Age of Ultron #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Cory Petit
29 pages, $3.99
I planned to jump right into this review without any preamble. I really wanted to write two actual honest-to-god “capsule” reviews this week… Meaning I wanted to write 2 short reviews– not two long-winded rants like I usually turn in to Ian. But the more I think about this particular comic, the more I seriously know I can’t do that. Something’s been truly bugging me about a few of Marvel’s comics the last couple of weeks– and Age of Ultron #1 ended up being the last piece of the puzzle I needed to back up the claim I’m about to make.
For years, I’ve had a more than decent record predicting which way Marvel would fuck their fans out of as much money as they could… And I’ve continued to predict these fairly regular screwings in our IMJ Podcasts and weekly Capsule Reviews. So here’s the thing I have noticed as of late: Marvel is offering $3.99 comics with MORE than the usual 20 pages of art. Now, if you’ve read my review of Nova #1 and Locusmortis‘ review of Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1– you already know the increased page counts do not necessarily mean you get more value for your money.
Age of Ultron #1 is following suit with 29 pages of art for “only” $3.99. I am telling you this right here and now: It really feels as if Marvel is testing the waters to again raise the price of their comic books.
I have little doubt this is what’s happening. Marvel is currently releasing comics with a ridiculous “perceived” value. Hey, they’re giving you almost 30 pages of story for the normal Marvel price of $3.99… What a deal, right? So when they offer the same page count down the road for, say, the increased price of $4.50 or $4.99, it could seem fair. After all, Marvel has generously been giving you 7 or more “extra” pages without charging you more money for these current comics… And they didn’t NEED do to that… Right?
Like Nova #1 and GOTG #0.1, you need to take a closer look at what Marvel’s offering to understand just how worthless it is. Once you do, the “perceived” value of these “extra pages” is completely lost to those who know better. Hell, just reading the main creator names on this issue should tell you what’s coming: Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch are the Kings of Decompression™ storytelling. Keeping this in mind, my criticisms of Age of Ultron #1 should not come as a surprise to anyone.
Any storyteller worth a damn would’ve been able to convey EVERYTHING happening in this comic in 12 pages or less. Bendis’ dialog is so anemic, it’s completely devoid of substance. The first three-quarters of this comic could be told without the use of any words at all– and the reader would still understand everything that’s happening. Couple this fact with Hitch’s unnecessary use of double splash pages, full splash pages and “letterboxed” panels– and it becomes even more apparent both men are stretching this series out with maximum malicious forethought, all in an effort to bleed your wallet dry.
As for the story… Well, stop me if this sounds at all familiar: Age of Ultron #1 takes place in a dystopian future where the villains run the show. Beaten back and driven into hiding, the heroes secretly gather to form an underground resistance in order to reclaim what the villains have taken from the world. Some of the heroes are mentally broken, some have become total assholes and Bendis’ Spider-Man still cannot say anything remotely funny– even if his life depends on it.
This issue should have been a Free Comic Book Day giveaway at best. There is absolutely nothing substantial to be found here. It is all setup– with no last page payoff. The final kicker? Ultron doesn’t appear anywhere in the book!
Age of Ultron #1 perfectly encapsulates everything that’s currently wrong with most of America’s mainstream comics. It also highlights that Brian Bendis needs to be kept to a few insular, stand-alone titles and that Bryan Hitch is the most overrated artist in the industry… A penciler who purposefully spreads out his stories in order to sell splash pages at a nice high price point. (Remember the entire extra issue of Captain America: Reborn no one asked for– but got anyway?) There seems to be no love put into this comic… Unless the love comes in the form of putting in the least amount of work necessary or making double splash pages out of things that should realistically only take up a 1 panel in order to collect a sweet ass paycheck. (Taking a quick look back, my last point is not entirely fair to all the talent associated with this comic. Inker Paul Neary and colorist Paul Mounts both turn in solid performances, as always.)
As a bonus for taking the time to read my extra long review, allow me to show you the first FOUR action-packed pages of Age of Ultron #1. Enjoy. – Jose Melendez
Smallville Season Eleven #11
Hunted: Chapter 3
Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colorist: Carrie Strachan
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
30 pages, $3.99
I’m happy one of my last comic book reviews for IMJ will involve Smallville: Season Eleven. For the last year and half, comic pros and fans have watched DC’s New 52 with extreme interest– chronicling and critiquing the impact and ramifications of every change in DC’s new universe. Sadly, we’ve also seen many of their comics slip in quality– as DC Editorial continues to make numerous bad decisions with their main universe titles. All this makes me happy to say everything we ever hoped for and wanted from the New 52 venture is at least being accomplished in this Smallville comic.
There are those who don’t like the TV Show and never will– and their opinions are totally understandable. (The series’ first three seasons were tough to slog through.) But there is a difference between the show and the comic. The show is about the Superboy Years— Clark Kent learning about himself and defining the character traits that will eventually lead to his becoming Superman. Starting with the first issue, Smallville Season Eleven has accomplished what the New 52 Action Comics and Superman tried (but failed) to do with the Kryptonian. Not only that, but this comic’s creators are taking on the entire DCU the same way.
This issue is the Third Part of a storyline featuring Bart Allen as Impulse. Clark and Bart go in search of Jay Garrick (the Golden Age Flash) to see if he can help Bart stop Speed Force storms from terrorizing people everywhere he runs. So even though this is a Superman comic– and Superman does take the lead in the story– The Smallville franchise is succeeding at rebooting the DCU and its characters in new and interesting ways. And they are doing it all without making crazy character adjustments. Yes, there are things that are different (like the past story arc with Batman and Nightwing)… But they aren’t too far from the original characters. The creators here aren’t buying into the silly exercise of “be different, yet stay the same” that is destroying most of DC’s New 52 comics.
Smallville is also a comic you can easily slip into. The stories are constructed like the television episodes, so you can come in at any point and still enjoy the storylines.
I honestly can’t think of one reason not to pick this comic up. It has everything we’ve been asking for from DC’s New 52. Because it’s a comic book, Smallville Season Eleven doesn’t have to adhere to mandates from the CW Network to keep it attractive to their target audience. In brief, it is the Superman comic we’ve been wanting. – W.D. Prescott
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Joëlle Jones
Colorist: Nick Filardi
Letterer: Ed Brisson
24 pages, $3.99
“Northlanders meets Walking Dead.”
That’s just my guess at how Cullen Bunn pitched this story to the Oni Press editorial staff. Thankfully it isn’t quite as derivative as I’m making it sound, and there are enough unique elements to make this stand apart as a solid piece of entertainment.
Page 1 jumps right into the action as a group of Viking tribesmen are racing to try to escape from a band of rampaging zombie warriors and their accompanying hellhounds. Of course, they fail to outrun them– otherwise it would be a pretty boring comic, no? Instead they are plunged into a grim fight-til-death outside the gates of their village. After countless acts of bloodletting and decapitation, they emerge victorious… But no sooner do they relax for a few moments, when the corpses of their fallen comrades are resurrected by the unseen entity which they were originally sent out to defeat.
I’d better not reveal any more plot than that so as not to ruin the other twists revealed later in the story. All in all, it was quite a good tale but not one which was entirely coherent. Some of the characterisation didn’t ring true, especially the lack of emotional bond between main character Rikard and his father.
This was my first time seeing Joëlle Jones’ art. On the whole, it was enjoyable. Her layouts service the story well and the fight scenes had more than enough energy to be exciting. Her zombie and hellhound designs were outstanding. There are some weaknesses in the viking character poses– especially in relation to the placing of their arms and shoulders in combat scenes and some of the character’s heads looked badly placed while they were standing front on to the reader. The colours by Nick Filardi were generally excellent and the lettering by Ed Brisson was just right and presented well.
I can’t say that I was utterly knocked out or charmed by Helheim, but there is enough here to keep me intrigued and wanting to see more… So, to that extent, it was satisfying. Viking Hell! – Locusmortis
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Joëlle Jones
Colorist: Nick Filardi
Letterer: Ed Brisson
24 pages, $3.99
I have been waiting to check out small press publisher Oni Press for a while. So when they announced Helheim, I knew I had to pick it up. After reading the first issue, while good, I’m not sure those hyping the publisher would include this title in their hype. If you put Helheim next to the standard fare from Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse (and the other companies with large advertising space in the monthly Previews catalogue)… I would say this comic is better than most number ones coming from these companies– but still suffers from some of the same flaws that affect much of the industry’s output.
Introducing a new story to readers is not an easy task. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to plop the reader into the middle of the action. Creator Cullen Bunn does this to great effect at the start of the story– but as I read on, I realized he never finished the other half of this storytelling formula. The reason writers start some stories in the middle is to allow themselves the ability to present the rest of their world through natural methods and elements weaned from the ongoing story. But once the main action in Helheim concludes, Bunn only gives us a few panels of reaction and explanation– and then the story ends. These reactions don’t tell us anything about this new world he’s created. The twist at the end also has no power, since we lack context to understand the twist’s relationship to the characters involved.
Somewhat shallow story aside, there is a reason to pick up this book. The art by Joëlle Jones and Nick Filardi is something I don’t see a lot of: It’s unique. A lot of comics look the same to me. I might be able to tell different artists apart, but there is a certain aesthetic that everyone seems to stay within in mainstream books that almost makes me see them all as one artist. Jones conveys a lot of inspirations in her work too, but the end result is all her own– which makes her art that much more memorable for me. Filardi’s colors are vivid and amplify the atmosphere created by Jones’ pencils.
The art makes this book an easy read. I’m sure Bunn will fill in the plot/character gaps in later issues… But since they exist in this issue, I have to knock a star off my rating. If the writing begins to match the art later on, I could see Helheim becoming a great series. – W.D. Prescott
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Dustin Weaver
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Corey Petit
21 pages, $3.99
This is NOT an Avengers comic.
(I’m really gonna have to come up with another opening line before Insideman kills me.) Still, what I just wrote is correct– this is an Avengers comic in name only. You could easily take their brief appearances out of this story and replace them with generic characters and there would be absolutely NO difference.
Here’s what we get for our 4 dollars: A high concept science-fiction story told in an extremely decompressed form– with incidental appearances by Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America and a couple of other “heroes” that I couldn’t figure out who the hell they were. (Writer Jonathan Hickman didn’t bother his hole to actually tell me either.)
At least the comic looks absolutely beautiful. Dustin Weaver is in the top echelon of American Superhero Artists, and unlike some other Marvel illustrators I’ve reviewed recently– he doesn’t seem to have any significant or noticeable flaws. His layouts are varied and dynamic, his character poses are fluid and his backgrounds are phenomenal. His art reminds me of Francois (Cities of the Fantastic) Schuiten’s work and his non-Avengers character designs remind me of Juan (Metabarons) Gimenez. If this were an ideal world, Weaver and Hickman would be doing European-Style graphic novels without having to shoehorn any Avengers into their stories.
Like last week’s Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1, Justin Ponsor is the colourist here and again, he makes everything look beautiful– especially the alternate universe and outer space stuff. If I was a DC Executive, I’d break the fucking bank to hire him– especially since the majority of their titles are horribly coloured, murky-as-mud messes. (Aside from a few titles, most DC pamphlets look like crap compared to their Marvel counterparts… And I’m speaking here as someone not particularly enamoured with Marvel’s output.)
In terms of actual plot, something called a “White Event” (don’t worry, nobody bothers explaining what the fuck that is, so I haven’t a clue either) is destroying the Superflow (yep, no idea what that is either) in every universe until it gets to the Marvel 616– and Earth in particular. That takes up the first half of the story and, as I mentioned before, it looks visually spectacular. Keep in mind, no Avengers appear until page 10 but what’s the big deal? Why would you want to see any Avengers in a comic called THE AVENGERS?
Then we get half a dozen pages introducing an unnamed individual (of course) doing inconsequential boring shit– which I guess is meant to show him as a normal guy– but which just bored me and pissed me off until finally, eventually, he’s revealed to be The Starbrand on the last page… Who is (naturally) destined to save the planet. We get a few panels of Avengers standing around in the second half of the story– looking at stuff happen on monitors and talking technobabble. Eventually they get into a quinjet to figure out what the hell is happening.
I wish they’d tell me while they’re at it!
So, the verdict is: A visually sumptuous piece of vacuous entertainment. A 10 page story expanded into 21, completely saved by one of the best artists around. 2 Stars for Weaver and Ponsor, Zero Stars for Hickman. – Locusmortis
The Summer of Hard
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Piotr Kowalksi
Colorist: Brad Simpson
Letterer: Russ Wooton
Graphic Designer: Sonia Harris
32 pages, $2.99
It seems I was destined to come back and write comic book reviews! Just as we received news Red Tash would have to take a temporary breather to attend to some backlogged work that actually pays her (she works for MONEY?!), we received word from W.D. Prescott that he would have to take his leave as well… As mounting schoolwork and such just made his plentiful IMJ contributions impossible.
As I said in my weekly note to the IMJ Capsule Review Crew™, I keep trying to quit comics… But they keep pulling me back in!
Still, without attempting to sound like a Hallmark Card or Tony Robbins, I do often believe significant loss can lead to substantial gains and the opening of new opportunities… So it would seem fortuitous the week I am pressed back into review service is the same week Joe Casey decided to release his new Image Comic, Sex.
Hey, I like sex. I like looking at sex. I like talking about sex. I like having sex. So reviewing a comic called Sex should a 100% complete no-brainer.
And then a really not-so-funny thing happened: As I was editing and constructing this week’s Capsule Reviews™ column, I decided to pop onto Comixology via my iPad and download a copy of Joe Casey’s Sex #1… And it wasn’t there. I reloaded Comixology’s Same Day As Print page three times… Then scrolled up and down on the page more than any reasonably sane person would ever do… Until I finally realized the goddamn comic book was simply not there.
Oh, I could buy plenty of shit: Age of Ultron #1, Best of Zenescope: Special Edition, Superior Spider-Man #5, Green Lantern #18 and A+X #5… But the new comic from a well-respected indie creator (who’s also written tons of praised mainstream work) was nowhere to be found. There were plenty of heads ripping off shoulders action, bloody impalements and repetitious killing to be found– but no Sex #1.
Undeterred, I put “Sex” into the Comixology search box on my iPad– and here’s what I found: Essex County, Let’s Draw Manga: Sexy Gals and X-Force: Sex and Violence (featuring lots of that disemboweling action I mentioned before.) But no Sex #1 by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalksi. I even went to the Image “Publishers” link on my iPad, then hit “Recently Added” and no Sex #1. Hit “Popular Series” and no Sex #1. Finally, I sat down in front of my desktop, hit the “New Digital Comics” button on Comixology’s main page and finally found Sex #1.
I also had to read a friggin’ book-length disclaimer WARNING me about the comic:
Whew! That’s a lotta work and a lot of cautionary verbiage to read just to find/buy a popular new comic book. So I did what any self-respecting Comics Fan would do faced with such apparent censorship (even if it was happening only on my iPad)… I grabbed my tablet, went to my Comics Plus App and BAM! the comic was there on the Store’s FRONT Page, neatly displayed in alphabetical order under the “S” comics.
So I bought Sex #1 at Comics Plus. And I also decided I would never buy another Independent Comic from Comixology again. Ever. Fuck that noise. I only truly hate a few things in my miserable life, but one of the things I hate most of all is censorship. The idea that kids can easily buy decapitations aplenty at Comixology, but apparently the same company can’t possibly risk an underage child being exposed to a woman’s bare vajayjay on an iPad is beyond my level of comprehension. I mean, I get it (even if I really hate it)… But the sexual content in Sex #1 is tame compared to what almost any kid could find with 2 clicks on the Net– from a tablet or a desktop machine.
Now here’s where all this gets really funny. Sex #1 isn’t about sex at all… At least the first issue isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there is consensual sex in the comic book– between two female sex workers who are performing a few mild moves on each other in a show, for pay. And they’re doing this in front of the retired hero of the book, Simon Cooke. But Simon’s not having sex with the women– and one of the fine-looking ladies even derides him for not having sex with himself. It’s also not really clear why Simon is in this exclusive looking, high roller sex club. Is he there to research just how far his city has fallen in the absence of his heroic alter-ego, the Armored Saint… Or is he just a lonely perv?
Nope, except for the measly 5 pages featuring the aforementioned sex (and don’t get hot or bothered– it’s hardly seen in every panel), Sex #1 is more about Simon returning to Saturn City to take back the reigns of his multi-national corporation, The Cooke Company and trying to adjust to “civilian” life. There’s even a great scene between two posh thugs who lament Simon’s departure from the life… Seems that since he’s hung up his outfit and gone all civvie, the thugs are having a hard time convincing other less than reputable people they need their protection services from the good guys.
If you’re thinking this sounds like the “old Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen– just with real balls and a conscious,” I don’t think you would be far off. Sex #1 is about a lot of very interesting adult themes– the least of which is actual sex or perversion or whatever gets your shorts or panties in a bunch nowadays.
You should also be aware there are only 18 comic book pages (with art). The rest of the comic is filled with Joe Casey’s patented style of hilarious and informative backmatter and a few ads and illustrations. (Digital customers also get screwed out of seeing a really cool wraparound cover in its entirety as one single image too.) But let me be clear, Casey does more in those 18 pages than most supposedly “top-tier” writers do in twice as many. Piotr Kowalksi’s art is spot on too. Perfect for the look, feel and tone of the story.
I’m taking a 1/2 star off my rating for the irritating decision someone made to color the dialogue Casey wanted to emphasize in the word balloons. It’s a different idea (and also a minor problem)– but it still put me off… Which proves, I guess, that I can be just as petty as a major digital comics purveyor.
At least I’m not scared by a few erect nipples. – Ian MacMillan
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #22
Writer: Sam Humphries
Artists: Joe Bennett, Ruy José
Colorist: Matt Milla
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
20 pages, $3.99
I’m not sure I’ve read any issues of this most recent iteration of The Ultimates but I figured if the comic does its job properly, that shouldn’t be a problem. The good news is I didn’t feel lost at all… But sad to say, the book also wasn’t a very satisfying read. Here’s why.
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #22 is comprised of 4 separate storylines. Three are running concurrently, while one is a flashback. The flashback– which deals with a failed attempt of forming an Ultimates team 9 years previous– takes up the majority of the book… As well it should, seeing how the flashback sets up the antagonists for the current story. I enjoyed this part the most, but it all has a “been there, done that” feeling. The whole concept of a superhero team not working out because it’s made of unstable characters is more than a bit tired. And the whole idea of, “Well, the team didn’t work out on the account they are uncontrollable… But let’s put them to sleep in an underground lab just in case we need them at some point”? Ya, nothing good ever comes of that.
As for the rest of the book, we get to see Captain America negotiating and politicking as President of the United States… All while wearing his costume. It’s so goofball, it’s difficult to take serious… Well, as serious as I can take a comic where grown-ups are running around in tights punching each other in the face. I’m sure there is some reason why Cap’s in costume, like the people voted for a symbol and not a man (purely a guess)… But isn’t the Ultimate Universe supposed to be more reality-based than the 616?
There are two pages devoted to Thor and the Invisible Woman looking for Infinity Gems. I do like the way Sue Richards is portrayed here. Very intelligent and mature… Even though I believe this version is younger than the 616 one, no? Either way, I wish there was more of her storyline here.
As for the last of the 4 stories… I guess Tony Stark’s tumor is now a being named Anthony whom Tony talks to. But it’s all in his mind. Apparently the tumor has gotten so big it serves as another brain for Tony. This plot point is so damn ridiculous, I couldn’t help but like it. (In case you were wondering, I find this way more believable and acceptable than having the POTUS walking around in a flashy red, white and blue costume.)
So, ya, decent read– but not satisfying. Not nearly enough time is devoted to each of the stories… And with a $3.99 price I can’t recommend it. Hey, I’m sure this will read better in the trade… And I’m also sure that’s exactly the way Marvel planned it. My question is, why don’t comic readers just wise up and wait for trades when it comes to Marvel? Paying $4 a pop for a 5 minute read is just not worth it. – Jose Melendez
Age of Ultron # 1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: VC’s Corey Petit
29 pages, $3.99
Memo to Brian Michael Bendis –
This story was already done better by John Byrne and Chris Claremont back in 1981.
It was called Days of Future Past, in case you never got around to reading it before you started writing your various “All New” X-Men comics. – Locusmortis