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Ultimate Spider-Man #73

July 2, 2012 Leave a comment

March 4, 2005

Quick Rating: Fair
Title: Hobgoblin Part 2

What has Harry been up to?

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Scott Hanna
Colors: J.D. Smith
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Cover Art: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics

When this book is on, it’s one of the best comic books on the market. Unfortunately, it isn’t on this issue. Ultimate Spider-Man #73 is a perfect example of how this title sometimes misfires. There’s nothing wrong with it, there’s nothing in here that’s bad, it’s just that the events in these 22 pages in no way were deserving of an entire issue to tell.

This issue, we flashback to where Harry Osborn has been since leaving the cast of this title many moons ago. That’s it. The entire issue is a Harry flashback that shows where he’s been, what he’s been up to, how he’s been on the sidelines of some of the other events we’ve seen, and how much he may or may not remember. This is all good information. This is all important information for the story. But by the end of this issue, absolutely nothing has changed in the status quo, the story hasn’t progressed one iota. This information would have been far better served worked into another issue with actual plot progression.

Mark Bagley, as always, does a great job on the artwork. We get to see his rendition of Nick Fury and a return of the Green Goblin, plus some recreations of earlier scenes in this series and in the lackluster Ultimate Six. He does a lot with very little story.

Brian Michael Bendis is a good writer, and it’s a relief to hear that this title will be slacking back on the ridiculous number of issues that were put out last year, but since it will finally be on a sane release schedule, it’s even more important that each issue move the plot forward. This one just doesn’t measure up.

Rating: 6/10

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Avengers Vs. X-Men #2

June 18, 2012 Leave a comment

June 5, 2012

Title: Round 2

Story: Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction
Script:
Jason Aaron
Pencils:
John Romita Jr.
Inks:
Scott Hanna
Letters:
Chris Eliopoulos
Colors:
Laura Martin
Cover Art:
Jim Cheung & Laura Martin
Editor:
Tom Brevoort
Publisher:
Marvel Comics

With the Phoenix Force returning to Earth, Hope Summers seems to be the logical candidate for its chosen host. The Avengers have come to Utopia so that Captain America can ask Cyclops to turn the girl over into their custody. Cyclops isn’t having any of that, though, and this issue, war breaks out.

This issue is almost entirely action – it’s the Avengers vs. the X-Men, just as the title of the book promises. On that front, at least, it delivers. There’s a lot of fighting and a lot of property damage and a lot of hero-on-hero violence as the characters draw their sides and decide quickly who’s going to fight who. Some of this is fairly logical – Doctor Strange battling Magik, for instance, or Quicksilver heading straight in to trade blows with his father, Magneto.

The problem is still that the whole book is lacking in logical sense. Cyclops seemed ready for a fight long before Captain America arrived, and the rest of the X-Men with him. Captain America came in with an entire helicarrier full of Avengers. The thing that just doesn’t make sense, though, is why. Given the number of times these characters have worked together in the past, the notion that these two heroes would go in expecting a battle, having basically decided that negotiation is not an option, is absurd. There’s never any chance that this issue could be talked out, because Captain America comes in with his big guns and Cyclops is already waiting to throw a punch from the moment he arrives. This issue, which basically just follows the violence, is notable only for a pretty effective scene where it becomes clear exactly what Wolverine’s priorities are. Although he’s not the only character to have a foot in both the Avenger and X-Men camps, he’s probably the most interesting one, and it’s not hard to see this entire miniseries shaking out to be the ultimate Wolverine showcase.

John Romita Jr., as I’ve said before, is a strong artist, but not particularly suited for large-scale cosmic events like this one. He’s more of a street level artist, and the way the moments of big power fall flat here makes that clear.

After two issues, I already feel like this miniseries – one I hoped would escape the problems of Civil War, is simply doomed to repeat them.

Rating: 6/10

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

April 14, 2012

Story: Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction
Script:
Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils:
John Romita Jr.
Inks:
Scott Hanna
Letters:
Chris Eliopoulos
Colors:
Laura Martin
Cover Art:
Jim Cheung & Justin Ponsor
Editor:
Tom Brevoort
Publisher:
Marvel Comics

The Phoenix Force is coming to Earth, and the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe are about to go to war over it. I’ve said before that I like the basic idea behind this event. There’s a natural conflict here. Captain America sees a force of globally-devastating power headed to Earth and wants to stop it. Cyclops sees a force that may well be able to reverse the devastation of the mutant race the Scarlet Witch caused on M Day. And in fact, they’re both right.

The execution, however, is very flawed. The scene with Cap and Cyclops, where all this is spelled out, is clunky and overwritten. Scott is spoiling for a fight at the outset, which I suppose isn’t totally out of character for him these days, but still feels off in the presentation.

Wolverine actually comes off best here. As a member of both teams, he’s got his own conflict to deal with… not to mention the personal relationship he had with Jean Grey and the fact that he’s seen firsthand just how destructive the Phoenix Force can be. If there’s anyone here who can legitimately seem divided, it’s him.

I’m not terribly pleased with John Romita Jr.‘s work on this issue either. I’ve always liked his work on street-level heroes like Spider-Man and Daredevil, but when he goes for the big-scale cosmic stuff, it doesn’t really. Work there are two large panels here – Hope blasting Cyclops, Cyclops blasting Cap – that feel very similar, but that both look like they could have been accomplished better. Different lines, different colors, I don’t know exactly, but they failed to excite me the way they should have.

It’s not a terrible book, but it’s a weak opening to an event that should have kicked off with a bang.

Rating: 6/10

Ultimate Spider-Man #72

March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

February 5, 2005

Quick Rating: Good
Title: Hobgoblin Part One

Harry Osborn is back… this can’t be good for Peter Parker

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Scott Hanna
Colors: J.D. Smith
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Cover Art: Mark Bagley & Richard Isanove
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the three two-issue stories that just wrapped up, but this issue of Ultimate Spider-Man felt really, really slow to me. Fresh from his horrifying encounter with Doctor Strange, a new horror enters Spider-Man’s life… the return of his former best friend, Harry Osborn, son of the Green Goblin.

The book starts by recapping the events from the very first issue of the title, where Peter Parker got his powers in the first place, then goes on to reveal some other events that went on that day that neither Pete nor the reader were aware of – events that are coming back to bite us now. Peter is still jittery, pushing away his girlfriend after having the fear of losing her instilled last issue, and having the son of his worst enemy, who also happens to know his secret identity, return to his life at just this moment makes for a devastating blow.

Brian Michael Bendis’s characterization and dialogue are as good as ever, and the added scenes don’t feel like a cop-out, wedged in to create tension now, like a lot of sudden reveal flashbacks do. It’s also nice to see that the quick stories that just wrapped up did not happen in a vacuum – although the Dr. Strange story isn’t specifically referenced, anyone who read the last two issues knows exactly where Pete’s sudden attitude shift comes from, and sympathizes even as you want to yell at his to wise up.

The problem, like I said, is the pacing. Quite often, the six-issue arcs of this title feel padded, and it’s a bad sign when I get that sensation from the first issue in the arc. This felt like half an issue, not a full one, and that disturbs me quite a bit.

Mark Bagley remains the king of Spider-Man artwork. Although there’s not a lot of action in this issue, the brief fight scene is handled well, and it’s interesting to note how much the characters have evolved visually since the beginning of the series, even if it’s just as simple as removing a pair of glasses and changing a character’s posture.

A good issue, as Ultimate Spider-Man always serves up. But one that felt like there should have been more here, a problem this title suffers from far too frequently.

Rating: 7/10

Ultimate Spider-Man #71

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

January 21, 2005

Quick Rating: Great
Title: Strange Part Two

With Spider-Man trapped in his own nightmares, only Dr. Strange can save him.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Scott Hanna
Colors: J.D. Smith
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Cover Art: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Last issue, Peter took Mary Jane on their long-planned fancy date… or so he thought. It turned out that he was trapped in a nightmare state created by a demon luring in the young Dr. Strange. Now, trapped in his own worst fears, Spider-Man is out of the picture, and Strange has to save him, in order to save the world.

It was a good move of Bendis to take time out for three two-issue “guest star” arcs, and this is easily the strongest of the three. Peter himself doesn’t really do much in this issue, but the tour of his nightmares casts a lot of light on the character. Strange, meanwhile, is a revelation. We’re so used to seeing the mainstream Marvel Dr. Strange, the cool, experienced sorcerer ready for any situation. This is totally different – it’s that experienced sorcerer’s son, and he’s still learning the ropes. When’s the last time you had to watch Dr. Strange look up a spell?

Also, unlike those other two arcs, this is one that looks like it’s going to have a lasting impact on the title. Peter is hurt this issue, scarred deeply in his soul, and it’s not a wound that will quickly heal.

Bagley, Hanna and Smith really outdo themselves with the artwork on this issue. I’m not sure exactly how they do it, but at one point the artwork in the nightmare sequences does a total shift to a bizarre, dreamlike state unlike anything else we’ve ever seen this title. It sets the darkness apart, and it works perfectly.

The short arcs were a welcome respite from the long – sometimes overly-long – series that usually dominate this title, but now that we’re charged up, I think we can handle a longer story again. Next issue: the Hobgoblin.

This should be interesting.

Rating: 9/10

Ultimate Spider-Man #70

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

December 16, 2004

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Strange

Peter gets a night out with Mary Jane after a hard day on the job.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Scott Hanna
Colors: J.D. Smith
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Cover Art: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel

This issue starts out simply enough, with Peter Parker sitting down for a well-deserved dinner with Mary Jane, but the dinner quickly takes a back seat to his story of a long day in the webs. He helped out the Ultimates only to get nothing to show for it, then wound up stumbling into a confrontation with Dr. Strange that wound up being a lot weirder than it seemed.

This is the first appearance (to my knowledge) of Dr. Strange outside of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, and unlike some of the characters who appeared in that series, this issue seems to harken back to it, although not to such a degree that people who didn’t read it will be lost. In fact, the issue gives us a perfect recap of Strange’s origin, which fans of the main Marvel Universe will find familiar, but with a clever twist.

The ending of this book is a clever twist too. Just as we’re getting to the end of what seems like a relatively quiet done-in-one issue, we get blown out of the water by a last-second surprise. With these three guest-star story arcs, Bendis has finally gotten away from drawn-out, overly padded stories and is telling quick arcs with either a lot of action, a lot of character development, or both.

Bagley has gotten to branch out with this arc, doing as good a job with the Ultimates as he does regularly with Spidey, and pulling out some nice mystical visuals for the scenes with Dr. Strange. Some of the early pages are a little awkward, as the flashback begins with Bendis’s semi-regular trick of having wordless panels with a running commentary down the side of the page, then he switches to more conventional storytelling a few pages in, and the flow is disrupted.

Overall, a good issue. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of months of Ultimate Spider-Man. I just hope the creators can keep up the momentum once the book goes back to longer story arcs.

Rating: 8/10

Ultimate Spider-Man #69

September 24, 2011 Leave a comment

November 19, 2004

Quick Rating: Great
Title: Meet Me

Spider-Man’s got a new mission – help the Human Torch.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Scott Hanna
Colors: J.D. Smith & Chris Sotomayor
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Cover Art: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The conclusion of Spider-Man’s first encounter with the Human Torch may stand to go down as one of the best issues of this title ever. Brian Michael Bendis pulls a very clever reversal on one of the earliest meetings between the characters in the regular Marvel universe. (Anyone else remember how the Torch helped an unwitting Peter Parker bounce back from getting his butt handed to him by Dr. Octopus? Remember that.)

Last issue, Johnny Storm tried his hand at being a normal high school student, even joining Pete and MJ on a double date with Liz Allen. But things fell apart when he accidentally caught a flame from their beach bonfire. This issue picks up a few seconds later. Liz is panicking, Peter is confused and Johnny is crestfallen.

The Spider-Man/Torch dynamic is one of the all-time great friendships in the Marvel universe, and this issue goes a long way towards establishing that here as well. The book is basically a very strong character study, mostly of the Torch, but also of Peter in that he finds a way to make a difference that doesn’t involve putting his life on the line for a change. Bendis, as always, succeeds with strong characters, snappy dialogue and funny moments that help to lighten up the more serious bits.

Mark Bagley, as always, is in great form with the artwork. He and the colorists, Smith and Sotomayor, give a really strong look to the Torch. The character has come a long way, visually, from the days where he would flame on into a form with no face, no detail and bizarre pinstripes that appeared out of nowhere. There’s a little action in this issue, but it’s mostly talking heads, and Bagley still manages to keep the book strong and keep the story flowing.

Next up, Pete meets Dr. Strange – hopefully, though, this friendship will come back around again, because it’s one that always has a lot of storytelling potential.

Rating: 9/10