Okay, so I’ve tried to write semi-thoughtful entries instead of little blurblets, but I’ve got a sort of epic backlog now, and I think it’ll be best if I actually get this stuff out before the end of the year, so blurblets it is!

  • Mark Milar’s Ultimate Fantastic Four, vols. 5 and 6 are competent but uninspired offerings in the UFF canon. They’re also much darker than Ellis’ work, which is unfortunate, as the Fantastic Four don’t really lend themselves to grim and gritty stylings. It’s weird how Millar’s work on The Ultimates is great, but his work on every other book of his I’ve read is just yawn-inducing or…
  • … terrible, as in his Ultimate X-Men run, which nearly got me to stop reading the series. But it turns out there’s nothing wrong with the book that new writers can’t fix, so Brian Bendis’ Ultimate X-Men, vol. 5 and Brian K. Vaughan’s Ultimate X-Men, vols. 5 and 6 (referencing here the hardcover volumes, which collect the paperback volumes 7-13) are pretty damn good. Bendis takes the story back from the grim government conspiracy stuff (Millar really loves grim government conspiracy) to high school kids at school, which vastly improves the series; and Vaughan follows his lead. A series that I’d basically abandoned is back on my to-buy list after this.
  • Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Sensational Spider-Man: Feral is a basically unnecessary book. It does this thing with the animal-themed heroes/villains that surround Spider-Man, which could have been clever enough… if Straczynski hadn’t gotten to it a few years earlier. As it stands, it just feels like a reprise, only with hideous disguised anime art (that is, it looks as if an anime artist is trying to draw western-style art, and only half-succeeding).
  • Mike Carey’s Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover is a fine enough story — but the trade paperback it’s collected in is an absolute ripoff. You get two issues of a comic, and the rest of the volume is padded out with character profiles that are of interest only to the incredibly obsessive, and they still charge full price for the thing. Skip it, and wait for the story to be collected elsewhere, I say, unless you don’t mind getting scrod.
  • Paul Di Filippo’s Top Ten: Beyond the Farthest Precinct is perhaps a bit of a drop-off from the Alan Moore-written volumes of the series — a little less witty, a lot less inventive — but since Moore did the heavy lifting on the creativity already, someone like Di Filippo can come and write merely competent stuff, and still have it be worth reading.
  • What If? Mirror Mirror is (as you’d guess from the title) a quick exploration of alternate incarnations of Marvel heroes. Which is fine and all, but dang it, what I want from a “What If” story is alternate histories in the Marvel Universe, ones where there’s a clear branching point in Issue #287 of some comic, not entire alternate universes. That complaint aside, the volume as it actually is delivers some uneven reading. It starts off with a decent Mike Carey story about a Soviet Fantastic Four, which is enjoyable despite being too reminiscent of Varley’s “Truth, Justice, and the Politically Correct Socialist Path” in his Superheroes anthology. The last story, and probably the best of the lot, is a story where Thor is the herald of Galactus, by Robert Kirkman. In between are some relatively unsatisfying stories. Overall, this is a collection that probably will appeal mostly to devotees.
  • Warren Ellis’ Ultimate Galactus vols. 2 and 3 conclude the Ultimate Galactus miniseries, and do so satisfactorily if unspectacularly. Lots of investigation as to the nature of this mysterious “Gah Lak Tus”, followed by lots of fighting with the Ultimates and the Ultimate Fantastic Four. If you like cosmic adventure, hey, cosmic adventure.
  • Okay, here’s where being way behind kinda sucks. I don’t remember much of anything about Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina, vol. 3: Fact v. Fiction. As far as I recall, it was a solid installment of a pretty good series, with less of the irritating over-topicality that marred the earlier volumes. Useful, eh?
  • Next up is two volumes by Dan Slott: She-Hulk, vol. 3 and The Thing: Idol of Millions. Both of them are characteristically Slottian, chock full of witty and slightly self-referential writing, and featuring characters who need to figure out who they are. Both are highly recommended.
  • What to say about Ed Brubaker’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, vol. 2 and Captain America: Red Menace, vol. 1? They’re both, you know, Captain America stories, chock-full of spy intrigue and angsty guilt, and flashbacks to Nazis. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like it. Me, I’m vaguely indifferent, which makes me wonder why I’m buying these.
  • Last up, we’ve got some Iron Man. We’ll start with David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle, which tells the beginning of Stark’s battle with alcoholism. This is a classic story, which makes it sad that it’s not all that good. The story is told abruptly and spottily; the passage of months between each issue probably made it seem better paced, but read all at once, it’s just odd. Pacing aside, it’s also from the era in which superheroes had to face and defeat a new threat every issue, so the main storyline ends up getting relegated to a few panels here and there between all the meaningless incident. An interesting historical read, but not up to modern standards. Unfortunately, “not up to modern standards” also describes Joe Casey’s Iron Man: The Inevitable, which is about a bunch of Iron Man villains ganging up to defeat him all at once, a premise about as hackneyed as they come. This reads like a comic from the ’90s, from back when they’d figured out that art had to be attractive, but before they’d realized that writing was even more important. Warren Ellis’ Iron Man: Extremis is (as you’d expect from an Ellis work) much more successful, in that the writing and the art are both fully modern. Probably not a great work, but if you like Iron Man (which I do), it’s worth reading, because there aren’t a lot of great Iron Man graphic novels out there, for whatever reason.


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