But the writing credit for this issue isn’t just Hickman, it is Hickman/Spencer. Nick Spencer is one of the more promising newer writers in Marvel’s stable, and one who has a great ear for dialogue and character.

So, what could have been a fairly dull, paint-by-numbers “Epic” is actually a story. I have high hopes for the remainder of this series.

Cataclysm_Ultimate_Spider-Man_Vol_1_3Cataclysm_The_Ultimates'_Last_Stand_Vol_1_3Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man #3 and Cataclysm: The Ultimate’s Last Stand #3
I’m going to write about these two in a single entry, because they really go hand-in-hand. Ultimate Spider-Man focuses on the new “team” of heroes that includes Miles, Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman), Bombshell and Cloak and Dagger, as they all collectively work to save lives in a New York City beset upon by Galactus. Along the way, they also deal with personal problems and issues, including Miles revealing his identity to his mutant-hating father, an encounter with J. Jonah Jameson, and seeing Bombshell really stepping up as a hero.

It’s a perfectly serviceable issue, but honestly could have just been another issue of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. It didn’t really need the Cataclysm masthead – Marvel could simply have published two issues of Ultimate Spider-Man for the past few (and next couple of) months. This doesn’t mean it’s bad – Bendis still has a great turn of phrase, and the characters all feel perfectly in-line with who we know them to be.

Cataclysm: The Ultimate’s Last Stand, on the other hand, brings the whole end-of-the-world thing full circle, as Miles and Ultimate Reed Richards head through the portal to consult with the 616 version of Reed about how to stop Galactus.

This feels like an epic. We have betrayal, we have villains getting redeemed, we have cross-dimensional shenanigans and more than one case of identity confusion by machines (including one where Miles sics a horde of robots on the “Superior” Spider-Man accidentally and inwardly says “Sorry Peter,” which just made me grin.)

And the issue ends on a serious downbeat, as it should for being issue three of five.

Marvel has just announced the three Ultimate Comics lines that will exist following Cataclysm, which gives us some good idea as to how things will play out, but this is a great example of an event that feels like an event. I could have dealt without seeing Newark destroyed – too many instances of massive disasters make them feel less important, and it hasn’t been that long since Magneto flooded New York City – but I have really enjoyed this event as a whole.

Meanwhile, in A+X #16 we see a totally non-canon and pointless story involving Spider-Man (Peter) and Psylocke, along with the next part of the Cyclops/Captain America/Skrull story, Batwoman #26 gives us Kate and Bette teaming up to fight a fairly forgettable thief named The Spider, Earth-2 continues to show us a Darkseid-serving Superman conquering the world while Batman, Lois-as-Red-Tornado and others flee to create a new underground resistance movement, Revolutionary War: Alpha brings a huge cross-dimensional apocalypse to the Marvel UK heroes in a story that might resonate with fans but left a newbie totally lost, and Young Avengers #15 wraps up the series as friendships are reforged, lovers reunite or separate, and the team goes into a portal off for their next great adventure, while teen-Loki goes off to star in his own new series.

Weekly Comic Round-Up, December 11, 2013 Edition

by Aaron Einhorn
Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

astrocity7_c01Astro City #7
There are a lot of things to like about Astro City, but one of the things I love most about the series is the ability to use it to explore tropes with the Astro City-expies of the characters that I would never want to see done with the “original” versions of the characters. Samaritan and Winged Victory aren’t Superman and Wonder Woman, but their romance allows me to explore the idea of a Clark/Diana relationship in a way I would never want to see with them.

This issue gets to the core of Winged Victory and the idea that she gets her power because of her ability to be a symbol to women everywhere, and to see what happens when she loses the ability to be that kind of symbol. As is typical, the story is told mostly from the point-of-view of an observer – a young man who comes to Winged Victory’s training center in defiance of all tradition.

It’s nice to see some of the tender moments between Samaritan and Winged Victory, and the appearance by the Confessor at the end of the issue sets the tale up to be a beautiful counterpoint to DC’s Trinity of Superman/Wonder Woman/Batman. This is only part one of a three-issue arc, and I cannot wait until the next two issues arrive.

cataclysm_spiderman2_c01Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man #2
The longer that Cataclysm goes on, the more certain I am that this may actually spell the death knell for the Ultimate universe, and that ultimately we’ll see a few elements from that universe survive into the 616 world, but that the line has finally wound down. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is anyone’s call, and largely a matter of opinion.

But the good news is that the characters from Ultimate Spider-Man seem to be poised to wrap things up in a fairly satisfying matter. Unlike the other Cataclysm tie-ins, this title really feels like an issue of the core book, and this issue allows us to see how Cloak & Dagger, Bombshell and Spider-Woman all deal with the arrival of Galactus and Gah Lak Tus, as well as giving us a “flashback” to how each member of the cast dealt with the previous destruction of New York.

The individual stories are of varying quality – Cloak and Dagger seem largely ineffective, and their fights remind me of the same futility we saw when Ultraman flew into the Anti-Matter Wave in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Bombshell’s nascent heroism is pretty cool, and if I’m wrong and the Ultimate Universe survives, I’m looking forward to seeing her develop. But the meat of the story is, of course, Miles and his dad, and that looks to be wrapping up in the most human and heartfelt manner. Kudos to Bendis once again for cutting to the heart of the characters.

cataclysm_ultimates_2Cataclysm: The Ultimates #2
There is, of course, a flip side to every coin. And this issue is the other side of “how well crossover/event books” can work. If the Ultimate Spider-Man tie-in manages to show well a crossover/event book can tie into its main title, this one manages to show how they can fall completely flat and feel completely disconnected.

To begin with, for all that it’s in the title, this is not the Ultimates. There’s no Thor, no Captain America, no Iron Man. What we have is Fury, Stature, the Punisher, Hercules, the Hulk and the Falcon, along with a non-Ghost Rider Danny Ketch and… some other characters who haven’t made an impression.

So, Gah Lak Tus has infected the Hulk, and by issue’s end, Hercules has gotten into it with him, while Punisher and Stature have also both been infected, while Falcon is onboard a floating monument to death dedicated to the World Eater, run by a lunatic who wants to become Galactus’ herald.

It’s a mess, and all it does is reinforce my belief that the Ultimate universe may be on the chopping block. I absolutely can’t recommend this title, which is a bummer because I wanted it to be good.

uncannyxmen15_c01Uncanny X-Men #15
Sometimes you have an issue of a comic that doesn’t move the plot very much, but does spend time with characters and exploring who they are, and what their relationship to one another is. Sometimes those are the best issues of a series, and that has often been the case within the X-Men books where the characters can’t really have a personal life outside of their team dynamic.

I am happy to report that this issue is one of the good ones, as the ladies of the team (including Emma, Jean, the Cuckoos and Kitty) head out to go shopping. Of course, being X-Men, this doesn’t go smoothly and they are interrupted during their shopping trip by the arrival of a newly Terrigan-transformed Inhuman. This sets them up for a battle against Hydra, and makes the X-Men confront the question about whether these new Inhumans share a cause with mutants or not.

But before we get to the “plot,” we also get a lot of good moments – particularly between Emma, Jean and the Cuckoos. The whole issue of Jean Grey being alive, representing all of the potential that we know Jean can grow into, yet being a less powerful telepath than the Cuckoos (who are, oddly enough, currently more powerful psychics than Emma) has a lot of depth to mine, and it looks like Bendis is happy to take us there.

I don’t know that I care about “Inhumanity” as a whole, and I don’t know what, if anything, I want to see in terms of X-Men involvement in the Inhumanity issue. But I do know that I love seeing this kind of character development, and I really enjoyed this book this month.

Meanwhile, A+X #15 has a tale involving Beast and Dr. Strange where they are both dismissive of each other’s disciplines in a way that is very cute but disrespects both men’s willingness to acknowledge that others have great minds in the first part, and continues the story of Cyclops and Captain America tracking down Skrulls with a fun tie-in involving Emma Frost and the Stepford Cuckoos, and Thunderbolts #19 is an interesting, though ultimately dismissable story revealing that the Leader is still very much who we remember him being and that he wants to destroy the Thunderbolts and return to his previous ways – but that he won’t actually act on it.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Want to offer up ideas on what books you’re reading this week? Let us know in the comments!

Weekly Comic Round-Up, September 25, 2013 Edition

by Aaron Einhorn
Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

ax12_c01A+X #12
Do you remember a time when comics were fun? I mean, really, seriously, fun? If you’re a younger comic reader, the answer may be “No,” but I assure you that it existed. A+X has consistently been a throwback to those days, and this particular issue shows how you can keep comics fun, but at the same time, let serious storylines still matter.

The first part brings The Beast and Wonder Man together. These two were incredible friends in the 80s era of the Avengers, when both were light-hearted, somewhat silly characters. These same two characters have now gone on to become the Mutant Messiah and is responsible for all sorts of time-travelling insanity, and a “pacifist” super-strong character who assembled a team to destroy the Avengers as recently as a year ago.

But they used to be friends, and this story gives them a night together to bring that friendship back to the forefront. And it is glorious.

The second story pairs Captain America with the now-vampirized Jubilee, as they go to find an undersea U-Boat filled with Nazi vampires.

Nazi. Vampires.

There’s a bit of meta story here as Jubilee wonders if Cap brought her along to serve as an example to the former Reich soldiers, or if he brought her along so they could serve as an example to her. But the real truth is that it’s a story about two heroes fighting Nazi Vampires, and what on Earth could be bad about that?

Ultimate_Comics_Spider-Man_Vol_2_27Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #27
So, the Ultimate Comics version of Taskmaster sure seems a lot more like Bishop or Sebastian Shaw, which means that Spider-Woman and Spider-Man are a little bit out of their depth in this battle – at least until Bombshell comes back, and Cloak and Dagger come in to help out.

Ok. That’s the entire comic.

No, seriously. That’s it. And it really disappoints me.

Look, I really like Miles. I like the Ultimate version of Jessica Drew for all of the issues in her head. I even think I like the Ultimate version of Cloak and Dagger. So, this is a team that I find interesting – in theory. But this issue is almost completely devoid of Bendis’ trademark dialogue and wit. It’s a big slugfest, and one that was not terribly compellingly illustrated (despite my overall love for Pichelli’s art.)

So, this one here is really not my favorite issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. It’s far from the worst comic on the market, but considering how much I usually enjoy this title, I’m awfully disappointed.

Wolverine_and_the_X-Men_Vol_1_36Wolverine and the X-Men #36 “Battle of the Atom Chapter 5”
At risk of sounding like a broken record, “Battle of the Atom” remains poised to become one of the three best story arcs in X-Men history.

Ever.

I don’t generally read Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, but I decided I would buy both issues that tied in to this storyline, and I am glad I did (although I still didn’t care for the art in this issue). As things have gone along with my prediction, the future X-Men are now quite as trustworthy as we might have wanted to believe, and the original team kids are finding themselves in over their heads as their older incarnations (both of them) scheme to get them sent back to the past.

There isn’t a lot more I can say without seriously revealing spoilers, but I will say that the psychic battle between Jean/Xorn and Jean, Emma and the Cuckoos is a lot of fun, and seeing the tension between the Jean Grey School X-Men and Scott’s merry band of mutant misfits remains great. The barbs that are traded between Ororo and present-Scott are particularly nice, and the contempt that future-Beast has for present-Beast is awesome.

I would also like to say that I still hate Deadpool.

There’s only one thing that really bothers me about this issue is Wolverine’s line about “wondering why they aren’t still friends.” I’ll confess that I avoided the X-Men for pretty much everything from 1995 until 2012, but was there ever a time that Logan and Scott were friends? Allies? Sure. Family even? Maybe. But friends? Logan, or Scott, would easily take a bullet for the other. (Or death beam. Or whatever.) But I don’t think the two men have ever been something that could be described as friends.

Meanwhile, Avengers #20 continues the “Infinity” storyline with Captain America preparing to surrender and a revelation about Ex Nilho and Void that would have mattered more if I had ever cared about these characters, Green Lantern #23.4: Sinestro #1 provides a totally unneeded rehash of Sinestro’s origin and makes me wish I’d stuck by my promise not to buy any more of the Villains Month titles, Guardians of the Galaxy #6 effectively Mary Sue’s Angela as she fights most of the Guardians to a standstill and the Watcher tells us that we’re screwed, Uncanny Avengers #12 has the Apocalypse Twins outwit Kang and convince Wanda to use Wonder Man’s power to move the mutants off of Earth, and Young Avengers #10 gives us some witty repartee between Mother and Loki and sets Teddy up to be completely decimated.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Want to offer up ideas on what books you’re reading this week? Let us know in the comments!

Weekly Comic Round-Up, July 17, 2013 Edition

Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

all_new_xmen_14_c01All-New X-Men #14
Brian Michael Bendis has done something really remarkable here. In a world where Jean Grey is dead, Hank McCoy is dour and depressed, Ice Man is a grotesque monstrosity and Cyclops is Magneto, he’s given us a world with the original X-Men.

This week’s chapter has the newly-discovering-she’s-a-telepath Jean Grey scaring the beejezus out of her team by pretending to go all Dark Phoenix on them, in an attempt to scare off Mystique, Lady Mastermind and Sabretooth who are busy trying to buy Madripoor.

This is the X-Men the way we like ’em. Serious stories, but light-hearted and fun. Bendis has really caught what made these characters enjoyable, and if you’re only reading one X-Men book, make it this one.

batman_66_c01Batman ’66 #1
Something that will quickly become apparent if you stick around here – I am not a fan of The New 52. I’m not a fan of dark, gritty stories. I want heroes to be heroic and inspire me to want to be a better person. The 1966 Batman television show was, perhaps, a little too light-hearted and camp, but it was still fun. So, if nothing else, I wanted to send DC Comics that fans of their older stuff are still around, so I picked this up. And I’m glad I did. It’s an utterly light and silly Riddler tale with a guest appearance by Catwoman. Will it change your life? Absolutely not. It’s entirely as easy to consume as an episode of the television show.

But then, that’s what we paid for. The cover tells us what we’re getting, and Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case delivered.

batwoman_22_c01Batwoman #22
One of the few books I’ve been completely happy with since the New 52 has been Batwoman. I wasn’t sure about seeing JH Williams III move from artist to writer, but the book has seemlessly picked up from where the Detective Comics run with Williams and Greg Rucka left off.

This issue gave us a whole lot of Bette/Flamebird, preparing to attack the DEO with help from the Colonel, all in an effort to “free” Kate. Meanwhile, Kate is hitting up villains to figure out how best to defeat Batman.

I don’t really want to see Batman enter Kate’s title. It can’t go well for her, and that weakens her character in my opinion. But if it’s going to happen, this seems to be the best way to manage it.

thunderbolts_13_c01Thunderbolts #13
I’ve picked up Thunderbolts ever since the very beginning, regardless of what Marvel has done with the title. This current team of ‘bolts, led by Red Hulk/General Ross and featuring Venom (Flash Thompson), the Punisher, Deadpool and Elektra, with the Red Leader and now Mercy has little relationship to the original concept, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been fun.

That said, I’m kind of glad to see a change of the artistic team on the title.

This issue wasn’t really about the team – it was really the origin of Mercy and how she ended up on the team. But that story was creepy enough, and I eagerly look forward to seeing what the team’s next mission ends up being.

ultimate_comics_spiderman_25_c01Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #25
There’s a lot of controversy over whether or not Miles needed an “Uncle Ben” moment, but in any case he had one. Two issues ago, Miles lost his mother, and New York lost their Spider-Man. Again.

It’s taken three issues and a lot of badgering by the people in Miles’ life, but finally we get him moving and agreeing to be the hero he was born to be. And from the looks of things, this is where we will begin seeing a lot more of Gwen Stacy, Aunt May and Jessica Drew.

We’ve also got a Miles who is growing a little bit older, and that’s not a bad thing either.

This is another Brian Michael Bendis book, and it also has me hook, line and sinker. But then, I’m a sucker for Miles.

what-if-avx-2_c01What If… A vs. X #2
What If… has always been Marvel’s escape valve. The real secret about major comics events is that, at the end of the day, the status will remain quo. It kind of has to. But in What If…? All bets are off.

We know that the world won’t be destroyed in A vs. X.

We have no such assurances here.

That’s not to say this is perfect. Much like the original A vs. X, the pacing flies by too fast, and some characters are too broadly painted. Magneto, for instance, is just this side of growing a long mustache to twirl. There are also some weird continuity issues. I’m pretty sure that the modern Nova wasn’t a part of A vs. X. Still, it’s worth checking this out.

Meanwhile, in A + X #10, Fantomex and Black Widow almost team up to steal a McGuffin while Scarlet Witch and Domino team up their probability powers to stop a Celestial Roomba from destroying the planet, Avengers #16 continues to be an incomprehensible mess with lots of powerful superhumans coming together to stop something, Batman Beyond Unlimited #18 introduces us to Batgirl Beyond while Terry and the Metal Men save Gotham, and Green Lantern New Guardians #22 has Kyle get abducted by Relic who uses Kyle’s ring power to learn all he needs to about this universe he wants to destroy.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Want to offer up ideas on what books you’re reading this week? Let us know in the comments!