Friday, January 01, 2016

Smells like shades of Avengers Forever

As promised I´m starting the new year with a review of a more recent comic, in this case ULTRON FOREVER, written by Al Ewing and drawn by Alan Davis and the review will be just full of all kinds of spoilers.

Ever since Marvel NOW started the Marvel section of my pull list has shrunk each month until it´s currently at zero. There are two trades I have to get, the second SILVER SURFER by Mike Allred and Mark Waid´s DAREDEVIL finale The autobiography of Matt Murdock but aside from a select few by favorite artists my reading falls between the 80s and 90s.

One of these artists is Carlos Pacheco ( we will talk more about him in a moment ) and another one is Alan Davis. While I would like to say that I was a fan of him from day one the truth is that when I saw my first pages of Alan Davis art - I hated it. Yep, I remember that I had just bought BATMAN TASCHENBUCH 29 which - among other stories - contained The Truth about Halo a three part story originally published in BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS issues 16, 20 and 22. Those pocket books usually had stories about a certain topic so it was not unheard of that they skipped some issues which would be put into a later volume which sometimes lead to strange continuity glitches. So I was reading the story, happy as a clam, when I came to the third part which was not drawn by Jim Aparo.

Because he left the title with issue 20 to do THE OUTSIDERS which was printed on Baxter paper while Alan Davis came on board. Here is where it gets a bit complicated but since I already explained it in detail in this post I´m going to skip that part. Suffice it to say that I wanted my Outsiders comics drawn by Jim Aparo but since the new Baxter title never actually made it to Germany I was not happy at all. It would take a few years until I discovered the later Outsiders issue in Spain where I liked the art more.

I think I have probably read most of his comics since then and it´s only in recent years that I have skipped series he worked on entirely like his WOLVERINE issues because there was also another artist in that story and Alan Davis´ art looked a bit rushed and uninspired to out it mildly. You can always tell when he really likes a story like in DC´s THE NAIL or Marvel´s FANTASTIC FOUR - THE END. In WOLVERINE he wasn´t very inspired but who could be by another story of Wolverine loosing his healing factor ?

So Alan Davis´ art has been hit or miss in the last years and if you want to see what he´s really capable of check out his absolutely glorious work on AVENGERS PRIME. My advice : get the Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis : Heroic Age hardcover which contains AVENGERS PRIME and the first six issues of AVENGERS by John Romita Jr and NEW AVENGERS by Stuart Immomen. It´s a 40 dollar book but you can get it at amazon for around 25 which is the price for any of these three hardcovers separately. 

But back to ULTRON FOREVER. While Alan Davis´ is not operating on the same level as in AVENGERS PRIME his kung fu is very strong and my only complaint here is that RAGE OF ULTRON got the hardcover treatment instead of this. I haven´t read it but if I had to choose between Jerome Opena and Alan Davis ? That´s no contest. Alan Davis wins hands down.

So the art here alone is totally worth the price of admission. What about the story ? Okay, I tried to like it but there are a few small hurdles here.

First of all by calling the story ULTRON FOREVER and have an Avengers team from different time periods unite against a common thread you just set yourself up for a tough road because naturally comic fans will compare this to AVENGERS FOREVER which is THE best Avengers series with time traveling Avengers drawn by Carlos Pacheco at the height of his game.

I mean, even IF Al Ewing and Alan Davis were at the same level as Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern and Carlos Pacheco I doubt that they could accomplish what the creative team of AVENGERS FOREVER did in 12 issues in 3.

So while I can understand that some exec at Disney probably thought it was a good idea to " brand " this comic so new readers would immediately know that it´s a story similar to AVENGERS FOREVER ( assuming they even read that ) they also shoot themselves in the foot at the same time.

The second problem is that everybody knows that this - along with a few other Ultron related comics and reprints - was timed to come out at the same time as the movie AVENGERS - AGE OF ULTRON to prevent the few moviegoers who actually set foot in a comic shop after having seen the movie to buy the actual AGE OF ULTRON comic. Which is a smart idea because AGE OF ULTRON was not a good comic. So I was really happy that the movie had nothing to do with the comic. The biggest problem with that comic was that in spite of the grand title there was not really a lot of Ultron in Age of Ultron and a more fitting title would have been What the Avengers did during the Age of Ultron which does NOT include fighting Ultron. A bit long but more fitting. In that regard ULTRON FOREVER manages to get higher scores because there is actually a lot of Ultron.  

There is one last minor nitpicking ( well, there are a few more down the line but I´m talking about the overall premise of the comic here ) which is that I´m sure that the idea of the guys at Disney was to do the ultimate Ultron story ( no pun intended ) and in my opinion they set themselves up for another disappointment because that was already done by Kurt Busiek and George Perez during their AVENGERS run with Ultron Unlimited.

So based on that I would recommend ULTRON FOREVER to newer comic readers who don´t have read all these AVENGERS comics and won´t compare it to those masterworks and rather judge it on its own merit.

Which this story has. The selection of Avengers is actually interesting even if writer Al Ewing had to pander to the Disney people by including the new female Thor and Alan Davis had to draw an ugly and unnecessarily complicated costume for the Vision to make the greedy movie guys happy.

On the other side he gets to draw Black Widow in the classic skintight black costume doing her stuff. Which makes Subzero all kinds of happy. 

The inclusion of the new female Thor even leads to a kind of meta scene - unwillingly or not by writer Al Ewing - where she is confronted with the real deal original Walter Simonson Thor ( or rather Sal Buscema Thor as he had taken over penciling when he got his brand new armor ) and is unable to tell Thor the real reason why she has the hammer. I mean, how CAN you try to explain that mind - f - word the writers are currently doing on THOR to the authentic thunder god ? " Well, you see, an alien dude whispered something into your ear so they gave the job to a woman. "  

Yeah, I know it´s more complicated than that but the more you go into detail the worse it gets. So back to the story in ULTRON FOREVER.

The Avengers are summoned from different time periods by none other than Doctor Doom which is like the Daleks asking Doctor Who for help.

You know it´s not going to end well. So - spoilers - when Doctor Doom betrays the Avengers it´s not that big of a surprise. I mean, come on, that´s probably in his job description. The only thing that makes it reasonable that the Avengers agree to help Doom ( or rather follow his plan to be used and disposed as cannon fodder because let´s be real - that´s all anybody is to Doom ) is that they figure that Ultron is worse. And that they can defeat Doctor Doom when - not if - he betrays them.

Speaking about defeating bad guys another thing that is sort of anti - climatic is the way in which Ultron is defeated. Even if we assume for a moment that it is possible for him to get Odin´s powers ( Al Ewing obviously thinks magic and technology are the same and Ultron is the Super Adaptoid ) it´s contradictory that in one moment he is powerful enough to just brush TWO Mjölnirs aside as if he was swatting flies

and in the next one he gets blown away by banging them together.

They didn´t even need the whole team for that. My mother would probably say : " Well, why didn´t they start with this in the first place ? "

Instead of collecting an entire team of Avengers wouldn´t it have been easier to just get the two Thors ? Maybe, but vanquishing Ultron is not Doctor Doom´s only agenda so this actually makes sense in the story. So I counted on Doctor Doom pulling a fast one over the Avengers but what I didn´t expect was how the Avengers beat him. The Vision talks him out of it. Which is preferable to solving everything with violence - at least in the real world. In comic books not so much especially since Al Ewing brings in a character from the AVENGERS A I series that not that many readers will be familiar with. In that regard the resolution reads a bit like all those Agatha Christie crime novels where there is a surprise revelation at the last minute that comes totally out of left field. I don´t know if that was mandated from above to get people to read the AVENGERS A I series but it feels like a cop out. Also I never took Doctor Victor Von Doom as such a redeemable character. Although his huge ego will always be his downfall.

Now after reading all of this you might get the idea that I didn´t like the comic but that is not true. Like I said, this is just some minor nitpicking in some places because I´m old school and think that with a few changes here and there this could have been better. Besides that I have to applaud Al Ewing for managing to make something good of the horrific Johnathan Hickman run by incorporating one of the futures the Avenger members encountered during their aimless travel through time. This wibbly wobbly timey wimey adventure makes much more sense than that entire run.

The new incarnation of Captain America was kind of interesting ( of course she has to be black ) even though it would have been enough if she said " I AM THE SHIELD ! " once. No need to keep repeating it. 

Speaking about black characters it was kind of nice to see that not everybody had forgotten about the time when Jim Rhodes was Iron Man.

Okay, because of the suit you can´t see that this Iron Man is actually a brother but Rhodey gets more to do than just be the token black guy on this Avengers team and shows that he also knows how to use his brain.

And although I would have preferred to see him in the Silver Centurion armor classic Iron Man still looks good. As does Thor in his armor. While I have to say I do not agree one hundred percent with his depiction of Ultron he has done his homework about the various time periods he snatched the Avengers from which is not as random as one might think.

Having a Thor who can´t die because of Hela´s curse is a tactical plus

as is a Hulk whose transformations have become so unpredictable he can grow a second head after being decapitated by Captain America´s shield.

So even if the story could have benefit from more issues - and maybe less deadline pressure - it is a story that is fun, exciting, old school but also readable for modern audiences and even though the ending feels a bit optimistic you don´t want to end such an entertaining story on a downer.

I have to admit that even the female Thor was not as obnoxious as I feared she would be because Al Ewing managed not to beat it into the reader how cool and oh so important she is - unlike the rest of Disney.

And Alan Davis really kills it with the cosmic stuff like " UltrOdin ".

So my final verdict is that this may not be the next AVENGERS FOREVER or ULTRON UNLIMITED but - to paraphrase from Geoff Johns when he was good - it doesn´t have to be. It´s it own thing with captivating art by Alan Davis and the way things are going at Marvel right now this will probably be the best Avengers story you will read in a very long time.

One final bonus I have to mention is that 3 issues of old Marvel comics are included in the trade to let newer readers in to when Hulk had his strange transformations, Jim Rhodes got mysterious headaches when wearing the Iron Man armor and when Thor got the armor he wears here. Back in the old days Marvel was capable of just putting three issues in a trade like with THOR - ALONE AGAINST THE CELESTIALS but Today they are so fixated on the six issue trade that they have to put in padding.

Although this is padding on a high level and just might get readers who are unfamiliar with those time periods want to read them. Of course the THOR issue has the new coloring that almost completely overpowers Sal Buscema´s fabulous art but I guess that is what they are pushing now.

Time to wrap things up for Today - especially since my internet connection keeps breaking up - but not without including some links and videos.

First there are some additional reviews on COMIC CLARITY which covers all issues ( 1 / 2 / 3 ) - with heavy spoilers ! - and David Goodman at FANSIDED has also reviews on part one and part two of the story. There may even be a review of the third part but since he didn´t add any labels or tags I couldn´t find it. I also included a lot of pictures in the post some of which were provided by SCANS DAILY which has a preview for Avengers - Ultron Forever as well as lots of pictures from Avengers - Ultron Forever , New Avengers - Ultron Forever and Uncanny Avengers - Ultron Forever . There are also posts on Al Ewing and Alan Davis´ new two parter Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders ( issue 1 / issues 1 and 2 / issue 2 ).

There´s also a post about Doug Ramsey that includes some wonderful EXCALIBUR pages and posts on NEW MUTANTS ANNUAL 2 and 3 .

Today´s post was as long as Yesterday´s post was short. We start the video section with an episode of iFanboy that is all about Alan Davis.

It took me quite a while to find the bookmark for this one which is one of the few cosplay videos that not only has Yaya Han or just cosplay girls.

To start the year in style Today´s music video is a mini concert with Suzanne Vega who released a new album last year in January.

All things must end : here´s the last Melina Pendulum video.

The first cartoon of the year is a classic one : ALITA, BATTLE ANGEL. It´s also one of the best manga series that was so popular that it returned with an alternate story line. Sorry, I only found the spanish video.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest / best of the best


Ja D said...

Great review. Btw, do you read much manga?

SUBZERO said...

At the moment CASE CLOSED is the only manga I still read. I read LONE WOLF AND CUB, KENSHIN and of course DRAGONBALL but unlike american series mangas are over with issue 30 or 50. So you always have to look for a new one. There are a lot of mangas published in Germany but I guess I´m too picky and I don´t read those gay manges that are so popular.

Ja D said...

I'm more into Blade of the Immortal, Berserk, Vagabond type manga. Haven't read LWAC but I did read Path of the Assassin by the same author. And, yeah, there is a lot of gay out there.

SUBZERO said...

My brother read BERSERK and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL. BERSERK is just one big slugfest so I never read much of it. BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL was much better so naturally my brother lost track after the twelfth trade and he never got the energy to dig those out and continue. VAGABOND ... I´m not sure. From what I´ve read it looks like a cheap knock off of KENSHIN and LONE WOLF AND CUB so I´m saving my money for USAGI YOJIMBO which is not technically a manga but still awesome. I heard MONSTER is pretty good but so far I have enough on my plate to keep me busy.

Ja D said...

Monster is good but at 18 volumes long it is a commitment. Vagabond is very good and alternates between action and philosophy, up to 37 volumes so far though. Haven't read Kenshin so I can't comment on that. Cheers.