Friday, October 23, 2015

Comic Book review: Thanos Rising

A limited five-issue series, Thanos Rising steps back in time to the formative years of the Mad Titan. The story displays his birth, his youth, his teenage years, and the eventual murderous streak that would leave him obsessed with death – both the act and the mystical character of the same name. The art throughout is superb, highlighting bright, metallic surfaces on Thanos’ home moon of Titan, while damp caverns are displayed through rugged inking and the ruins of annihilated worlds convey a haunting air.

Thanos is born into a society that knows no war, no conflict. They are a people of science, and despite Thanos’ unusual purple skin and dark eyes, his father, Mentor, takes to him just as he would his other son, Eros. Thanos’ mother, on the other hand, is immediately horrified by the sight of her child, believing there is something very wrong within him, and attempts to kill him with a knife. She is stopped, and spends many of her years institutionalized. During this time, Thanos grows into a curious, incredibly intelligent child. He seeks to make friends with other students his age, and grows queasy at the idea of dissecting lizards for his studies – a far cry from the cosmic villain he will eventually become.

One girl in particular catches Thanos’ attention, and continues to over the years. She is, in many ways, his enabler, convincing him even at a young age to carry out acts that will result in bloodshed, beginning with a group of lizards who attacked his friends during their exploration of one of Titan’s otherwise-off-limits caves. Thanos Rising has excellent pacing throughout, as each chapter jumps ahead years at a time to the most pivotal moments of the Mad Titan’s rise to infamy. Each section slows down to highlight Thanos as a character – his motives and personality, as well as his gradual embrace of murder, first justifying it as a means to try and discover that which sets beings of higher intelligence apart from animals. But when Thanos receives no answers from his gruesome handiwork, he comes to admit that he finds murder an enjoyable task.

As an adult, Thanos leaves his legacy on many a planet, fathering children with seemingly countless females of varying races. Thanos also makes his mark by joining a crew of space pirates and daring to challenge their leader. For Thanos is not content with mere pillage and plunder – he would see worlds break before him. Thanos Rising presents compelling and appropriate justifications for how would come to earn his reputation and title as ‘The Mad Titan’. His estrangement from his father does not come to pass until the final chapter, but it bears significant weight on the narrative of Thanos Rising, as well as the many conquests Thanos will ultimately carry out. The only oversight in Thanos Rising is the decision to not incorporate Thanos’ brother Eros into his development – he is mentioned once or twice, but never makes a physical appearance, and given how well the late-story clash between Thanos and his father played out, it could have raised the quality of this story even more.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Comic Book review: Inhumans: Attilan Rising

The Inhumans have long stood among the strangest of Marvel’s organized costumed supers, living in a secret society which utilizes hyper-advanced technology, and subjecting themselves to the gene-altering Terrigen Mists as a coming-of-age ritual. It is curious, then, that the Battleworld series focused on the Inhumans turns this familiar formula on its head. In this strikingly different version of the Inhumans tale, Black Bolt is host of the Quiet Room, a bar which permits many of Battleworld’s denizens entrance for drinks and company, provided they do not start any quarrels within its walls. In truth, the Quiet Room is a front for Black Bolt’s growing rebellion against Baron Medusa and her Doom loyalists.

Medusa, meanwhile, has access to the highly-advance technologies commonplace in previous Inhumans comics. She is devoutly loyal to Doom’s law – more so than many of Battleworld’s other resident Barons. And she is ever-suspicious of the Quiet Room, believing that it more than what it appears. Sending in one of her most trusted spies, Kamala Khan, Medusa hopes to expose any dissenters and quash their aspirations before they can move against her.

On Black Bolt’s side are his ever-trustworthy compatriots Karnak and the 1602 version of Matt Murdock, as well as a patrol that consists of young Inhumans, a Hulk, and G-Man, a Ghost Rider who appears to hail from the Marvel Noir universe. As luck (or perhaps a lack thereof) would have it, G-Man and company’s activities are what first tip Medusa off to the possibility that Black Bolt may be plotting against her, but there are plenty more twists and turns that come to play throughout the course of this story.

Inhumans: Attilan Rising begins with a style not unlike the Marvel Noir stories. The dangerous game of ‘cat versus mouse’ that Black Bolt and Medusa are playing builds the suspense as the sell one another bold-faced lies. The first two chapters are something of a slow burn, taking additional time to craft this unusual vision of the Inhuman conflict. But by the conclusion of issue three, Inhumans: Attilan Rising picks up its pace and its intensity, and delivers a few key powerful twists that significantly improve the quality of the narrative. Inhumans: Attilan Rising’s slow start should not discourage readers from seeing the five-issue series through to its conclusion, because the explosive series of events that make up its finale are well worth the price of admission.

My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Comic Book review: All-New Ghost Rider, Volume One: Engines of Vengeance

Robbie Reyes lives with his younger paraplegic brother Gabe in a crime and violence-ridden part of Los Angeles. Robbie does his best to look after his brother, being his apparent only family in the area, but has to juggle high school, his low-paying job as an auto mechanic, and the dangers of the neighborhood. He hopes to save up enough money to move both himself and his brother to a safer residence, and often has to ask one of the teachers at Gabe’s elementary school if she can babysit while Robbie works extra hours.

Local bullies throw a wrench in Robbie’s plans when they decide to push Gabe out of his wheelchair and steal it, taunting him and calling him names. Robbie, furious over this, tries to fight the bullies and reclaim the wheelchair, but is outnumbered and promptly has his face beaten and bloodied. After returning Gabe home, Robbie hatches a half-baked plan to ‘borrow’ (without asking) a sporty muscle car from a nearby house for the evening, in order to compete in a street race and win some hefty cash. But shortly after the race gets underway, Robbie finds himself being tailed by thugs who work for a criminal drug dealer that owns the very car that Robbie stole. Cornered in alleyway, Robbie steps out of the car, only to be gunned down and killed on the spot.

However, a spirit named Eli revives Robbie, healing his prior wounds, and giving him the powers of a Ghost Rider. Robbie is then able to chase down some of the goons who tried to finish him off, but others still escape. Armed with the ability to phase through structures and teleport to the car he stole, Robbie regains his ride from the thugs, and lets Eli inform him on how to make the most of his newfound Ghost Rider powers.

Robbie is so likeable at an early stage in this series because of how much he sacrifices for his brother. He is a genuinely selfless protagonist, telling his brother not to go outdoors after dark because people play unsafely with firecrackers (guns, in actuality), and not putting up with a pawn shop owner who would like nothing more than to cheat Robbie out of every penny he’s got just to get Gabe a subpar replacement wheelchair. Robbie is one of the only students in his class that puts forth real effort, and his teacher greatly respects Robbie’s maturity and desire to create a better environment for himself and Gabe. All of this makes for a very interesting contrast to the general chaotic, violent, and terrifying visage of the Ghost Rider, though Robbie’s bodiless soul of a companion Eli seems to understand his host’s vindications quite well.

That said, there are a few moments where Eli proposes more violent, cure-all solutions for the problems plaguing Robbie’s neighborhood. While Robbie does well to opt for alternate solutions where few people are hurt, save for gun-toting thugs and armored drug runners, it presents an interesting contrast that could be extrapolated upon in future volumes as an ‘inner demon’ conflict. This first volume of All-New Ghost Rider is smart to paint its conflict on a relatively small scale, and the last page feels like it has given proper closure to Robbie Reyes’ origin story. Come what may, this first volume of All-New Ghost Rider is a brilliant start to a series that has so much more potential, and is among the strongest of the Marvel NOW! relaunches.

My rating: 8.75 (out of 10)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Comic Book review: Guardians of Knowhere

While the majority of the Battleworld series spun out of the thread that is Marvel’s 2015 Secret Wars remain largely self-contained narratives, Guardians of Knowhere ranks among the most limited in scale. Given the far-flung cosmic adventures typical of the Guardians of the Galaxy, it is initially a bit jarring for the story to adopt such a format, though understandably necessary, given the four-issue limit. Guardians of Knowhere is a strikingly appropriate title – while there are cosmically-supercharged showdowns afoot, they occur exclusively on the severed head of a Celestial known as Knowhere, which orbits Battleworld, and where the Guardians have made their base of operations. Nothing exists in the star-sprinkled skies beyond Knowhere – something which greatly disturbs Gamora.

Gamora is seemingly the only member of the Guardians that has any recollection of the world as it once was, before God Emperor Doom forged Battleworld from the remains of dozens of shattered realities. But her memories are similarly fragmented, and though she recalls names like ‘Groot’ and ‘Quill’, she has no faces to place with them, no context. Teaming up with Drax, Rocket, and Mantis, Gamora takes on some of Knowhere’s more ruthless scoundrels, adhering to no rules, only her incredible skills as a warrior. The Nova Corps, meanwhile, are a more by-the-books peacekeeping force, consisting of Nova, Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock, Iron Man, and Agent Venom, and often coming onto the scene to clean up after the guardians and take thieves and murderers into custody.

When Gamora’s questioning of the truths everyone else so easily buys into upsets Knowhere’s appointed Thor, Angela, Gamora is warned that what she speaks of goes against all that Doom has created, and is nothing shy of heresy. Still, Gamora insists that this reality around her is a façade, the memories of a time and place gone by haunting her so intensely. Sandwiching these standoffs between Gamora and Angela are two encounters with Guardians of Knowhere’s major villains – Yotat, and a second unnamed female alien. They are presented in strikingly different airs, with Yotat being some thug who ended up on the wrong side of a transaction now desiring revenge and subsequently bulking up, courtesy of spacey drugs and tech. The second alien foe is almost entirely shrouded in mystery – she is never given a name, and despite her stellar aesthetic and intimidating skill set, her motives are not made clear, either.

Of all the Battleworld storylines I’ve been exposed to, Guardians of Knowhere is the one most strangled by its own limited issue count. The series effectively paints two entirely unrelated encounters the Guardians have with threats to their home, but never really gives an indication of what the other Guardians are fighting for. Is it because their lives on Knowhere are all Drax, Rocket, and Mantis have ever known? Quite possibly, but they take a backseat to Gamora so frequently, it’s easy to completely forget their presence at times. Guardians of Knowhere is easily among the most visually-pleasing of all the Battleworld series. It’s just a shame that the narrative is largely nothing-achieving, with the last chapter feeling as though it were the first half of a two-part arc that was never finished.

My rating: 6.25 (out of 10)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Comic Book review: X-Men ’92

The Battleworld that God Emperor Doom forged at the start of Secret Wars is a patchwork of many wildly different realms. Many are based off of classic Marvel storylines, or even some of the more recent comic book arcs. But X-Men ’92 is the only comic among them to be based off a television show that was, itself, based off a comic book. X-Men ’92 sees the bright yellow and dark blue costumes of the 1990s Fox series return in the form of ink and paper, along with all the snappy one-liners and cheesy-yet-endearing character portrayals of everyone’s favorite mutant heroes and heroines.

In the realm of Westchester, Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants have been defeated, and the healing process of the human populous coming to accept the X-Men among them is already underway. The story opens with a friendly game of ‘Extreme Lazer Tag’ inside the local shopping mall, with Jubilee claiming the high score. But the relaxed afternoon is interrupted by one rogue Sentinel, among the last of its kind, and still determined to wipe out mutantkind. Causing a scene as they take down the mechanized giant, the X-Men are sternly greeted by Baron Robert Kelly, who informs them of a place known as the Clear Mountain Institute, a rehabilitation facility for their former mutant foes. Supposedly, former Brotherhood members including Sabretooth, Toad, and Blob have gone to this Clear Mountain Institute willingly, seeking to renounce their villainous ways, but the X-Men are not so sure.

They travel to the Institute, where they are greeted by its head of operations, one Cassandra Nova, who offers to provide the mutants with a tour of the facilities. Despite their run-ins with former foes being entirely peaceful within the facility, both Wolverine and Cyclops get the feeling that something isn’t right. Jubilee is separated from her older teammates, and distracts herself by playing the X-Men arcade game (yes, the one that existed in our own reality of 1992, and featured Colossus, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Dazzler, Wolverine, and Storm). Meanwhile, the X-Men are given an up-close and personal look at Cassandra Nova’s rehabilitation machinery, but not in the way they had hoped, as they are taken to a place known as the Mind Field, where Cassandra Nova is able to manipulate their thoughts, and attempts to break their self-images into more cooperative, obedient individuals.

X-Men ’92 is endearingly self-aware of its setting and the appropriate tone to lend to its narrative. It pokes fun at its roots a number of times, with Jubilee remarking that she finds Dazzler’s costume in the arcade game to be quite tacky. X-Men '92 also breaks the fourth wall, cracking jokes that are, just one panel later, deemed to be too mature for readers, and are subsequently marked out in red ink before receiving a stamp of approval (a jab at the restrictions of using certain words in children’s shows that Marvel and Fox agreed to in 1990s). The dialogue is expertly handled as well, treading a line that allows both younger readers and longtime fans to find equal enjoyment from this superhero action-comedy period-piece.

The second issue is the weakest link in the four-part story, as it suffers from a repetition. By the time readers are nine or so pages in, it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to detect where the rest of the second issue will go. Thankfully, the third issue picks up the slack, bringing the X-Force members onto the scene to rescue their X-Men allies, with Deadpool in tow. And the fourth and final issue provides one explosive finale that is sure to geek out more than a few fans of the X-Men, with its absurd escalation of action, as well as a number of cameos by iconic characters – some of whom previously appeared in the 1990s cartoon, and others who did not (but have nonetheless been adapted into this comic book reimagining). X-Men ’92 is a riot; as much a love letter to the classic cartoon as it is a parody of it. And with Marvel having picked up X-Men ‘92 as one of their new ongoing series in 2016, the potential for future adventures and zippy dialogue holds wealth of potential.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Comic Book Update: "Bub, I'm the best at what I do!"

Most of the Secret Wars tie-in series I had been following have just recently wrapped up. It’s been a brief, but wild ride. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of these series, for the very different narratives and characters they bring to the table, even if they did only last four or five issues a piece. Obviously the most high-stakes story lies with God Emperor Doom, the central figure that has cobbled all these realms of Battleworld together, but it’s been fun to branch out and explore series I might not have otherwise been so keen on investing the time and money into.

Age of Apocalypse still has one issue remaining in its 2015 reimagining. Meanwhile, Armor Wars (2015), Ghost Racers, Guardians of Knowhere, X-Men ’92, and Inhumans: Attilan Rising have all come to a close. I’ve already posted my review for Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies, which concluded last month, and which you can read here. As for the other previously mentioned series, expect reviews for them to gradually trickle out between now and the end of October.

The mid-1990s run of the original Age of Apocalypse will resume as my priority reading material. Expect reviews of the first and second numbered trade paperback releases soon. I also plan to post (somewhat long-overdue) reviews for the fifth volume of the Marvel NOW! Nova series, as well as Thanos: The Infinity Relativity, and I recently completed the third trade paperback volume of Captain Marvel. Beyond those, I will likely pick up the sixth volume of Nova, and the fifth volume of Guardians of the Galaxy later this Fall. There may also be a few odd additions to my comic book library that I purchase at this weekend’s Grand Rapids Comic-Con. Either way, expect all of the comics listed above to be among the last series I will be reading and writing reviews for between now and December 31st, as I believe that a reasonable stack for this one-man production to appropriately cover in the months that remain before year's end.

Monday, October 12, 2015

3DS review: Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D

Metal Gear Solid 3, the tale of how Naked Snake set out on the path to become Big Boss, and the effective starting point of the entire Metal Gear legacy, received a 3DS port early in the handheld’s life cycle. Much like Star Fox 64 3D, Ocarina of Time 3D, and Majora’s Mask 3D, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D is taken directly from its console version and reworked to fit the control scheme of the 3DS. However, unlike those other 3DS re-releases, Snake Eater 3D does not see any graphical upgrades from the Playstation 2 original. Which is not to say that the game is any less aesthetically pleasing or immersive than ten years ago, when it debuted – the jungles are lush and dense with greenery, the animals active, and the wandering patrols a constant threat to Snake’s location being exposed. The frame rate does, unfortunately, dip a bit during cutscenes where there are many characters or events on screen at the same time. Gameplay, however, is never hampered by this.

The touch screen is utilized wonderfully, as the stylus can be used to easily access Snake’s codec, medical supplies, and food items. Weapons and items have also been relegated to the touch screen, and nine of each can be set to be on-hand at any given time, while another icon allows you to swap those out with additional items that Snake picks up and stores in his supply pack. This cuts down significantly on switching up Snake’s loadouts, which were previously managed via a scroll wheel on the PS2 and HD Collection releases.

Snake can also draw his weapons and put them away with a press of the right shoulder button. However, a simple tap of the shoulder button will not suffice – you have to hold it down for a brief second, otherwise the input may not take. Given the stealth-heavy nature of Snake Eater 3D, this rarely proves problematic, save for a couple of the boss fights, wherein it can be mildly frustrating as you dodge attacks and attempt to quickly react to Snake’s supernaturally-powered foes. While not necessary for playing Snake Eater 3D, the 3DS’ Circle Pad Pro attachment is highly recommended for anyone already familiar with the button and joystick layouts on the home console releases. All in all, though, despite being a port of a game that whose original release was never designed with a handheld in mind, Snake Eater 3D runs very well on the system, and the new control scheme is handled wonderfully – far better than some would have suspected.

The voice acting is, of course, just as great as it was a decade ago on the PS2. David Hayter’s iconic Snake voice keeps players company for the majority of the adventure, with humor from support members Major Zero and Para-Medic often flying right over his head. Suzetta Minet portrays the sultry and quick-witted EVA, Neil Ross puts forth a commanding performance as sadistic villain Colonel Volgin, while Josh Keaton’s depiction of a young Ocelot is one of a lovable try-hard who often slips up in his own attempts to impress his superiors. A few new sequences of dialogue have been added to this 3DS release, covering the updated control scheme. All of the spoken dialogue, as well as the iconic soundtrack and titular theme song, come across clear and clean through the 3DS’ speakers.

Equally memorable to the voice work in Snake Eater 3D are the boss encounters with the members of the Cobra Unit. They remain as intense and varied as ever, seeing no alterations from their PS2 counterparts. More seasoned veterans of the Metal Gear series will likely opt for as stealthy a playthrough as possible, maximizing their camouflage percentage by pairing patterns and face paint to the surrounding environment to better avoid detection. The 3DS' camera can be utilized to make new camo patterns for Snake, though these are not as complex in nature as the game's pre-loaded camo options, and will always default to registering as the most prominent color within the picture that was taken, ignoring any less prominent colors that are a part of that same image.

For those new to the Metal Gear play style, there are plenty of weapons beyond the default silenced tranquilizer pistol that can be found in the jungle, including an AK-47, a short-barrel shotgun, an SDV sniper rifle, and a more lethal handgun, to name a few - just don't expect a warm welcome from Volgin's GRU forces if you fire loudly in their direction. Plenty of additional items and food rations can be missed, should you choose not to devote time to exploration. The 3DS' gyroscope is briefly used to balance Snake on branches and bridges, while the hidden collect-a-thon Kerotan statues have been replaced with the likeness of Mario’s green pal Yoshi.

A first time playthrough of Snake Eater 3D will likely push close to the twenty hour mark, while players who have beaten Snake Eater in the past and simply want a quick retread can finish the game in less than fifteen. Snake Eater 3D does see a few technical hang-ups, and some very minor control oversights, but more often than not it excels as yet another great handheld port of a console classic in the 3DS' library. And at the end of the day, it remains the greatest Metal Gear story ever told.

My rating: 8.75 (out of 10)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Top 5 Comic Books of 2014

Though I only started posting my comic reviews to this blog earlier this year, I first started uploading them to my YouTube channel back in 2012, beginning with Y: The Last Man and Saga. However, they did not become a regular part of my channel’s uploads until 2014, and that year saw quite a few video reviews. Below are my picks for the five best comic books that I read last year. Rest assured, I will be posting a list of the five best comic books I’ve read in 2015 this December, but I first wanted to go back and give credit where credit is due on last year’s reads. (Note: in the same vein as my year-end top five lists for best video games and anime, not all of these comic books were actually released in 2014, rather they were comic books that I read between January and December of 2014.)

#5 – Nova (volumes 1-3): One of the strongest runs in the Marvel NOW! series, Nova carries on many of the themes that drew me to the Spider-Man comics years ago, before the webslinger’s plotlines became so convoluted and of a sub-par quality. Picking up the mantle of Richard Rider and the now-annihilated Nova Corps, young Sam Alexander slowly familiarizes himself with the cosmic powers of becoming a human rocket. Sam is a wonderfully likeable kid – he stumbles in the company of long-established heroes like Beta Ray Bill and Rocket Raccoon, he has to balance the cosmic adventures of heroism with his school studies and helping his mom with household chores, and he’s willing to admit his faults and learn from them to become better as the new Nova one day at a time.

#4 – Annihilation: The first major pillar of Marvel’s mid-2000s cosmic renaissance, Annihilation lays the foundation for the eventual formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the tensions that would lead to the War of Kings breaking out, and the eventual invasion from the Cancerverse in The Thanos Imperative. Annihilation opts to place some of Marvel’s stranger cosmic heroes and villains in the spotlight, with tales centered on Drax the Destroyer, last surviving Nova Corps member Richard Rider, shamed warrior Super Skrull, lawful extremist Ronan the Accuser, and the many heralds of Galactus. Annihilus and his insectoid army seek to devour everything in the galaxy, and with the events of Civil War playing out on Earth, Richard Rider must (reluctantly) step up to the plate as the champion and leader the galaxy needs during one of their darkest hours.

#3 – Inhumans: One of Marvel’s more bizarre cultures, The Inhumans’ future-tech and medieval hierarchy saw a revival in the late 1990s. This series, spearheaded by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee, focuses on the Inhuman society and the way the royal family keeps the city of Attilan in order, far away from the prying eyes of mankind and other superhumans. The Terrigen Mists proves a weird, but compelling rite of passage for young Inhumans once they reach maturity, and what lies in the future of each Inhuman is a greater unknown factor than even the mutants of The X-Men face on a regular basis. This Inhumans series is brilliant for its uncompromising choice to focus almost exclusively on its titular culture – Reed Richards and Namor both have minor cameos, but the remaining ninety-five percent of this story is focused on conveying just how secretive the lives of the Inhumans are, and what desperate measures a gun-jumping military division will go to in order to try and topple the fabled city of Attilan.

#2 – Venom: Reinventing one of Spider-Man’s most popular villains/rivals is no small task, and the Flash Thompson-led series (penned by Rick Remender, and later Cullen Bunn) is a bold new vision for the symbiote soldier that pays off in spades. Having returned from his military service, and having lost both of his legs in the line of duty, Flash Thompson spends many of his nights emptying bottles of alchohol, until he is presented with a highly-classified opportunity to make use of the Venom symbiote’s powers as a black-ops super soldier. Flash is sent in to the most hostile of hot zones, ordered to rescue civilians caught in the cross fire and quash enemy forces, but it isn’t long before he discovers the involvement of sadistic supervillain Jack O’Lantern, and subsequently picks up a thread that will eventually lead him to a criminal organization so closely tied to the missions Venom is tasked with putting an end to. Venom is very smart in its writing, and hones in on the difficult balance of Flash Thompson’s personal life and romance with Betty Brant, with his tactical operations as Agent Venom, ever-aware of the fact that his employers have placed a kill-switch on him in the event that the Symbiote gains control and runs rampant. Venom is one of the best examples of Marvel taking a character of relatively minor importance, rounding them out, and giving them their own series wherein they are not only consistently human and imperfect in nature, but where they emerge to stand so tall in the company of long-established heroes and villains.

#1 – Age of Ultron: An alternate history where Ultron bested the Avengers in one fell swoop, few heroes remain to challenge the vengeful A.I. The remaining Marvel heroes are battered, beaten, and have practically no plans for taking down Ultron, until Captain America comes up with a desperate plan. I found the cast of Age of Ultron a wonderful mix of the more mainstream heroes and some of the less iconic Marvel characters. Age of Ultron does not present a ‘who’s who’ of the most physically powerful of characters in Marvel history, rather a collective of the most quick-witted and capable during the descending mechanical apocalypse, or those who simply lucked out in not being at the epicenter of Ultron’s attack. Gone are Hulk, Thor, three members of the Fantastic Four, and the majority of the X-Men. Tony Stark’s sanity begins to slip, Cap’s faith in his own leadership abilities waver, and an uneasy alliance is struck between Red Hulk, Black Panther, and Taskmaster. Age of Ultron paints a bleak picture, a seemingly unwinnable scenario, and the extreme measures that these heroes are willing to go in order to return the world to some semblance of its state prior to Ultron’s takeover.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Comic Book review: Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, Volume One: Priceless

When Marvel acquired the rights to Angela, formerly a character from Image’s Spawn comics, they chose to place her in the company of the Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a bold move, to be sure, but she felt right at home in that cosmic setting. Angela was hell on legs, able to best most of the Guardians in battle before befriending them, and carrying on a flirtatious rivalry with Gamora. It was a gamble that paid off in spades, as Angela was able to flourish in her own identity, playing off the Guardians wonderfully, while still feeling as though there was plenty of potential for development down the road.

Enter Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, a series wherein Angela is the main character, rediscovering her Asgardian roots, and quickly finding herself on the run from her long-lost brothers Odinson and Loki. Her crime? Stealing her younger sister, eventual heir to the Asgardian throne, and leaping through the nine realms with the baby in tow. Also in Angela’s company is Sera, a former angel who lived not unlike a monk among the few male angels before leaving on her adventures with Angela. At some point before the start of this first volume, Sera was killed, only to be mysteriously resurrected, and Angela’s desire to know why and how Sera returned to the land of the living serves as a secondary mystery.

There is a lot going on in this first trade paperback volume – too much, in fact. While Odinson and Loki are shown as the initial pursuers, some of the forces of Hel also chase after Angela, Sera, and the baby, while the story flashes back every so often to Asgard to explore Odin and his views on this very complicated family reunion. Yet, there is actually quite a limited amount of time spent in Heven. Only during the last couple of chapters do Angela and Sera actually enter the realm of the Angels, a place which boasts more future-tech than myth and magic. Given how significant a change-up to the previously-established nine realms this new tenth one is, Marvel could have easily devoted an entire trade paperback volume solely to Angela’s roots and the history of the angels.

Angela’s portrayal sees an odd reversal from how she was depicted in the Guardians of the Galaxy comics. She’s still willing to cut down anyone who challenges her, but has lost much of the ferocity she was once known and feared for. Instead, she preaches the system of repayment that the angels apparently base all of their actions around – if someone asks her for a favor, Angela will oblige, but only after reminding them that they must eventually offer her something of a similar value (whether said offering is a physical object or action). It’s an interesting concept, but one that wholly contradicts her presentation in the Guardians comics.

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin is quite heavily steeped in the mythos of the Thor comics, and current events from Odinson’s life. The Thor comics have long existed within their own sphere, to a certain degree, separate from the more closely-interwoven storylines of Avengers members, the X-Men, and most of the other Earth-based heroes. The same can be said of cosmic Marvel – much as Nova, Captain Marvel, and the Guardians of the Galaxy might cross paths with one another, Asgardians tend to stick to the realm of might and magic, save for Thor’s frequent team-ups with Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and the other core Avengers members. Nine times out of ten, there is so much lore at play in the Thor comics that it is difficult, even discouraging for newcomers to jump on board, and while Angela: Asgard’s Assassin is not quite as explicit an offender in this regard, there is still a decent portion of backstory that is barely even glossed over, with the assumption that readers are up to speed on recent Asgardian history.

Angela does earn herself a radical new outfit by the end of this trade paperback collection, and the action sequences are plenty exciting to look at. But as a character, Angela performs best when she receives the spotlight for more than just violent actions. Future storylines centered around this fallen angel will prove far better if their narratives are not so restricted to the current events of the Asgardians.

My rating: 6 (out of 10)
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