A password will be e-mailed to you.

Hi, I’ve decided to catch up on some comic books. Part 1 is here. You should read that first.

This is Part 2.

BONUS: Marvel just made the first issue of a bunch of these titles free.

Back in the 80s and 90s, when I was a stupid little faggot (see, we used to say that in the 80s and 90s, because, we were *all* stupid), I obsessively collected Marvel comics, believing Todd McFarlane’s work on Spider-Man to be on par with the Renaissance artists… whom I was only familiar with because of the Ninja Turtles. But alas, I eventually discovered Fantagraphics and other indie publishers, realized girls didn’t give a shit about polybagged X-Force #1s with gold-foil covers, and never really looked back. But my love for the characters never waned, and I was just as excited for Iron Man 3 this year as I would have been if I was 14.

banner

In October 2012 Marvel comics began their Marvel NOW! initiative, a large scale creative relaunch that saw long running series end, new personnel assigned to books, and a bunch of #1 issues published. Joe Quesada, Chief Creative Officer at Marvel, explained that it wasn’t a reboot exactly, but that there will be “a lot of changes to the character status-quos, alter egos, costumes, creator shifts, design shifts, the way that we do our covers, digital shifts and the way we start delivering our books”. OK, probably just a marketing ploy, but whatever, sounds like a good way to jump back in.

This post is for people like me, who used to read Marvel comics but haven’t in years, or for people that have only seen the Avengers movies. The Marvel NOW! graphic novel collections have now all been released, and I am purchasing and reviewing every single one to let you know if super hero comics are as much dumb fun as I remember, or if you shouldn’t waste any time looking at pictures of grown men wearing spandex punching each other:

captain-america

Captain America, Vol. 1
Castaway In Dimension Z, Book 1
Collecting Issues #1-5
Available in hardcover from Amazon for $18.29
(includes digital edition)

I was really digging the title of this one before I even cracked it open, it reminded me of some early 80s Roger Corman B-movie. And well, it sort of is. Except not terrible. The Cap’n get’s thrown shield-first into a sprawling sci-fi adventure with a great vintage vibe to it, but dead serious and brutal at the same time. Like Cormac McCarthy meets Jack Kirby. I don’t want to give away any additional plot details, cause there are a lot of surprises and cliffhangers in this one.  If you’re not a big Captain America fan (I wasn’t) it doesn’t matter, by the end you’ll have blisters from all the salutin’.

captain-strip
bullseye

The art is by John Romita, Jr, who has been around forever, and while it’s not gonna win any awards, he does have a unique style and the coloring is great, so it all works really well. Definitely one of the most enjoyable Marvel NOW! titles to date. It would make a great Captain America 3.

5 Stars out of 5

deadpool

Deadpool, Vol. 1
Dead Presidents
Collecting Issues #1-6
Available in paperback from Amazon for $12.80

I was there when Deadpool was first introduced in the early 90s, and probably even drew some super shitty pictures of him in my sketchbook, but he was easily forgotten as just another one of Rob Liefeld’s ridiculous pouch adorned creations. Over the years though I had heard how he became this cult fave, who broke the 4th wall and told jokes and stuff, so I was excited to delve into my first Deadpool 2.0 experience. Especially cause it was written by Brian Posehn, a comedian who is OK, and covers drawn by Geof Darrow, whose work with Frank Miller on Hard Boiled in the early 90s was maybe the best thing ever.

deadpool-stripdumb

Unfortunately this Deadpool book is pretty lame. The jokes and gore might be funny if I was a teenager, but the whole thing just felt tedious and cheap. It reads like a glorified MAD Magazine. I’ll give it an extra star for the Arrested Development reference though, but I’m not picking up Vol 2.

2 Stars out of 5

avengers

Avengers, Vol. 1
Avengers World
Collecting Issues #1-6
Available in hardcover from Amazon for $19.35
(includes digital edition)
and paperback for $13.40

Well, I really didn’t care for The Uncanny Avengers, so I was hoping this movie Avengers lineup would fare better. And it did. The story is epic in scope, involving ancient alien races, world building/destroying technobabble, trips to Mars, and big bold dramatic statements. In fact, there is a great first page “Previously On The Avengers” which depicts the creation of the Universe. I liked all this. But it can be a little disjointed at times. I actually had to read it twice and I’m still not sure I understand what’s going on. Adding to the confusion is that Cap and Tony decide they need The Avengers to get bigger, so they recruit dozens of new members. Some we know and love (Spider-Man, Wolverine) and some we are clueless about (Manifold, Shang-Chi). There is an unknown, possibly omniscient, third person Avengers narrator throughout, often recalling weighty previous events in these characters history that I know nothing about. But it all sort of works in the end. Kind of like that movie Syriana. I didn’t need to be familiar with the whole back story when the narrator casually drops “…when The Guard were broken on the dead moon” to get emotionally involved when he says stuff like “It started with an idea. The spark that started the fire was expansion. Out Captain spoke, and gave the idea form. He said the words, and made it real. He said… Assemble at dawn. Assemble at dawn. And how could we not? We were Avengers.” Right on. Makes me want to go karate kick my pillow right in the face.

avengers-strip
superman… er, i mean hyperion vs. hulk

The art in the first three issues is striking, it has a beautiful painted look. There are some fun graphic design elements as well. The artist switches up for the next three issues, and while it’s not as interesting, it’s still great.

There is a big twist at the end that only comic nerds got, but I’m still looking forward to Vol 2.

4 Stars out of 5

iron-man

Iron Man, Vol. 1
Believe
Collecting Issues #1-5
Available in hardcover from Amazon for $17.06
(includes digital edition)
and paperback for $15.13

Iron Man! Everyone loves Iron Man! But I never read Iron Man as a kid (although I was of course familiar with the character), so my love is really of Rob Jr. This Iron Man is not Rob Jr. First of all he looks like Ricky Ricardo, Gilbert Gottfried, a goatee, and some botox had a four-way love child. Second, well, I guess there is no way he can live up no matter what. So we’ll just have to deal with it. And the art gets better when he’s in the suit. The guy can draw robots pretty well. The coloring is a little weird though, it looks very computery, but kinda 90s computery, hold on, let’s look at the credits and see who did it… GURU-eFX. OK, that explains it. But hey, we’re not just here for the pictures, we’re reading the articles too. The Extremis code/virus (remember Iron Man 3?) is out on the loose, and in each issue Tony dons a specialized Iron Man suit to get it back. Basically the same story 5 times. Then at the end Tony decides he should live in space and makes a new space suit with 1960s James Bond jet pack thrusters and a helmet with a frowny face. What?

iron-man-stripyour face doesn’t make sense

You know, I thought I liked this book more before I had to write a review, but I’m realizing now it really isn’t very good, feel free to skip. I’ll still pick up Vol 2 though to see where Space Tony takes us.

2 Stars out of 5

xmenlegacy X-Men Legacy, Vol. 1
Prodigal
Collecting Issues #1-6
Available in paperback from Amazon for $12.60

OK, so this whole book focuses on Professor X’s son, Legion. I don’t think I had ever heard of this character, but I’m now a fan. He has infinite powers locked up in his mind and constantly struggles to keep them under control, and I guess he’s had a little bit of a troubled history straddling between good and evil.

x-men-legacy-striphbloork indeed!

The book handles this in a creative way, the art is stylized and fun, there are a lot of funny moments, and the fact that I liked it so much devoid of any nostalgia tinted bias proves it’s one of the stronger titles in the Marvel NOW! launch.

4 Stars out of 5

cable-xforce Cable & X-Force, Vol. 1
Wanted
Collecting Issues #1-5
Available in paperback from Amazon for $14.15

I must own at least 15 copies of 1991’s X-Force #1.  Millions of kids were tricked into buying multiple copies of this polybagged nightmare, little did we know that anything marketed as a collector’s item never is. Artist Rob Liefeld was like a rock star at the time. He even was in a Levi’s commercial and went on to form Image comics. Looking back at his terrible artwork and unreadable garbage it makes me embarrassed that I ever thought this shit was cool.  So I went in to this new X-Force a negatron.

cable-stripcable has a sense of humor

But, I have to admit, it was pretty awesome. The team consists of 90s X-Force staples like Domino and the leader Cable, whom I remember having a lot of pouches, plus the X-Man Colossus, and some dudes I don’t know. One of them is named Doctor Nemesis though which is pretty bad ass. The book is gritty, with really really gorgeous art and coloring and a fun hesity / outlaw X-men story. Get it.

4 Stars out of 5

thunderbolts Thunderbolts, Vol. 1
No Quarter
Collecting Issues #1-6
Available in paperback from Amazon for $14.15

What is up with this one? OK, it features a team of anti-heroes including The Punisher, Elektra, Deadpool, Red Hulk (Betty Ross’s dad Thunderbolt Ross, played by William Hurt in the movie, who is now a Hulk too), and Venom. I was confused for a while about Venom, him being my favorite 90s Spider-Man villain created by my hero Todd McFarlane, as he was now sort-of a good guy and his costume looked different. Well after a little Wikipedia I figured out this is actually Flash Thompson(!), Peter Parker’s best bud(!), with a little bit of Venom symboite that he can control or something(?). Whatever, point is, anti-heroes with red and black colored costumes kicking ass. Sounds fun, right? It’s not. First, the art. It’s bad. Just so so bad. It’s like Elfquest fan art from a teenager in the 70s.

thunderbolts-strip
see what i mean?  omg

The violence is super exaggerated and juvenile. Blood is drawn like thick goo. It’s so off putting I could barely get through this thing. I barely even remember what happened as the story was a convoluted mess. I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. Moving on.

1 Star out of 5

avengers-arena Avengers Arena, Vol. 1
Kill or Die
Collecting Issues #1-6
Available in paperback from Amazon for $12.90

As you may have guessed from the Battle Royale homage cover, this story cashes in on the Hunger Games craze, with a bunch of teen superheros I know nothing about getting trapped on an island and forced to fight to the death for the amusement of late 70s ridiculous super-villain Arcade. They fully acknowledge they’re ripping this idea off, “got the idea from a couple kids’ books I read in the pen…,” so it’s all OK. Since Marvel isn’t one to keep characters dead for very long, it’s a pretty safe bet that this is all some simulation or dream or whatever.

avengers-arena-strip
that’s what you get for making fun of arcade

But none of this diminishes the enjoyment of this book, it’s a thoroughly entertaining read, full of drama, humor, teenage romance, pop culture references, and wanton violence. And the art is some of the best in the entire Marvel NOW! launch. Definitely a good pick for non-comic fans and maybe my second favorite after Hawkeye.

5 Stars out of 5

spiderman Superior Spider-Man, Vol. 1
My Own Worst Enemy
Collecting Issues #1-5
Available in paperback from Amazon for $14.32
Now also available in hardcover
which also includes theAmazing Spider-Man #698-700 for $28.92

Spider-Man was my jam back in the day. I was ready to dive back in. I had caught wind of some major changes to the character (we even covered it on BYT) prior to the Marvel NOW! launch with the 700th and final issue of my beloved The Amazing Spider-Man series. So I had to do a little catching up via torrents before cracking this one open, I would normally say spoiler alert here but I doubt anyone cares at this point. Side note, the cover of the 700th issue was actually a call back to the 300th issue, which I bought on the comic rack at the Giant with my mom. It made me feel old.

So here’s the backstory: Spidey’s arch-nemesis Doctor Octopus is dying of osteoporosis or something and switches brains with Peter Parker via some silly consciousness switching doodad. They have one last battle, and just when you think everything is gonna be OK, Doc Ock dies with the web crawler trapped inside. Meaning Spider-Man is now actually Doc Ock. Fanboys scream out in outrage everywhere. BUT – Otto still has access to Parker’s memories, and basically has lived both lives now, so he learns that with great power comes great responsibility yadda yadda. He can’t help himself, he has to be a hero, not a villain. End scene.

This series kicks off with the bad doctor taking advantage of Peter Parker’s fabulous lifestyle; young, powerful, handsome, etc. Otto believes that with his intellect he can become a superior Spider-Man. He adds claws (?) to the costume, Google Glass to the mask, and a bunch of efficient technology to stop crime like a champ. But he’s still a creepy old mad scientist super villain at the same time. The premise is ridiculous and basically shits on everything that makes Spider-Man an interesting character, but who cares, there have been like 10 bajillion Peter Parker as Spider-Man stories written over the past 50 years.

spiderman-strip
pervy old dude

The art is great, and while I was on board with the whole crazy plot, things started to get annoying when the “soul” of Peter Parker shows up as a blue ghost and basically whines the whole time as Otto kisses his girlfriends and nails it on the super-heroing front. It’s still a fun read and it will be interesting to see where they take it.

3 Stars out of 5

thor Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 1
The God Butcher
Collecting Issues #1-5
Available in hardcover from Amazon for $18.59
(includes digital edition)
Now also available in paperback for $14.69

Is Thor entertaining when he is just flying around Thor land being Thor? Do we care if it’s not a fish out of water story? Do we even like Thor, or just his brother? I was thinking no, but this title proved me wrong. It’s a mystery story spanning eons, cutting back and forth between a young naive hammer-less Thor, the Avengers Thor of today, and old man Thunder. The writing is appropriately grandiose and the painted style of the art is a great fit. Occasionally there are some oddly drawn panels, but for the most part it’s really solid. And the new villain is creepy as hell (see his handiwork below).

thor-strip
Thor thinks in Thor font

You don’t need to know about Asgardian history or supplementary characters, so far it’s a completely self contained tale and a great jumping on point for anyone that’s really on familiar with the movies. A nice cliffhanger ending makes Vol 2 a must.

5 Stars out of 5

hulk Indestructible Hulk, Vol. 1
Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Collecting Issues #1-5
Available in hardcover from Amazon for $21.20
(includes digital edition)
Now also available in paperback for $15.13

I was a big fan of Hulk back in the day, but this was a long time ago and things were a little different. In the 80s, Bruce Banner was Bruce Banner during the day, and then a grey skinned Hulk at night. But it was like a dual personality thing, the grey Hulk was a bouncer at a casino or something and had girlfriends and stuff. Then in the 90s he was back to big and green, but was like that all the time and kept the genius mind of Banner. So I never really read many stories involving the original incarnation, the familiar version from television and movies, the Hulk smash. And that is a more interesting character. A superhero who often causes more mahyem than good and whom other superheroes are actually afraid of. But you’re also dealing with a Banner who is doing everything in his power not to Hulk-out, but you as a reader want him to Hulk-out, so there is a little bit of a problem there.

Indestructible Hulk solves this by having Banner give in. He works out a deal with S.H.I.E.L.D.; provide him with state of the art scientific lab facilities where he can spend his time coming up with ways to improve humanity (making up for the damage that Hulk has done over the years through fancy water purifiers, new energy sources, etc) and then when S.H.I.E.L.D. needs some smashing, they point their Hulk gun. Cool. Great premise. And the art is solid too. It’s got a unique style, a little scratchy and abstract, and at times it’s hard to see what’s going on, but it worked for me.

hulk-stripI liked the little banner vs stark genius rivalry going on

In the end though, while it was a good read, it was really nothing to get excited about. Especially compared to some of the other titles in this batch. I’ll stick with it, maybe there is a long game in play here.

3 Stars out of 5

BONUS RET-CONNED MARVEL NOW! TITLES:

gambit

Gambit, Vol. 1
Once a Thief…

Collecting Issues #1-7
Available in paperback from Amazon for $14.78

The 3rd and final retconned Marvel NOW! title, and sadly the only one of the 3 that should have been left out. This character was one of my favorites growing up, I dressed up as him for Halloween in (I think) 7th grade. I was a loser. And so is this series. It’s garbage for babies, don’t bother.

1 Star out of 5

————————-

Final thoughts!

Should you, with all the entertainment options at your disposal, still read superhero comics? If you’re like me, and you already have love for these characters / the medium, the answer is a resounding yes. These comics are better than what you used to read. Buy them all, even the shitty ones like Iron Man, and then get in geek arguments over beers about whether Cyclops’ powers are dumb or not (they are).

If you’re a girl or have seen some movies but never read anything? Maybe. DEFINITELY READ HAWKEYE (reviewed in Part 1). Every self-respecting hipster needs to own this book and display it proudly on their shelves. As for the others? I’d try Avengers Arena next. If you’re not into it, you should probably move on to another hobby. If you dig it, pick up Cable & X-Force and Captain America. Then stay tuned for when I review the next batch of these things.

A few more nerd notes:

Some of these come in hardcover, and some come in paperback. One bonus of the hardcover editions is they contain a code to enable a download of the digital version, which looks great on computer screens. On the other hand, the hardcovers are bound so tightly that you can’t lay the pages flat, and there is no buffer, so art near the crease gets sucked into the abyss. You can also buy issues individually at marvel.com but it’s usually more cost effective to buy the physical collections, plus there is something about holding a real comic in your hand, reading them in bed, having the art bend as the pages flip, etc, that you can’t really re-create on a tablet. I love gadgets and my iPod and will read text on a Kindle any day, but I still prefer that tactile feedback of an actual comic.

Most of these books also contain the Marvel AR feature. You download the app and then scan in a panel when you see the little AR icon, and you’re treated to some supplemental material. Sometimes it’s a video interview with a writer, some background story facts, some behind the scenes look at the art process, or a bunch of nerdy Marvel employees engaging in some office hijinks. With some of the books it works pretty well and the supplemental material is worth checking out, but for the most part it can be frustrating and then when you finally get it going you’re rewarded with a pixellated “art process” screen shot of a pre-colored page. Whoop-dee-fucking-doo.

X
X