Chris' Comics Corner
Chris' Comics Corner
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #156
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Event Watch: Death of Spider-Man Part 1

"Not again."

This issue marks two important milestones for this title. The first, of course, is the reunion of the creative team currently holding the record for longest uninterrupted run on a single title (this one as a matter of fact). Yes, Bendis and Bagley are reunited and it feels so good. Ultimate Spider-Man has had the good fortune of showcasing a number of very, very talented artists. But Mark Bagley was there first, and his style will always be the high water mark to which others are measured. From his expressive depiction of Peter and Mary Jane's flirty interaction in the diner, to his lithe and agile wall crawler following Captain America into battle, Bagley showcases all of the strengths that make him a quintessential Spider-Man artist.

The second milestone is that this issue is the first official chapter of the "Death of Spider-Man" storyline (following what seemed like a year's worth of preludes and prologues). And while the creative team positively hums together, I can't help but feel a bit let down by this issue. Bendis scripts the hell out of the exchanges between Peter and MJ, and Peter and Steve Rogers. Bendis knows these characters well, and it is to his credit that as always he makes the dialogue, clever, engaging, and natural.

However the rest of this issue, namely the scenes at the Triskelion felt like very familiar rehashes of material from previous arcs: "Ultimate Six" and "Death of A Goblin". Certain beats play out almost exactly as they did in those stories, I even think a couple lines were reused.

I also have mixed feelings on the resurrection that occurs in this issue, first, because in a story entitled the "Death of Spider-Man", starting things off with a resurrection doesn't really lend gravity to the situation if the story is really going where Marvel wants us to think it's going. Secondly, while it is nice to see the return of an A-list character in the Ultimate Universe which has said goodbye to so, so many other A-list characters recently, if this is all we're going to get from him, I don't see why Dr. Octopus couldn't have been the driving force behind this arc instead of the character who returns. The Ultimate Clone Saga set Doc Ock up nicely as Peter's true arch nemesis as none of his other big bads ever came close to wounding Peter the way that Octavius did in that story.

I'm ecstatic Bendis and Bagley are back together, but this story is going to have to start treading new ground fast if it is to become the blockbuster that Bendis and Marvel are touting it as.

Grade: B (I was gonna go with a B-, but damn if I'm not just THAT happy to see Bagley back on this book.)

FF #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Steve Epting
Publisher: Marvel

"Everyone! Prepare for spatial tunneling"¦ We have to find some new ideas."

The Fantastic Four is no more. In it's place stands the Future Foundation. Reed, Sue, and Ben are joined by their children Franklin and Valeria Richards, a whole group of super intelligent youngsters from various species, an android Dragon, Alex Power (from the power pack), Nathaniel Richards (Reed's long lost time traveling father and genius in his own right), the Amazing Spider-Man, and a surprise final addition who makes their presence known in a fantastic twist ending to this stellar debut issue.

Whole lotta character running through a book which used to boast one of the smallest teams in comics. And you know what? It really works. The more dangerous super heroics are still handled by the core group of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thing, and Spider-Man, but Four Freedoms Plaza has a lot of new faces running around it. While this new group is more of a think tank, the familial tone that defines these characters and this title (be it a Fantastic Four book by any other name"¦) is still front and center, especially in the scene where the whole group sits down to dinner together.

I especially like the generational aspect now that Reed's dad has been thrown into the mix. Reed is used to being the final word on most science related situations, and also the patriarch of his clan. Having his equally brilliant father present is sure to alter this dynamic and opens the door to some interesting dramatic situations to explore. It was also nice to see the exchange between the three generations of Richards geniuses: Nathan, Reed, and Valeria.

Steve Epting is really getting a chance to shine on this book. His art has this very classic feel to it but with a darker, edgier undertone to it. I think that's exactly what this book needs right now. The death of Johnny is still weighing very heavily on everyone, especially Ben and Franklin, and the absence of the Human Torch makes the danger seem that much more palpable. Epting's pages have that clean, traditional super hero feel but there is also sadness in his characters, and maybe a hint of a forboding atmosphere throughout the whole issue. I think a lot of credit there should go to Epting and fellow inker Rick Magyar who just drenches certain sequences in much needed tone setting shadow.

If I had one complaint it would be the reintroduction of the Wizard as a villain, seeing how this book has been all about new ideas and looking to the future, and how the Fantastic Four's easy dismissal of him in Hickman's first issue set the tone for his run to date. However who am I to argue with the master plan that I know Jonathan Hickman possesses, I'm sure in the long run I will end up praising this move as sheer and utter brilliance.

The issue ends on a huge cliffhanger that is sure to lead to some major fire works next month, and undoubtedly throughout the year. As epic as it felt at the time, reading this issue makes me feel like Hickman's run on Fantastic Four, was just rearranging the pieces and setting things in motion for the true epic narrative to begin. This is a fantastic (couldn't resist) relaunch issue, and given the promise shown in this #1 as well as Hickman's previous work, this book will be a strong contender for my favorite series of 2011.

Grade: A

Green Lantern #64
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Publisher: DC
Event Watch: War of the Green Lanterns Part 1

"I turned your Manhunters against the Universe. Now it's time to do the same with your Green Lanterns."

Wow, this issue goes full throttle start to finish, and if you think things look bad for Hal at the beginning of the book, just wait till you get to the end.

I really have to commend DC for keeping a lot of the details of this story close to the vest. In the internet age where most story premises are leaked long before the books hit the shelves, I had surprisingly little pre-knowledge of this story or why the Green Lantern Corps would be going to war with itself (other than that it would have something to do with the mad guardian, Krona).

This issue picks up with Salaak being tasked to lead a group of Green Lanterns to arrest Hal for neglecting his duties, and conspiring with the leaders of the other various powered Corps. Things go from bad to worse when Krona makes his move against Oa and the Guardians of the Universe. Going into this story, I wondered how Johns could possibly top the enormously high challenges and stakes he established in Blackest Night. One issue in, I can confidently say, that won't be a problem.

This issue marks a return to form for Johns. While his stories are as engaging and exciting as ever, I've noticed his dialogue suffering a little bit in recent months (possibly a result of the demands of his new day job as chief creative officer for DC comics). However, he is most definitely on his game this issue with the exception of one slightly expository exchange between Hal and Sinestro.

Doug Mahnke really gets to cut loose drawing aliens, alien worlds, and strange powers. His art dances over a wonderful line between high adventure and dark horror, which perfectly suits the subject matter of this title. He uses a number of splashes and spreads that really underscore the immensity of the plot developments but compensates by packing a lot of panels onto the other pages. Trust me, while any other artist's work might have felt cluttered using this technique, Mahnke's pages feel fast paced and packed with story.

This event is off to a very promising start, I look forward to seeing hot it develops, and how our favorite GL's of Sector 2814 weather this nasty new storm.

Grade: A-

Green Lantern Corps #58
Writer: Tony Bedard
Artist: Tyler Kirkham
Puslbisher: DC
Event Watch: War of the Green Lanterns Part 2

"Did you think it an accident I granted you the last power ring?"

And I didn't have to wait very long, because part 2 also went on sale this week. I don't normally buy this book, but I'm picking it up for the crossover with it's two sister titles which I do buy regularly. I have to say I am impressed by Bedard's handling of these characters and I think he is definitely capable of holding his own with Johns and Tomasi in the coming months.

This issue is a just as action heavy as part 1 was, if a little more focused on a tighter group of characters and fewer plot developments. There are some really exceptional character moments for Kyle and Ganthet in this issue, and by the book's end, John, Kyle, and Ganthet have found themselves in a situation even more dire than the one facing Hal.

Haven't seen much of Tyler Kirkham's work before this. Can't say I'm all that thrilled with his art. His figures are a bit too scratchy and blocky for my tastes. However I did like the ring Constructs he drew during Ganthet's fight with Kyle and John.

DC editorial has strongly hinted that this story isn't gonna end well for one of the four human GL's. And given this issue, I'd have to say that Kyle fans may want to brace themselves for some bad news in the coming months. But on the bright side it looks like he'll be getting plenty of spotlight in the meantime.

Grade: B+

Captain America 615.1
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Mitch Breitweiser
Publisher: Marvel

"Do you want to create a new M.O.D.O.K. or do you want to fight some idiot who thinks he's Captain America?"

Longtime readers of this column will remember my mixed feelings and frustrations with Marvel's .1 initiative. The books rarely seem to do what their intended purpose is: give a standalone story to inform new readers of what's been happening on the title and advance the plot for readers who have been here all along. While this issue fills us in on Steve's current status quo, and advances his story a bit, it really leaves out Bucky who at the moment is the titular character (though an impending movie release and the subject matter of this issue strongly suggest that might be changing soon).

The story is good, but it feels a bit repetitive. Steve catches wind of a new person taking up the mantle of Captain America and moves to shut him down before A.I.M. murder him, or worse (much, much, much worse). Brubaker handles the action scenes well and plays the two Caps off each other nicely, and even offers up a solid twist at the end. My only disappointment is that we already had a fake Cap running around in this title for like a year or two, and I believe it was only two story arcs ago that we saw the exit of that character. Let's give the fake Caps a rest for awhile huh?

Mitch Breitweiser on the other hand is thoroughly fantastic. I almost wish he was on the regular title. Nothing against regular Cap penciler Butch Guice, but Guice's style (and this might be an Inker's fault) sometimes seems too cartoony for a realistic espionage book. Breitweiser's pencils are thoroughly dark and gritty the whole way through.

Decent issue, but definitely could have done without another fake Cap.

Grade: B

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