Tag Archive: Marvel Comics


Review by C.J. Bunce

We first met Rom the Spaceknight in 1979 in the pages of his own Marvel Comics series.  Rom’s first foes were the Dire Wraiths, evolved descendants of the same Skrulls from the Avengers stories.  Since 1979 the Wraiths have faced all sorts of familiar Marvel superheroes, including S.H.I.E.L.D., the X-Men, Silver Surfer, Power Man and Iron Fist, the Fantastic Four, and Doctor Strange.  Now, thanks to co-publisher IDW Publishing, Rom: Dire Wraiths–a new mini-series brings astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins at the launch of the Apollo 11 in 1969 face to face with the Wraiths.

But where’s Rom?  That’s covered in a back-up story by Chris Ryall (writer of previous Rom stories),  featuring art by Guy Dorian (Rom, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero) and comics legend Sal Buscema (The Incredible Hulk, Spectacular Spider-Man).  The primary story by Ryall features a vist from Earth Command, and it includes artwork by Luca Pizzari (Marvel’s Weapon X).  Some particularly striking variant covers are available for the first issue, drawn by Luca Pizzari, Corin Howell, and a collaboration between Guy Dorian and Sal Buscema.  The Wraiths, in both stories, are rendered with incredible detail, some of the best sci-fi/alien designs we’ve seen–one panel in the back-up story featuring the claws is almost three-dimensional.  Brilliant work.

You might recall Men in Black III took a similar approach, an alternate timeline with a visit to the day of the Moonshot, bringing that series’ Agent J back in time to meet a young Agent K at the Apollo 11 launch and face an alien threat, as Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who also accomplished in the episode “Day of the Moon.”  As with these other genre close encounters, in Rom: Dire Wraiths humans apparently knew more than the public was made aware back in 1969.  In as many crossovers as we’ve found that featured an appearance by the Dire Wraiths, this story also references the G.I. Joe universe via reference to cyborg Mike Power (and did they refer to The Ruby Files’ Rick Ruby?).

This is a science fiction story for fans of monster comics from the 1950s through the 1980s.  The artwork is truly top tier sci-fi.  Here is a preview of the first issue and look at some nicely creepy future covers from Rom: Dire Wraiths:

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The second Black Widow trailer has arrived (if you missed the first, we previewed it here).  Black Widow features the return of Scarlett Johansson as Marvel’s biggest and most seen screen superheroine, plus Stranger Things and Hellboy star David Harbour as the Soviet answer to Captain America, the Red Guardian, Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) as assassin Melina Vostokoff aka Iron Maiden, Florence Pugh (The Commuter) as Yelena Belova, and de-aged Oscar-winning actor William Hurt, who started the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe off in The Incredible Hulk, back as General Ross.

Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow takes place following the events of Captain America: Civil War, so it’s not really all that long ago.  The villain featured in the new trailer is Taskmaster, created in 1980 by writer David Michelinie and artist George Pérez. but the identity of the actor/actress has yet to be revealed.  Pugh’s character might be getting queued up to take over the Black Widow mantle later in this new phase (#4) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as her character has been known to use the Black Widow title in the pages of the comics.

Along with the trailer, Marvel released a video looking back at Black Widow in the MCU so far.  Check out this new trailer and feature for Black Widow:

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Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best in Comics.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, and the Best in Television 2019 here.

We reviewed comics from every major publisher this year, and were pleasantly surprised with all the new characters and content available.  You’ll find both some new creators on the list this year and some fan favorites who keep making better comic books each new year.

Here are the best comic books for 2019:

 

Best Limited Comic Series (tie) – Sara by Garth Ennis and Steve Epting (TKO Studios) and Goodnight Paradise by Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli (TKO Studios).  The new publisher TKO Studios began with a bang with these two incredible stories.  Sara is what every fan of war comics hopes for, and Goodnight Paradise brings the realities of life in the 21st century to the comics page in a story that will stay with readers a long time.

Best Ongoing Comic Book SeriesGhost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane (IDW Publishing). Haunting, mythic, and sweeping, this story of a man reflecting on his past and coming to terms with the present combines with Asian legend tropes to form an emotional and curiously funny tale. Sure to leave readers begging for more.

 

Best Sci-Fi Comic Series, Best Comic Book WritingAscender by writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen (Image Comics).  Lemire owned this category with two fabulous science fiction tales, both with strong female lead characters. Runner-up: Sentient by Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta (TKO Studios).

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We’ll all forever scratch our heads over why it didn’t enter anyone’s mind at Marvel Studios to get Black Widow her own movie before Infinity War and Endgame.  Was it because they didn’t plan to kill off Black Widow in Endgame until the last minute?  In repeated interviews Scarlett Johansson doesn’t even seem to know why.  Captain Marvel was great fun, but wouldn’t it have made sense to have this film as the penultimate film in the decade-long, newly titled Infinity Saga?  But it looks like Disney and Marvel pulled it off.  Johansson as a younger Black Widow, and a great, fun, surprise cast gets the spotlight in the first trailer for next summer’s first likely blockbuster, which arrived this morning.

As you’ll see in the trailer below, Black Widow features the return of Johansson, plus adds Stranger Things and Hellboy star David Harbour as the Soviet answer to Captain America, the Red Guardian, Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) as assassin Melina Vostokoff aka Iron Maiden, Florence Pugh (The Commuter) as Yelena Belova, and de-aged Oscar-winning actor William Hurt, who started the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe off in The Incredible Hulk, back as General Ross.  Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow takes place following the events of Captain America: Civil War, so it’s not really all that long ago.  Recall when Natasha Romanov left Steve Rogers at the cemetery at the end of the film?  This is evidently what she alluded to when she left.  The villain is Taskmaster, but the identity of that actor/actress has yet to be revealed.  And Pugh’s character might be getting queued up to take over the Black Widow mantle later in this new phase (#4) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as her character has been known to use the title in the pages of the comic books.

 

Along with the trailer, a second poster was released Tuesday morning, following the red hourglass style of the first poster given to fans at Disney’s D23 Expo this year.

First previewed at D23 Expo, check out this first trailer for Black Widow:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest novel re-issue from the Marvel universe is an adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s original story arc from the pages of 1981’s series The Uncanny X-Men: X-Men: Days of Future Past You may have read the original classic comics, you may have seen the ground-breaking 2014 team-up movie, and now author Alex Irvine digs deeper into the original story that remains among comic book readers’ most acclaimed stories.  A recurring trope–the banning of individuals with superpowers–is the background for this story of a former member of the X-Men, Kate Pryde, who is sent back to the past from the dark, not-so-distant future on the brink of Armageddon.

Kate is sent back in time to try to change an event in the past, the murder of Senator Kelly by Raven aka Mystique, and the deaths of several others including Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert.  The deaths are the impetus to the creation and domination of Sentinels, giant robots that can track and destroy mutants–or anyone else–with ease.  X-Men stories tend to include so many characters that readers only get to view a few character arcs.  Writer Alex Irvine keeps his story crisp and constantly moving forward.  Here we see Kate Pryde returned to the past and in doing so she swaps consciences with her 13-year-old self–new X-Men recruit Kitty Pryde, begrudgingly taking the name of Sprite, who will one day embrace the code name Shadowcat.  She is sent to the past by the telepathic Rachel Summers, the future daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey aka Phoenix.

Irvine keeps his story to a core band of players.  In the future, it’s Logan aka Wolverine, Magneto, Ororo aka Storm, and Kate’s husband Peter Rasputin aka Colossus.  In the past, Kate in the form of Kitty must convince Storm, Logan, Colossus, Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, Moira and Charles to prevent Mystique, the Blob, and others from the Brotherhood of the Hellfire Club headed up by Emma Frost from wreaking havoc on Senator Kelly’s congressional hearing.

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Writer/artist Ed Piskor broke new ground with his epic history of the Marvel universe in a tiny package, with his Grand Design and Second Genesis trilogy series (reviewed here at borg only last year).  A complete throwback in style to comics of the 1930s through the 1970s, Piskor’s series included small, tightly crammed panels allowing for only minimal detail, lots of content per page, bright classic colors, and good ol’ fashioned newsprint pages (mmm… just smell that newsprint!).  But Piskor covered only one segment of the Marvel universe in his books:  The X-Men.  This week writer/artist Tom Scioli enters the picture with his own take on Marvel’s Grand Design series, focusing on the Fantastic Four in the new series Fantastic Four: Grand Design.

In Issue #1 Scioli takes readers through an origin story of the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm, as they become Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing, all in a similar style to Piskor’s series.  As expected, readers can look for a lot of history in 45 pages, including meeting one of the Watchers, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Mole Man, the Hulk, the Celestials, the Inhumans, Galactus, Silver Surfer, and lots of other characters tucked into the corners.  Since the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I find it difficult to separate the comics from the movies, and every comic I read pulls me into the thought of how it might be adapted for the big screen.  If you haven’t been keeping up, along with the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and Namor all moved over to Disney’s MCU, and Scioli lays out one possible way the Fantastic Four could be introduced into the reel world dominated thus far by the Avengers.  Could the first Fantastic Four movie, or a Fantastic Four sub-series of films (like the Avengers) segue moviegoers into the missing pieces never before seen on the big screen like Namor, and pull in the above heroes and villains?  We’ll know in a few years.

 

Look for two covers by Scioli for the first issue of Fantastic Four: Grand Design, and one variant, a very cool homage to Frank Miller’s second issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns featuring the Thing in place of Batman, re-created by Ed Piskor (shown above with Miller’s original).  Want to have a look inside the first issue?  Here’s a preview of #1, and a sneak peek at Issue #2:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix saga in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men has attained classic status in the eyes of comics readers, up there with The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Days of Future Past.  So adapting the story into another medium forty years later is one of those cultural mainstays, a modern analogue to creating a new Sherlock Holmes film, Frankenstein movie, or another generation’s interpretation of a Shakespeare play.  Marvel Comics itself has given this a go a few times now, usually as subplots or tie-in concepts, and at the movies Marvel tried it with X-Men: United, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Dark Phoenix, this year’s wrap-up to the X-Men films.  X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga, the new hardcover novel from author Stuart Moore (Captain Ginger, Civil War, Thanos: Death Sentence) comes the closest so far to a faithful adaptation for Dark Phoenix purists.

We probably should blame Marvel’s bankruptcy and resulting character/universe splits and business decisions for the disjointed handling of the Dark Phoenix characters and plot points at the movies.  Dark Phoenix is an interesting story, but not the only X-Men story, so it would have been better revealed over five or six movies culminating in a Jean Grey-centered finale, since the character has been defined as Earth’s most powerful superhero as the Marvel universe is concerned.  She’s worth it.  Now with the successes of theatrical comic book adaptations, and the formula of long-term story development in the genre a proven commodity, maybe fans will see more loyal movie adaptations coming (hopefully only after we get to see some of the hundreds of other stories adapted).  But fans of the comics will be pleased here: Moore doesn’t play games with his novel.  Readers will find the classic game of chess and all the key pieces:  Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, Jason Wyngarde, Donald Pierce, Harry Leland, Lilandra, Moira MacTaggert, and X-Men Xavier/Charles, Kitty Pryde, Scott Summers and Logan & Co. (except notably Beast, who for some reason was not included).

Despite marketing to the effect of adapting the tale to the 21st century, if that’s true it’s only subtly handled.  The bones of the story are the same (including the awkward 1970s Harlequin romance subplot from the comics with Jean and a Regency era lover, every cringeworthy bit).  New readers, those unfamiliar with the story at all, will likely find some of those classic Claremont and Cockrum elements a bit jolting and distracting to the overall narrative, and episodic tangent shifts more typical to a monthly comic than longform story.  But Moore brings it all together with the key conflicts and outcomes of the source material falling into place.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Comic book fans saw an unprecedented 13 television series based in the Marvel Comics universe since Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2013.  Of those the six best produced of these landed on Netflix, beginning with Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  You’ll not likely find two people who can agree on which was best.  My #1 goes to Luke Cage, which went beyond the typical superhero turf to show a completely unique two seasons of stories.  I thought Daredevil offered nothing new, and The Punisher turned a ho-hum character into something exciting thanks primarily to the performance of actor Jon Bernthal.  The team-up The Defenders just couldn’t find chemistry between its members, and the best part of Iron Fist was Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing and appearances by Simone Missick’s Misty Knight and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple.  Which brings us to the third and final season of Jessica Jones, the last of Netflix’s trip through the Marvel characters at least for the foreseeable future.

Jessica Jones started out promising, and that was no small feat considering the superhero was more anti-hero than the typical Marvel story.  Actor Krysten Ritter knew her character from her first episode, and in three seasons never veered from the moody, angry detective we first met in 2015.  Unfortunately, in three seasons the character never changed, unless even more moody, angry, and alone is enough.  The first season worked because Jones had to face a particularly unique and vile villain in David Tennant′s Kilgrave.  As he’s done with this year’s Good Omens, Tennant’s energy and intensity tends to elevate even the most bland material.  Season 2 of Jessica Jones had another interesting villain as Jones’ biological mother, played by Janet McTeer.  The third season?  It lacked a compelling villain at all, with Jeremy Bobb playing a Law & Order villain-of-the-week transplant fans were stuck with for an entire season (Bobb’s played guest Law & Order characters four times).  The actual villain was the one lurking the entire time, Carrie-Anne Moss′s dying lawyer and Jones’ former comrade in sleuthing, Jeri Hogarth.  Despite the talent of the actors, the story arc this season was flat.  The series begged for episodic tales, and instead it dragged what could have been a single episode story.  It’s Netflix ending on a sour note, and confirms new creators are needed to salvage what could be a great group of characters on the small screen.

The saving grace for the entire series, and the only reason to invest your time for all three seasons, is that it launched the character Hellcat.  Just like Jessica Jones introduced Mike Colter’s Luke Cage (who returns briefly to bookend the series) and Daredevil launched The Punisher, something bigger and better than the title hero arrived.  Upstaging the star, no character had a greater character arc than Rachael Taylor′s “messed-up” child star Patsy, grown up into Trish Walker, a human with powers, known as Hellcat in the comics and in the show’s credits.  The writers knew they had something good, showing her struggle to help her sister in the second season to become an equal during season three.  But they bungled it.  Trish was loyal to her sister, trying to do what every good superhero character tries–to create good for people and try not to get corrupted.  But the show tripped into the common superhero trap–superheroes, at least these superheroes, can’t cross the line of the law for any reason and kill the bad guy.  In this case, even if a serial killer continues to murder relentlessly, and even if the cops have practically given up trying to catch him, and the legal system has failed.  So how many opportunities are presented and skipped over by the characters?  A dozen?  And the result by Jones failing to let Trish act is–surprise–more dead bodies.  If Jessica Jones, the character, is about anything, isn’t it getting dirty to take down bad guys?  So why give her series this stale Superman/Batman/Green Arrow, etc. Boy Scout story?  The question of whether superheroes can ever kill is as overdone in the genre as origin stories, and completely unsatisfying as the only dilemma here.  Yet through it all Taylor as Trish/Hellcat was fantastic stuff.

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Before Walter Simonson and Tom Palmer collaborated on their stunning adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, they joined forces to create a great run of stories in the pages of Marvel Comics’ original Star Wars monthly, featuring two of the most famous borgs of all time, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  By some kind of miracle the original page art from the 1980s was located to come together for IDW Publishing′s sixty-third Art Edition publication.  Boasting the 1:1 scale, original comic page art sized, pages in a deluxe hardcover edition, this is another of those books Star Wars fans have always dreamed of.

Just as we saw with Howard Chaykin and Roy Thomas’s earlier Art Edition for Star Wars (reviewed here at borg), Walter Simonson Star Wars Artist’s Edition presents high-quality copies of the original page art.  Unlike many past Artist’s Editions, however, the entire lettering and logos are all present, so readers can re-visit the entire issues (minus ads) for Issue #51 “Resurrection of Evil,” Issue #52 “To Take the Tarkin,” Issue #55 “Plif!,” issue #56 “Coffin in the Clouds,” Issue #57 “Hello, Bespin, Good-Bye!,” and Issue #60 “Shira’s Story,” all written by long-time The Amazing Spider-Man and Action Comics writer and Venom, Carnage, and Scott Lang Ant-Man character creator David Michelinie, with lettering by Joe Rosen and John Morelli.

Take a look at the original inked artwork in these stunning preview pages of Walter Simonson Star Wars Artist’s Edition presented for borg readers courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With Avengers: Endgame still in theaters, another adaptation of the same source material that inspired that movie and Avengers: Infinity War is now available.  It’s James A. Moore′s Infinity, a novelized adaptation of the Infinity comic book event from 2013.  Moore adapts the key story details from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer’s story across an array of comic book titles, drawn by several artists.  In most ways Infinity will seem completely foreign to fans who are only aware of the movies.  When people speak of the cosmic side of the Marvel universe they’re referring to the kinds of elements that form the backbone of this story.  The Inhumans, known many by the short-lived television series, are a major component of the story.  Like the graphic novel, the novel follows the Avengers and other superheroes of Earth trying to fight off ancient creators called the Builders, who believe that Earth would be better terraformed–leveled, destroyed, and rebuilt–than left as it is.  At the same time Thanos is looking for his son.  One of his loyal Children of Thanos (the Black Order in the novel), which consists of the same henchmen in the films plus a few others, ultimately finds him–his son, Thane–on Earth.

Fans of 1980s brief New Universe will recognize Star Brand and Nighthawk as major characters in this story.  Missing characters seen in the graphic novel that don’t end up here are Luke Cage, Power Man, She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, Wasp, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hank Pym, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Falcon.  New characters for movie audiences include Manifold, Captain Universe, and the Atlantean Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  Black Panther and Doctor Strange are still key to the story, but in different ways.  Alien races include the Kree and the Skrulls, with Ronan the Accuser as a major player.  The novel adaptation is spread thinly across universes as was the comics version.  Keeping track of the characters without the benefit of seeing their unique costumes may be difficult for anyone not familiar with all the comics.

If you’re bothered by corporate guru Tony Stark as always the smartest guy in the room, which seems to be the thing in more recent years, especially with the popularity of the character from the movies, you’ll find some relief here.  Fortunately Moore also uses Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, Hulk Bruce Banner, and X-Men’s Hank McCoy aka The Beast–the three actual smartest legacy superhero characters–to work the moving parts of the problem.  Ultimately what the reader brings to the book will determine the level of enjoyment.  For anyone new to hundreds of tangent characters of the Marvel Comics, keeping track of Who’s Who is nearly impossible.  Moore takes strides to bring background characters to the fore, including a romantic sub-plot, but who they are and why they should be important isn’t tapped into enough.

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