Category: Comics

“Quasar #1-14” by Mark Gruenwald from Marvel Comics

Quasar 1 to 14

Quasar #1 to #14

Writer:  Mark Gruenwald

Artist:  Paul Ryan and Mike Manley

Published:  1989 to 1990

Rather than reading Quasar Classic (pictured above), I’ve actually read the 9 issues of the main series collected in here as well as the next 5 issues of the regular series (so Quasar #1-14). There’s a Quasar #25 on Goodreads that I’ll mark on that website to review the next batch of comics, but I’ll just lay things out more clearly on this website.

Let’s start with the good. The first three issues of this series are fantastic. Issue #1 is a standard superhero origin story but it’s also charming in its retro tropes and SHIELD vs AIM storyline. Issue #2 was my favorite in this first batch of stories, as it takes a time jump of six years and features some deep space travel and discovery for our protagonist. Issue #3 three shifted things again by bringing Wendell Vaughn back to Earth where he tries to set up a business and rent office space in the Baxter Building.

Unfortunately, that’s where the book really stalls as the next several issues (#4 through #9) feature a very routine “alien of the week” storyline. Wendell is tasked by Eon with being ready to face a great alien menace, and so each issue he goes to find one of these aliens and confront him. Usually there is a quick battle or misunderstanding, and that’s about it. Wendell also shows up at his office for about 2 pages each issue to show up late, bemoan that there’s no business or that he has so much to do, but then he leaves again instantly to go investigate something.

Maybe it’s the thirty year old in me, but I really enjoy the supporting cast of coworkers Gruenwald surrounds Vaughn with more than the alien adventures that never really challenge Quasar. There’s also a hint of romance with Vaughn’s secretary, but as of yet it hasn’t gone anywhere. The other interesting relationship in Vaughn’s life is with his dad, who is more interested in chatting with Eon (the space entity) than with his son, although at this point in the series Gruenwald seems to be showing how it is more Wendell’s fault than his dad’s. I’d expect this storyline to have some major ramifications shortly.

The worst parts of this series can be found in those issues I lumped together (#4 through #9) as they really stay formulaic with little change in geography or concept. For a cosmic hero, Quasar is strictly Earthbound for this period and the book doesn’t spend enough time doing anything to advance plot to keep it interesting. (Issue #9 does have some more fun with AIM however, and a newer, evil female MODOK analog.) Even Vaughn’s power set hurts the comics as Quasar comes off like a Green Lantern rip off during every fight scene, with very little discovery about what he can do after issue #2. Issue #10 fixes some of that with a (finally!) cosmic adventure with a couple of Kree supporting characters but it’s back to the same problems for Quasar #11 and #12.

Where I’ve left off Quasar is engaged in another cosmic story with the Ex-Squadron Supreme, but because it deals with a different dimension I don’t have high hopes for it having much going on in terms of high stakes. I much more interested with what’s going on with Wendell’s dad and his coworkers, though if this group of comics is any indication it will be another 15 or so issues before either storyline pays off.

3-star

“Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House” by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker

Invincible 23

Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House

Writer:  Robert Kirkman

Artist: Cory Walker

Published:  2017

Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House is a solid installment in the continuing adventures of Mark Grayson and company, however it unfortunately suffers by comparison as it follows up one of the best installments in the series, Reboot? **Spoilers follow for events that have happened leading up to this volume** The cliffhanger ending of Reboot? had Mark returning to his wife and daughter after what seemed a few weeks for him but was five years for the rest of the universe. Full House picks up with Mark finding out what his family did without him, the state of the war against Thragg and how Robot’s reign as ruler of the Earth is going.

The bulk of the page count is spent with Eve, as Mark must accept and understand the situation she was in on an alien world, not knowing if he would ever return for so long. Mark and Eve always have one of the more rational relationships in comics, and the big revelations here provide some drama but also never really threaten the status quo of Invincible’s two most important heroes. Perhaps more important to the rest of the comic universe are Nolan’s (Omni-Man) acceptance of Robot back on earth, and Oliver’s direct line of communication with Thragg. The fact that the two other Viltrumite Graysons are both in some degree of cahoots with Mark’s greatest enemies foreshadows a conflict that will draw Mark (and Eve, and Terra) back into the fight against their wishes to take time as a family and detach.

Some other fun tidbits from this volume: Allen the Alien shows off his healing capabilities which rival or surpass those of the Viltrumites; Brit, The Immortal and a few other early Invincible characters make (brief) appearances; and an abandoned storyline of Mark’s violent sexual encounter with a female Viltrumite resurfaces with some fun implications for the future. (One of the fun things about reviewing comics is the sheer craziness involved in doing plot recaps.)

While Reboot? nailed every note and provided fantastic twists and character development for Mark, Full House suffers by returning to the status quo despite an opportunity to shake things up by jumping five years ahead. Even the most shocking moments in this volume were negligible on their impact for the overarching series by the conclusion of the sixth issue (Allen’s storyline, Eve’s revelation, Oliver’s communication). The huge cast of characters Kirkman has developed for this series is great for long term storytelling but if it suffers a drawback it’s that certain characters seem to exist only to be killed and that was the feeling I had (instead of grief) at the loss of one recurring character at the conclusion of this volume. With the announcement that this series is ending, I’m predicting this to become more of a rapid fire occurrence in the world of Invincible as Thragg rarely makes an appearance without killing somebody. Hopefully Kirkman will avoid using the Deus Ex Atom Eve superpowers again though as it is in danger of taking away from the usually high stakes in the series.

Typically the easiest fault to point at Invincible is that it’s not new reader friendly, and I’ll concede that’s an issue for this series. However as the title heads to its conclusion I appreciate that it does reward long term readers with plenty of plots that will only make sense to those that have read it all. The entire series is in print from Image Comics as TPB’s, so there’s no excuse for not just starting at Volume 1 for those looking to try it out (seriously, why would you begin something at Vol. 23?). While I prefer the volumes that are entirely Ryan Ottley’s art, Cory Walker’s art in this volume is still very good and does not draw attention to the change in art styles except for on three or four pages scattered throughout (not bad at 6 issues of 22 pages each). Full House was not one of my favorite chapters in the Invincible universe but it did nothing to take away from what is shaping up to be one of the best complete comic series I’ve ever read. Let’s just hope Kirkman can stick the landing.

3-star

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon & Groot Steal the Galaxy” by Dan Abnett Review

Guardians of Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon & Groot Steal the Galaxy

Author: Dan Abnett

Release Date: 2014

This prose novel featuring characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy comics (and tv show, and movie, etc.) is written by Dan Abnett, one half of the writing team that revamped the team’s lineup and has led to some obscure characters becoming as recognizable as the X-Men. Back when he (and Andy Lanning) first released those Guardians of the Galaxy comics, my wife and I got so hooked on them they quickly became our favorite characters. Along with Groot and Rocket Racoon, Star Lord, Drax, Gamora, Bug, Cosmo, Mantis and plenty of others were totally unique in the Marvel cosmic landscape and in comics in general.

Since that time, a lots happened with our favorite characters. As mentioned, they starred in a huge success of a film, have their own cartoon on Disney, and have been written by various A-List comic writers including Brian Michael Bendis on the most recent run. Groot, Star-Lord, Rocket Racoon, Gamora and even Drax have had their own solo series in addition to the ongoing team book. Abnett and Lanning have stopped writing together (sadly I’ve tried a lot of each of their solo stuff and haven’t enjoyed any of it as much as all of their earlier stuff they wrote together). The result of all of that? The Guardians have had a major drop in quality and the two most obscure characters of the bunch have really been run into the ground for the sake of capitalizing on their new fame.

Yeah, I get it. Complaining about overexposure on obscure Marvel superheroes is kind of like saying “I liked the Backstreet Boys where they were underground,” but anybody who reads comics knows that publishers will take a character that sells and put them in a dozen books until the bottom falls out of the market. What does all of this have to do with this prose novel? Unfortunately, the entire novel felt like a cash grab more than a story that needed (or deserved) to be told.

The plot goes as follows: Rocket and Groot come into contact with a Rigellian space recorder (a robot that records everything, who also serves as the 1st person narrator for the book). The robot is being hunted by Timely, Inc. (basically the Wal-Mart or Amazon of the Galaxy) for its contents which may prove so valuable that along the way others start chasing after it as well. Those include Annihilus, The Badoon, the Kree, a Galadorian Space Knight, The Shiar Empire, Gamora, the Xandarians (Novas, or space police) and just about every Marvel alien race short of the Inhumans. Rocket and Groot don’t know why the robot is so valuable, but they try to hang on to him to save their own skins, make a profit and/or protect their new friends depending on the chapter.

The plot of the book felt like a six issue story arc in the comics, where every few chapters there’s a new alien race or bounty hunter involved in the pursuit, but despite the huge cast of fairly disposable characters the book takes a low stakes cartoony approach where nobody ever feels in danger. The humor is most reminiscent of Skottie Young’s Rocket Racoon series, but without the fun artwork to accompany it the story feels tedious at 350+ pages. Rocket and Groot work best as supporting fun characters than as their own protagonists, and this book really suffers for it until a third guardian shows up to provide some additional plot movement.

The best things going for this book is the humor by Abnett, who routinely puts in pop culture references and adolescent voyeur humor by the narrator that work OK. A list of the top five worst jobs in the Marvel cosmic universe was very well done and showed the potential of a prose setting in a Marvel story.  Jokes about disconcertingly human like hands worked less well, particularly on their 39th landing. I got another of these prose novels recently that takes place in the Marvel Cosmic universe, as apparently it’s a new line of books Marvel it trying. Based on this first outing, I’ll read that one before I purchase any more of these.

2-star

“The Infinity War” by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim Review

Infinity War

The Infinity War

Created by: Jim Starlin and Ron Lim

Release date: 1992

Following on the events of the Infinity Gauntlet and Warlock and the Infinity Watch, Jim Starlin continues the saga of Adam Warlock, Thanos and the Infinity Gems in the Infinity War. Included in this collection is the Infinity War limited series, Warlock and the Infinity Watch #7-10, and the stories I, Thanos from Marvel Comics Presents #108-111. I’ll echo other reviewers and state that the proper order to read these issues is not as presented in this collection but instead as:

1. Warlock and the Infinity Watch #7.
2. Infinity War #1-3.
3. Marvel Comics Presents #108-111 (The I, Thanos stories at the back)
4. Warlock and the Infinity Watch #8.
5. Infinity War #4-5.
6. Warlock and the Infinity Watch #9-10.
7. Infinity War #6.

The biggest problem that this series faces is the curse of following up a very successful event and just not working as well in comparison. The main culprit is a villain that seems over the top evil in the Magus, which makes sense to some degree because he is the evil portion of Adam Warlock’s psyche expelled and made flesh. (After obtaining the Infinity Gauntlet, Adam Warlock expelled all good and evil from himself in order to be omnipotent and not destructive.) Besides being pure evil, Magus is also brilliant enough to foresee the exact reactions of everybody from Thanos to Captain America to Galactus to his maneuvers. The result is a plan that plays out too tidy over the course of the story.

Turning Thanos from the villain to a sidekick for Adam Warlock provides some of the better material in this book, and also allows a side story into Gamora’s origin to fit in (which also has the most adult material in the collection). However it also constantly reminds the reader how much more fun the Infinity Gauntlet with evil Thanos was by comparison. Along with the Magus are a ton of evil doppelgangers of the villains which are completely impotent when it comes to threatening the heroes. During the course of this story, if the doppelgangers are killed they disappear, and for the two heroes they actually beat in battle, everything is reset to back to normal by the end.

The characters that aren’t Adam Warlock or Thanos are profoundly useless during this book, with the lone exception of Doctor Doom and Kang who provide some of the best moments, constantly saying one thing and thinking another. Doom’s arc is one of the best parts of the series, up until it ends and is summarily discarded and never mentioned again. The other most intriguing question is who possesses the Reality Gem, but because this collection includes ongoing titles it’s unfortunately not one that is provided any resolution. The end result is a fun operatic space saga that never escapes the shadow of the Infinity Gauntlet.

3-star

“Invincible, Vol. 22: Reboot?” by Robert Kirkman Review

invincible-22

Invincible, Vol. 22: Reboot?

Author: Robert Kirkman

Release Date: February 2016

I don’t know the last time I’ve read anything, be it a comic or book, where an author laid out two possible paths for a plot and I was so equally excited to read either one of them. This volume of invincible continues the existing storylines on both Earth (with Robot eliminating crime at any cost) and in space (where Mark and Eve are adjusting to alien life with their daughter and searching for Thragg).

The diverging plot twist occurs when Invincible has an opportunity to go back to the events of the first issue and use his knowledge of the future to save lives. In a series like this one where so many major characters have secrets that is a very intriguing path to follow. The ongoing storyline that has been built up for years through hundreds of issues was left off on a cliffhanger that was equally interesting to continue reading.

I’ve heard this series is ending, and barring a total collapse of galactic proportions this will end up being one of the best comic series I’ve ever read.

5-star

“Sam and Twitch: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2” by Brian Michael Bendis Review

sam

Sam and Twitch: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2

Author: Brian Michael Bendis

Release Date: February 2012

This review is for the actual comic issues collected in this series.

I can only imagine that reading this series when it first came out would have been incredibly frustrating and one I would not have stuck with. The letters pages indicate that the book was always late, with a one year gap occurring between issues 24 and 25. For a mystery series (which is usually my least favorite genre in comics due to the long time between issues) that would have been a deal breaker.

On top of that, the series had a major creative change, going from Brian Michael Bendis and Angel Medina to Bendis and Alex Maleev, to finally writer Todd McFarlane and artist Paul Lee. The most jarring change in in the writing, which went from solid, very Bendis style dialogue to an overwritten McFarlane style that frequently used every available inch of panel space to cram in dialogue. On top of that, the editing appears to have slipped as well at the creative transition, as typos routinely slip through (I noticed a few “you’re” instead of “yours”) and lettering issues where spaces are missing and apostrophe’s dangle away from their words. I’ll probably draw ire for saying this, but I actually prefer the simpler Paul Lee art to either of the prior two guys, and think the best drawn segment of the entire series was the two detectives exploring the killer’s property in issue 26.

The two storylines collected in this volume include a bounty hunter storyline where Twitch’s girlfriend is shot in a random act of bad luck by a visiting bounty hunter and a serial killer who targets Sam and sends him videotapes of all his killings. The first story is fine, though it seemed like an excuse for Bendis to have his Jinx character crossover into this book. The concluding storyline not only completely brushes the ending of the previous arc under the rug and ignores exploring Twitch leaving the force, but then ends up feeling like so many police story cliches strung together. Besides enjoying the art in this final story, I did also appreciate that we finally get a sense of Sam as a human being outside of work. I enjoyed this series overall when read in a few sittings, though the quality was up then down in terms of writing and inconsistent in terms of art.

3-star

“Nailbiter, Vol. 1: There Will be Blood” by Joshua Williamson Review

nail

Nailbiter, Vol. 1: There Will be Blood

Author: Joshua Williamson

Release Date: 2014

Nailbiter is a series about a small town that has been the birth place of 16 different serial killers, including a man who gnawed the fingernails off of his victims. A police officer goes to the town to try to discover what happened, and he goes missing. The series picks up when the officer’s friend, a man who specializes in interrogation, goes to find out what happened to his friend. **Spoiler alert** There’s also some indication the main character is on trial for murder somewhere.

This series had a lot of interesting twists and ideas at work, so I’m interested in seeing if the author can make everything payoff and/or tie together. The art is slightly below average, with faces in particular looking warped in profile shots. It’s also unclear at the beginning whether there is a supernatural element or not, and while I’m sure that’s intentional by the writer the way it was executed was a bit frustrating (a character disappearing between panels).

4-star