Madrox The Multiple Man: Multiple Choice/Madrox The Multiple Man!
(Art by John Buscema, Joe Sinnot, Pablo Raimodi and Drew Hennessey)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 56. Here we get Madrox's first appearance in the pages of the Fantastic Four and then the first story arc of his first title series in which he sets himself up as a private detective.
The first story here follows the tried, tested and tedious pattern of many of Marvel's early character introductions in that it introduces a new hero by having him fight some existing ones. Unfortunately this is one of the examples of this wherein there is no actual reason for the fight, he just annoys the Thing who then decides to try beating him up. It's a pretty bland origin for the character and it sort of makes sense that he only appeared infrequently in stories after this initial introduction. Very much a swing and a miss.
Peter David's story is of much higher quality, however. Here we're introduced to the intriguing idea that Madrox's duplicates all come out with different parts of his personality in prominence. This means we get great scenes such as him trying to save himself by creating a 'dupe' only for that dupe to immediately run off to safety because he's the embodiment of Madrox's survival instinct. It means that David gets a great deal of milage out of this single character by having different parts of him show up as other characters. Naturally, as a P.I. there's also a strong noir vibe to this story which Madrox himself comments on at one point.
A solid second half spoiled by a bland first half.
3 out of 5
Mars Attacks: The Human Condition
featuring Fred Hembeck, Bill Morrison, Ian Boothby, Dean Haspiel, Phil Hester, Beau Smith and Neil Kleid.
(Art by Fred Hembeck, Tone Rodriguez, Alan Robinson, Dean Haspiel, John McCrea, Kelley Jones and Carlos Valenzuela)
This anthology combines 'Mars Attacks The Holidays' with 'Mars Attacks: Classics Obliterated', giving us a collection of short episodes each with an individual theme, either a special holiday or piece of classic literature; Halloween, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Moby Dick, Jekyll & Hyde and Robinson Crusoe.
Really, beyond the novelty of each story's theme, there's little of particular interest about this book as a whole. It mostly occilates between silly and pointless, although, truth be told, I actually found the latter half of the book to be an actual insult to the great works of literature it appropriates.
The one good thing on offer here, and the reason I've rated this as a two instead of a one, is Boothby's 'Mars Attacks Thanksgiving'. It contains the dark, wry humour that the rest of the book is lacking but which you could justifiably expect in a Mars Attacks story. Somewhere between amusing and tragic is the inclusion for comedy effect of the arrogant, idiotic elitist businessman Donald Triumph. A nice parody of Trump, but tragic in that this book was released in 2013, when the idea of him becoming President was just a horrifying fever-dream that we were sure couldn't ever be real...
2 out of 5
Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Guardians Of The Galaxy
(Art by Gene Colan, Mike Esposito, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Mike Mignola, Al Gordon, Jim Valentino, Steve Montano, Timothy Green, Victor Olazaba, Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar)
An anthology collection which covers some important milestones in the comics history of the Guardians of the Galaxy, bringing us more or less up to date. It is worth pointing out, to those not in the know, that there are in fact two teams with that name; the original one whose stories take place in the 31st century and a second one which formed the basis for the massively popular movie. This book features both.
The first story here charts the first appearance of the original 31st century Guardians, published in 1969 and then there is a later story, published 1990, which features an updated version of this team. I used to own several comics featuring this team but the truth is that their storyline, so disconnected from the main Marvel timeline, makes them seem pretty campy, shallow and, frankly, unfamiliar. It also doesn't help that the 1969 story is based on the astronomy of a time when the moon was still a mystery, so to read about Charlie 27 walking on the surface of Jupiter robs the story of the scientific credibility that sci-fi needs. On the plus side, I really like the character of Vance Astro (despite the name); a man who left Earth in the 20th Century and is revived a millennia later in a Buck Rogers-esque way.
We are also given a couple of graphic novel-length stories of two of the modern Guardians but from their early days in comics. The first, by comics legend Claremont, tells the story of Star-Lord's fight against sinister forces within the realm of an interplanetary Empire. This story was published the same year that Star Wars originally took the world by storm and the parallels are too strong to be ignored. There's even a character who's referred to as a Sith-Lord. What would've been a cheesy but enjoyable Flash Gordon-esque space opera is ruined by paling in comparison to the franchise that defined that genre from 1977 onwards. The other old story of a new Guardian is a mid-eighties story of Rocket Raccoon. It is a genuinely bizarre affair in which Rocket is a Ranger on a planet where talking animals and robotic clowns are tasked with caring for an entire civilisation of insane people who were dumped there like it was one big asylum. Even now, I couldn't honestly say whether I really liked this weirdness or whether I completely hated it. Mike Mignola's artwork for it is great though.
The last third or so of the book brings us to more recent times, in the aftermath of the Annihilation War when the de-powered Peter Quill aka Star-Lord is given command of a Dirty Dozen-type group of misfits which includes Loverbug, Mantis, Captain Universe, Rocket and Groot. This was a much more enjoyable storyline indeed, albeit something of a cliche, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the awkwardly developing friendships within the group. There's then a skip ahead a bit to issue #1 of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, in which Quill formalises a new team intended as cosmic Avengers. There's some great humour in this last story as it is interspersed with debrief vignettes from each of the characters, commenting on the progress of their first mission together.
Overall this book is perfect for getting a sense of where the current Guardians of the Galaxy came from and, perhaps, where they're going. Unfortunately, as a reading experience it's very disjointed and occasionally confusing, with great variations in the quality of the stories on offer. And the truth is, although comic purists may want to crucify me for saying it, the comic incarnations just aren't as compelling as the ones in the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' movie.
2 out of 5
Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Iron Man
(Art by Don Heck, George Tuska, Mike Esposito, John Romita Jr., Bob Layton, Jerry Bingham, Mark Bright, Ian Akin, Brian Garvey, Harry Candelario, Sean Chen and Rob Hunter)
A collection of Iron Man stories ranging from his first appearance in 1963 up to the year 2000. Here we see Iron Man's origins, see his struggles with alcoholism and see him do battle with the likes of the Mandarin, Doctor Doom and Iron Monger.
I'm always a little confused by what stories make the cut for this sort of collection. Here, for example, we have Iron Man's iconic origin amid the Vietnam War and the brilliant 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline, but we also get a story which is just him trapped under some rubble on a space station, thinking about how to get out from under the rubble. And whilst some of the villains featured here, Mandarin and Doom, are iconic, the specific stories chosen are not. Instead of Iron Man's first encounter with the Mandarin, we get the second instead, which is fairly by-the-numbers and instead of having a story which explores the similarities and differences between him and Doctor Doom, we get one where they're bizarrely thrown back in time to the court of King Arthur.
I'm not saying there's not good stuff, however. The origin and 'Demon in a Bottle' are the flagship stories here, but I did also like seeing the original version of Iron Man versus Iron Monger (having first encountered it in the 2008 movie) and the story arc where Tony tries to help cure Bruce Banner shows the engineer/scientist side of his character nicely.
So, in short, a mixed bag.
3 out of 5
Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Wolverine
(Art by Andy Kubert, Barry Windsor-Smith, Herb Trimpe, Jack Abel, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Frank Miller, Josef Rubinstein, Mark D. Bright, Al Williamson, Matthew Ryan, Mark Farmer, Dan Green, Mark Pennington, Leinil Francis Yu and Dexter Vines)
A collection of diverse stories featuring the clawed superhero from across the years 1974-2001 but edited into the chronological order of the character's life. Here we see the first time he uses his claws, his time as Weapon X, his time in Japan, how he loses his adamantium skeleton and other key points from Logan's life.
These Marvel Platinum anthologies are good at giving you a general overview of a character, their key history and how they've changed over time but they're not so good for readers, like me, who really want the opportunity to get into the story. For example, the first tale here is a single issue lifted from the 'Wolverine: Origin' miniseries (reviewed here), so doesn't explain its context nor show you the consequences or resolution of what happens; it is exclusively here because it's the first time (chronologically) that Wolverine uses his claws. More than other titles from this series, this book does offset that by having a couple of complete stories within it. The best of these is the complete run of the original 'Wolverine' miniseries by writer Chris Claremont and artist Frank Miller. Here we see Logan battle the dichotomy of his nature, being both honourable hero and savage berserker, whilst fighting ninjas and samurai to win the heart of his beloved Mariko. It's what was used as the basis of the movie 'The Wolverine', if that sounds familiar.
Overall, the quality of the storytelling here is pretty high (although that could be my lifelong love of the character giving me a bias) but the somewhat fractured nature of how the book is put together, whilst appropriate to Logan's psyche, prevents it from being a truly enjoyable read.
3 out of 5
Marvel Zombies: Dead Days
(Art by Sean Phillips, Greg Land, Matt Ryan, Mitch Breitweiser and Francis Portela)
A companion book to the Marvel Zombies series, this book opens with a prelude to the main Marvel Zombies timeline then goes on to include the stories where the zombies crossover into the Ultimate Fantastic Four and, later, the mainstream continuity of the New FF.
The cover of this book promises to reveal the origins of the Marvel Zombies universe, but that's not strictly true. Sure, it shows us how many of Earth's mightiest became zombies in the first place but it never really goes into details as to where the infection came from. It may be that this is revealed in the main MZ books, which I haven't yet read, but I went into this book under the impression that it was intended as the starting point for people new to the MZ ideas. On top of this, the first third of the book, the titular 'Dead Days' story by Kirkman, isn't actually particularly engaging. It's fairly shallow zombie fayre and never seems to decide whether it's straight-up horror or slapstick comedy.
The parts of the book which show the zombies crossing over with more familiar continuities are much more interesting, however. Although I'm not the biggest fan of the Ultimate universe, this book's best moments all come in the crossover with the Ultimate Fantastic Four. I particularly enjoyed seeing the youthful Ultimate Reed Richards matching wits with his older, zombified alter ego. Similarly, I enjoyed the watching the New FF (which is to say, the Thing, Human Torch, Black Panther and Storm) going toe to toe with the zombie Galacti.
However, that leads me on to this book's other major problem, which is that I don't know when to suggest reading it. I read it in the expectation that it would lead into the first 'Marvel Zombies' (by Kirkman), which parts of it do, but the latter parts of this book all take place after that book and lead into 'MZ2'.
3 out of 5
Mister Fantastic: The Fantastic Four!/Sentient
(Art by Jack Kirby, George Klein, Christopher Rule, Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 5. Here we get two stories, the first of which is the debut appearance of the Fantastic Four and the beginning of Marvel Comics as we now know it. The second story sees the FF trying to revitalise their public image whilst juggling the priorities of business, being superheroes and family.
To my surprise it was the older of these two stories, from 1961 no less, which I enjoyed more. Often throwback tales included with more modern ones make for interesting reading from a comics-history sense but are often less impressive in their storytelling. Perhaps it is simply that the debut adventure of the FF is so iconic that it's hard not to like it. On top of that is Jack Kirby's iconic artwork and the fact that Stan Lee hadn't yet fallen into some of his more irritating habits as a writer (alliteration in almost every speech bubble being one).
Waid's 'Sentient' on the other hand is pretty slow to get going. The beginning of it, where a PR executive observed the FF for a week, was so painfully on-the-nose as a meta examination of the characters for a new writer's run on the comic that it made me strain my eyes by rolling them so much. The executive's conclusions at the end of that section read like a mission statement by the writer for his plans for the series and, honestly, it would've been better served as an internal Marvel memo than being turned into an actual story.
All that said, 'Sentient' does eventually get up to speed and the tail-end where the FF have to defeat Modulus, a living equation from another dimension, felt like a proper scientific adventure for these iconic characters, giving each a chance to show exactly what makes them so enduring.
3 out of 5