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Review: Venom #17 – ‘Savage Six’ Begins!

Venom #17
Writers:  Rick Remender and Cullen Bunn
Art:  Kev Walker [Pencils], Terry Pallot [Inks], Chris Sotomayor [Colors]

You’d think that after joining an Avengers team, things would be looking up for Flash Thompson.  Unfortunately, he’s about to get the ride of his life thanks to team of six villains (sound familiar?).

If you’ve been keeping up, Crime-Master and Jack O’Lantern know that Flash is Venom.  Deciding to end his issues with Crime-Master once and for all, Flash borrows the Venom symbiote from the Secret Avengers in order to kill the criminal mastermind.  It’s one last hit and then he’s a hero for good, or so he thinks.

About to snipe the root of his problems during a meeting between Crime-Master, Jack O’Lantern, Human Fly, Death Adder, and Megatak, Venom is interrupted by an intruding Eddie Brock–the former Venom host who has been on a one-man crusade to kill all of the symbiotes.

Needless to say, things don’t go well for Venom or Brock.

Rick Remender and Cullen Bunn do a great job of setting up how much the odds are stacked against Flash–especially in the reveal on the issue’s final page–with the perfect balance of action and exposition.  Remender in particular has made a point of having certain aspects of Flash’s role as Venom parallel aspects of Peter Parker’s role as Spider-Man, so it only makes sense that he should give Venom his own 6-villain team-up to face off against.  After reading his first issue of Wolverine last week, the fact that Bunn is involved in this, as well, is icing on the cake, as it appears they are both prepared to drag Flash (and Eddie Brock, as well) through Hell and back.

Additionally, Kev Walker’s art is a great fit for this book.  It has a gritty ’90s feel to it that works for the character and never feels too exaggerated, striking the right balance between realism and cartoon.  The inks and colors–provided by Terry Pallot and Chris Sotomayor respectively–add to that grittiness, filling out the grim and bleak feel this storyline should have.

This is the perfect jumping-on point and one of the best issues of the series so far.

RATING:  EXCELSIOR!

Avengers Vs. X-Men #2 – Cyclops has lost his mind

Avengers Vs. X-Men #2
Writer:  Jason Aaron
Art:  John Romita Jr. [Pencils], Scott Hanna [Inks], Laura Martin [Colors]

[We’ve tried our best to be as spoiler-free as possible here, but nobody’s perfect.  Read at your own risk.]

Defying Captain America’s request to take Hope Summers into custody last issue, Cyclops fired the first shot in the X-Men’s war on the Avengers against the Star-Spangled Hero himself.

As the Avengers take Utopia’s beach, Emma Frost moves Hope inside–assuming the girl, with more questions than answers regarding the Phoenix and what its return means regarding her, will stay put.  In short order, the most epic battle in comics since the end of 2008’s Secret Invasion or 2006’s Civil War commences.

Jason Aaron sets up several of the fights to take place in the accompanying Avengers Vs. X-Men: Versus mini-series beginning next week, with several moments in this issue hinting at the outcomes of those fights.  He brings Quicksilver into the fray, revealing where the son of Magneto stands in the fight (HINT:  There isn’t going to be a reunion of the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants anytime soon), and teases the entrance of Magneto’s daughter, the Scarlet Witch, with no hint of who she’ll side with.

The highlight of this issue is arguably Aaron’s insights into the match-ups, like calling Emma Frost’s organic diamond form punching Tony Stark’s multi-billion dollar armor the “most expensive punch in history,” playing up the marital dramatics in a fight between Storm and the Black Panther, or pointing out that Wolverine is fighting against an island of characters he once called family.

This initial battle is all for naught, but it does skirt on the idea that Cyclops might potentially become a villain.  Much of what he says in this issue sounds like things reformed X-Men über-villain Magneto would say, and he does have his own Juggernaut now in Colossus.  With 10 issues to go, the only things that are certain are that several characters are bound to switch sides, Civil War-style, (Hell, it’s even teased in the Cap vs. Wolverine cover for AVX #3) and that things will spiral further out of control.

At this point, my biggest hope (aside from wanting a Cyclops villain turn) is that we at least get a Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 video game out of this in a year or two.

– Roger Riddell

Follow me on Twitter @RRiddell3 

Mike DeVivo’s take forthcoming

Alright Roger Ive Assembled here!

So, two issues into Avengers Vs. X-Men and I can say I’m underwhelmed. What I thought was largely going to be a collaborative effort in bringing two different teams and their vantage points to light has thus far turned into “Cyclops is crazy and the Avengers aren’t.” I don’t buy the angle that Cyclops is losing his mind, or that he’s taking things too far. It paints every X-Man and woman as blind sheep fighting for the cause of a crazy man. Maybe I’m rooting for the little guys, in which case i feel the X-Men are warranted to protect one of their own. The characterization feels off, especially with Cyclops and Wolverine. Again, maybe it’s because I’m in Cyclops’ camp here, but I can’t help but feel like this story feels off.

I do love John Romita Jr.’s work in this series so far. His facial work with females has improved very much. His pencils give all of the energy and intensity you’d expect between a battle of the two most recognizable factions in Marvel.  Aaron’s script does provide great narration as Avengers and X-Men beat the hell out of each other. Also, kudos for him creating the Magnetic Fastball Special. Those moments are what I’ve enjoyed about this series so far. He also gave Emma the best line in this issue reflecting the tone I think most X-Men have towards their Avenger counterparts. After Iron Man refers to Hope as “the girl,” Emma responds by telling him that the girl’s name is Hope and that they never requested help in the first place.

We get quick glimpses of Quicksilver and Wanda ,with Quicksilver rushing to join his Avengers team and Wanda walking away from her journal not joining the fight just yet. The journal by the way is called “Wanda’s Dream Journal” (slap forehead with hand) there are more than a few of these moments in this issue that make you cringe. As I said in my opinion this book hasn’t delivered the goods just yet with the story. It’s a pain to see characters like Quicksilver, who was actually  insane (anyone remember House of M?), fighting along side Avenger’s while Cyclops is characterized as a mad man losing touch with his reality.

I’m hoping next issue improves a bit and makes the reason for this fight a bit less one-sided. With the cover to issue #3 showing Cap fighting Wolverine, it will be interesting to see why he defends the X-Men after dropping down and beating up the same students he defended during Schism.  As I said, as a fight book this is fun. As an event that is supposed to change Marvel’s landscape for the next year…not so much.

– Mike DeVivo

Follow me on Twitter @pandasandrobots


 

Review: Venom #15 – Flash Thompson, Secret Avenger

Venom #15
Writer:  Rick Remender
Art:  Lan Medina [Pencils], Nelson Decastro with Terry Pallot [Inks], Andres Mossa [Colors]

After saving Las Vegas from Blackheart, Venom is pardoned and made a member of the Secret Avengers by Captain America.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Flash Thompson gets to keep the symbiote 24/7.  Hank Pym and Beast have worked out a sedative to keep the creature from permanently bonding to Flash when he’s using it for official Avengers business.  If he needs the symbiote at a moment’s notice (like if Jack O’Lantern or one of the other enemies he’s picked up in the last 14 issues comes calling), he simply has to dial a number and the suit will be shrunken down into Pym particles and broadcast from the Secret Avengers’ space station through his earpiece.

Seems simple enough, right?  It’s comic technology.  Don’t think too hard about it.

Once Flash is finally teleported back to his apartment, he arrives to Peter Parker knocking on his door.  Pete, a longtime friend of Flash’s recently-dumped girlfriend, Betty Brant, wants to know what’s going on with him.  The two go out for coffee and Flash is ready to tell Peter everything when he’s interrupted by a call from his sister and mother–two more people he’s neglected.

With this issue establishing that his home life is in tatters, Flash appears seemingly ready to bury himself in his newfound role as a Secret Avenger.

Meanwhile, Eddie Brock, the Venom symbiote’s former host, is hunting symbiotes.  As the book opens, we see him taking out Hybrid, and we later see him kill Scream.   This plot thread started shortly after Brock gave up the Anti-Venom symbiote to help cure New York City during “Spider-Island” and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

There’s one continuity issue here, however, as the Hybrid symbiote has also appeared recently in Zeb Wells’ Carnage U.S.A. mini-series, no longer bonded to Scott Washington, but separated into four symbiotes for use by a special ops team.  Of course, that story takes place after Venom becomes a Secret Avenger (despite being only one issue away from finishing), so it’s possible that perhaps Eddie Brock’s “killing” of the symbiotes themselves doesn’t really work and the government is still able to somehow get their hands on the Hybrid symbiote.  Maybe this will all be explained eventually.

This book’s last story arc, “Circle of Four,” didn’t really do much for me on the first read through (I really need to read it again in one sitting), but Rick Remender followed it with what might be my favorite issue of this series so far.  Remender sets up Venom’s status quo as a Secret Avenger, explains how Flash will use the suit if he is in an emergency situation, and plants a plot thread regarding what could happen if use of the symbiote is abused.  He sets up some romantic tension between Flash and Valkyrie, teases the question of how Spider-Man will react to Venom being an Avenger if he finds out, hints at Flash potentially telling Peter (who he doesn’t know is Spider-Man) anyways, and sets up a future conflict with Eddie Brock.  Plus, he keeps a certain amount of turmoil in Flash’s home life for the time being.

The art on this issue is also great, with Lan Medina packing in an extraordinary amount of detail in everything from facial expressions to backgrounds.

In short, Venom is still one of Marvel’s best kept secrets.

STORY:  9/10
ART:  9/10 

Review: Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 – ‘Nuff Said

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1
Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis
Art:  John Romita Jr. [Pencils], Scott Hanna [Inks], Laura Martin [Colors]

After what has felt like an eternity of build-up (but was really more like just over six months), the event to end all Marvel events has finally arrived on shelves–but was all of the hype worth it?

So far, it’s a toss-up.

The premise, in case you’ve been living under a rock or reading some other company’s books, is that the Phoenix is coming to Earth and has chosen the would-be-mutant-messiah Hope Summers as its host.  Hey, she looks like Jean Grey, so who else is it gonna pick, right?  Anyhow, the Phoenix is a cosmic firebird that leaves devastation in its wake on a planetary scale wherever it goes in the Universe.  It chose Jean Grey as its host once and she almost destroyed Earth, but that’s “The Dark Phoenix” saga and you can read about that elsewhere.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 opens with the Avengers hanging around Avengers Tower doing the sorts of things you’d expect powerful people in tights to do (but not those things, sicko!) when all of a sudden, the intergalactic superhero Nova conveniently crashlands in New York City after falling from space.  He warns the Avengers that “it’s coming,” and Iron Man deduces that he’s referring to the Phoenix.  He and Captain America then brief the President on the danger.

Meanwhile, Cyclops–who has known all along that the Phoenix was on its way back–is training Hope and trying to prepare her in the hope that she’ll be able to control its power when it does return.  This entire conflict centers around the Avengers’ belief that the Phoenix will use Hope Summers as its vessel to try to destroy the world again versus Scott’s belief that if Hope can somehow control the Phoenix’s power, then she can undo the “no more mutants” spell that Scarlet Witch decimated the mutant population with.

Scott believes that Hope is the savior of the mutant race, and he’ll stop at nothing to see her fulfill that destiny–perhaps to the point of taking things too far during his particularly ruthless training sessions.  During the time that has passed since he joined the X-Men, Magneto has pointed out that Scott is growing more and more like him than his mentor, Charles Xavier.  This trend continues here, as Magneto–watching the training from a distance–comments to Emma Frost regarding the difference between “taking it seriously” and “compulsion,” perhaps foreshadowing things to come.

Anyhow, Hope is finally pushed far enough and releases a flare of Phoenix-like energy strong enough that the Avengers notice it.  Traveling to Utopia to see about taking Hope into Avengers custody until the Phoenix situation is figured out, Captain America is greeted by a particularly hostile Cyclops.

Thus, the first shots in the battle are fired, so to speak.

Over all, this is a solid start to the event, but it is by no means perfect.  Despite being packed with action, the dialogue pulled me out of the story on a few occasions, most notably during the conversation Captain America has with Wolverine regarding the Phoenix.  Given Wolverine’s history with Jean Grey and how he felt about her, I have a hard time believing that he wouldn’t just refer to her by her first name.  Using her entire name felt a little unnatural, especially after the previous scene already established her history.

Aside from that, though, anything else I noticed here would just be nitpicking.  Bendis’ first chapter draws you in and gives new readers a primer on what’s going on, and the art here is phenomenal.  The facial expressions of everyone standing in the vicinity when the first blow of this battle is landed were perhaps the highlight of the entire issue.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, especially when your bluff is being called, and that panel alone sells that idea absolutely.

After event fatigue had fully set in following last year’s Fear Itself (which, no offense to Matt Fraction, fell short of expectations), I swore I’d never drop $3.99 an issue on another “event” book again.  Despite being highly skeptical of the idea of Avengers Vs. X-Men, I have to say I’m impressed so far and actually looking forward to where this goes from here.

STORY:  8/10
ART:  9.5/10 

Review: Venom #14 – Remember the ’90s?

Venom #14
Writer: Rick Remender [Venom “Circle of Three”: Rick Remender, Jeff Parker, and Rob Williams]
Art: Tony Moore and Val Staples [Color Art]

Remember the slew of multi-issue stories back in the ’90s like “Maximum Carnage” and “Planet of the Symbiotes” that made good plots for video games, but were somewhat tiring as comics?

“Circle of Four” has kind of played out like that.

Don’t get me wrong, it has moments where it’s fun. Unfortunately, it suffers from too much of the ’90s ridiculousness that turned me away from comics for a few years when I was a kid.

Basically, over the course of Venom #13.1 through #13.4 and this week’s #14, Blackheart unleashed Hell upon Earth following a scheme that involved the Toxin symbiote (which was never really mentioned again after part one in Venom #13, but I think it became irrelevant to Blackheart’s plan at some point). Venom, Red Hulk, X-23, and the new Ghost Rider just happened to be in Las Vegas at the same time, and were thus forced into an unlikely team-up. They had to face their antitheses after looking in Blackheart’s magic mirror, and ultimately arrived at a scenario where the Red Hulk ended up becoming host to both the Spirit of Vengeance and the Venom symbiote.

That’s right… There was actually a Ghost Red Hulk Venom Rider involved in this story. On the ridiculousness scale, it’s up there with Carnage devouring millions of Earth-invading symbiotes and turning into the giant Mega-Carnage from “Planet of the Symbiotes.” On a side note, if the Venom symbiote is extremely susceptible to heat, how does it survive in Hell, let alone bond to a host possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance?

Look, I don’t mean to make this storyline sound terrible. It’s fun in certain aspects. It has the same appeal as a B-movie, making it kind of like the Planet Terror of Venom stories. The ’90s left a bad taste in my mouth when I was a kid (Damn you, “Maximum Carnage” and “Clone Saga!”), so maybe I’m just bitter.  I will say that the Tony Moore art in this issue made it a little more palatable.

Maybe it would have been better for me if instead of doing four “Point One” issues for Venom between #13 and #14, they did three of those issues as “Point One” books for Hulk, X-23, and Ghost Rider. It would at least have made the difference between the three writers’ styles easier to compensate for, as I’ve become somewhat accustomed to Rick Remender on this book.

Anyhow, that’s all beside the point. If you like your stories way over-the-top in the B-movie sense, definitely check this out.  Especially if you loved the ’90s and “Maximum Carnage.” This would have been a great plot for an arcade game starring Venom, X-23, Red Hulk, and Ghost Rider.

STORY: 6.5/10
ART: 8/10 

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Rick Remender joins the Secret Avengers


Marvel Comics announced Thursday that Rick Remender and Gabriel Hardman will create a new Secret Avengers team starting off in January with Secret Avengers issue 21.1.

Secret Avengers #21.1 will be in a local comic book store on January 25, 2012.

Rick Remender and Gabriel Hardman Enlist A Brand New Set Of SECRET AVENGERS!

Next year, critically acclaimed creators Rick Remender (Uncanny X-Force) & Gabriel Hardman (Hulk) take readers deep under cover in Secret Avengers! Captain America has tasked Hawkeye with putting together a brand new team, ushering in a new era for the Secret Avengers. When the call is put out for heroes to save the Marvel Universe from its most dangerous foes, the biggest powerhouses will answer. America’s Secret Soldier – Venom, The UK’s premiere super hero – Captain Britain, Founding Avenger – Giant-Man and more will join ranks to create a team that will have fans everywhere demanding more. Packed to the brim with action, intrigue, insurmountable odds AND covers by legendary artist Arthur Adams, no fan can miss this!

“Our opening arc will have a big secret war, a big secret new world, a big secret new race, a big team death, a big secret team betrayal, and begin a secret affair. High stakes, intrigue, and tons of character drama as we unearth the mystery surrounding familiar automaton villains reimagined as members of a new species–The Descendants!” exclaimed Remender. “I’m a tremendous fan of Gabe’s work; he’s one of the best storytellers in the business, always puts clarity first, while still managing engaging and dynamic action. I’m beyond excited to have him joining me on Secret Avengers. And having Art Adams on covers is truly a dream come true.”

Kicking off this January in Secret Avengers #21.1 by Remender and red-hot artist Patrick Zircher, fans can get a taste of what we’ve got planned before Gabriel Hardman jumps on board as the ongoing artist with Secret Avengers #22.

“Secret Avengers gives me the opportunity to draw an exciting group of heroes who I’ve never drawn before as well as design new villains and new worlds. Hawkeye, Beast and Valkyrie have been favorites of mine since I was a kid. That combined that with the crazy big, black ops tinged action/adventure makes this a book I had to draw,” explained Hardman. “Rick is known for his wildly inventive scripts and he really delivers with Secret Avengers. This is an epic story that will have big repercussions. That’s the kind of storytelling I like to be involved with.”

With Hawkeye at the helm, Captain America’s strike force team must dodge Adaptoids, Descendants and the biggest threats to the Marvel Universe…without anyone knowing, in Secret Avengers! -Marvel Comics


Follow Matthew Sardo on Twitter! @comicvault