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A Memory Of Light

by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

The fourteenth and final book of the Wheel of Time series which, like the preceeding two novels, was completed by Sanderson following Jordan's death.  Although this book's title was one chosen by Jordan himself for the last book of the series, I can't help but feel that 'The Last Battle' would have been more apt, even if C. S. Lewis did already use it.  From start to finish this book is about the war against the Shadow which has been brewing across the entire series and which now draws in all of the characters and plotlines.

Remarkably, Sanderson manages to do a fantastic job of giving appropriate attention to each of the elements introduced throughout the Wheel of Time and each of the characters is given a role to play in the final battle.  To my surprise, it was the role of Egwene which I found most compelling as she finally reveals the power and wisdom which make her worthy of being in command of the Aes Sedai.

There are some brilliantly written battle scenes in this book wherein the outnumbered forces of good use all of their cunning and diverse backgrounds to their advantage.

The only downside to this book is the epilogue in which we find out something about Rand's fate that sort of cheapens the climax of the book.  I won't spoil it for you, but I will say that it definitely left me feeling slightly cheated.

4 out of 5

 

Age Of Ultron

by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Waid

(Art by Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Andre Lima Araujo, Alex Maleev, Butch Guice, Roger Bonet, Tom Palmer, David Marquez, Joe Quesada, Paul Neary and Roger Martinez)

A Marvel crossover event in which the Avengers suddenly find themselves completely defeated by Ultron, with numerous heroes falling to the genocidal AI.  When it's revealed that Ultron's attack originated in the future, a number of heroes timetravel forward to defeat their foe.  Wolverine and Invisible Woman, however, decide that the real solution is to prevent Ultron's creation by murdering Hank Pym in the past, but their actions have unforseen and terrible consequences.

First off I'll point out that, aside from the name and the fact the villain is Ultron, this book has nothing to do with Joss Whedon's Avengers movie, so leave your expectations of that at the door.  What this is is a rejigging of a tried and true Marvel concept most famously seen in Chris Claremont's brilliant 'Days of Future Past'.  The concept in question is to present a grim alternate world where the heroes of the Marvel Universe have been defeated and only a last desperate journey through time can hope to put the world back on track.  So, actually, more like 'Endgame' really.

Although the main plot is derivative, it's solidly executed and the early scenes really do show how dark and desperate times have become for the heroes.  I particularly liked the scene where Hawkeye, often seen as a ruthless renegade, is the only one willing to come out of hiding to save Spider-Man.  We also get to see a second interesting alternate timeline in which Hank Pym was dead, with far-reaching consequences.  What I liked most about this was the way that, in the denoument, Hank realises that his work as a scientist ultimately led to Ultron, but his work as a superhero genuinely changed the world for the better.

The only thing that didn't really work for me was how much time was spent trying to make Wolverine seem sad that he 'has' to kill Pym.  There's loads of stuff about him not wanting to do it and it'll cost him his soul and so on.  It just doesn't ring true, however, since his very first (and, in fact, only) idea was immediately to go back in time and kill Hank.  It's clearly an attempt to give a depth of remorse to the character but it's totally undercut by how he actually behaves (I recently read 'Avenger vs X-Men' and his first and only plan there too was to kill the innocent girl who might be a danger in the future) and it just doesn't work at all.

4 out of 5

 

Aliens, Predator, Prometheus, AVP: Fire And Stone

by Paul Tobin, Chris Roberson, Christopher Sebela, Joshua Williamson & Kelly Sue DeConnick

(Art by Juan Ferreyra, Patrick Reynolds, Ariel Olivetti, Christopher Mooneyham, John Lucas, Agustin Alessio)

A crossover event story focusing on what happened on LV-223 following the end of 'Prometheus' (in fact, most of the book takes place after 'Aliens').  A salvage crew travels to LV-223 to recover the Prometheus and follow up on Weyland's mission to meet the creator.  However, life has taken hold in the decades since the Prometheus was lost and the salvage crew find themselves caught between the Aliens, the Predators and the mysterious Engineers.

I recently re-watched 'Prometheus' and this book makes a brilliant continuation of the ideas introduced there.  The problem with that film is it never explains, or even seemingly understands in and of itself, how it fits into the Alien saga.  Here we see it being fully integrated not only into the Alien films (characters featured here are seen fleeing from the fall of Hadley's Hope on LV-426) but also into the shared universe that includes the Predators.  Instead of just a crossover, this is truly an interweaving of the different franchises and I really enjoyed it.

The book is broken down into chapters, each focusing on one of the title properties.  Each of these chapters has a different writer and tone but still feels part of the larger story.  For me the highlight was the Predator chapter in which one of the alien hunters, along with a fairly disreputable member of the salvage team, set out to hunt down an Engineer.  There are some great flashback scenes for the Predator in which he discovers the same cave paintings that set the stage in 'Prometheus', but instead of seeing it as a philosophical quest to find these creators, the Predator sees it as the ultimate hunting challenge.

Part of me expected this to be a cheap and trashy cash-in (many of the AvP stories are), but I honestly genuinely enjoyed this book as a solid addition to all of the parent franchises' stories.

5 out of 5

 

Avengers Forever: Part 1

by Kurt Busiek & Roger Stern

(Art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino)

When Rick Jones becomes caught in the middle of a war between Kang the Conqueror and Immortus, the same man from different eons of his life, he uses his burgeoning cosmic powers to pull Avengers from across time to help him.  Forced into an uneasy alliance with Kang, these Avengers set out across time in an attempt to thwart Immortus' plans.

Rick Jones is by far my least-favourite Marvel character of all time (and I'm including Stilt Man), so having a major Avengers crossover focused on him didn't sound great to begin with.  Unfortunately the story that follows totally failed to win me over either.  It's a confusing mess of timelines, plotlines and character beats that seems to jump around almost randomly without ever feeling like its moving an overall narrative forward.

There's a couple of interesting elements to the specific Avengers pulled through time, with Captain America coming from a time of disillusionment in his life and two versions of Hank Pym (one of whom is by far Hank Pym at his misogynistic worst) forced to work together.  However even these potential points of interest fail to really have any impact or effect on the larger story.

Hopefully 'Part 2' will pull things together, but this story is definitely not off to a good start.

1 out of 5

 

Avengers Forever: Part 2

by Kurt Busiek & Roger Stern

(Art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino)

The team of Avengers who were pulled out of time to protect Rick Jones continue their investigation of the machinations of Immortus.  They soon discover that Immortus is serving a group known as the Time-Keepers whose fear of humanity's aggression is leading them to attempt destroying countless timelines and, in the process, countless lives.

I had not enjoyed Part 1 of this story, so this book had a lot of ground to make up and, to be fair, it did win me over a little.  The disparate and random events of the first half of the story are pulled together into a somewhat more cohesive narrative by the revelation of a clear threat for the Avengers to focus on stopping.  There's also a nice bit of moral dilemma when the Avengers realise that to ensure humanity's freedom, they also have to risk humanity becoming the scourge of the universe.

However, just because it's an improvement over Part 1 doesn't mean this is a good book.  Busiek and Stern lean really heavily into the 30-odd years of Avengers continuity and it often feels like its just ticking boxes for fans with good memories.  Usually I'm totally okay with that sort of fan-service but here it just feels excessive and self-indulgent.  Added to that is some heavy-handed retconning that arbitrarily claims that Immortus was behind about half of everything that happened to the Avengers throughout their history.  Again usually I'm okay with retcons, but once again here it's overplayed and feels more like it cheapens the original stories in an attempt to add weight to this lacklustre new story.

Overall, whilst a definite improvement over Part 1, this book doesn't do enough to redeem the whole story and I now see why 'Avengers Forever' isn't regarded as one of the great crossovers.

2 out of 5

 

Avengers vs X-Men

by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction & Jonathan Hickman

(Art by John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel, Adam Kubert, Frank Cho, Scott Hanna, Mark Morales and John Dell)

When the devastating energy known as the Phoenix begins heading for Earth it seems clear that it is seeking Hope Summers, the so-called mutant messiah.  The Avengers decide that to protect the Earth fron the Phoenix they have to take Hope into custody but the X-Men hold to Cyclops' belief that Hope holds the key to the rebirth of mutantkind.  Their opposing standpoints lead inevitably to open conflict.

I expected to hate this book.  It seemed, on the surface, to be the epitome of real-world business decisions impacting on the narrative of the Marvel Universe, without those decisions needing to be narratively justified.  Firstly, it's a crossover event which are a pretty much annual shameless cash-grab that both Marvel and DC churn out with depressing regularity.  Secondly, it's a hero versus hero story which almost never make narrative sense and end up feeling like a child just bashing his favourite action figures together.  Thirdly, and probably worst of all, it was made at a time when Marvel were actively trying to run the X-Men into the ground to devalue the brand whose movie rights they didn't own (it worked, because now they do own the rights again).

With all of that real-world cynical comercialism stacked against it, this book should have been an absolute turd.  To my surprise, however, it wasn't.  In fact, it didn't even fall into the 'that was fine, let's move on' catagory of crossover event.  I found it, despite myself, to be actually quite good.

Rather than taking the simple idea of one side being in the wrong, this book evolves each side from one to the other.  To begin with, you definitely feel that the Avengers are in the wrong, turning up to arrest hope on the possibility of maybe being harmful one day.  I actually found it quite tragic seeing Captain America on the side of that idea and I liked the scene where Cyclops asks him when he started supporting fascism.  However, over the course of the book and done in believably small increments, Cyclops and key X-Men begin to slide off the moral high ground.

Sure, there are some gratuitous scenes which do fall into the bashing-action-figures-together category, but overall, there is a depth and complexity to this story that belies its more obvious traits and which have genuine consequences for the Marvel Universe at large.

4 out of 5

 

 Avengers/X-Men: Bloodties 

by Bob Harras, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza & Roy Thomas

(Art by Jan Duursema, Steve Epting, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Dave Ross, Tim Dzon, Dan Green, Tom Palmer and Matt Ryan)

As the island nation of Genosha is torn apart by civil war between its racially divided population of humans and mutates, both the Avengers and X-Men defy to orders of the UN and S.H.I.E.L.D. to intervene.  However they become embroiled in a battle between the acolytes of Magneto, Exodus and Cortez, who plan to use the daughter of Crystal and Quicksilver to advance their agendas.

What I really liked about this book was the way it dealt with the titular super-teams having to take a long hard look at where their political obligations conflict with their desire and duty to protect the innocent.  For the X-Men, already mostly on the wrong side of the law, it means having to fight against the mutates that they once liberated in order to protect Genosha's humans from genocide.  On the other hand, the Avengers find themselves hampered by their UN mandate and deciding that going rogue is better than stepping aside and allowing mass slaughter (it's a theme nicely explored in the MCU in 'Captain America: Civil War' too).  And woven through the larger conflict is the complex legacy of Magneto, supervillain, arch-enemy and sometime ally of the X-Men and father of two Avengers.

For me this book's one big downside was just how 90s it is visually.  The 90s were a weird time for superhero character design and this book features all of its worst aspects (well, except for that Invisible Woman costume that left her mostly naked, I guess), with lots of spiky costumes and way, way too many belts and pouches.  This may seem like an odd nitpick, but honestly the art in this book, whilst not bad, still spoils the deeper issues that the narrative is trying to convey.

4 out of 5