Saturday, 29 May 2010

Retro Review: Spider-Man: Redemption

Spider-Man: Redemption #1-4 by Dematteis / Zeck

The brief 90's period where Ben Reilly stood in for Peter Parker as Spider-Man is not one fondly remembered by fans and critics alike. Ben's status as the 'real' Peter Parker was seen as a slap in the face by many of the wall crawlers longtime followers and it could be argued that as a result he was never given a fair chance to shine as Spider-Man. Despite his generally lukewarm reception there are two Spider-Man stories that are generally cited as hidden gems from his brief run wearing the webs, both written by experienced Spider-Scribe J.M Dematteis. The first of which, titled The Lost Years told an untold story of Ben's time on the road and was a huge success. As a big fan of the story I was very much looking forward to reading Dematteis' follow up mini-series, Spider-Man: Redemption.

Set in the present (at the time) day, Redemption deals with the return of Ben's ex-lover Janine. Despite leading an initially blissful existence the pairs happiness together is shattered by the return of arch-nemesis Kaine and his final plan to end both his and Ben's lives.

It's kinda sad to say it but I really wanted to enjoy Redemption more than I did. The Lost Years was a great story, and while its follow up isn't bad at all, it fails to reach the heights of its predecessor. Part of the problem is the art. Mike Zeck is a very capable artist, as can be seen from his excellent work on Dematteis' critically acclaimed Kraven's Last Hunt. However, his art here fails to capture the brutal, gritty tone of the story as well as John Romita Jr's did in the The Lost Years. While Zeck's linework is as solid as ever the colours appeared far too pale and washed out for me.

The strength of the story, as is typical with Dematteis is in its characterisation. Dematteis clearly has a great love for and understanding of the characters of Ben, Janine and Kaine and portrays them all realistically, capturing the complexities of their characters. Janine in particular is really allowed to shine here and it's a real shame that she will probably never be seen again. Dematteis is infamous for the psychological nature of his stories and this is no exception. While his style can appear overdone and unnecessary at times it is the perfect fit for Redemption.

Sadly the plot fails to match the depth of characterisation on show, often hinging on overly contrived and unbelievable elements. While Kaine is a good villain and is used effectively in the story his plans seemed very unconvincing and poorly defined at times. Also, while it isn't Dematteis' fault, the story now appears depressingly inconsequential. Ben's vow to watch over Janine at the stories conclusion seems somewhat hollow as he died shortly after and Janine has never even been mentioned since. This obviously has nothing to do with Dematteis but really harms the stories conclusion.

Sadly Dematteis' story is ultimately harmed by it's lack of impact. All three of the main characters disappeared from the Spider-Man universe shortly after this story and thus the emotional growth in this story seems almost redundant. Dematteis' characteristic strong emotional depth manages to rescue a weak and unconvincing plot, but this is ultimately a dissapointing sequel to a superb story.


I can't wrap up my review without congratulating Dematteis for sneaking in the most blatant sexual innuendo I have ever seen in a comic book. If this was unintentional then it is certainly a hilarious coincidence. If you missed then I'll give you a's in one of the flashback sequences.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Review: Sentry - Fallen Sun

Sentry: Fallen Sun by Jenkins / Raney

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Siege #4

The Sentry is a strange character. Debuting in a critically acclaimed mini-series by Paul Jenkins, the general consensus seems to be that he should have been left well alone after that, and that Brian Michael Bendis' inclusion of him in his New Avengers team was a horrible mistake. I tend to disagree with this, his joining Bendis' team was an interesting move which led to some good stories (Jenkins' second Sentry series to name but one), the mistake was the cack handed handling of his origin. For roughly a three year period Marvel rammed SHOCKING new Sentry origins and powers down our throats until a once interesting, well defined character became a confusing mess. His death in Siege #4 seemed like a mercy killing if anything.

Luckily Paul Jenkins is the one man who has been able to write the Sentry consistently well, and he doesn't disappoint with this issue. Jenkins' strength has always been poignant, character driven issues, both descriptions that fit Fallen Sun perfectly. As in the original Sentry mini-series, Jenkins makes a convincing case for the Sentry's existence in the Marvel Universe, with the various heroes heartfelt tributes to him. Jenkins' characterisation's are consistently spot on, with his Tony Stark being particularly impressive. It was also a welcome surprise to see Sentry's sidekick Scout and his 'Watchdog'. This issues strengths mainly come from its ignoring of the more convoluted aspects of the character - Jenkins keeps it simple and it really works.There are minor complaints - it would have been nice to see the Hulk in some capacity and Rogue's revelations regarding her relationship with Sentry come slightly out of left-field but these are easily ignored.

Tom Raney's pencils are suitably understated - they didn't blow me away but what he had to do he did excellently, capturing the character's emotions well. I really liked his renditions of the heroes in street clothes with his Doctor Strange in particular being recognisable enough while still looking inappropriately dressed.

Silly name aside, this was a heartfelt, touching one-shot with a suitable tone - that said, if you aren't a fan of the Sentry stay well away from this, as it will most likely only fuel your hatred.


Sunday, 16 May 2010

News...Yes that's right, news!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog to bring you some exciting news about Josh On Comics. I was recently asked to write reviews for popular comic book website True Believer Reviews. I will be reviewing the Avengers titles there, with my first review being Dark Avengers #16 followed by Avengers #1 this week. The webmaster Otomo is a great guy so go check it out if you like reading comic reviews, interviews or features! There's a link in the bottom right corner of this very page!

Also, for anyone who wants to keep up with my various comic book related projects or just my general thoughts, I recently caved and got a Twitter account. Search for joshoncomics and follow me to keep updated and informed about all the latest comic book reviews from me.

Thanks for your time guys!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Not-Quite-Retro Review: Daredevil - Golden Age

Daredevil (volume 2) #66-70 by Bendis / Maleev

I turn to the not yet distant past for my latest review, and one of the darker, more obscure corners of Brian Michael Bendis' critically acclaimed run on Daredevil.
Golden Age is an intriguingly paced look back at the man who was Kingpin before Wilson Fisk and what happens on his release from prison after decades behind bars.
The first thing I noticed about Golden Age was the art. Alex Maleev's work is beautiful, realistic and richly coloured by Dave Stewart. Maleev's work manages to be moody without being overly dark or grimy, a mistake made by many of his contemparies. He also switches effectively between the differing time periods, altering his artwork without it being jarring and creating a strong, consistent tone.
Thankfully Bendis is able to craft a story to match the sublime artwork. His dialogue is, as usual, smart and witty throughout, managing to fit the earlier time periods without being too cheesy. His characterisation is spot on as well. Matt Murdoch is a grim, isolated protagonist, obviously affected by the traumatic events of his recent past (recapped well for those who haven't read the stories) while Bendis effectively builds up a new villain in Alexander Bont over the course of the five issue arc. Bont's anger and bitterness are conveyed superbly well through Bendis' writing and Maleev's cinematic pencils as the reader is treated to a widescreen look at his rise, fall and return.
It could be argued that Bendis' epic falls down slightly in its final act and although I agree that it was a slight anticlimax, it was definitely in keeping with the tone of the rest of the story. One area that the story does dissapoint in is the gratuitious appearances of one of Bendis' slightly less successful 'pet' characters, in this case an ill-fated reworking of obscure 1970's superhero The White Tiger. The character is interesting enough in her civillian guise in the opening chapters but only serves to get in the way of the central plot after her flirting with heroism begins.
Nevertheless, despite having read very little of Bendis' run before this story I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. This generation spanning epic is the perfect fit for Bendis and Maleev's cinematic style.


Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Dark Reign: My Verdict

Before I embark upon this revision dodging Blog, let me first make it clear that I am in no way 'against' Marvel. I am about as close to a 'Marvel Zombie' as it gets and have loved a lot of what has come out of the company over the last few years (Civil War included).

Dark Reign was a great idea. Letting the villains 'win' is an often underused plot, particularly in the Marvel Universe. While it has been done before (Kurt Busieks' excellent Kang Dynasty story arc among others) this is the first time it has been truly attempted on a company wide scale, with the vast majority of Marvel's books tying into the central story. Did it work? In my opinion, not really...

The story started off brilliantly. Norman Osborn was a great choice of villain and it seemed fresh and interesting to see him in a position of such great power. The cabal were also great fun. I wasn't around for the 90's Acts of Vengeance crossover so I loved seeing some of Marvel's most well known villains (and the Hood) interacting with each other. The group had a great dynamic with the charismatic duo of Doom and Loki often upstaging Osborn.

The tie-ins were generally excellent as well. The Thunderbolts in particular worked very well in their new niche as Osborn's black ops squad. The Dark Avengers were also great as a grittier, modern day reworking of the original Thunderbolts concept and for me marks a high point in Bendis' modern day writings. It was cool seeing a total reversal in Tony Stark's fortunes in Matt Fraction's Invincible Iron Man as well. And as I detailed in an earlier post Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers served as an excellent tonic to the moodiness of the rest of the Marvel Universe, while still tying loosely into Dark Reign.

So where did it go wrong? For me, Dark Reign was almost doomed from the start. Even in the early months as Osborn's fragile sanity began to collapse it became clear that it was a case of when, not if he would be deposed. Osborn was ultimately an unconvincing figurehead for the cabal. There were some hints that Doom would take over but they came to nothing and he now appears to have been shunted off into his own corner of the Marvel Universe in Doomwar. The inevitability of Osborn's collapse robbed the story of much needed feelings of hopeless and dread.

The tie-ins gradually decreased in quality as well. Thunderbolts seemed for the latter half of Dark Reign to be in a constant struggle to validate its existence, with even fan favourite writer Jeff Parker unable to give the title a point. Mighty Avengers collapsed as well, Slott's bizarre insistence on 'redeeming Hank Pym reaching ridiculous levels by the books increasingly silly conclusion. Dark Avengers was a very well written core book but suffered from Bendis' lamentable insistence that every team that he writes needs to be dismantled within a handful of story-arcs. The Dark Avengers seemed to have barely got started before they had been jettisoned (a shame too - it's probably been my favourite Marvel book for the duration of Dark Reign).

And Siege. Ah...Siege. Hyped as a story seven years in the making Siege has been acclaimed as the best 'event book' since House of M started the trend. I agree, it's been a solid series, but as a conclusion to a status quo as promising as Dark Reign was it seems little more than a predictable four issue long slugfest. I won't even go into the effect it's had on Thor, one of my favourite books. Kieron Gillon has done an admirable job under difficult circumstances but Siege has sadly made the title's plot seem irrelevant.

I would like to reiterate, this was not a post intended to bash Marvel. I actually thought they got a lot right during Dark Reign and it let to some enjoyable stories . For me though, it fell some way short of being classed as a classic era of Marvel Comics. If you enjoyed it more than I did...I'm happy for you, and I would love to hear why, leave a comment!