Thursday, 27 February 2014

Marvel. Robinson, Kirk, Kesel, Arburtov.

Fantastic Four was the first Marvel comic I ever read, many many years ago, and I'm not ashamed to admit I absolutely love Marvel's First Family. There's something about their adventures that just seem so thrilling. Maybe it's because when I read this title I'm instantly transported back to my youth (a simpler time. Sigh.) but I still get that sense of excitement, like anything could happen. They're the team that can go anywhere; can see and do everything. So why is it so hard to get them right?

The dynamic of the Fantastic Four is solid. They're a family first, explorers second (or Imaginauts if you will) and superheroes third. The mother and father figures (Sue and Reed) and the children (Johnny, Ben and the actual kids - Franklin, Valeria and lately the Future Foundation) are strongest when they're a team; in their time taking on everyone from Doctor Doom to Galactus with a catchphrase and handy invention or two. 

There have been some great runs on FF. Amongst my favourites (and indeed many fan favourites) are: John Byrne, Mark Waid, Stan and Jack (obviously) and most recently Jonathan Hickman. I'd add Chris Claremont in here too, as his was the run that got me into the F4 to begin with. Hickman most of all wasn't afraid to delve into the wider landscape of the Marvel cosmic universe, a universe that had its genesis in the pages of this very title. His run has come very close to being a real favourite and certainly the best in recent years. 

With the good inevitably come the bad though, and this is why I say they're a tricky team to get right. Every book has its ups and downs, but the Fantastic Four have had some amazing writers produce some below average results. I love Mark Millar. I love Matt Fraction. I love J. Michael Straczinski. All three of these however have, in my eyes, not managed to capture what is amazing about this book. Fraction was the last curator of this series and I have to admit it's the first time I've dropped off the book since I started reading all those years ago. 

So you can see why I'm approaching this new chapter, by James Robinson, with a little caution. I've not read any of Robinson's previous work for DC; I read his chapters of Heroes Reborn but that was a long time ago. I did however pick up All-New Invaders, his first work for Marvel since returning and I wasn't overly impressed. Even more reason to be cautious then. 

Thankfully, I needn't have worried. Fantastic 4 #1 was an enjoyble read. It took me a moment to catch up on the staus quo following the issues I skipped, but I'm happy to say Robinson gives the run a brief mention before getting on with making his own mark. This is mostly an issue that focuses on the family, where they are now and what's next for them; a day in the life if you will, and one that in Sue's words, was 'a good one, all in all'. The framing narrative and final page is enough to prove that it's not meant to last though, but I think it's important that the staus quo is introduced this way - we get a 'norm' for the family (if that can ever be such a thing for them) because as the title of the story explicit tells us, it won't be very long before it's all torn down around them.

Reading up on James Robinson for this review I've read a few people commenting on his style, most notably that his work (especially on Earth 2) tends to mine the back history of a title in order to tell new versions of past storylines. While I can't personally comment on it, that is essentially the premise of his All-New Invaders series, so maybe there is some truth to it. I think someone could do a lot worse than to dig through the FF's back catalogue for ideas, after all they have such a diverse and rich history that someone like that would have an absolute field day, but I hope he's not afraid to create something new also. Matter of fact, the reason there is such a rich history in this title (and indeed thanks to that, the Marvel Universe as a whole) is because of Stan and Jack's wild, almost hedonistic streak of original ideas. The Fantastic four is the perfect platform for exploring strange new worlds and meeting every type of exotic alien. The spirit of Dan Slott's new Silver Surfer book (again, originally from the FF title) looks set to take full advantage of that spirit, if also taking a detour via Doctor Who...

Leonard Kirk's artwork on this is great; just enough of a more cartoony style in the action scenes, while still maintaining that realistic weight that adds to the melodrama of the family dynamic. The panel where the Thing manages to utter his most famous catchphrase while hurling Fin Fang Foom backwards with a single punch made me very excited indeed. The facial expressions are a little off in places but the composition of the page more than makes up for it. Arburtov's colours are bright and bold, just what the FF needs. I can't say I love the new uniform colour but it may grow on me in time.

I always love the Fantastic Four when they're the centre of the Marvel Universe. I like when they interact with other heroes, whether they walk the streets of Manhattan or the spaceways of the Negative Zone. The fact that this issue contains a classic villain like Fin Fang Foom, as well as appearances from new Nick Fury, the Future Foundation, a mention of S.W.O.R.D and a welcome return of Alicia Masters gives me the sense that this volume of the FF will be firmly rooted in the centre of the 616, as they should be. For the first time in a while I'm really looking forward to the next issue of Fantastic Four.


Welcome to The Reading List!
Every week I'll be sharing what I think are the highlights of the latest releases, including a few thoughts on what I liked, what I didn't, and what I think you should be reading too. 
If I've not mentioned something you think I should read, or want to let me know your thoughts on any of the new issues then drop me a message.
If you've read my blog before I do lean towards Marvel/Image/Indie over DC, although I'm working on getting caught up on the New 52 in order to provide a more thorough weekly recap (weekap? No), so don't be surprised if you don't see many DC reviews on here.

Also: this is an open discussion of my personal thoughts on each issue as I've read them, therefore need I say...
You have been warned.
Let's get started! 

Superior Spider-Man #28

Slott, Camuncoli, Dell, Fabela.
This may end up being somewhat of a spoiler, I don't have a crystal ball though so it's purely speculation at this stage the Goblin King actually the Goblin Queen? There were a fair few indications, such as choice of phrasing, facial may be a red herring but I kind of get the feeling there's a woman under that mask. The only criticism I have is that this comic can't come out fast enough. It's hurtling toward its conclusion now, all the pieces are coming together to tear Otto Parker apart. Now all I need to figure out is who exactly is this head Goblin Honcho...

Wolverine and the X-Men #42

Jason Aaron 'and Friends'
So this is the end, and what a way to go. Proving why it's called Wolverine and the X-Men, this issue focuses on the present and the future of our short furry Canadian friend, and in just a few touching scenes we see that Logan really is growing, that those people laughing at him taking over as headmaster of a school (including a lot of fans) aren't laughing anymore. Jason Aaron has taken him and all the students on a real journey that I hope isn't lost with the change of creative team. Another character that's changed is Quentin Quire who shares focus in this final issue, proving even more irrefutably that this was the little x-book that could, one that mattered and one that (no matter how good the new volume is) will definitely be missed. Pretty much every artist shows up to say their goodbyes too, and while the shifts aren't always seamless, there's no denying this book has seen some gorgeous art. Roll on the new term!

Uncanny Avengers #17

Remender, McNiven, Leisten, Martin.
Ok, wait. What just happened?! The dial gets cranked up to the max in this, the first of 3 Remender titles this week. I say up to the max but what I mean is, the dial gets cranked up so high it gets wrenched off, mutilated and set on fire.The events of this issue go so far that the only way for this to not be the last ever issue of any Marvel comic ever is for some crazy Age of Ultron style shenanigans. Which is fine - it's a shame that this has turned into that kind of story but you know what? It's doing it so much better than AoU ever did. It feels more final, more end-of-the-worldy and like all of the deaths matter. I've loved this book since issue 1 and even though this storyline may cause a few people to write off the whole book, I still absolutely love what Remender's doing here, I'm fascinated as to where it's going next and Steve McNiven on art is always going to make me happy. And to those who may not like where this story will now have to go I ask; what did you expect with Kang the Conqueror in the mix?! 

Hawkeye #15

Fraction, Aja, Hollingsworth, Eliopoulos.
Do you really want to read about another person telling you to go buy this comic? If you're not reading this title by now then nothing I say will change anything. The art, the layouts, the humour, the voices - all perfect. Those four aspects mean I don't even need the story to be that good, but dammit if it doesn't have that too. This issue returns our focus back to the east coast and back to Hawkguy (as I will never not call him), and I genuinely wasn't expecting the last page one-two punch to give me even more of a reason to come back for more. Ignoring the weird scheduling blip (we've already read the next issue, it's issue 17 that's next), there's a reason every other All-New Marvel title is taking on elements of Hawkeye. Ever the original, still the best.

Guardians of the Galaxy #12

Bendis, Pichelli, Immonen, von Grawbadger, Ponsor.
Some people laugh when I say Cyclops is one of my favourite X-Men, but I don't care. He's always been one of the most fleshed out and nuanced of the characters, and for those fans of Scott Summers like me this issue is a treat. Starting with a flashback to a crucial part of his backstory, we get a glimpse of the last time he saw his dad, then cut to the present day where past Cyclops meets his father for the first time, again. Time Travel! 
The Trial of Jean Grey is moving forward at a swift pace, this already being part 4, and I was definitely getting a Star Trek VI vibe as the Shiar courtroom drama gets underway (that's a good thing. It's one of the good Star Trek films). The highlights are again the small character moments that Bendis is so good at - Scott and Corsair, Scott and X-23, Kitty and Star-Lord; all beat-perfect interactions. The art by Pichelli and Immonen is among the best on the stands too, not many people can have a two page splash of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Starjammers and the All-New X-Men all in a room sat around talking and make it look effortlessly beautiful. Not exactly one for fans of the GotG as they don't make much of a mark on the story but the crossover as a whole is going great, and this chapter is no exception.

Wolverine #2

Cornell, Stegman, Morales, Curiel.
So I decided to come back for issue two, which I'm pleased about, but I was definitely not sure I would following that first issue. Turns out it was just the right amount of absolute WTF-ery to make me come back for more though. While Wolverine #2 isn't as totally confusing as #1 there's still a lot of unanswered questions that I'm asking, most important of which is - do I care enough to keep reading? I'll give it one more go, because I definitely enjoyed this issue more. I liked the numerous ties to other series (Otto Parker fighting off Goblin Henchman, Kitty and Cyclops in the new Xavier school, even Logan referencing the latest Avengers issues by revealing to Spidey that he's been 'benched') all helps to make this book feel current and somehow relevant, and yet for the life of me I can't shake the feeling that it's...not. Maybe I'm just not a fan of Wolverine's new Killable status quo, or more that I'm not sure I'm enjoying what's being done with it. As I say, I'll give it one more go.

Daredevil - Road Warrier #1

Waid, Krause, Kalisz.
Well I really wasn't expecting this. I'm not sure how or why this evaded my notice but I had no idea this was being released. Still, it's a very pleasant and welcome surprise. Bridging the gap between volume one and volume two of Mark Waid's now legendary Daredevil run, this story covers what happens on Matt's cross country flight, because you know, nothing normal can go without a hitch when you're a super hero! I'm a fan of the infinite comics and what they represent moving the medium forward, and there's a few times Matt's 'radar sense' gets to play with the format nicely. To me though the best part is just having more Daredevil! Not that Marvel's new turnarounds from 'Finale!' to 'All-New!' really gives anyone chance to suffer from withdrawal mind you...

Black Science #4

Remender, Scalera, White
I doubt there's anything more original than Black Science out there right now. I don't know for certain (I don't read all of the comics) but it's constantly throwing new things at the team of Anarchist Scientists, which is good because anything less than complete originality would detract from the premise of taking a group of people and having them fly blindly into the unknown. Another brilliant issue this, as Mckay and the team finally make it away from the sheer madness of the armoured Native Americans (mostly) and into what appears to be relative safety. For now. I love the genuine sense that these characters are only just escaping, by a hair's breadth they are just abut scraping through; add that to the fact that you really can't tell who will be alive by the end of the next issue and you get a really tense, unpredictable rollercoaster. Plus those covers. Man they are extremely pretty covers. 

Deadly Class #2

Remender, Craig, Loughridge
After reading and enjoying the last issue (and loving Rick Remender's other work - see above) I decided to pick up issue 2 and see where Deadly Class is heading. The first few pages were so far so meh, with Marcus getting the new boy treatment from everyone he meets. I was starting to wonder where the 80's influence was that permeated through the last issue and around which all the promotional material was based. And then Marcus met up with the Breakfast Club, or at least Remender's twisted version of it. With a literal "Fuck John Hughes" (and I mean literal, it's the first thing you hear the group say) suddenly the 80's are alive and well and looking to kill someone. From Marcus' personal vendetta against Ronald Reagan to the run down of the school's cliques from pudgy sidekick Shabnam the spirit of the period pratically drips from the page. Hell, there's even a playlist for each of the main characters in the back of the book! I love it when comics do that, it really adds something when you re-read the issue. There's an epilogue of sorts to the issue too that sets up things to come, as well as revealng more disturbng secrets about the main protagonist...

Empire of the Dead #2

Romero, Maleev.
If the last page or two of the first issue kind of threw you for a loop, then you may want to give this series a miss. This is getting further and further away from the original source material, and I can't really say I'm on board. I know that some hardcore fans of Romero are seeing the inclusion of vampires in his mythology a serious misstep and I'm not sure I disagree. I was really enjoying issue 1 - even including the sketchy retcon of the original movie, it's not a film I'm particularly precious about - but then the final page reveal that one of the characters is a vampire, and then this issue expanding on that to say there are hundreds? It's going to be a hard sell to get people on board, even with Maleev's gorgeous art. It may have Romero's name on the front, but I can't really see how this can be seen as a zombie story when they have no choice but to follow this Vampire plotline for as far as it'll take them.

X-O Manowar #22

Venditti, Nord, Cifuentes.
So following the clash between the unstoppable force that is Toyo Harada and the immovable object that is X-O Manowar over in Unity, there comes another change in circumstance for Aric of Dacia. While not nearly as enjoyable as Harbinger Wars, the Unity crossover was a lot of fun, and it'll be interesting seeing how long this new status quo lasts for time-displaced Visigoths. Valiant can seriously do no wrong in my eyes, and I'm enjoying every single title they bring out. I love the energy, I love the unpredictable narratives and I love the shared world that is slowly being built up. The artwork on this issue isn't the best I've seen on this title, but is still competent enough to carry the momentum of the action scenes as well as portray the quieter moments well. More of a transitional issue I feel, but still a solid read.

And that's it for another week! A strong week at Marvel and a lot of indies to get through (too many for me to squeeze into this article!) but a pretty solid week all round. Hooray for everything!
Until next time,

If you’re a comic fan you’re guaranteed to have one. Whether you have a literal stack of comics in the corner of the room, or like me more of a fantasy list in your head, there are always those comics that, for one reason or another, you’ve never got around to reading no matter how much you want to, or even should, read them. 

So this is My Comic Book Bucket List (or CBBL for short!) - each time I’ll be reading and reviewing, in-depth, the series or volumes that have eluded my gaze for far too long and now demand my attention, and one by one I’ll get them crossed off that never-ending list.

For this, my inaugural CBBL, I’ve chosen the seminal Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo. This was a no-brainer. I’ve loved the 1988 movie ever since I was first introduced to it many years ago, and repeated viewings have only made me love it more. I generally think that my favourite genre of movie (or sub-genre if you’re being pedantic) would be ‘80’s Sci-Fi movies’. Seriously, type that into Google and see how many amazing films are included in that group. For some reason I’ve never gotten around to reading the original Akira Manga, however it’s been on my bucket list since the very first viewing of that film.

First published in Japan’s ‘Young’ Magazine in 1982 through to 1990 (totalling over 2000 pages), Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira was translated into English by Mary Jo Duffy for Marvel’s Epic Comics line in 1988, the same year the film was released in Japan (it would take another 2-3 years for the movie to make it to western audiences). Otomo remained closely tied to his work throughout this time: he retained creative control over the animated production which was being produced concurrently with the Manga, and when it was serialised by Marvel for the West, Akira was fully colourised for the entire 38 issue run by Steve Oliff – an artist Hand-picked by Otomo himself. Thanks to Oliff, Marvel were persuaded to use computer colouring for the run, and it became the first ongoing comic book to do so, revolutionising the way comics were coloured. Generally credited with having introduced both manga and anime to Western audiences, Akira’s distinct dystopian style greatly influenced those around it (Anime such as Ghost in the Shell a prime example) and is a masterful piece of work.

I’ll be reviewing the first volume of Dark Horse’s release, currently the only version available that’s translated into English language. 

Akira is an epic in every sense of the word, and as you read through this already pretty hefty first volume and realise that you have another 5 like this to go, you can really appreciate the scale of this saga. As the original was published in serialised form you'd expect the structure of the narrative to almost suffer when collected like this, but thankfully it all flows nicely together, and I suspect it could have continued flowing had it not been interrupted by the back of the book.

This first chapter then introduces us to Neo Tokyo in 2030, 38 years after World War III. If the devastation of that conflict is not felt directly in the first view pages (the reader getting a first hand look at the 'new type of bomb' exploding in Japan) then it is most certainly felt throughout the landscape of the Post-War city, both literally (as the characters at one point stumble upon the open maw of Ground Zero) and figuratively; the shock waves of that explosion still reverberate through the society and people, instilling cynicism and anarchic apathy in the following generation. 

It's this new generation we follow (Neo-Generation?) in the form of Shotaro Kaneda, leader of the motorcycle Capsule Gang - also known as Bosozoku in Japanese subculture. One of many gangs which have taken over the streets, this stereotypical group of no good punk kids ride around the restricted districts of Old Town (almost riding straight into the aforementioned Ground Zero) without a plan or a care, when one of their own - Tetsuo Shima - narrowly avoids colliding with a mysterious child in the middle of the road who then promptly vanishes. 

This incident sets off all manner of plot threads that weave around not only each other but protagonist Kaneda as he comes into contact with numerous groups; a secret Government project seemingly exploiting special children like Takashi (the boy in the road); the terrorist resistance out to fight against the government and later uncover the plans of this secret project, not to mention its ties to the mysterious Akira; a violent turf war with rival bosozoku the Clown Gang; and most importantly his best friend Tetsuo who, following his accident, starts taking on powerful, disturbing new traits such as Psychokinesis and who soon enough starts attracting everyone's attention.

It's important to note here that Kaneda - loosely considered the main character and certainly the focus through at least this first volume - is, to put it bluntly, a douchebag. He's a rebellious teen yes, and he's definitely charming to those around him, but he's also selfish, arrogant, uncaring and rude to pretty much anyone. You're not meant to like him; there's a scene where we see the closest thing to a girlfriend he has - a young nurse at his school - kiss him and tell him she's pregnant, only for him to react like she's a circus freak ("Hey, great! Can I watch you have it?") then immediately move on to what he wants from her. It's not that he is awkwardly changing the subject, he just doesn't care - he's using her to get drugs for him and his friends. Add to that the moment later on where he attempts to force himself onto Kei (prominent member of the Resistance and apparent sister to the group's leader) and it's clear that no, you're really not meant to like him here. 

Kei however is the exact opposite. Along with her 'brother' Ryu, she is focused, driven; seemingly idealistic in her goals but realistic in her methods, she's not afraid to kill a man but fights for what she believes in. The only selfless people in an increasingly selfish world, this immediately makes you root for the Resistance upon their introduction. Well, this and the incredibly dubious actions of Colonel Shikishima and the government he represents. It's through the Colonel that we uncover more about the bomb at the beginning of the story, about its ties to Akira (an unknown entity at this point in the story, although we get a terrifying double page glimpse of where 'it' is contained, deep beneath a proposed Olympic site at Ground Zero) and how it all links in to Tetsuo and his burgeoning psychic powers.

Tetsuo is a hard character to crack this early on. As a fan of the film I was expecting more of a set up of his character before his transformation, but the pace at which his powers develop is frenetic, with not much time to establish just who he is. We get a glimpse later in the story when he faces off against Kaneda for the first time, telling him "I don't take orders from you". There's a definite inferiority complex there, and one I can't help but feel will be explored more fully in later volumes through the use of flashbacks or maybe just exposition. The point is there's enough there to drag you in, and his pain is believable - you can't help but feel for him and even side with him at first. This is just a kid, and he is lashing out just like any scared teenager would, except in this case when he lashes out, people's heads tend to implode.

The plot, much like Tetsuo's plight, moves at a breakneck speed. There are some set pieces early on showcasing young Takashi's powers (a collapsing water tower and a canal bed near decimated by him, both of which dragging innocent bystanders, rebels and government soldiers into the chaos) that are laid out on the page perfectly. Other key moments include an invasion of soldiers in the rebel hideout and subsequent escape; a gory beginning to Tetsuo's increasingly disturbing abilities; a warehouse collapse and oh so many chase scenes. 

Whether on foot or on bike; in the underground labyrinthine sewer system or on the overcrowded city streets; whether clashing with government grunts on hover-bikes or rival gangs on motorcycles, it's when the speed increases that the story takes on a life of its own. The art and choreography combine beautifully to ensure that no matter how fast the action, you always know exactly what's going on. It's a feat no short of amazing, as there is a lot going on within each panel sometimes that under less talented hands the details of movement would be lost in a blur. 

There are of course, quieter character moments that help develop the individuals involved. During the collapse of both the water tower and the canal basin, Kaneda shows just how street smart he is - he's fast on his feet both literally and figuratively. I think of all the characters, he's the one that will evolve the most as the story progresses. Much like Tetsuo in fact; although his physical transformation is more immediate, there are signs of his personality taking on more subtle changes too. One of my favourite scenes and in fact a crucial scene in this lengthy chapter is the first conflict between the two leads. More of an emotional battle than the physical conflicts of later on, Kaneda's admonishment of Tetsuo for nearly beating a man to death brings them both close to the edge while at the same time pushing them farther away from the friends they once were. It's a relatively quiet scene compared to what follows but it's charged with emotional power. It packs even more of a punch when re-read after the closing scenes of the book.

A mention should be given also to the psychic children - Takashi, Masaru and Kiyoko. They occupy the quieter scenes at this early stage, but nevertheless they're vital to the plot moving forward. We only get one scene of them in their 'habitat', but already there's foreboding; Kiyoko's dream of Akira sends Colonel Shikishima into a frantic rage, and Masaru's moments out in the field attempting to reel in Takashi only add to the sense that these three will become ever more crucial as time goes on.

From seeing the bomb goes off to seeing the vast nothingness it leaves behind, Katsuhiro Otomo's art is never short on scope. There are a number of occasions where the characters are nothing more than ants compared to the size of the landscape; Ground Zero being a perfect example, but there's also the moment that Kaneda reaches a dead end in the sewer only to look out on a vast underground chasm in front of him; or the moment the Colonel's helicopter lands and the reader is treated to a detailed two page spread; or the most frightening of all - the Akira containment facility. Yet for all these moments, it's when the focus is drawn to Neo-Tokyo itself that the art really shines. Don't get me wrong - Neo-Tokyo is a dump. It is a grimy, chaotic, disgarded mess of urban sprawl. I wouldn't want to live there, but boy does it sing on the page. There are wide shots of the skyline which draw your gaze for longer than the story requires, followed by tighter shots of the city streets as they fly past in a blur of blood and motorcycles. Close ups of decaying, lived in buildings like the bowling alley that serves as a home to the Clown Gang all tell their own story through the smallest, most intricate of details. This becomes a believably realistic world. It's a lived-in world; you get a true sense that you've entered a city that has been around for so much longer than merely the start of the page count. It all adds up to make the surroundings instantly relatable, yet oh so prone to imitation - I would however like to stress that there are whole epic sci-fi sagas set in less immersive environments than this one story. I would love to read this again with Steve Oliff's computer painted colours throughout, but the fact that nearly all of the book (apart from the first few pages) is in black and white is wholly unnoticeable once you're fully immersed. 

A lot of new readers to the Manga will be, like myself, fans of the anime movie, and as such might be expecting a certain sense of decompression - this is after all over 2000 pages of plot compared to just over 2 hours of film. What you get however is a tight, fast paced narrative that flows naturally from one thing to the next and at no point feels like bare bones being fleshed or stretched out. If anything I imagine I'll return to the film and that it will perhaps feel cramped and hurried. Time will tell, but either way as someone who has seen the film first, I think I can more appreciate how epic in scope this story is having come into it with a general knowledge of where the plot is headed, as well as knowing whereabouts we are in the overall structure by the time we get to the end of this first volume. 

I can't imagine how it felt experiencing this world for the first time in a serialised form. Taking over eight years to complete, it must have really added to the scale of this saga, and make no mistake - whether new fan or old there's no avoiding the feeling that this is the start to an epic masterpiece, one that deserves to be added to anyone's bucket list.

All pictures © MASH-ROOM Co. Ltd. and Kodansha Ltd, Tokyo. Graphics adaptation © 1999 Éditions Glénat. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse comics.

Monday, 24 February 2014

I started this blog for a few reasons, with the first and most obvious being that I love comics. I love anything to do with comics too; more specifically I enjoy (and spend a lot of my spare time) reading reviews, articles, news pieces and so on about the world of comics and their creators. So after years of reading other peoples articles and reviews I thought I'd give it a go myself. This leads into the second reason I started blogging; as a creative outlet. I enjoy writing in my spare time and while it's not for me to decide whether I'm any good at it, I find it relaxing while at the same time giving me a sense of achievement when I've finished a piece.

So what do I write about? Well this ties into the third and final reason, and that is essentially education. I want to expand my reading list beyond the regular monthly stalwarts that I pick up every issue without fail, and explore the vast horde of indie, alternative and unusual comics that not only get released every week from all manner of publishers, but which have been out for years and I’ve never gotten around to reading. Whether timeless classics or current overlooked gems, I want to delve into the wider world and educate myself on all the comics that I feel I have a duty, as a comic fan, to read. As I’ve said before though, my first love will always be Marvel comics. Even though I’ve spent years of my life reading Marvel, there are still so many times I come across a character or storyline or situation that I know little to nothing about. I plan to change that with this blog.

I find that when I write about a certain issue or series or creator, I have to view them with a different focus, a more detailed perspective, and with that I’ll find (hopefully) a new appreciation for what I read. So by looking at all these aspects and more I hope to educate myself (and anyone who happens to come across this blog) on all the comic books, characters and creators I want to know more about.

So with all this in mind, I ask again: what do I write about? I think my articles will take three main forms:

·  Reviews – Mostly weekly comic book reviews (which I’ve done a few of previously), but I’m determined to cast my net wider, and look beyond the familiar and try out as many new things as possible each week.

·   Bucket List – as a comic fan we’ve all got one. Whether you have a literal stack of comics in the corner of the room, or like me more of a fantasy list, there are always those comics that you’ve never got around to reading but for one reason or another you know you want to, or even should, read them. So I’m going to be writing My Comic Book Bucket List (or CBBL for short!) - every time reading and reviewing in-depth the series or volumes that demand my attention, and one by one getting them crossed off that (never-ending) list.

·   Marvel Spotlight – my home away from home, the Marvel Universe (or 616 for short) is in most ways a very familiar place. There are however many dark and unknown corners that I intend to shine a light on with these articles. Sometimes it’ll be a character that for some reason or another has completely missed my gaze, or a storyline that I really should know more about, or maybe a location left uncharted, I plan on exploring them all so I never again get to the final ‘big reveal’ of an issue and go… “yeahbuhwhat?”

So that’s my plan. This blog is mainly for my own benefit, for the reasons I put above (seriously, were you not paying attention?!) but I love talking about comics too. So if anyone wants to get in touch about, well, anything comics related really, then you can contact me on here, via email, or via twitter @awesome_source. I also have a Tumblr Look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time,



Friday, 21 February 2014

This week's Comic Book reviews.

Welcome to The Reading List!

Every week I'll be sharing what I think are the highlights of the latest releases, including a few thoughts on what I liked, what I didn't, and what I think you should be reading too. 

If I've not mentioned something you think I should read, or want to let me know your thoughts on any of the new issues then drop me a message.
If you've read my blog before I do lean towards Marvel/Image/Indie over DC, although I'm working on getting caught up on the New 52 in order to provide a more thorough weekly recap (weekap? No), so don't be surprised if you don't see many DC reviews on here. 

Also: this is an open discussion of my personal thoughts on each issue as I've read them, therefore need I say...


You have been warned.

Let's get started! 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Aaron, McGuinness, Vines, Gracia

I'm not ashamed to admit that this issue, the best issue of Amazing yet, hit me right in the feels. I think it's safe to say that you'd have to have a heart as cold as the icy tundra of Purgatory itself to not be moved by some of the moments in this book. So if you're ready for a spoiler filled trip through Heaven and Hell to rediscover an old friend you didn't realise how much you truly missed then follow me, as I explain why this is newly crowned as my favourite X-book on the stands. Sorry Bendis.

This issue continues Nightcrawler's omnipresent VoiceOver; this time narrating the plight of his closest friend Wolverine. Now, James Aaron knows what you want, he's been teasing it since the final page of issue one (where Logan barely even dared to breathe a hope that his fuzzy blue elf friend could be alive), which is also why I suspect we open with him here; but you're going to have to wait a little longer for that particular heart melter.

Speaking of melting we juxtapose nicely from the frozen wastes to the burning depths, as Firestar stands firm against the hordes of hell. Her thought balloons have provided us with some great character beats so far and here is no exception, with her almost Claremont-esque rallying monologue (hold onto that thought, we'll be returning to him later). I could talk at length about Ed McGuinness' art and how perfect it is for this series but this issue spoils us rotten with 3/4 to full page spreads like this one, the next page even more so, as Angelica Jones let's rip her (one would have thought completely pointless given the environment) powers and "makes it burn". One thing I will say here though, and I'm not sure if it's me getting older, or maybe a sign that the times are indeed a-changing, but Firestar's costume is almost obscenely graphic. She's essentially been drawn completely nude (quite where she finds her belt from at the end of the issue I don't know, she can't have pockets) with only the colourist and a jaunty collar to prove she does indeed have something on, even if it must be purely painted onto her. 

Anyway, another page, another gorgeous 3/4 splash, and from beauty to the Beast. A frankly hulked-up, terrifying Beast, as Hank goes postal on Kurt's ass. Much as Storm tries to tell him though, Nightcralwer's having none of it; he knows his old friend is in still in there - after all "When one has as much mind as Dr Henry McCoy, there's little chance you could ever run out". This takes us to our first flashback and we return quite literally to the glory days of Chris Claremont's epic Uncanny run. From the casual mentions of Harry's Hideaway (X-Men bar of choice - going back as far chronologically anyway as Classic X-Men #4. And yes I obviously had to look that up. Back then the sign said Harry's Hideout) and of Beast speaking of having to return to the Avengers, to the character changes (it's nice seeing Hank back to his old, old blue self, as well as seeing a Jean that 'knows' why her friends are staying behind without instantly prying into their heads like her younger version is so eager to do over in 'All-New'), you are instantly thrown back to a simpler time. It looks, feels, hell even smells like the classic X-Men of old, the ones that even if you're too young to remember - real-time this would have to be set, when, mid to late 70s? - we've all read some if not all of Claremont's seminal work which really defined this group of characters and still influences the titles to this day, not least of all Amazing X-Men. The fact that it's inclusion here in flashback form feels right at home speaks volumes about the spirit of this book, but more on that later.

Back to the present and cue our first big reunion of the issue, the second best, and the gang is slowly coming together. The secret of the Bamfs is pieced together by Hank too, and while we could have worked out that Kurt was the one who sent them to the Jean Grey school in the first place, their actual origin revealed in the next scene much more disturbing than you can even imagine.

"I need to pee. Do dead men need to pee? Maybe that's my hell. Always having to pee." Right there with you Bobby. As Iceman considers his fate he discovers that of Kurt's. Cue another reunion (getting close now) and that disgusting origin of the adorable Bamfs. If you've been reading Aaron's run on Wolverine and the X-Men, this reveal has been a long time coming, over 40 issues in fact, not to mention their general presence in the X-world of other titles since he reintroduced their concept (one originally conceived by? Yep, Claremont in Uncanny 153). To say it's not at all what I was expecting is a gross (pun intended) exaggeration. Turns out the sweet, cuddly, I-want-one-of-my-own Bamfs are actually Hell maggots. Yep. "Living off the scabs of the damned and The Devil's sewage". Just let that visual sink in for a minute. All the nopes, am I right? If you can believe it they take an even darker turn as Kurt gets his vague on about what he's had to sacrifice in order to, I guess, provide salvation (fitting for a Catholic like him) for the Red Bamfs. The obvious assumption is each and every one he's saved and turned blue has taken a piece of his soul, but do we really want to burden Kurt with such a depressing facet as that when we've only just got the fun loving, swashbuckling X-Man back? Time will tell.

We return to Wolverine's plight in the Tundra, and to the main event (come on as if you or Aaron himself thinks any otherwise). Logan is doing what he does best; not killing, surviving. "Don't fall" commands Northstar, to which Wolverine promptly does. It doesn't last long though, as he searches the depths of his soul to struggle on and - what I like to think is a frequent source of strength for him - he thinks of Kurt. Cue another flashback, this one a bit harder to pinpoint in time, which I suppose is the point - it could have been at any time throughout their friendship. They're sat in a bar discussing the ever present subject of death. Wolverine knows he'll die surrounded by blood and dead ninjas, not by a wife and children, proclaiming "it's better if I die alone". With Kurt's words ringing in his ears ("no one wants to die alone"), his resolve hardens, his determination is set and Logan drags his body forward, not stopping until he saves Nightcrawler. In the end though it's the other way around. 

Wolverine looks up into the face of a little Bamf, and with a solitary tear rolling down his cheek he hears a familiar voice for the first time in what feels like forever. Turn the page to a deserved full page spread of my heart breaking, aka Logan using his last ounce of strength to hug his best friend. All. The. Feels.

Rather than just hug and accept the fact that one of their own has returned from the dead as if he's come back from the shops like everyone else has done (I guess this isn't the first time this has happened is it) it takes him a moment to wrap his head around it all, which is only human, and makes it feel even more rewarding. Get over it he does though, and with the promise of whiskey and evil pirates, the X-Men are finally all together to follow Captain Wagner into battle in issue 5.

Jason Aaron really pulls it out the bag with this one. This is exactly what I want not just from a superhero book, but from an X-Men book. There's a reason the flashbacks to a better time fit in so well here, why being reminded of the greatness of Claremont's early work isn't a slap in the face and why seeing a glimpse of the X-Men in a simpler time doesn't make you pine for days gone by, and that's because those glory days have returned in the form of Amazing X-Men. Seeing a climb to dizzying heights they've not been privy to in a long while, the X franchise as a whole is having a renaissance. Bendis on 'All-New' and 'Uncanny' and Aaron himself on 'Wolverine and...' have brought them out of the depths of a schism and let them bask in the sun. 

This issue itself is chock full of amazing characterisation, like Beast and Nightcrawler's geeky extreme chess match (wasn't that done on Big Bang Theory?), Firestar's wish to remain an X-Man forever and Bobby's hilarious conversation with himself. Combine that with Ed McGuinness' stunning art (rarely do you see Storm looking quite as beautiful as she deserves to be, or Beast as scary, Nightcrawler as wiry and athletic, I could go on) and you have an issue as close to perfect as I ever want a comic to be.

In the words of Kurt Wagner himself, "let's go be Amazing". And boy do they.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel live, we get the first look at the Guardians of the Galaxy in the full trailer, and it is brilliant.

I had no idea that John C. Reilly or Peter Serafinowicz were in the movie, and here they are in a prominent role in the trailer, nailing the final one liner perfectly. I knew it was going to have that comedy edge to it, much like the original Iron Man movie did, but they've really taken it to the next level here. By the end of the trailer I was beaming and very excited. A proper look at each of the Guardians in action (especially Groot and Rocket!), a few glimpses of Karen Gillan's Nebula squaring off against Gamora it looks like, and a lot of Peter Quill being a dick. Just genius.

This looks like it's shaping up to be my new favourite Marvel movie.

It's Wednesday and you know what that means - yep, new comics. So this is On the Stack, a list of all the comics I'll be picking up this week and a look at how I think this week is shaping up. Come back later for The Reading List, where I'll be reviewing what I liked and what I didn't. What am I missing? What am I getting that you think I should be avoiding? Let me know!

The highlight from Marvel this week is definitely Amazing X-Men #4 - really loving that Nightcrawler is back and at his swashbuckling best no less. This book can't come out fast enough. Punisher had a strong start with its new number 1 a few weeks back so I'm eager to pick up Punisher #2 and see more of the same quality really and see what Frank gets up to in a new city (and with that new hairdo). Avengers World #3 - loving the more character focused storytelling of this title over the core Avengers book, the look into Smasher's world (oh, I get it now) last issue was cool and this issue promises Kung fu action with Bruce L- I mean, Shang Chi... As for the rest, Daredevil #36 - is this the last issue? - it's always a must buy because, come on, and I'm digging NIght of the Living Deadpool so it's great to have the next installment. I didn't read the first issue of Disney Kingdoms Seekers of the Weird but I've heard good things so who knows? Maybe I should give it a read. Finally New Warriors #1. I dunno, I'll give it a shot but I've never really read that much NW in the past, I know it has its fan base who are very loyal so I'll give it a try. I'll also be picking up Undertow #1 from Image - always up for an original story and this certainly looks like it will be - and Harley Quinn #3 from DC because forno other reason than it's Harley. Valiant have got a few that I'll pick up - Bloodshot and H.A.R.D Corps #19, Quantum and Woody #8 and the final part of Unity #4. I'm fairly new to the Valiant universe and still playing catch up with my reading, so while I'm picking these up I won't be reviewing them until a later date. Suffice to say I've no doubt they'll all be as awesome as the previous issues that Valiant have been putting out. I'm definitely a true convert.




















X-MEN #11 

Welcome to The Reading List!

Every week I'll be sharing what I think are the highlights of the latest releases, including a few thoughts on what I liked, what I didn't, and what I think you should be reading too.
If I've not mentioned something you think I should read, or want to let me know your thoughts on any of the new issues then drop me a message.
If you've read my blog before I do lean towards Marvel/Image/Indie over DC, although I'm working on getting caught up on the New 52 in order to provide a more thorough weekly recap (weekap? No), so don't be surprised if you don't see many DC reviews on here. 

This is a little (lot!) later than I'd have liked this week, but what can I say - Valentine's Day plus House of Cards Season 2 took up my time! Apologies!  This'll hopefully be more prompt in future. This also doesn't cover every new release I've read, as some deserve a bit more of an in depth look (looking at you, She-Hulk #1!), and I'm still playing catch up on Thor:God of Thunder and the last few issues of Harbinger, so they're not here either. Anyhoo!

Let's get started!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

(Marvel. Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, Munsta Vicente)

If you need an example of the current state of Marvel Comics, you need look no further than She-Hulk #1. It follows the current trend of showing the audience an intimate look at the life of their favourite superheroes when they're busy not being superheroes. I say following a trend in the loosest possible sense, because every one of the books that could be on that list (Hawkeye most successfully, and Black Widow more recently) are so unique as to almost defy classification.

Enough about what this means for the wider world though, let's do what the book itself does and look closer at Jen Walters. This inaugural issue picks up her life as she goes through what starts off as a normal day, but quickly changes into one much more significant for Shulky; from a heated "you can't fire me I quit" moment (don't worry, there's nowhere near as cliche a line as that in here) through an at times frustrating case (for Jen anyway) involving the estate of a deceased D-list villain (something for the history buffs there), a courtroom runaround, a killer robot and - hardest of all - Tony Starks legal department. Here's where the real joy for me lay. The scene on the eighteenth floor made me chuckle, where Tony's legal aid - or should I say Charles Soule - attempts to recant the entire murky history of Stark Enterprises/Industries/Resilient/WHATever. It's genius, for no more reason than I simply didn't think it could be done. But it says something that it took someone with a real life law degree to wrestle that particular continuity beast, and the end result was a delight. Evan that battlefield is more approachable than the stoic Legal however ("I am neither bad nor good. I am simply legal").

The story wraps up nicely and sets Jen up on a new path, while simultaneously enticing us back for more. It would be easy to compare this to the recent changes happening in Daredevil, and indeed that series as a whole, but while the spirit is the same, the brilliant uniqueness of Soule's Walters clearly sets it apart.

What Charles Soule does is not only breathe new life into She-Hulk but instantly makes her relatable, interesting and real. And Javier Pulido's work has never been more engaging. The expressions are a particular joy, with Jen's look of smug satisfaction as she leaves Iron Man's office being a real highlight. It would be a disservice to omit the talent of Munsta Vicente also who brings each page alive with a wonderfully bright palette (and Jen's underpants being that familiar shade of purple was a great idea too, if only seen in the briefest of flashes).

It's the first time I'm eager to read what's next for Bruce Banner's cousin; as the end of the issue begins a brand new chapter for the title character, I'm eager to follow her and see what'll happen on the next average day in the life of She-Hulk.


A must-read. The future of Marvel is in safe hands with books like this; a genuinely unique and likeable lead, ably crafted by an excellent team, means I can't wait for issue 2.



There’s very little in this world I love more than comics (I’m contractually obliged here to say ‘apart from my fiancée). Whether it’s individual issues, trades or digital; whether catching up on the adventures of years-old friends or immersing myself in a brand new world, my number one joy is sitting down with a cup of tea (hey, I’m English, don’t judge) and disappearing into a comic.

Now right off the bat I have to admit: I’m a Marvel zombie. My first real taste of superhero comics was Marvel - Specifically Marvel Heroes Reborn #2(a UK reprint of two US issues: Fantastic Four vol 2 #2 and Iron man vol 2 #2. Wow. Lot of 2’s there…) From the moment I laid my young eyes on the bombastic visuals of the FF battling the Mole Man in the first half of the book, to seeing Tony Stark being pummelled by an angry Hulk - is there any other kind?! - in the back half I was hooked. 
I’d never seen anything like it before. It was crazy; it was colourful; it was filled with snappy one-liners, frankly ridiculous body images (it was the nineties) and crazy amounts of action. It was nowhere near what I was used to. And it was brilliant.

My earliest memories involve comics. My mom and my aunts grew up reading Bunty and Mandy and Jackie - comic magazines for girls, with illustrated strips/agony aunt columns along with articles about things young ladies in the 70’s and 80’s wanted to read about (I dunno either). Every Christmas they’d get the annuals for each other and to make sure I wasn’t left out I got The Beano and sometimes The Dandy, both of which were full of short strips with characters like Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx. I guess they’re what Americans call the funny pages. Anyway I started collecting The Beano mostly and after a few years of weekly issues I had a stack nearly as high as I was and rising. 

From there I’d grab any comics I could find or was handed down to me from cousins, mostly stuff based on things I’d seen on TV. There was Thunderbirds comics, The old Marvel Star Wars issues, Ghostbusters, Sonic the Hedgehog (not the Archie ones, these were a lot darker I remember, but then I was younger back then). I’m a bit disappointed that I never picked up a single issue of 2000AD, being English and all, and especially since a hell of a lot of my favourite artists and writers came from such illustrious beginnings I’m doubly disappointed, but I’ve made up for that in the years since. I even tried my hand at writing and drawing my own strips. They were about a guy called Freddy Frazzle and, I can say this objectively, they were the greatest comics ever to be created by a 10 year old in that house I lived in. 

Once I picked up that issue of Marvel Heroes Reborn though everything changed. Which is a very weird thing to say seeing as those issues really haven’t stood the test of time. In fact the whole Heroes Reborn storyline has not been treated kindly by history has it? Meh, I don’t care, they’ll always hold a special place in my heart (apart from Captain America vol 2. I mean. Jesus).
 After that issue I bought anything and everything I could that helped me explore this strange new world that was the Marvel 616 (and beyond). Once I branched out from the Fantastic Four and Iron Man I fell in love with new characters seemingly every issue - Daredevil, The X-Men, The Avengers, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Dr Strange, the Silver Surfer, and my personal all-time favourite; the Amazing Spider-man. 

Yes I’ll always call Marvel my home, but don’t get me wrong; I’ve dabbled in DC - I have a healthy shelf of Batman which count themselves among some of my favourite stories - and there are innumerable indies that I love and could spend hours talking about (and will! In this very blog in fact). 
Over the years I’ve explored as many universes and characters and lives and worlds that this beautiful, rich medium can provide, and I know there are still hundreds more that I’ve yet to delve into. 
I still have that first issue though; it’s nestled snugly at the back of one of the many many long boxes that have sprouted up in the 16 years since that very first comic, picked up from a Tescos in Torquay.

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