7
Apr
2011
Chris' Comics Corner
Chris' Comics Corner
Chris
Hey guys. I'm going out of town this weekend, so preparations for that have shortened the column to just two reviews this week, sorry.

In two weeks time I will be forgoing the usual weekly reviews to do a review of Brightest Day as a whole once the final issue hits the stands. So please check that out, and now, onto reviews.

Fear Itself
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Stuart Immonen

""¦My God. Get me Steve Rogers and the President on the phone. In that order."

It's been awhile since Marvel (or DC for that matter) published a big summer blockbuster event book. Event books are somewhat divisive among comics fans. Some fans hate them claiming that these books disrupt the flow of the titles they are already enjoying with meaningless tie ins, and eschew basic logic and characterization in favor of big shock moments that make for great cliffhangers and splash pages. Other fans say that the comic landscape gets kinda boring without a big earth shaking event to look forward to, or accept event books as the necessary (and fun) lifeblood of the current comics industry, as nothing drives sales through the roof quite like a big summer event book.

However, I think that this expertly crafted first issue has the potential to win over some of even the most die hard detractors, as Fraction and Immonen have set the wheels in motion for a story that already feels epic, while still being grounded in relatable real world concerns.

Fear Itself is set against the back drop of a very recognizable America. One where a bad economy has left so many members of the middle class in free fall, and where divisive political issues lead to heated confrontations between protestors and police. There is aura of anxiety and foreboding that just oozes off of these panels. Something is wrong right from the get go and it has nothing to do with super villains or evil gods. The American public in this issue are afraid because one by one the institutions and constants that they derived security from have failed them. And that's just the first obstacle Fraction places before the assembled heroes of the Marvel universe. As Tony Stark points out in this issue, you can't punch a recession, this isn't a crisis that is easy to solve, and it's only going to be made worse once you throw evil gods and an amped up new Red Skull into the mix.

Fraction confines himself to a relatively small cast this opening issue (considering this is an MU wide event) focusing on the Avengers and the Asgardians, with Steve Rogers, Thor, Iron Man, Sharon Carter, and Odin taking center stage. This comes as no surprise given that Marvel has been pretty forthcoming that this event originated as a Cap and Thor story to tie into their respective movies coming out this summer. While some might scoff at this being a commercial move, rest assured, the story does not feel contrived or forced in ANY way, and I actually applaud the focus being squarely on these two because it allows for an event that really encompasses both the normal street level perspective of the MU, as well as the cosmic side of things with the Asgardian gods.

Fraction once again proves that he really knows how to write the Asgardians, Odin especially, as his arrogance and brashness is on full display, and after seeing just how stubborn and full of hubris the old man is, Odin's choice at the end of the issue makes the oncoming threat seem all the more terrifying. I actually think this is the first time Fraction has written Steve Rogers, which is kinda surprising considering he is one of Marvel's top writers right now. However when you think about it, Fraction only really started writing for Marvel in earnest back in 2006 co-writing Iron Fist with Ed Brubaker. Just five years later, here he is writing Marvel's biggest book of 2011, that's quite an accomplishment, but well earned as he has consistently pumped out some of Marvel's highest quality books in those five years.

Stuart Immonen has been a favorite artist of mine ever since his stints on Nextwave and Ultimate Spider-Man. He definitely has a different style from what you would typically consider to be typical for these types of projects. However, seeing Immonen gain exposure to a wider audience and really get a chance to go wild with all the toys in the toy box was one of the things that excited me most about this issue. And Immonen did not disappoint. From the streets of Manhattan to the depths of the Ocean, from a frozen, forgotten Nazi base, to the ruins of Asgard, Immonen really gets to showcase his amazing versatility and skill as an artist. His characters are clean but also emotive, detailed, and inimitable. Just look at the shots of the assembled Avengers both at Avengers Tower and in Asgard, Immonen's rendition of each character looks like an instant classic interpretation. And let's not forget colorist Laura Marten, whose vibrant color pallet makes the heroes' costumes pop off the page, and add an unearthly beauty to the Asgardian World Tree.

This is one of those books that reminds me just how great it is to be a comics fan. This is a medium where anything can happen, and a story about all of Marvel's heroes coming together to oppose a millennia old conspiracy involving evil gods and nazi super terrorists really gets me excited to tear through each issue as it hits the stands. This kind of wild creativity and genre mashing is what makes comics so great. And with two of the freshest and most talented creators currently on Marvel's dime behind the wheel, this event promises to be a smart character driven thrill ride from start to finish.

Grade: A



Uncanny X-Men #534.1

Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Kiernon Gillen
Artist: Carlos Pacheo

"In science we trust! The nanobrains will not defeat us!"
""¦hnnngh."

As a critic, it's important to try to approach that which you are reviewing as objectively as possible. However, Matt Fraction's Uncanny X-Men, was probably one of my favorite runs on the title to date, and I therefore cannot help but scrutinize this, the first solo effort by his successor, especially closely, measuring Gillen against an almost impossibly high standard.

And surprise, surprise, the issue is actually pretty good. Gillen retains that same pacing and upbeat energy that Fraction infused the book with, and continues to emphasize the more political aspects of Uncanny now that it is a book about the Mutant Nation. This issue focuses on the PR problem of having Magneto hanging around as a full fledged member of the team. The discussion between Magneto and Kate Kildare is smart and well in character (as far as Magneto is concerned, Kildare is still a pretty new character). I also very much enjoyed Gillen's handling of Mayor Sadie, and Wolverine, both receive some of the best lines of the issue.

While Gillen is off to a good start, this wasn't a perfect issue. He was less successful in capturing Emma and Namor's voices than he was other characters. They weren't grossly off, and I feel like Gillen could definitely improve given time. Also, while I understand that Gillen is building to something with these A.I.M. imposters, their inclusion in the plot was ultimately disappointing, as having Cyclops, Emma, Wolverine, Colossus, and Namor face off against three guys with laser guns is kinda like The Death Star taking on an Ewok. Although I do have to say I did highly enjoy the fake A.I.M. agents interactions with each other and the corporate fat cats they were extorting.

I was much less thrilled with the art. I'm usually a Carlos Pacheo fan, but I really would have preferred this .1 issue to be drawn by regular series artist Terry Dodson. Pacheo's Magneto looks like he's pushing 80 (ok logically yes he would BUT he's been cloned and de-aged a whole bunch, it's comics, deal with it), and his Peter Rasputin looks ridiculously muscled in his human form. The big double page spread at the end also lacked the oomph that I feel the moment really needed.

All in all this was a good primer for what Gillen's solo run on the title will be, and as a solid entry point for fans to get on board with the title. While I am beyond sad to see Fraction's tenure on this book come to an end, I can say that I am cautiously optimistic that the book will continue along the same steady course that he set for it, all the while showcasing Gillen's equally fresh but unique voice.

Grade: B+


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