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Secret Empire was super fucking fun for me. And look. I can totally understand why it's such a divisive story for die hard Captain America fans. But I honestly dug it from start to finish.

Right away, I've clearly noticed this pattern within modern Marvel storytelling. It feels like a major trend that they've found successful. And, as is the case with pro wrestling and television and almost all facets of entertainment, they're going to run it until the wheels fall off. And the hot new thing to do seems to be taking these popular, long-established heroes and turning them temporarily evil. If it works once, ya just know they're going to ride that wave again & again.

Don't get me wrong though. I'm not complaining. This practice has resulted in way more hits than misses. Superior Spider-Man was an admirable, ambitious effort. It was woven with care and calculation. And it was very well-executed in the end.

Superior Iron Man was a much shorter project, but it was an equally enjoyable experiment. The exploration of Tony Stark being king dickhead - with all his dirt worst traits turned up to eleven - was just such a blast while it lasted.

Again, yes. It's easy to understand why these things are met with some criticism from longtime fans. But, if you approach them with an open mind, I think you'll find them harmless enough in the big scheme of things. They're not doing permanent damage to the iconic heroes from your childhood or anything.

Furthermore, you've got to admire and appreciate the effort that goes into these stories. It'd be easy to tell a lazy, cliche story of good guys going bad. But that's not what these have been. There is clearly thought and focus put behind these decisions.

I'm actually quite surprised that the novelty hasn't worn off with me yet. But that surely speaks to the quality and diversity of these various stories.

If I had one criticism or concern to lodge at a lot of these recent stories I'm reading, it's that a lot of elements sometimes feel like they belong in a "What if?" story from yesteryear. Instead, they're being told front & center in the mainstream 616 continuity.

I'm not necessarily opposed to that, but it is sort of startling to see Captain America gut himself in another dimension or suddenly adopt the Red Skull's tactics. It's fun. It's shocking. And it's honestly told in dramatic, suspenseful fashion. But yeah. It can sometimes feel exhausting to take in and accept it as the new canon.

Anyway, I won't fault Marvel for opening their options and allowing more creators to operate outside the box a bit more nowadays. I do think they've been wise in selecting the right writers for handling these larger story arcs, too.

Secret Empire was really well-crafted, in my view. Several issues ended on a pitch perfect note - like a well-timed cliffhanger on your favorite TV drama or something. The stakes were constantly raised with each layer of development, yet it never felt like they were piling on for the sheer sake of padding out the story. It all tied together. It all made sense. And it all served as a stern reminder that - yeah, you better believe it - Captain America is a masterful militant mind. And, given the resources, he could outmaneuver everyone on the planet and achieve absolute domination.

I loved all the little moments of shock & amazement whenever another hero would come to realize who was behind the sabotage and just WHAT was really going on. That was great. The fear and betrayal on their faces were fully detailed and right on target. It sold Cap's turn as this big, BIG freaking deal like it should be.

Cap's maneuverings as Hydra leader were so calculated and strategic - dividing & conquering the heroes by first separating the strongest & most formidable from the weakest & most vulnerable in the pack. There were times when things certainly seemed dire for the good guys.

Cap's interactions with Black Widow, Miles Morales, and Sharon Carter were all highlights as well. They offered small glimmers of hope that the real Cap was still somewhere deep inside this new Hydra Cap - but then further reinforced that, nah. He's actually one evil bastard. Loved all that interplay.

The Cosmic Cube being used as the McGuffin made total sense, too. All the groundwork and back story was in place to wrap this story up, which is why I never worried or had any issues immersing myself in this villainous turn. Of course it was temporary. Of course it was always intended to have a resolution and a way out. Sometimes I think fans get too hung up on changes & fail to just enjoy the ride in the moment.

I like that they sort of left things open-ended. I mean, yeah. Cap was returned to normal, but his character was called into question. And his credibility with the public will surely suffer some dents & bruises going forward. But that's fine for the sake of character development. I never felt like the actual integrity of the Steve Rogers character was harmed at all as a result of this story, which is what I believe bothered most readers.

The bit with the children fighting over a Captain America action figure - only for the closeup to reveal it's a SAM WILSON Captain America, and not Steve Rogers - was a nice freaking touch. Neat nod to all the wonderful work that previously went into establishing Sam as an alternative Cap. And, while I have no desire to see him permanently fill those boots, I do recognize that the Falcon character has been elevated in recent years (similar to what they've done for Bucky).

Oh. And that final discussion between classic, original recipe Cap and extra crispy Hydra Cap at the maximum security prison was fantastic. Both stated solid arguments from two very distinct points of view. It's the sort of debate that feels like it comes from a real place, given real voices and real motivations.

It's a tremendous exchange and a fitting way to close out the story. I've never really been a big Cap fan or anything - only dipping in & out at sporadic intervals throughout the years - but I've enjoyed the hell out of some of this recent stuff. Even if you're hesitant about all these stories hinged on heroes turning into villains, I'd highly recommended checking this one out. Secret Empire is pretty awesome.

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Earth X was a bit of a mixed bag, but it was certainly more good than bad. When they're told right and approached with enough forethought, dystopian future stories can be an absolute blast. I love it whenever creators seize the opportunity to open up the floodgates & go all out for these stories. And, in its peak moments, that is precisely why Earth X excels.

I almost instantly found myself immersed in this new universe. There's some wonderful world-building at work here. I needed to find out how and why things got to this point for my favorite characters. It isn't all doom & gloom though, which is critical.

There's this thematic spark of hope within most of the key characters - buried beneath the surface, but still driving their motivations forward. You see it in a weary, battered Captain America. You see it in a grief-stricken Reed Richards. You see it in a cautious but curious Machine Man. You see it in a surprisingly persistent Loki. You even see it in a worrisome, doting dad Peter Parker.

This book actually came out back when I was still regularly reading & collecting comics. So I can't tell you why I never gave it a chance then. But I didn't. I made time for Kingdom Come, but this was glossed over entirely for some reason. Oh well. I'm able to enjoy it for the first time now anyhow.

Right away, I started to notice a BUNCH of things in this story that would be used later - often in much better, more opportunistic ways. The Celestial Seed is an awesome concept, and Hickman totally borrows from it with the Galactus Seed gimmick in his amazing Fantastic Four run much, much later.

The Terrigen Mist/Plague X, of course, goes on to become the endgame of Thanos' Infinity fight with Black Bolt. And, arguably even more importantly, it's the flashpoint for the whole Inhumans/X-Men war - which also came much, much later.

Thor is literally transformed into a female here, but naturally I automatically think of the Jane Foster Thor concept when I see this stuff.

The characterization of Reed Richards is TREMENDOUS here. It's second only to his rendition in Hickman's stories, as far as I'm concerned. And that's because Reed is portrayed as this OCD-riddled problem-solver. He's compelled and completely engulfed by his desire to fix EVERYTHING. He must solve EVERYTHING. He must.

It's such a rich approach to his character, and it's totally true to the core of his personality. I love it.

And, once again, it's something Hickman utilizes in future stories. I don't know for sure, but it definitely feels like Hickman drew some inspiration from Earth X. Maybe it's a coincidence, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he recognized the potential in some of these little gems and just expanded on them once he got the chance.

The story itself is a bit jumpy and almost indecisive at times. It takes awhile to really start up & running. But, once it does, it's a really fun ride.

Captain America is the heart & soul of this story, in my eyes. I especially dug the reveal of the new Skull. Casting him as a naive, entitled brat was pitch perfect as well. Cap and Skull are literally a clash of the old guard versus the new guard - literally a war of the Heroic Age versus this new age - literally a struggle between freedom of will and absolute oppression. It works on so many levels.

Norman Osborn plays a pretty cool part here, too. Positioning him as the President was a neat touch - and, AGAIN, it foreshadows his eventual role as Director of Shield. So there's another element that got picked up later.

Oh. And Osborn's death scene was a stroke of genius. I mean, yeah. It's hokey and far--fetched in a sense, but fuck that noise. This is comics. You can't convince me President Norman Osborn should die any other way. OF COURSE the dude should fall from a building, get his leg snagged by the American flag, and have his neck SNAP in the exact same fashion he killed Gwen Stacy. Callbacks, baby!

Old man Tony Stark bartering his intellect & his inventions in exchange for political asylum makes sense also. I don't know that I buy the idea of him being so reclusive and away from the spotlight, but I guess you could argue that his Iron Avengers are front & center in the public eye at all times. So there's that.

Loki figuring out that Asgard and the Norse Gods are all Celestial constructs was one big, bold, bonkers idea. But I kind of dig it. It's not necessarily something I'd ever want to see validated in actual ongoing Marvel continuity, but it's an imaginative idea nonetheless. The notion that these "gods" are only Gods because humans believe them to be - and thus they take on that form - is this really thought-provoking take on constructive evolution.

The grand finale based around Galactus was simply fucking phenomenal. So much good stuff there. Where do I even begin?? Black Bolt uses his insanely loud voice to call for Galactus. Then Galactus arrives & wrecks shop. He doesn't just even the odds. He comes in off the hot tag & CLEANS HOUSE. The Celestials take a powder and retreat like a bunch of scolded dogs.

But it gets even better! Because Reed is hiding a secret. This isn't the original Galactus. No. Because the FF actually killed the original Galactus with the Ultimate Nullifier back in the day. He was wiped from existence.

However, Reed realized his mistake. He quickly recognized that the absence of Galactus would mean disaster for the universe's entire ecosystem. Galactus is the eternal counterbalance to the Celestials. Without the Eater of Worlds, the Celestials would repopulate and reproduce in excess.

And so Reed had to - he NEEDED TO - fix the problem. So he convinced his own son, Franklin, to use his crazy cosmic powers to take up the mantle and literally transform into the universe's new Galactus.

What a cool fucking moment. I mean, sure. It's out there. But shit. I loved that revelation.

So yeah. I mostly LOVED this story. But I mentioned it being a mixed bag, and most of that is due to the artwork and some of the character designs. The art is okay in places, but it's also downright ugly in others. And I'm not an art guy. I mean, I appreciate great art. I recognize the importance of it. But poor art won't ruin a good story for me. If the plot or the dialogue is on point, I will gladly overlook subpar art.

But yeah. The design of Cap feels lazy to me. I definitely prefer Clint Eastwood Cap to this bald, wrinkly, barrel-shaped guy. Plus, he's LITERALLY draped in an American flag. And while that might work for a one-panel visual, ugh. Having the dude show up for battles with hundreds of villains like that is weird. He might as well show up in a bathrobe. He's just an old nude guy with a flag tossed over him like a towel. It's a bizarre choice for a character design, especially when he's the soul of the book.

Oh. And the Hulk becoming the green apple Grape Ape or whateverthefuck was equally weird to me. I still don't totally understand what they were going for there.

At least Namor got a cool design. Having him condemned to spend his whole life literally burning alive was wicked cool. The Skull just being this pesky Aryan-looking punk worked well, too. I thought it was clever to have him just wear this shirt with a red Punisher logo on it. Simple but effective.

A lot of the other designs just felt lackluster, to be honest. I dig Alex Ross, but I wish they would've spent some more time on some of those.

There were a few things in the story that didn't totally work for me, too. The Machine Man seemed like an odd choice for the hard push to become the new Watcher. Was Marvel trying to launch a solo series or something for him around this time? It just seems like he was dusted off & shoehorned in here - when the Surfer or even Nova would have fit more naturally in that role.

Alicia Masters gaining the power to bring her sculptures to life? Meh. That was some borderline Bendis-level reaching there. It seemed like a plot device born out of pure convenience.

And then there's Wolverine being this fat, lethargic, apathetic slob. I guess *maybe* there's a morality tale meant to be there - with him getting everything he'd hoped for in a normal life, married to Jean Grey & being careful what you wish for - but I don't know. Seeing Logan and Jean reduced to Jerry Springer cliches just didn't click for me. Old Man Logan this was not.

But yeah. Overall, I had fun reading this one. Glad I scoped it out. Didn't even realize it was later expanded upon to become a full trilogy. My friend tells me the two sequels are mostly disappointing follow-ups though, and the synopsis I've seen doesn't exactly inspire me either. So I may take 'em or leave 'em at some point.

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Loved Earth X back in the day. One of my all-time favorite comics. And yeah, I remember the follow ups I did check out being pretty uninteresting 

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Yeah. Earth X really was a fun one. I'm going to bypass the sequels for now and get back to some of my regular reading.

In the interim, I did check out another quick dystopian future story. Didn't take long to read, but Jesus Christ. It's totally at the opposite end of the spectrum from Earth X. Absolutely no spark of hope or even a heart & soul to this book.

Yep. Ruins was this grim, dark, joyless cautionary tale of what the Marvel Universe might look like if shit had gone ALL horribly wrong with every hero's origin. I mean, that's basically the tale in a nutshell. A reporter is going around, interviewing all these heroes or "marvels" with a sneaky suspicion that this world should have turned out better.

This is certainly a Warren Ellis story, straight away. And, to his credit, he completely leans into the premise of the project. It's an exercise in excess, in shock & awe, and in horror. With that in mind, it accomplishes what it sets out to do in the broader sense. But damn. It's all just so depressing once you're done with it.

Everyone is in a bad way. A real bad, bad way. Professor X is the US President, but he's reclusive and living like a shut-in. Wolverine is a lush, hanging around his favorite bar but being treated like a freak show. In exchange for free drinks, Logan lets the bartender show off his horrifying disease - Wolverine's skin is practically peeling off the bone, courtesy of his adamantium skeleton poisoning his bloodstream. He looks like death warmed over.

The entire Kree race are imprisoned on Earth. They're also dying from cancer, thanks to radiation from the Power Cosmic. Because hey. Turns out the Silver Surfer couldn't actually breathe in space, so he went mad & literally ripped himself in half - releasing the Power Cosmic energy and giving them all the gift of cancer as a result.

Nick Fury turns out to be a raving, homicidal, suicidal maniac. Jean Grey is a call girl and can be your friend for a night at the low, low price of 20 bucks.

Rick Jones is a junkie and a bum. Thor is a delusional bum, who gets fucked up on mushrooms and believes he's actually the Norse god of thunder. Bruce Banner still got hit by the gamma bomb, but it just turned him into a hulking mass of oozing, malignant tumors. This is gross, horrific shit we're talking about.

What else? The Punisher tries to become a one-man army against the Mafia, but he just ends up getting sniped right away instead. Mystique is a shape-shifter, but she can't control it when she's off her meds. So she's just constantly growing teeth and eyeballs and shit all over her body.

Magneto needs his full concentration to keep his powers in check. So when a nearby citizen simply bumps into him on a runway, his magnetism tears a plane full of passengers apart and sucks the iron from their bodies. It's fucking nuts.

Cyclops, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler, and Quicksilver are all imprisoned by order of President Xavier. Wilson Fisk is their ruthless warden. Cyke's eyes have been fused shut. Nightcrawler has started eating his own flesh off the bone. Kitty has phased inside a wall, where her organs have slowly started to fail. And Quicksilver has had all his limbs removed.

Johnny Blaze is a literal circus daredevil, and he's genuinely insane. He douses his head in gasoline and sets his skull on fire for one final stunt. Emma Frost adopts children and performs surgical procedures on them in some sick attempt to unlock their psychic powers.

It's freaky, y'all. It's all very engrossing and terrifying to see your favorite characters in this light. But Ellis plays it well by keeping the story moving at a super quick clip. Things never drag or slow down, and that's essential to finding any redeeming value or enjoyment in this story if you ask me. Because it leaves you wanting to know more about this world. What led to this version of things? Why is EVERYTHING so awful?

The artwork adds a lot to the whole deal, too. It paints an appropriate picture of this twisted, ugly, outright GROTESQUE reality. It's not something I'd want to see on a monthly book or anything, but it lends itself beautifully to the tone & the feel of this story Ellis has crafted here. Fits it like a glove.

So yeah. I don't know that this would necessarily be recommended viewing for all comic book fans, but I dug it as an experiment and a short detour type read. It's definitely something different to help really shake up your regular routine, if nothing else.

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So, I was sharing my thoughts about Ruins with a friend & fellow comic book fan. He was cracking up at my reaction to the grim, sadistic tone of the book and INSTANTLY offered up another recommendation in response.

"If you thought that was something, you've gotta check out Ultimatum."

... And so here we are. Going in, I knew very little about the Ultimate Universe. I mean, it was a thing back when I was still regularly reading. But my attention started & stopped with Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man. That series was aces, but I never made the time or the effort to expand out beyond that. I'd heard about the Ultimates and knew they were basically the alternate Avengers. I knew about the X-Men through their guest appearances in Spider-Man, but that's about it.

Anyway, yeah. Ultimatum is insane. It's essentially a giant killing spree of a story. If you like massive body counts and world-changing epics, then this might be the book for you. If you hate change and can't stand to see your favorite characters in different circumstances, then you'll despise this one.

Suffice to say, it's very easy to understand why this story is so damn divisive. It's unlike anything I've ever seen - outside of a What If or Elsewords type tale.

Ultimatum is wall-to-wall craziness. It's huge stakes, but it's also ALL excess. It's egregious bloodshed and gore. It's gratuitous sleaze and violence.

The Blob is a cannibal and literally eats the fresh corpse of the Wasp. Hank Pym, in turn, grows giant-sized and bites the Blob's head off. This is all shown on panel. It's simultaneously cool to see and also grossly over-the-top.

Magneto breaks Xavier's neck. Sabretooth murders Angel. Captain America is crushed under a collapsing ceiling. Wolverine is filleted like a fish. Valkyrie has her throat slit. Magneto has his arm cut off, is impaled, and eventually has his head blown off.

Giant-sized Hank Pym is blown apart by hundreds of suicide bombers. Doctor Strange has his head POPPED like a grape. Cyclops is assassinated in broad daylight while calling for peace between humans and mutants. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, siblings & children of Magneto, are revealed to be incestuous lovers engaged in a secret taboo affair together.

And the book just goes on & on & on this way. It's all so much. It's exciting and unpredictably fun in spots, for sure. But it's all happening at a million miles a minute, and you can't really wrap your head around one nutty development before another is thrown in your face.

There are redeeming qualities to be found, but they're sort of overshadowed by the rapid-fire pace and all the "shock & awe" moments.

But yeah. Some of the characterizations are fun. There are several refreshing twists & tweaks to characters that we wouldn't (and SHOULDN'T) ever see in the mainstream Marvel universe.

Hank Pym has realized his full potential as a creep here. Witnessing the Wasp's death sends him over the edge. He literally starts talking to her half-eaten corpse and promises he can "fix" her. It's insane.

It's also REALLY cool to see Magneto completely unleashed. It's always been known that he's shown restraint in the 616, but here he's allowed to flex his best hits and pull out ALL THE STOPS. Dude is scary powerful and capable of literally turning the world as we know it upside down. I dug the chance to see that scenario play out.

Overall, this one's extremely polarizing. But I think the majority of fans hate it and simply categorize it as a sort of glorified piece of fan fiction. And I can see that. Even if it's written by Jeph Loeb, it's clearly Marvel deciding there is no personal attachment or commitment to any of these Ultimate characters - and so they can basically slaughter them as they please. Guilt-free.

That's basically what this is - a wholesale massacre of the Ultimate line. But I'm honestly not all that bothered by it. These characters are stand-ins. They're replicas. They're "what if" variations. They're not real boys. I'm comfortably detached from any emotional investment or attachment to them or their fates.

Unfortunately, that's a problem in itself. Because it dampens the stakes and makes this more like a vendetta film or a revenge porn flick than any sort of a good, solid comic book story.

I'm glad I read Ultimatum though. I don't know that it ever would've been on my radar without the recommendation. And, while I wouldn't necessarily say it was good, I wouldn't say it's all bad either. It's just not my thing. And it's not *my* universe of characters.

However, I can admire the ambition and the idea of taking this toy box of familiar characters & just BLOWING. IT. UP. To Loeb's credit, he had some fun in getting there and made some imaginative decisions along the way.

In a nutshell though, Ultimatum is one batshit banana bonkers story. Not for everybody.

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If you haven't read "East of West: The Apocalypse" I would recommend it.  Essentially it's an alternate real world where the Civil War dragged on until everyone got tired of it.  The U.S. gets split into 7 territories that have this "Game of Thrones" style of peace with politicking going on behind the scenes.  And the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse exist with a religion built around the Apocalypse itself.  Not the best comic I've ever read, definitely one of the more unique though.  And like GoT, it's hard to put it away because you want to know what happens next.

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On 1/12/2019 at 9:56 AM, dawho5 said:

If you haven't read "East of West: The Apocalypse" I would recommend it.  Essentially it's an alternate real world where the Civil War dragged on until everyone got tired of it.  The U.S. gets split into 7 territories that have this "Game of Thrones" style of peace with politicking going on behind the scenes.  And the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse exist with a religion built around the Apocalypse itself.  Not the best comic I've ever read, definitely one of the more unique though.  And like GoT, it's hard to put it away because you want to know what happens next.

Second this and @SomethingSavage it's written by Jonathan Hickman.

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Awesome possum. I will have to check it out sometime. Hickman hasn't let me down yet. Huge fan of everything I've seen from the guy so far.

In the meantime? I've been BLOWN AWAY by how much I dug Matt Fraction's run on Hawkeye. I mean, this is right up there with Hickman's Fantastic Four and Slott's Superior Spidey for me. It's obviously a different approach than either of those, but it's so SOOOO good.

First of all, this series has everything. An everyman central protagonist with a sense of humor. A straight man (woman?) sidekick to keep him in check. A cute, cuddly pet. A reliable supporting cast. Looming threats. Intense action. And on & on & on.

I should probably pause to say that I wasn't prepared to enjoy this as much as I did. I gave Fraction's Iron Man a try, based on a friend's recommendation. It left me cold & completely underwhelmed. His Tony Stark just didn't speak to me, and - while some of the stories were okay - there just weren't enough welcoming qualities to the book. It never sustained my interest from issue to issue. There were minor moments here & there, but I just had no desire to stick with it.

To be fair, there was a lot out there for me to explore and catch up on, so I was easily convinced to find something else and move on. So I may go back and give it another go at some point. But yeah. Fraction did little to impress me there.

His work with Iron Fist, however, was a total blast. It was a breath of fresh air. It, too, offered a distinct flavor and spin on things. And this run on Hawkeye feels like it falls a lot more in line with that. Its unique qualities truly stand out. The identity of this book almost hangs its hat on its quirkiness. It's great.

But yeah. Fraction's version of Clint Barton is terrific. He has a dash of Peter Parker in the way he's presented, which I can appreciate. There's still that traditional rebel soul within the character, but he's balanced by a real sense of responsibility as well. Beyond that, he's a smartass. It's a fine mix that results in a personality that's both very familiar and very relatable for me as a reader.

The banter is believable, and the bonds between the characters really reach out and hook you. It didn't take me long at all to become invested in Clint Barton's life. Hell, his neighborhood itself contributes SO MUCH to the story and feels every bit a part of the puzzle as anything or anyone else.

A running theme throughout the series revolves around Hawkeye finding his place in the world. He wants to be a better person. He wants to know where he belongs. But he has deep-rooted trust issues, and he's a loner at heart. He wants to be reliable, every bit as much as he struggles to sustain his independence. It's fantastic.

Before I forget, there's this one point where Clint is offering a deal to a criminal. He's trying to take the less violent approach, and so he talks about how just being around Captain America makes him want to be a better person. But Captain America isn't around right now. It's a great *GULP* moment and a cool little veiled threat of coercion that I thought was worth mentioning.

There's no shortage of subplots or side-stories either. Some things seem dropped for awhile, but they're ultimately revisited and wrapped up later. Everything pays off.

The fight scenes can get surprisingly violent and intense at times, too. The brutality can pack a real punch, which helps add weight and consequence to these stories. From a broader perspective, this also offers the pitch perfect counterbalance to the (at times) droll and fluffy comedy.

Don't misunderstand me though. The comedy isn't cheap or low-brow. There are plenty of legitimate laugh-out-loud moments to be found here. I never expected Fraction to knock my socks off with his comedy or anything, but it's like first discovering Joe Kelly's Deadpool back in the day or something. I really, really dug it.

The visual sight gags are on another level, too. And there's this hilarious running bit in which everyone keeps confusing Clint for Iron Fist. It's a great in-joke that works on a lot of levels (similar look, same creative team, etc.) It's just a neat little wrinkle that offers up some laughs.

The dialogue is also on point. Conversations sound like they're coming from the lips of real people - snappy, witty, SOOPAH sharp characters in well-defined roles. You really can't ask for more.

Oh. And Aja's art is INCRRRREDIBLE. Combined with the colors and the thick borders in every panel, it creates a one-of-a-kind reading experience. Seriously. Take one look at the pages of Hawkeye volume 4 & you won't ever mistake it for anything else. It's simply SOOO different, so distinct, and so unique. The art. The colors. The shading. I know I'm just glowing & gushing at this point, but nah. Fuck that noise. I love this book.

So yeah. One without the other may not be as strong or as memorable, but the mixture of Fraction's writing, Aja's art, and the signature coloring combines to create this crazy addictive cocktail. Hawkeye volume 4 very much OWNS its identity here. It carves out its own place in the comic book world, and it might just be my favorite new comfort place.

Fraction doesn't just deliver stereotypical superhero stories here either. Nor does he serve up straightforward "street level" stories either. Early on, I was reminded of Daredevil several times. Anyone could reasonably make the case for similarities there.

But Fraction quickly kicks that door down & shows how ambitious he can really be. There are several issues here that are completely devoted to some of the wackiest, boldest, most imaginative, and most experimental storytelling devices I've ever read. They're wonderful and fascinating.

I realize I sound like a total shill, but I don't mind. I'm absolutely on board with celebrating and advertising these issues. For example, there's one issue that's told entirely from the perspective of Hawkeye's dog. Like, we literally LIVE a day in the life of this dog. Panels are drawn as if they're seen through his eyes. When people speak, their word bubbles only pickup specific words that the canine has come to understand through repetition. Also, he's easily distracted. And pretty much obsessed with following his nose to find some pizza.

How can you not just LOVE that? Even better, it all leads to a pretty big revelation at the end of the issue. So it's not like it's a throwaway filler issue or anything. It actually leads to a monumental development in the series at the end. Fraction just takes a brilliant, creative path to get us there. And it's magnificent.

There's another landmark issue where Hawkeye loses his hearing. Again. But this is post House of M resurrection I guess, so *shrugs*. Anyway, the entire story is told through a deaf man. The apex comes when Hawkeye delivers this passionate speech to his neighbors and tenants USING SIGN LANGUAGE. The whole issue is such a drastic departure and such an ambitious endeavor. It's remarkable.

There's a key issue in which Clint opens up his home to his neighbor and her children. It's a Christmas-themed story, with the children huddling around to watch the annual TV special. Clint passes smooth out and dreams(?) his own version of the "Winter Friends!" program. It's basically a cartoon about a dog and his friends, but the dog is a lone wolf type & a total stand-in for Hawkeye himself. It's a heartwarming little gem of an issue all its own, but it's also stitched into the fabric of the larger story. It sets up things with Hawkeye's maturation & his relationship with his brother down the road. Very good stuff.

There's also this light-hearted, fluffy, flirtatious, crazy cute issue revolving around Valentine's Day. Clint Barton is in full-on Peter Parker mode, juggling a multitude of complex relationships from his past and failing miserably at trying to maintain them all. Black Widow, Spider-Woman, and Mockingbird all spring up for some truly fun appearances. Hawkeye's rep as a heartbreaker is explored, and the teased shipping with Kate Bishop finds focus.

I've skimmed over several of them, but yeah. The cast of characters in this book is a tremendous lot.

Barney - the sketchy, sometimes trustworthy, occasionally loyal brother of Clint Barton.

Grillz - the neighborhood host of all things barbecued.

Lucky - the rescue dog who is saved and taken in as a pet by Hawkeye. I know it sounds corny, but trust me. It's an awesome element. And Fraction plays it to maximum effect. There are some heart-wrenching moments, and there are some truly touching ones. All of them are afforded by Lucky. He's the best, and I won't stand for any criticism of his greatness.

Kate Bishop is essential, too. But I could go on for another hour about how much value she adds as a character and the PERFECT buddy cop to Clint's outrageous behavior.

In terms of villains, they aren't super. I mean, there's an assassin that would feel right at home in any Punisher or Daredevil story. But there aren't any real heavy-hitters here. We get glimpses of the major crime bosses meeting, and the Kingpin is a presence. He's making moves and plans, but he's not at the forefront or actively involved in things.

Nah. But what we DO GET is a gangland of these Russian thugs. And they're supremely fun, believe it or not. They're total tracksuit mobsters, tossing out "Bro" like they're straight out of Jersey.

The volume itself is wrapped up tightly & concisely enough to leave you fulfilled and satisfied as a reader. And that works out wonderfully for me, because I like parachuting into these arcs and jumping off whenever a creative team leaves the title or whatever.

In any case, I'm convinced this is THE definitive Hawkeye story. From start to finish, it was an absolute joy to read. It's an admirable trait anytime a creative team doesn't linger around long enough to wear out their welcome, yet I can't help but wish Fraction and Aja would have produced another 20 issues of Hawkeye for me. But hey. I'm a selfish lover (err, consumer) like that. :D

Oh. So yeah. To summarize - as if you couldn't already tell - you should go read this book. Hawkeye volume 4 by Fraction and Aja. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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Man oh man. Tom King's Vision from 2015 is something special. I've been dipping in & out of several series from the All-New, All-Different Marvel lineup lately, and this one certainly snuck up to catch me by surprise. I've never given much time or attention to the Vision, but yeah. This one's crazy good.

King is another writer that came along during my time away from comics. I've heard positive stuff about his DC work, but I haven't gotten around to reading any of that stuff yet. As a result, this is my first time experiencing any of his work. And I'm honestly enthralled by what he produced here.

The story is a bold endeavor, for sure. It's part psychological thriller, part noir murder mystery. It's superheroics meets Twin Peaks, with a little bit of Gone Girl sprinkled in there. It's just a fascinating take on the genre (and the titular character), but it really does work on every level. There are lies, secrets, cover-ups, and suspense aplenty. This thing keeps you on your toes with a looming sense of dread and unease. I couldn't help but get wrapped up in it all.

The premise itself is basic comic fun. After all his experiences, Vision still desires to live out a very human life. He still wants marriage. He wants a wife. He wants kids. He wants the picket fence. And so, years after the tragic "loss" of his children and that big old betrayal from the Scarlet Witch, he decides to build himself a proper android (cyborg? Robot? Synthezoid?) family.

This is all fairly straightforward when it comes to comics. Plus it makes sense in terms of Marvel logic. Like his father (Ultron) and grandfather (Hank Pym) before him, Vision has that curiosity bug and that natural desire to create intelligent life. So he builds himself a wife and two kids.

They're even assigned neat names, too. Virginia, his wife. Viv, his daughter. And Vin, his son. Good stuff.

There's some great humor with his family trying to adjust to "normal" standards at school and within their neighborhood. The kids just want to fit in, which is quite possibly the most human trait ever. And his wife just wants to be valued. To feel fulfilled.

It's like a deep, thought-provoking probe into the "ideal" American family and its unrealistic standards. It's true that it's nothing new to see that veil lifted. But here, in this particular instance, we're peeking behind the curtain of a family unraveling at the seams. And it's a family of Visions. So of course, ya know, it's way cooler and shit.

The wife, Virginia, steals the show though. She starts off fairly inconsequential. But, as her self-awareness develops and her personality grows, she quickly takes the story by storm. I won't give away too much, but she really becomes such a rich character throughout the arc. There are times where you'll root for her, times where you'll feel sympathy for her, and times where you'll fear her next move.

There's this incredible, compelling sense of unease surrounding this family and everyone in their immediate circle. You can't help but keep reading from one page to the next. You need to know what follows, what lie will be told, what will stay hidden, and what may come to light.

The art & the colors also add a distinct look and appeal to this series as well. Is there anything creepier than that image of a family of androids - GRINNING FROM EAR TO EAR - staring back at you & inviting you into their home like that? I'm not sure, but it's a haunting visual that stuck with me. Oh. And don't get me started on the gross, ghastly, graphic scene of the Grim Reaper being discovered in the backyard. Holy hell.

Another scene that sums up this series for me is the Vision's fatherly response to seeing his family fall apart in front of his eyes. He feels responsible & wholly accountable as their provider and protector. So he - well, let's say - "acquires" a family pet. It's dear old dad doing what he can to right the wrongs - to fix things - to deny the truth.

It's an honest, earnest attempt. But it's terribly misguided, and it's dripping with desperation. You can't help but feel awful for the guy. He's doing the best he can. But his family & their lives are ripping apart at the seams. It's the Americana nightmare. It's essentially what every good thriller is spawned from, and that's precisely what makes it so sneakily enjoyable at every turn.

It's definitely different from your typical superhero comic, for sure. But it's very engaging nonetheless. Well worth the effort.

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Anyone that is interested, the new digital version of Shonen Jump is $1.99 a month. It gets you access to the ongoing series as they release and a lot of archives. You are limited to 100 chapters a day. There is a shit ton of content like the entire run of One Piece available though. 

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Okay. So Jeff Lemire's run on Old Man Logan is pretty outstanding. It's this deep, excellent exploration of the aged Wolverine's personality - his struggling sense of accountability, his most basic instincts, and especially his inner turmoil. It truly is a tremendous character study.

Going back for a bit, I stepped away from my comic collecting/reading at some point in high school. I tried keeping up with a few Spider-Man titles here or there - Jenkins' run, the early JMS stuff before it became all supernatural and mystical, and DeFalco's awesome Spider-Girl all remained on my radar for longer than expected. I didn't actually read many of them, but I did my best to keep informed for some reason. I couldn't let go instantly.

Oh. And there was everything Garth Ennis. I had to see Preacher through to its end. And his Punisher was something I actively sought out.

Everything else fell to the wayside once I got that driver's license though, as you could imagine. Comics took a backseat - quick, fast, and in a hurry.

Anyway, other than Garth Ennis' work, only two stories were eventful enough to draw me back for short periods of time. One was Loeb and Lee's Hush. The other was Millar's original Old Man Logan.

I'm a HAYOOJ fan of alternate universes when they're done right. And Millar brought the goods with Old Man Logan. The world-building was on another level, and the characterization was supreme. Logan's resistance & reluctance was such a strong departure from the classic Wolverine we knew & loved, but it felt so natural and organic that he would eventually arrive at this place in his life - especially as we're given the back story of his murderous rampage.

Logan is an old man. A family man. With this giant, black cloud of shame & dishonor hovering over his head.

And the scene where Logan finds his family? In that split second where he's had enough & finally loses his shit? Ohmigod. That panel of Logan FINALLY popping his claws? Chills. Literal. Instant. Chills.

But I didn't come here to pile on more love for Millar's Logan. This is designed to be a post about Lemire's follow-up, which I honestly never even knew existed. I seriously didn't know it was a thing. And my first thought was that it'd be an unnecessary sequel. A tacked on cash-grab attempt, because OF COURSE Marvel would want to milk the popular story for all it's worth.

But I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this. It's not a lazily constructed sequel. It's a deeper dive into everything we already saw with the original. Lemire stays true to the roots of Old Man Logan, while simultaneously introducing him to a brand new cast of (mainstream) Marvel characters. Logan is further fleshed out in the process. He experiences grief. He wrestles with a natural appetite for revenge and some semblance of acceptace. It's great.

There's one big arc about Logan being hellbent on ensuring his future never happens, but there are all these smaller stories happening along the way. His villains aren't exactly dripping with complexity or anything, but that's fine when you deal with Deathstrike or Sabretooth. It is what it is. Besides, the psychological themes are clearly meant to be the focal points (and the actual fuel for the story) anyhow.

So yeah. I dug every bit of Lemire's run with Old Man Logan. I tried sticking around through the creative change for a bit, but it just wasn't the same. The heart & soul just wasn't synced up the same way. Suddenly, the lackluster villains mattered more - because the emotional beats weren't landing as hard anymore. And you can get by with one or the other, but when both are weak sauce? That will have you just waiting for the story to find an endpoint.

On paper, Maestro looks like the perfect counterpart for Logan. But his plot to nuke the planet or whatever was a bizarre departure from everything that came before. The book became this James Bond adventure or something overnight. It was jarring. And it was a bizarre way to bring back the inbred redneck Hulk clan - a move I originally applauded in earnest, although I didn't care for what they ultimately did with them.

Sabretooth popping up on Logan's birthday every year (like clockwork) to try to kill him is a neat touch though. Has that always been a thing? I seem to recall it being brought up before, but it's been so long since I read anything from the 80s and 90s I honestly couldn't be sure. It sounds like something I've heard before.

Anyway, the idea of Sabretooth KNOWING this Old Man Logan isn't the original Wolverine - but still honoring his vow to, ya know, kill the guy on his birthday - is freaking fantastic. It's too comic book-y for words. How do you not love that?!

Oh. And I have to heap some praise on the art. I fucking LOVE the graphic, gritty style on Old Man Logan. The way the action & the violence is emphasized and highlighted by those crimson-colored focus boxes is incredibly cool. It clobbers all subtlety like a wrecking ball, but I don't care. There's nuance in the characterization, so I don't necessarily demand it in my fight scenes.

Anyway, I adore the idea of those red boxes as a storytelling device in the action scenes. You can't help but have your attention & your eyes drawn to the action as it happens. It plays on your anticipation and excitement in some really fun ways.

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Rage of Ultron, to me, is the definitive Ultron story. It's an action-packed, adventurous, extended battle scene. But beneath that, it's a carefully crafted character study of Ultron (and, by extension, his standing within the Avengers canon).

I've previously read both Age of Ultron and Ultron Unlimited, two stories that were suggested to me and presented as possibly the best Ultron stories. I was way underwhelmed on both accounts though.

Age of Ultron read like a cluttered mess. I'm actually a big fan of dystopian future tales when they're done right, but that book was just Bendis at his worst. Character and dialogue got benched in favor of time travel and these contrived, needlessly complicated situations & overly convenient plot devices. It was just the worst kind of "big event" book in my view.

Ultron Unlimited was slightly better. I certainly feel like Busiek has a firmer grasp on team dynamics, even if his dialogue & personalities don't match up to Bendis in that department. Unlimited was a story that set out to REALLY crank up the heat on Ultron as a villain. It laid a heavy body count at his feet and certainly set him up higher on the food chain in their rogues gallery. But it still never reached that next level for me. Ultron trapping the Avengers and literally explaining his plan to them was weak. It's a literal cliche that played out too long and ultimately led to a fairly flat finale.

But then there's this story. Rage of Ultron kicks off with a BANG and just never lets up. Hell, the prelude alone is an awesome little story in itself. And that opening monologue from Ultron is an excellent glimpse into his mode of thinking. He has SUCH rich disdain for the human race - describing them as "savage monkeys", all claustrophobic and yet piled on top of one another with overpopulation. I don't remember it word for word, but it sets the stage perfectly.

Rick Remender really places the Ultron/Hank Pym relationship under a microscope here though. That's the heart & soul of this story in a nutshell. It's a layered, laser-focused examination of those characters and the ties that bind them.

Simultaneously, it touches on the theme of artificial intelligence again & again. As a result, some interesting questions are raised. Does an AI feel? Do they suffer in pain? Do they experience loss? Or joy? Why is Vision the abnormal exception? Is it "killing" for Pym to shut down Ultron's robots, or is it just a simple act of switching off a machine? Do artificial lives matter?

The exploration of the Pym/Ultron bond leads to a really badass exchange, actually. They're having a conversation, wherein Pym reveals he views Ultron as his son and cares for him accordingly. Furthermore, he knows Ultron harbors the same instincts, because his brain patterns were designed & patterned after Pym's. (To be fair, this revelation has been used plenty before, but it works very well and leads somewhere worthwhile here.)

Ultron's response? To surmise - You're right. I am a reflection of you, father. I am your self-loathing. I am your inadequacies. I am all your feelings of unacceptance. I am your frustration, your anger brought to life. "MY RAGE IS YOUR RAGE."

Just an incredible, tense, dramatic scene.

There's a similar kickass moment when Pym shows up to confront Ultron. As Ultron sits, seemingly triumphant atop a throne, Pym barges in. He's decked out in his old Ant-Man gear and growing gigantic, stomping past the underlings. "I NEED TO SPEAK TO MY SON." Tremendous.

Oh. And back before Pym approaches Ultron the first time, there's this great little gem in the conversation between Pym and Janet. The Wasp is injured, but Hank comes up with a plan.

"I've got an idea, Jan. But I don't think you're going to like it."

Her response? With a slight smile, as she lies wounded in his arms...

"The theme of our marriage."

Fantastic. Crazy good dialogue is sprinkled all throughout this thing. That's not necessarily something I would expect in an Ultron story, but there it is. Remender brings the goods, y'all.

The finale is a fitting one, too. It brings several threads full circle. There's a definitive display of bravery and a valiant sacrifice from the heroes' side, but the lingering threat of the villain remains at play in the end. Nothing is wrapped up TOO neatly or anything.

I mean, the solution is a little comic book-y, but what do you expect? It's a book about a robot with radical, obsessive ideas of conquest. Of course it was going to have a wacky sci-fi ending.

In terms of the art, well... It's good. There are pages or panels where the action POPS and everything looks sleek, slick, and clean. Then there are times when it looks kind of average. I'm admittedly not a big art guy though. That's unfair to the creators at times, for sure. But it's not unusual for me to simply not notice much about the artwork unless it's notably poor or exceptionally excellent. My opinion of a story will normally hinge on the writing, and it takes a lot for the art alone to sway me in either direction.

I did dig the Vision's new design though. It's not a design I've seen before, but yeah. I liked it a lot. It's not enough of a change to alter his actual look, and the color scheme is the same green, yellow, and red. But it's arranged in different patterns and angles, which (for whatever reason) combined to give him a sharper look in my eyes.

Anyway, that's my take on Rage of Ultron. It's not a blowaway great book you need to go out of your way to read or anything, but it's a super fun standalone story. And if I had to recommend one Ultron story to anyone, yeah. This is it.

It explores Ultron's character in a way that's thought-provoking, deeply intriguing, and wholly satisfying. Nothing I've ever read involving Ultron has accomplished that before.

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So my friend pointed out there was actually a follow-up to Rage of Ultron, and of course I had to check that out. It's a fairly solid sequel, too. There's some great symmetry with the previous story, as everything still sort of hinges on the intertwining Pym/Ultron/Vision dynamic and that father/son paternal theme.

The idea is that Hank Pym shows back up on Earth, alive & well after all. But he openly reveals his new symbiotic bond with the Ultron AI to his fellow Avengers, which creates this uneasy sense of dread that just hangs in the air like a black cloud for the first half of the story. It's great suspense.

There are some tremendous little scenes in here also. At one point, Pym is shown the monument they had built for him in honor of his valiant sacrifice. But Hank's mind takes it in another direction and instantly asks, "So you guys built me a statue, huh? Did you even try LOOKING FOR ME first..?" Good, tense moment there.

There's another neat scene after the Wasp's suspicions are confirmed and she declares that something needs to be done, because Hank never wanted to be kept alive by being hooked up to some machine.

There are also refreshing bits of comedy relief sprinkled throughout the story, courtesy of Deadpool. And that's an appreciated piece of the puzzle.

The climax is everything you'd expect, as it delivers the sprawling, beat-em-up style action you'd want with an Ultron story. Quicksilver in particular suffers a brutal beating. And the final standoff between Pym/Ultron and Vision is excellent.

I won't give away the exact ending, but it's a super satisfying finale for the Pym/Ultron saga. And the art captures those closing moments extremely well.

Most of my time lately has been spent wrapped up in Hulk stuff. I wanted to go back and experience the actual Planet Hulk story and see what that was all about. I mean, I was aware of it by way of the animated movie from years ago. And I knew it was an influencing element for the Thor: Ragnarok film. I enjoyed both of those, so I wanted to see for myself why the story is so highly regarded.

And now I know. I'm knee-deep in Hulk stuff at the moment, so I may reserve my overall comments for a later date. But Planet Hulk and World War Hulk were INCRRRREDIBLE.

Greg Pak totally revitalized Hulk as a character for me. I was always on/off again throughout much of Peter David's run, but I always felt like the Hulk suffered from the same symptoms as Wolverine's solo series. When the stories were on point and focused, they were fucking aces. But the title was a pattern of peaks & valleys, because it was always only a matter of time before things reverted back to being basic stories of action and fights without any actual narrative worth following.

Anyway, I'm forever a fan of solid, sturdy world-building. And Pak provided that for the Hulk - only to tear it all down and reinvigorate the Hulk's rage in the process. Worldbreaker Hulk is a fucking force of nature, and watching him wreck shop is truly a treat in itself.

I've mentioned before that I'm not very attentive when it comes to artwork sometimes, but that doesn't apply when it comes to a guy like Romita Jr. His stuff is top shelf here. Outside of Bagley, Romita Jr. may have been my favorite Spidey artist back in the day. And he serves up that same quality here. The way he draws the sheer anger and rage on Hulk's face is freaking PHENOMENAL. The eyes are legitimately intimidating & downright scary at times. And he depicts an ugly mug like nobody else. Victims of the Hulk's rampage look like hammered dog-shit. It's fantastic from panel to panel.

I'm not particularly thrilled about the Sentry getting the Super Cena push and being positioned as the one guy to stand his own ground against Worldbreaker Hulk, but I've read enough reviews to realize that's pretty much the common consensus. So I won't criticize the decision too harshly. It just seems like one of those moments in comics where they are bound & determined to get a character over, and it just doesn't stick like they want. Inhumans. Nate Grey. Sentry. All these things fall into that bucket for me.

I'm currently working my way through the one-two punch of Greg Pak and Jeph Loeb stories right now, and it's been a blast. Red Hulk was a character I initially rolled my eyes at, but he has definitely grown on me fairly fast. That's a testament to Loeb's handling of the character and some of the stuff he's done with him.

Ditto for Skaar, Son of Hulk. Legacy characters and derivatives are something I normally associate with DC, but they've certainly become a big thing in Marvel with the diversity movement and the expansion of title lines. In any case, I eventually found that Red Hulk and Skaar had won me over as their own unique, distinct characters.

I've recently arrived at (what feels like) the big, pivotal turning point of the World War Hulks story. Banner has reabsorbed the gamma radiation and transformed back into the green Hulk. In an AWESOME, EPIC, UNFORGETTABLE panel...

He tells his fellow Avengers, "Gentlemen... RUN."

Tremendous. The fight with Skaar is crazy violent and totally what you'd want from an action-packed finale. There *is* some melodramatic father/son stuff sprinkled in, as some attempt to callback to Banner's childhood abuse, and that mostly feels like a weak thread if I'm being honest. But everything else is awesome - including the last(?) brawl with Red Hulk, which features a cool little reveal as an added bonus also.

So yeah. That's my peanut buttah & jam at the moment. Pak and Loeb on Hulk is some seriously good shit. It's not the most thought-provoking reading material or anything, but it's a genuinely great comic book from page to page. There are elements of mystery to keep you guessing. There's a metric ton of guest appearances & cameos to offer variety. There's intense, all-out, balls-to-the-wall POWERFUL action to keep you engaged. And it's actually a love story underneath it all - a tale of one man experiencing love & loss again and again like a trend, and just how damn MAD that makes him feel.

Highly recommended. Check it out if you haven't yet, for sure. These Hulk stories (Planet Hulk and beyond) by Pak and Loeb feel like a real Renaissance for the character to me. It's akin to Miller on Batman. Or Miller on Daredevil. Or Claremont on X-Men. It's essentially taking a character and reshaping his whole environment. It's an incredibly rewarding reading experience. And, above all else, it's just a super fun comic book.

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