Comic Review – Black Widow #1 (Marvel Comics)

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

After a bit of a break, we are back with our weekly comic reviews! Warning: minor spoilers.

“Finally I can let my monster loose, the killer I was meant to be.” Black Widow

Cover art by Crain (Marvel)

Sorry for the long break between my reviews, I’m back now for 2019 and glad to be here! Conveniently my first day back coincided with the release of a new Black Widow series from Marvel. Black Widow is someone I first really got to know through the MCU, and while I’ve seen some of her adventures in the comic series, these have often been vicariously via cameos in other books. Additionally, the 2016 Waid and Samnee run was recommended to me countless times and is a series I regret not picking up before. This latest run is bought to us by:

  • Writers – Jen and Sylvia Soska
  • Artist – Flaviano
  • Colour Artist – Veronica Gandini
  • Letterer – VC’s Joe Caramagna
  • Cover artist – Clayton Crain

The series begins with a team up between Captain America and Black Widow, providing an interesting dynamic considering the climax of things between them during the events of the recent Secret Empire. This is referenced heavily, explaining Black Widow’s current non-Avenger status in the world as well as what she has come through in recent comic book history. Reading this felt like a throw back to the Secret Empire run with the intention to draw a line under it for Black Widow to move on from. Additionally, her dialogue with Cap establishes her key motivation and attitude that will be sure to form the running theme throughout this series, specifically it frame this Black Widow as one who is more than happy to get some blood on her hands to put criminals and villains to a permanent end.

Art by Flaviano, Gandini and Caramagna (Marvel)

After the resolution of things between her and Cap she’s off to lead on her own solo mission that is yet to be defined, with her objective only becoming clear during the final pages of the issue, which will presumably become the initial main conflict. Jen and Sylvia Soska have framed this series as a violent and bloody one with Black Widow no longer held back from the Avengers or the morality of other characters.

The main criticism I would raise against this issue is how although Flaviano and Gandini’s art is very good, it feels a little out of place considering the tone of the story. Were this art in say a Squirrel Girl, Spider-Man or other more light-hearted run it would be right at home. The art is colourful, and the action scenes feel reminiscent of the super hero cartoons that I fell in love with as a kid. The scenery and backgrounds are vibrant and bring the nightlife and settings to life, although I would have expected more muted tones. Caramagna’s lettering is worked into the issue well, providing robust and functional dialogue throughout without much of a call for anything fancy to be done.

 

Final Verdict

Black Widow is presented as a hard drinking killer willing to do what other’s won’t. This feels like a return to the traditional portrayal of Black Widow, who I certainly want to get to know more. I have criticised the art style, however that is less to do with the quality, more to do with the contrast against the story. This is purely based on the one issue however, and the story may develop to where its pairing with the art may become more apparent.

Comic Book Review – The Punisher #1 (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

Marvel relaunched The Punisher with a new #1 this week with the ‘World War Frank’ arc, with previous series writer Matt Rosenberg continuing on writing duties, art from Szymon Kudranski, colours by Antonio Fabela and lettering from VC’s Cory Petit.

Cover by Greg Smallwood (Marvel Comics)

Shady dealings have been going on between Hydra and Roxxon, and their respective leaders Baron Zemo and Dario Agger. Partnering with The Mandarin, they have been convincing or strong-arming UN members to recognise Bagalia as a sovereign nation. Presumably as a cover for further shady dealings. But a wrench in their plans has turned up in the form of Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher. See Frank is after bigger game than his usual gangland targets on the streets of New York, and he is set to go to war with Hydra and a whole nation.

Here Castle is as driven as ever, choosing his words carefully and only ever as a terrifying bogeyman to create maximum intimidation for his targets. While he is going after people who usually go up against Captain America or the Avengers, it’s a nice change of pace for The Punisher, And it is good to see his tactics and planning come into play to deal with that scale. Something that really bothered me in Secret Empire was the characterisation of Castle, doing things and making decisions that seemed wildly out of character and fairly stupid, so this is a welcome return to form. While the set up page indicates that this series and Rosenberg’s work on the character before takes its motivation out of the ashes of that event, it seems that is all that it is. The story here seems to be grand in scope and very entertaining, with a strong cast that I’m looking forward to seeing in action.

Art by Kudranski, Fabela and Petit (Marvel Comics)

The art from Kudranski is kinetic and dark, evoking The Punisher MAX series. There are a few moments where faces are a little inconsistent., and there are some signs or text in the art that looks like they was added as an afterthought later. But largely the issue is strong, with the explosive action given vibrant life by the colours from Fabela. The highlight however has to be the multi panelled sequence outside the lift in the Roxxon base, which was superb.

The Punisher #1 is a good start to a story with a lot of potential for fun, huge explosive action. Check it out at your local comic book shop or digitally now!

Score: 7  out of 10

Comic Review – Secret Empire: Omega (Marvel Comics)

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: minor spoilers.

“The war is over. All around me my country is regaining what it lost. Healing. Rebuilding. So why am I here?” Captain America

Well Secret Empire is finally complete. It’s been a series not without its controversies, from the backlash against Steve Rogers – a character created by Jewish comic book writers turning to the very far right  to issues around Magneto’s portrayal as a pro-Hydra villain on one of the comic book covers (he very much stays pro-mutant, anti-Hydra throughout) but for me I think there was very much value in the story it sought to tell, as can be seen in a previous article of mine – ‘Captain America and the Rise of Hydra’ (warning, contains political rambling!), found here.

I didn’t however, review issue 10 of Secret Empire. This was honestly because I found it a little disappointing. The series finale felt rushed with a ‘Cosmic Cube fixes the world’ ending and for me personally what I saw as the key idea the writer Nick Spencer was trying to get at wasn’t properly addressed, i.e. Captain America going Hydra being a metaphor for the rise of far right populism in America. That was until now. I picked up Secret Empire Omega a little tentatively, at a high price and off the back of an ending which didn’t quite hit the mark but as I’ll explain, for me Spencer added some of the ideological struggle to the epilogue of this story the ending was sorely missing.

This comic was bought to us by:

  • Writer – Nick Spencer
  • Artist – Andrea Sorrentino
  • Additional Art – Joe Bennett with Joe Pimentel
  • Letterer – VC’s Travis Lanham

The plot to Secret Empire Omega is necessarily simple. Now the fighting is over and the clean-up beginning Steve Rogers, both good (Captain America for reference) and bad (I’ll refer to as Captain Hydra for lack of a better term) clash again. This time in an ideological debate rather than hand to hand combat. There’s a line from Captain America that may communicate Spencer’s feeling on this that he himself may have wanted more time to dig into this during the main series – that when he saw his enemy there wasn’t time to talk, only fight and close the series out. Omega also touches on what the longer lasting impacts of Secret Empire will be – Captain America’s emotional scarring and loss of influence globally (think how America will be post-Trump), the death of a significant character and how other characters are coping now its over.

There is a key message in all this as well, if you read Captain Hydra as a metaphor for modern America – You allowed this to happen. Captain Hydra blame Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers, US politicians and pretty much everyone but himself for his rise to power. It’s possible to read this as a criticism of those with influence in the real world where Trump was elected, which was only possible because of the state of the US to begin with.

I was a little cheeky with this review and had a flick through one or two of the other early reviews before writing. There’s more I wanted to say than normal and it helped to see if I was missing any other major points. One of the reviews I read criticised the artwork, that Sorrentino’s portrayal of the two Cap’s out of costume not distinctive enough. I noticed this as well but actually liked that they were less distinctive. They look very similar and that’s the point. They’re the same or at least the same bar ideals and the point made earlier – that Captain Hydra could take the power he did because of the actions of Captain America amongst others means the line between them is currently a little blurred. There’s a sombre tone to the art in this issue, with a grey pallet used for Captain America and red for Captain Hydra. I feel the art was exactly how it should have been for this issue.

Final Verdict

I have complicated feelings towards Secret Empire as a series, but there was an intent with the story which Spencer sought to tell. If you’d asked me before reading this I would have said the point hadn’t been made properly, now it has. On balance, I would rate the series as a whole at 7.5 out of 10, starting close to 10 but moving down to maybe a 6.5. I would have liked to have seen a more optimistic note struck for the other characters than Cap with all this coming to an end as the series does have a fairly downer ending, that isn’t to say it’s bad though. This issue really helped make the ending much more satisfying for me.

Score: 8.25 Legacies out of 10

Comic Review: Generations: The Iron #1 (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week, I picked up another installment of Marvel’s Generations, the stop gap between the contentious Secret Empire that wrapped up last week and their next event, Marvel Legacy, that will apparently smash together classic characters and their more recent legacy counterparts into a new status quo. Generations is a series of one-shots, where the current and classic versions of several of Marvel’s most recognizable characters team up for a short adventure. This time, I’m reviewing The Iron, written by Brian Michael Bendis, pencils by Marco Rudy, Szymon Kudranski and Nico Leon, inks by Kudranski, Will Sliney, Scott Koblish and Leon, colours by Rudy, Dean White and Paul Mounts, and letters from VC’s Clayton Cowles.

“The Vanishing Point – An instant apart! A moment beyond! Loosed from the shackles of past, present and future – a place where time has no meaning! But where true insight can be gained! Make your choice! Select your destination! This journey is a gift…”

The Iron stars Riri Williams as Ironheart, Tony Stark’s replacement shellhead in the wake of the punishment he received at the hands of Captain Marvel in last year’s Civil War II. The story picks up with Riri falling, her suit failing and the Tony Stark AI she uses as her version of Jarvis/Friday unresponsive. She lands in a futuristic Chicago, and how she got there is a complete mystery. But before she passes out, she meets a group of young Avengers, most of whom appear to be related to recognizable original members and all of whom know who Ironheart is. When she wakes up, she discovers that Tony Stark is alive and well, and is now 126 years old. And he has a new title too. Tony takes Riri on a tour of the future, a utopia of science and philosophy that includes the quickest thwarting of a villain ever, and the return of an old face (or an older version of a young face) that hasn’t been seen in the Marvel U for a couple of years. But Tony also needs to make sure he doesn’t reveal too many secrets, as knowing your own future can be a dangerous thing. They have banned time travel in the future after all.

There are still no more clues as to what the Vanishing Point is, or why heroes are being time displaced for these brief adventures. I had expected some indication to come in the finale of Secret Empire, but all there was was a throwaway line that something had happened. However, Generations continues to be a lot of fun, and The Iron is no different. There is a lot of interesting philosophizing, and it is rare to see a future in a Marvel comic where everything is actually going well. As with The Thunder, at least one hero here leaves with their horizons expanded. Generally, the story and dialogue from Bendis here are good, though both Riri and Tony have one instance where they add in a comment halfway into a speech bubble in parentheses, which just isn’t how people talk and so I’m not sure what the aim is, other than a snide comment within a comment.

Interestingly, while the art goes through several changes throughout the issue, it never feels incomplete or inconsistent. Rather, it feels like each section of the story and the tour of the future switches between discrete art styles that gives a satisfying overall flow. There are levels of Ditko-esque psychedelia throughout that almost resembles Christian Ward’s work on ODY-C, and some really interesting paneling is employed across the issue. The colorist on the book bring this psychedelia to life, as a contrast to the blue tones of the future.

The Iron is another strong Generations book, even if it doesn’t answer any more questions than the other issues. Pick it up at your LCS or digitally now!

Score: 7.5 Shards of the Odinsdottir out of 10

Comic Review – Secret Empire #0 (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week saw the start of Secret Empire, the latest event from Marvel comics that marks the culmination of over a year of build up in Captain America Steve Rogers. We’ve been assured that this will be the last major event from Marvel for 18 months after this 9 issue series (although I don’t know if this issue counts as 1 of 9, or 0 of 9…), which is definitely a good thing since everyone is feeling serious event fatigue. Not that every event has been bad (Secret Wars was great), but a break in the constant story interruptions, world resetting, series ending and new #1s is certainly welcome. Here is hoping that Secret Empire leads us into that break on a high. Secret Empire #0 was written by current Captain America (both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson) writer Nick Spencer, with prologue art by Rod Reis, main story art by Daniel Acuña and letters by VC’s Travis Lanham. Cover art was provided by Mark Brooks.

Cover by Mark Brooks

Following on from the events started in Captain America Steve Rogers #1 in May 2016 and the Pleasant Hill event, Captain America has had his reality rewritten by the Red Skull and a sentient cosmic cube in the form of a little girl, known as Kobik. You may have heard about it when the internet melted down as a result. In the new reality, Steve Rogers was recruited by Hydra at a young age to be their spy, and so unbeknownst to all of his allies, Captain America has always been an agent of Hydra. Over the last year he has been maneuvering and scheming his ultimate plan to take over the world, now finally revealing himself and his allegiance to all who thought they knew and trusted him.

I won’t go much more into details of the plot, but Secret Empire #0  is action packed and a thrill to read. Spencer has weaved a layered and complex plot with the fall of the greatest Avenger and his betrayal, and the time he has spent with the character really pays off. The most puzzling aspect of this issue is therefore the question of why this is a #0 rather than the opening issue of the event itself? Zero issues typically set the table for the event, and recap the plot leading up to it for anyone that might not have been following. But Secret Empire #0 seems to be essential reading and an integral part of the story, and it would be confusing and a shame for readers to miss out due to that #0 rather than #1 on the cover. Also I don’t know why Tony Stark is back in the land of the living. I read Invincible Iron Man too and as far as I was aware the only Tony was RiRi Williams’s AI. Is this the AI? Because there was definitely a man inside that can at one point. Those quibbles aside, the storytelling in this issue was great.

Art by Daniel Acuña

As for the art, it is consistently strong throughout. The prologue from Rod Reis is a gorgeous and ethereal opener that displays the weight of the story to come. Acuña’s art throughout the main story is similarly incredible, jumping between some fantastic action that stretches from New York, to Earth’s orbit and the skies above Sokovia, and the dark, heavier moments that drive the plot and show the determination and grim resolve behind the master strategist with his efforts aimed at dominating the world rather than saving it. Acuña’s bold art makes these latter character moments really land, with the surprise these heroes are experiencing feeling really genuine.

Secret Empire is off to a good start, with strong art and a story that feels like a real payoff to a year of story. Issue #0 feels like essential reading for the plot, and even then it may be a little impenetrable to new readers. Even so, I definitely recommend Secret Empire #0,  which you can pick up at your local comic shop or digitally now!

Score: 8 Helicarriers out of 10

 

Pick up the first two volumes of Spencer’s Captain America Steve Rogers run here and here!