2014 Graphic Novel reading challenge


Writer: Michael Uslan
Artists: Peter Snejbjerg

This is an Elseworlds story, an alternate universe where Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman. Instead he joins the Secret Society of Detectives.

Gotham City, 1929. Bruce’s parents are killed and he is the same determined boy who goes overseas to study so that he can fight criminals. However, when he comes back ten years later, he finds out that Alfred has changed; he’s now a medical doctor. When a shadowy group of men want Bruce to join their secret society, Bruce also finds out that Alfred is one of them, detective 25. The society has also manipulated some things during Bruce’s training and he’s angry about it. However, he joins them.

The Secret Society of Detectives was founded to combat the Knights of the Golden Circle, a villainous secret society whose goal is to destroy one of Northern USAs cities. The Knights were founded right after Civil War and they were responsible for killing Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the years, they have recruited a lot of members, especially doctors an biologists, and acquired a lot of newest scientific advancements. In response, Allan Pinkerton founded the Secret Society of Detectives.

The comic has two timelines: one starting in 1939 and starring Bruce, and one earlier starting with 1865 and depicting the adventures of Allan and William Pinkerton and Kate Warne when they try to defeat the Knights. The story has a surprising number of historical characters, such as Freud and Babe Ruth.

This is an exciting story and it rolls along smoothly even though the two storylines have separate casts. Even though we don’t see Batman, there are a lot of references to his old villains and there’s even a moment where Bruce is thinking that he needs a disguise to strike fear in the hearts of criminals – and then the doorbell rings, he gets up and goes to the door and he never sees the bat in the window. I also enjoyed how Bruce suspected Alfred a couple of times. After all, they have been apart for a long time.

I really enjoyed Snejbjerg’s art which is clean and moody, and fits the story well.

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Collects the Illuminati miniseries 1-5 of of 5.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed
Artists: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Dell, David Meikes

The mini series starts Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Namor, Iron Man, Professor X, and Stephen Stange who are, apparently, the most powerful heroes on Earth. In the series they tackle some of the biggest threats against Earth and the series ends with a lead in to the Secret Invasion. The group are said to be a secret cabal, affecting events from the shadows without telling about them to anyone else, even their families.

The first issue is set right after the Kree/Skrull war. Our intrepid heroes go to the Skrull homeworld and warn them against any further attempt on Earth. They might have made an excellent impression, if they had managed to get away. Unfortunately, the skrulls capture them and do some scientific experiments – in other words torture. After a while, Tony is able to get the upper hand and help the others to escape. The skrulls had dismissed him as “just human” and concentrated their efforts to the others.

The second issue is set after the heroes tackle the Infinity Gauntlet for the second time. Reed was one of the heroes who was simply disintegrated and he doesn’t want it to happen again. So, he revels to the others that he has the Gauntlet and three of the Gems. The others are horrified but agree to find the rest of the gems.

The third issue deals with the Beyonder. Xavier and Reed have come back from the Secret Wars and Xavier has concentrated on finding the Beyonder and solving the question of who he really is. The Beyonder’s identity is retconned here. (No, I’m not gonna spoil it here but it’s in the Wiki entry.) Xavier also traces the Beyonder to the moon Ceres and the group flies there and confronts the Beyonder.

In the fourth issue the group gathers because of Noh-Varr, a young Kree warrior who has declared war on Earth but has been imprisoned. There, the group tries to talk him into following in the footsteps of the first Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell). Also, Namor hits him a lot.

In the final issue, the group is again confronted with the skrulls. The issue is set after Civil War leads directly into Secret Invasion. Tony gathers the group after he finds out that a skrull has been impersonating Elektra (as seen in New Avengers issues) and he also thinks that the Illuminati are responsible because they went to the skrull home world and got imprisoned and experimented on. The group don’t trust each other, in fact Strange is now part of a new Avengers group which opposes Tony. One of the Illuminati reveals himself to be a skrull, further driving a wedge between the others and leaving them wondering if that man is still alive.

Each of the men go their own way in the end.

This was a great idea and I enjoyed most of the issues. However, I do have a big problem with these eggheds deciding things behind everyone else’s back. Also, the fourth issue started with, essentially, the men whining about their women or lack of women. Maybe this was Bendis’ idea of humor or maybe he wanted to make the characters more human but they actually appeared to me pretty pathetic. Except for Namor who really told Reed off.

Namor and Black Bolt are both monarchs who are apparently used to deciding things on behalf of everyone else and Strange is mostly a loner, but Tony, Xavier, and Reed are all supposedly part of groups of people they love and trust. Sadly, this sort of secretive behavior isn’t unknown for any of them, so they are in character, all right.

Enjoyable but not a must-have comic.

Collects Ms Marvel vol 2 issues 47-50. The final collection for this volume.

Writer: Brian Reed
Artists: Mike McKone, Rob Disalvo, Derec Donovan, Sana Takeda, Ben Olivier, Veronica Gandini
Publisher: Marvel

Issue 47 is a light-hearted change of pace after the long and serious Karla plotline. Carol and Spider-Man go out on a date. As you might guess, things don’t go smoothly.

Next up is the final series. Carol is still on the run from Osborn’s H.A.M.M.E.R. organization when she hears that one of the Church of Hala priests have been hurt. She finds out that someone masquerading as Captain Marvel has been attacking the Churchs for several weeks now. Of course, she has to investigate. She comes to the conclusion that only one person can be behind it: Mystique.

I enjoyed Mystique in these issues and also the start where Carol had to briefly go undercover and use her head a little. However, this collection didn’t really rise above an average superhero slug fest.
Overall, I wasn’t too happy with this series but I enjoyed it enough to stick with it to the end. Some of Carol’s new supporting cast had potential but they were dropped off suddenly and never seen again, such as Wonder Man and the Operation Lighting Storm team which I had expected (when I first read the series) to help Carol during Dark Reign and War of the Marvels (or possibly oppose Carol…). My initial fascination with Carol actually came through Rogue who has been one of my favorite Marvel characters since the long Claremont/John Romita Jr. X-Men run and I don’t quite see this book’s Carol as the same confident spy who occasionally took control of Rogue.

Next, Carol will become Captain Marvel; a series where I enjoyed the writing more than here but not the art. Ah, the joys of reading comics. 🙂

Collects Ms. Marvel vol. 2 #42-46

Writer: Brian Reed
Artists: Sana Takeda, Sergio Arino, Philippe Briones

This is the culmination of the past three collections. Obviously, you should read them before this one.

Carol is supposedly dead, but nobody really believes that. The strange energy women combine into Ms. Marvel but she acts strange; her power levels fluctuate and she doesn’t seem to actually think about anything, instead she just charges into situations. Karl and Osborn try to imprison her.

However, we soon see that a Carol-look-a-like, Catherine Donovan, is a very successful writer in LA. But she also feels uncomfortable in her own life, like she isn’t Catherine Donovan after all. And we readers of course know that she’s an alias Carol made up for herself. Catherine travels to New York in order to find out what’s going on.

Most of the collection is devoted to Karla Sofen and her identity struggles, though. We get to go into her head and find out her big traumas. Meanwhile, Carol and Karla are fighting for the right to use the Ms Marvel name. Osborn and the New Avengers guest star.

To me it felt that the real star of this collection was Karla, Moonstone. That felt a little weird because she hasn’t been in the comic earlier. Storywise this is one of the better collections, though. In the final issue Carol really shines.

Unfortunately, I felt that the art actually detracted from the story. Takeda’s art is very pretty, manga influenced, but it makes the women look very young and some of the poses are very exploitative. The other two artists’ styles are very different from Takeda’s so there’s no unified style.

Collects Fables 1-5.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton
Publisher: Vertigo

A group of fairy tale characters live in the real world, New York to be precise. They have their own little community and don’t want to interact much with the humans, or mundies as they are called. In fact, their most important rule is to keep the existence of fables a secret from humans. If a fable can’t keep a human appearance, he or she is sent to the Farm, a closed community in the countryside, where the non-human fables, like mice, geese, dragons etc. live. The city community is called Fabletown and it’s run by Snow White and the town’s sheriff is the Big Bad Wolf, except that he’s in a human form and supposedly reformed. Snow’s sister is Rose Red and she’s apparently been murdered. Rose’s boyfriend Jack (of various stories) comes to Bigby Wolf and says that he found Rose’s apartment full of blood and trashed. Bigby starts to investigate and Snow becomes quickly involved.

Right from the start, we are introduced to various familiar characters, such as Beauty and the Beast, Prince Charming, Cinderella, and Bluebeard. Most of them have twists, such as Snow being the responsible and rather humorless administrator and Bigby the sheriff. I rather enjoyed most of the characters, and they are going to get more interesting and enjoyable in later volumes. The fables have been driven from their own lands by the Adversary and his armies. We get a couple of peeks to the fight against his horde.

The mystery plot is actually pretty predictable and seems to be mostly just an excuse to go around town and introduce us to the cast. I enjoyed it the first time I read it but now it seems quite simple. Still, this first story arc was good enough to make me read quite a bit further into the series.

I really enjoyed the various side characters, such as the talking pigs and poor Flycatcher the janitor who was the frog prince. It’s fun to track down the references. Also, Prince Charming is quite a character in this series and one of those whom I enjoy reading about but wouldn’t necessarily enjoy his company. The sex scenes might put off some readers but they’re quite effective in establishing his character. Oh, and I really love the moody covers.

Collects Ms. Marvel vol. 2 #35-40.

Writer: Brian Reed
Artists: Patrick Olliffe, Serge LePointe, Kris Justice, Rebekah Isaacs, Sana Takeda, Luke Ross, Rob Schwager

Dark Reign continues right from the previous collection. Carol is still on the run from the Osborn-led Avengers with her two friends, Rossi and Mason. The first three issues are titled “The Death of Ms. Marvel 1-3” and events do escalate towards that point. This is not a stand-alone collection but relies heavily on storylines from the previous collection and also from other titles. I haven’t read Dark Reign.

In the first issue, Carol finds out about a mass suicide in a Church of Hala, who apparently worship the original kree Captain Marvel. When a new Captain Marvel joins the Avengers, these worshipers killed themselves in protest. Carol investigates and runs into the new CM. Neither is happy about it.

In the next two issues, Carol continues her hunt of Ghazi who is selling some doomsday weapon and also tortured her years ago. Her powers are increasingly erratic until at the end of the third issue during a confrontation with Ghazi, Carol’s powers explode seemingly killing her. We also find out a startling fact about Rossi.

Osborn takes advantage of the situation and appoints Moonstone as the new Ms. Marvel, taking Carol’s old costume. However, she has to undergo psychological evaluation which ends up being quite unusual.

Next, Moonstone investigates A.I.M. and is shown that they are trying to breed a new type of superhuman, a combination of MODOK and the storyteller whom we met in the previous collection and in the very first issue of this series. However, instead of shutting them down, Moonstone has an offer from Osborn. Unfortunately, AIM turns it down… by throwing an asteroid into New York. It turns out that Moonstone has some weird mental connection to the fetuses which AIM has and she stole them and brought them to the Avengers headquarters. However, a mysterious (but not really) female figure made of energy is also interested in the fetuses and attacks Moonstone.

This is somewhat disjointed collection where one storyline ends and another begins. In fact, it might have been better to combine first three issues with the previous collection and start a new one with Moonstone as Ms Marvel. Also, Moonstone is not introduced at all, so the change came very suddenly and unexpectedly. My feelings of disjointedness might be heightened because Carol’s story arc was well developed (even though I personally felt quite frustrated with it at times).

It’s quite ironic to see how the former villain appears to do good and gets praised for it, even though she’s actually furthering Osborn’s evil agenda and even killing people in full sight of others, while Carol has been failing pretty consistently for a couple of years now.

One thing which actually helped the transition between the different storylines was the change in artist. Isaacs’ and especially Takeda’s art is much more manga styled than Olliffe’s.

The collection ends in a cliffhanger.

Collects the miniseries Infinity Gauntlet 1-6.

Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: George Perez, Ron Lim, Josef Rubinstein, Tom Christopher

This is the first big cross-over event I ever read, back in 1993, when it came out here in Finland, so there’s no way I can be objective about it. I loved it back then and much to my surprise, it was still enjoyable, more so than many of the more recent cross-overs.

The story starts with Thanos. He has already found all the Infinity Stones and combined them into a gauntlet which makes him the master of mind, soul, time, space, reality, and power. He’s literally the supreme power in the Marvel universe. Mephisto is playing his lackey, giving him advice and flattering him all the way. Thanos worships Death and he tries to make Death love him. Fortunately, for the rest of the universe, that’s not easy.

Then, the Silver Surfer crashes to Dr. Strange’s house telling him the awful news. Meanwhile, three people die in a car crash and others take over their bodies. It seems that our heroes Adam Warlock, Pip the Troll, and Gamora have already died and this is the only way for them to have bodies.

Then things start to escalate and they don’t stop until in the end. Thanos kills off half of sentient life in the universe. Half of the people on Earth just disappears, along with a lot of superheros. Among the dead are the Fantastic Four and apparently most of the X-Men. In fact, only two X-Men appear in this series, Cyclops and Wolverine. Dr. Doom also joins the heroes.

Adam Warlock makes his appearance and gathers up a fighting force of the surviving heroes who will serve as fodder and distraction for bigger guns, among whom are personified powers such as Eternity and Galactus. The fighting is epic.

Warlock knows that in order to win, he has to have an intricate scheme and send people to their deaths. He seems very ruthless. And he’s right.

This is a very enjoyable cosmic fight but don’t expect anything else.

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