AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.4 out of 5
Civil War: Front Line Book 1
(Art by Ramon Bachs, John Lucas, Steve Lieber, Leandro Fernandez, Lee Weeks, Rob Campanella, Sandu Florea, Nelson, Kei Kobayashi, Kano, David Aja, Sean Chen, Rick Magyar, Roy Allen Martinez and Jorge Lucas)
A tie-in to Mark Millar's 'Civil War', in which the Superhuman Registration Act divides the Marvel universe in two (figuratively speaking).
This book has four main, but completely independent story threads running through it. The first follows the two reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd who, despite being good friends, stand on opposite sides of the debate over registration. This storyline is the book's strongest factor with both reporters trying to uncover the hidden truths behind the Civil War and not afraid to tread on a few toes to do it. Sally Floyd continues to be as interesting and well-developed character as she was in Jenkins' 'Generation M'.
The second main story thread is nearly as good; featuring the de-powered Speedball who becomes the scapegoat for the Stamford Disaster which started the Civil War. Speedball's story is actually about the nature of blame and responsibility and makes for compelling reading.
The third thread in this book is a series of vignettes which make use of real war poetry to connect real-world wars with the Civil War. Sadly these vignettes seem to be trying to force poignance when, with a story as good as the Civil War one, we really don't need to be spoonfed. Also the connections between the real wars and the Civil War are tenuous at best; for example just because there's a flying superhero combatant doesn't mean he's comparable to WWII Spitfire pilots.
Last, and thankfully least, is a storyline in which Wonder Man investigates an Atlantean double agent. I've never been keen on Wonder Man as a character and his contribution to this book is largely tedious.
The first two story threads are so strong that they could've carried this book, but because of the way it's been put together, with the four stories all chopped up and jumbled, they're too fractured to really be as good as their potential promises.
Followed by 'Civil War: Front Line Book 2'.
3 out of 5
Civil War: Front Line Book 2
(Art by Ramon Bachs, John Lucas, Lee Weeks, Nelson, Steve Lieber, Eduardo Barreto and Frazer Irving)
Directly following on from the first book, this one continues the story threads featured there, although Wonder Man is mercifully written out early on.
As before it is the ongoing investigations and tragic disillusionment of Ben Urich and Sally Floyd which provides this book's best element, although their final confrontation with the architect behind all the shadowy goings-on left me feeling pretty unsatisfied. Robbie Baldwin's story takes on a much darker tone as we witness his physical and emotional transition from Speedball to his new identity as Penance.
The real war/Civil War comparison pieces are still here too and, once more they fell pretty flat with me. There was, however, one exception; where Jenkins actually draws on the stories of his own relatives. This personal touch provided a proper expression of the writer's thoughts on war, even if it did have little to do with the Marvel Universe.
Overall, I wasn't hugely impressed with this book, despite some excellent writing, but I'll admit that at least some of that was based on the fact that it seems to finish by choosing the pro-registration side of the war, where I was a supporter of Captain America and his rebels.
3 out of 5
Decimation: Generation M
(Art by Ramon Bachs and John Lucas)
The second book of the Decimation series in which the world deals with events of M-Day, when 99% of the world's mutants lost their powers. This book follows reporter Sally Floyd as she tries to tell the stories of these depowered mutants.
Rather than just being a mouthpiece for a commentary, Sally is an interesting character herself. When we first meet her she's a divorced alcoholic struggling with the death of her daughter. However, as the story goes on Sally crusades for the suffering mutant masses and eventually reveals the full, and genuinely horrific, story of her daughter's death. Added to this, Sally is being stalked by a homocidal maniac determined to kill the last remaining mutants.
This is a brilliant story about the personal effects of loss (be it powers or a child) and is made all the better by giving us a chance to see the effects of M-Day on some of the minor X-characters, such as the Blob, Chamber, the Morlocks and Moonstar.
5 out of 5
(Art by Jae Lee)
Sealed in their domed city of New Attilan, the Inhumans live apart from the rest of the Earth, ruled by their king Black Bolt. However, when ambitious human factions ally themselves with Black Bolt's insane brother Maximus, Attilan's defences begin to fall one by one. The Inhumans find themselves under siege and bewildered by their king's refusal to act in defence of his people.
I'll be perfectly honest, with the exception of their role in the 'Agents of SHIELD' TV series (I haven't seen the 'Inhumans' TV series, but I've heard it's terrible), I've never had much interest in the Inhumans and therefore know very little of their lore. So, apart from Lockjaw (the giant teleporting bulldog, who is awesome), I had no real investment in these characters going into the book. It has to be said that by the end (twelve comic book issues worth), I still felt very little investment in them. Their politics, history and world view are all so alien that I doubt anyone who hasn't read at least some of their preceding stories would find the Inhumans compelling central characters. Least compelling of all is Black Bolt, who by his nature says nothing for the entirety of the book but also, by the needs of the plot, does very little either. The problem then is that Jenkins makes this completely passive character the focus of the overall narrative.
Another problem is how rapidly tedious and repetetive this book becomes. There's enough material here for a book maybe half as long, but instead it gets dragged out by the endless repetition of the following events; the humans break through a layer of defences, everyone gets annoyed at Black Bolt for not doing anything, Black Bolt looks thoughtful and does nothing. Over and over again. It's clear the first time that Black Bolt clearly has a plan but we're made to wait for it through page after page of more or less the same things happening and happening again. This is lazily justified at the end that, for some reason that's never really clarified, Black Bolt had to pretend to not care for his plan to work.
2 out of 5
The Hulk: Dogs Of War
(Art by Ron Garney, Mike McKone, Sal Buscema and Mark McKenna)
Bruce Banner discovers he has ALS and seeks out his old neuroscientist friend and ex-girlfriend, Angela, for help. Since the ALS will kill him, leaving only the Hulk surviving, Banner uses a machine built by Angela to travel into his own unconscious mind in order to confront and bargain with the fractured psyches of the Hulk, including the Professor and the grey-skinned Joe Fixit. The situation becomes far more complicated when General Ryker, head of a well-funded black ops organisation, sets out to capture and control the Hulk for his own ends.
In all honesty, for all that the character is iconic, I've never really read any Hulk stories that showed any real depth of complexity. Usually they amount to 'Banner goes place, Army makes him angry, Hulk smashes place' and, as such, I wasn't really that optimistic about this story being any different. However, the way Jenkins treats the Hulk and his many aspects as a psychological condition and then juxtaposes that with the motor neurone disease Banner has developed is a stroke of brilliance. Rather than having the terminal illness make Banner confront his mortality, it forces him to confront the equally terrifying possibility of immortality but as the Hulk rather than as himself.
The plotline about the shady General out to seize the Hulk's power is pretty generic and doesn't really add anything of great value, but really it's just the sideshow to the main event of Bruce having to reconcile the Professor (an idealised amalgam of him and the Hulk), Joe Fixit (his surly teen personality) and dozens of other variations on the Hulk, including the angry child who is the most well-known incarnation.
I was genuinely surprised and pleased to finally find a Hulk story that engaged me as much as this did.
4 out of 5
(Art by Jae Lee, Phil Winslade, Mark Texeira, Rick Leonardi, Bill Sienkiewicz, Tom Palmer and Terry Austin)
Bob Reynolds is overweight, has a mundane life and drinks too much but wakes one day and begins to remember that he used to be a superhero; the Sentry. Bob remembers that the Sentry was perhaps the most powerful superhero in the world, the only one capable of facing the evil known as the Void, so why then does no-one remember him. As his powers begin to return Bob sets out to uncover the conspiracy behind his being erased from the world's memories, a conspiracy which lead him right to his former best friend, Mister Fantastic.
The Sentry himself is clearly a pastiche of Superman (he's even got a big 'S' on his costume), which is something that I don't think we really needed any more of and the flashbacks drawn and written in the style of comics of the 60s felt a bit heavy-handed to me. However, despite all of that, there is a really engaging premise to this book. What if the most powerful hero in the world was forcibly forgotten? How would he react when he himself remembers his former life? And perhaps most interestingly; what terrible secret could cause the other heroes of the Marvel Universe to conspire against him?
Honestly, to create a brand new ultra-powerful superhero from scratch at the turn of the millennium is an ambitious move (don't believe the meta suggestion that Sentry was created by Stan Lee and forgotten all these years, it's just part of the marketing), but Jenkins finds a genuinely innovative and engaging way of doing it. Also, I love Watchdog.
4 out of 5
Wolverine: The End
(Art by Claudio Castellini)
Part of The End series of X-Men stories which tell tales of the grim future of the featured characters. Here Logan is living alone in the wilds with little human contact but finds himself drawn back into the larger world by a letter promising him details of his lost past.
This is very much a companion piece to 'Wolverine: Origin' (reviewed here) which show us the other end of Wolverine's life, having outlived everyone he was ever close to. This set-up is very compelling and breaks ground that would later also be explored in 'Old Man Logan' and the excellent James Mangold movie Logan. This is a version of Logan who is trying to live purely on his instincts once more but can't escape his regrets and his knowledge of what he's lost.
Unfortunately, the story rapidly goes off the rails when we're introduced to Logan's long-lost secret villainous older brother (no, not Sabretooth) and from there on no cliche remains un-trotted-out. Perhaps worse than the boring and unoriginal plot that unfolds, is that we get hints of a much more interesting story, such as Xavier psychically living inside Logan or the X-Men of the future having become fascists, but which are never explored further. Perhaps they get more time in the rest of The End series (I've not read any others yet) but here these ideas just highlight how trite is the story we actually get.
Aside from the set-up and early part of the book, there is one other redeeming feature here and it's a concept about Wolverine's powers that had never occurred to me and which I've never seen explored elsewhere. Here Jenkins introduces the idea that Logan's amnesia is not a direct result of the trauma of being turned into Weapon X, but instead is his healing factor's way of protecting him from that trauma. I really liked this intriguing idea that even Logan's psyche is subject to his healing powers and will gloss over anything that would be too painful for him to remember.
3 out of 5