Category Archives: Reviews

Jonathan Hickman – Marvel Avengers / New Avengers

Avengers 1-3, New Avengers 1-3, Front Covers

I want to preface this by stating, for the record, I am not particularly a comic book fan. Comic books were something I occasionally dipped into on holidays or other long journeys as a child, something my parents bought to keep me quiet, so with two major exceptions I never regularly read any one comic book series particularly. So whilst I am culturally aware of Batman, Superman, Spider man, X men and all the rest their deep and varied, complicated history is something of a mystery to me.

However regardless of your knowledge of deep Marvel lore (of which there is a lot) I wanted to write about Jonathan Hickman’s run on the Avengers, and New Avengers, and special event series Infinity and Secret Wars from 2013 to 16. These comics redefined the Marvel Universe, featuring almost every character and location in mega-event story that took years to build up. Yet through Jonathan Hickman’s tight plotting, setting things in place early on that he would refer back to later, this is a science fiction masterpiece of epic proportions

Iron Man and Captain America dominate the Avengers main storyline

Whether you start the series with the Avengers (first published) or New Avengers (first chronologically) the story starts with the grand conflict between Tony Stark and Steve Rodgers. These two men, these two heroes, these two friends follow two very different paths through the two comic books, one reflecting the hope and optimism inherent to comic books, and the other a much darker, much more cynical and terrible exploration of making decisions and facing terrible  consequences. This is a comic book about men in super-powered armour and spandex but it explores some very high-concept, very dark and very troubling issues with the consequent breakdown of friendships and some very interesting betrayals.

But ultimately the feud between these two men is the main crux of the story

It explores this using pretty much the entire cast of the marvel franchise, with Thor, Dr Strange, Black Panther, Namor the Sub Mariner, Thanos, Beast from X Men, Hulk playing particularly prominent roles. The most significant other ‘main’ characters however are Reed Richards and Dr Doom from the Fantastic Four, who are ‘present’ early in in the story but slowly become the dominant characters once Tony and Steve’s arc comes to an end and the comic shifts from an Avengers comic through to the Secret Wars finale. Reed and Doom are presented with a kind of sibling rivalry, the long-burning enmity and sometimes-friendship the two men have stretching back almost to the very beginning of the Marvel Universe. The story features cosmic, reality bending science fiction but boils down to what people will sacrifice to save their families.

It is strange, writing a comic book featuring super heroes who can punch, kick, strike, shoot and beat down on their foes with all kind of super-strong and technologically enhanced powers, face a concept as nebulous as the inevitable death of everything. This story shines because although it features multiple villains, ultimately there is no mustache twirling mastermind behind the scenes. The threat is a consequence of the bizarre natural workings of the universe, the danger is real and the storyline follows multiple ways characters react to the situation. Some heroes (Captain America) struggle on unable to comprehend the threat, other (Iron Man) plan and work behind the scenes, searching desperately for a magic fix but who can ultimately only delay the inevitable. Villains (like Thanos) revel in the chance to wreak havoc and destruction whilst others (Dr Doom) tread a fine line between selfless sacrifice to protect others whilst inevitably twisting the situation to his own advantage. Greed and jealousy have rarely been better explored and when the inevitable consequences of these characters decision hit home the results are devastating.

Hickman introduces some very interesting new characters, most notably the femme fatale Black Swan who has dual honor of explaining much of the plot via exposition dump, plays an important role in the early stages of the adventure and has an extremely interesting back story that is only partially explained. Unfortunately besides Black Swan herself there are few particularly interesting female characters of note, but this is a criticism that could be made of the old Marvel roster generally.

This is how the world ends… Unusually high concept Science Fiction for a comic book about people punching other people in the face

Though the storyline is spread across multiple volumes (Avengers, New Avengers, Infinity and Secret Wars) and the reading order is far from simple, I can heartily recommend hunting this story down. This isn’t just a great comic book, it stands up as great science fiction literature. Ambitious, epic, enormous but also deeply personal, the only criticism of this run are the changes made in service to other Marvel comics happening at the same time. Thor looses his hammer and becomes unworthy, which is explored but never explained, Captain America ages thirty years without note and Iron Man dons a white suit and goes a little stir crazy, all changes informed by other comics, but ignoring these small critiques this is a nearly note perfect run.

How do powerful people with massive egos respond when they are finally put in a situation in which they cannot  win. What happens to the ‘good guys’ when ultimately they can’t save anyone. What happens when everyone dies… Jonathan Hickman shows just how messy things really get when super-massive egos shatter.

Severed Review

22842066203_4ac2be68be_bHyperbolic Statement: More games like this earlier on could have saved the Wii U

It’s definitely an exaggeration but it doesn’t feel like one. The Wii U has struggled because the first party games weren’t ready for its launch and after that initial stumble third party support dried up almost completely. The console’s message reached the converted few but not the general masses and Nintendoland was not the brilliant sales pitch Wii Sports had been a generation earlier.

But if there had been more touch screen friendly games in those early days, ones that not just got but embraced the touch screen method, things might not be so bleak now. That a quality game like this, ported over from the similarly ailing PS Vita, arrives as the console is in it’s death knells isn’t just a shame it’s an insult. I hope Severed gets the reception it deserves, not just on this console but everywhere. It’s an almost unique experience.

It reminds me of early 3D exploration games, with the character in a maze moving from block to block. There is some puzzle solving aspects to this game that hark back to those days but that theme isn’t as developed as it could have been; instead the focus is clearly on exploration (using the map) and combat (swipe to win). Neither mechanic is completely original but they are merged together fairly seamlessly in a package that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Where this game excels is in it’s unique, somewhat Spartan but completely absorbing, presentation.

As it plays out in first person it’s only one minute into the game when you get a glance at yourself in a mirror and see you have inhabited the part of a young, innocent girl with a bloody stump for a left arm. Your family is lost; you must retrieve them before their bodies are consumed. Sword in hand you set out into the wilderness.

The story is simple and straightforward but compellingly told with just a few characters. The music is ambient but haunting, the tunes will stay with you for hours after playing. The art is cartoony but not childish, with just enough detail to convey its message. The map is large but not overwhelming, giving the game just enough length to get your teeth into but ending before it gets tedious. Towards the end it does start to get repetitive as you fight enemies that rely on status effects and countdown timers designed to irritate rather than challenge you but fortunately this only strikes in the last stage of the game.

I can’t praise this game enough for attempting to do something small and unique and doing it well. I don’t want to spoil what it contains too much because it really isn’t that long a game and you deserve to experience it fresh.

Equal Rites

Equal RitesThe latest entry in our Discworld marathon has been examined not just by Tom but Glen as well, for a joint look at Pratchett’s war of the sexes, the third discworld novel Equal Rites:

Glen: I’m a big fan of Pratchett, though my love for the Discworld has lessened with some of the newer novels. He’s a unique author and incredibly versatile. I’m currently listening to the Long Mars as an audio book, a completely different style to Discworld.

I flew back from Kentucky yesterday (thanks giving trip), it was a nine hour journey and I needed something to get me through. Terry Pratchett was that something. His writing is a warm, comfortable jumper I’ll that always return to. His books are still as funny when I picked them up as a 13 year old in our school library, though I’m now able to appreciate significantly more subtext…

I read both Equal Rites and the Fifth Elephant on the plane. In some ways they felt like two different authors to me. That made me take a long, hard look through the bibliography at the front of the book. I came to realise I’d moved beyond favourite character threads (Vimes vs. Rincewind, or Granny vs. Lipwig) as I was used. I’d passed through the looking glass.

Tom’s Perspective: Equal Rites offers a lot more meat than either of its predecessors, although that mostly comes in the form of Granny Weatherwax. By giving us a selection of main characters who actually respond and get involved with the story as opposed to just passing through it Pratchett gets to explore some far more interesting narrative terrains, although the ending boils down to roughly the same conclusion as the Light Fantastic.

Short, sweet, just the right length to engage and amuse without overstaying it’s welcome this was the perfect, mature, response to the anarchy of the first two novels.

The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic is an excellent justification.

601239The Discworld is a place that follows archetypal fantasy but does so through the lens of cynicism and wit. It’s scope comes through a little clearer here than in it’s predecessor the Colour of Magic. Rather than riffing off high fantasy books with warrior maidens, gambling gods and nameless horrors it offers a cottage made of sweets, an aged Conan the Barbarian and a political struggle within the halls of wizardry as the wizard Trymon plots his way to the top. The set pieces (because like it’s predecessor the plot is little more than a loose movement from one moment to the next) are much shorter and snappier, resulting in  much better flow. Perhaps the most significant improvement in this book is that it has more than two real characters. Continue reading The Light Fantastic