superheroes


Collects X-Men Red issue 6-11.

Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Mahmud Asrar

This comic was discontinued far too soon. It was building up steam and high concepts but then it just ended.

Cassandra Nova is targeting the original Jean and her team. They’re in Atlantis so Nova sends a teenaged Hulk to attack it. At the same time, Jean has sent Gambit, Nightcrawler, Trinary, the new Wolverine and her sister to retrieve a phone from the murdered UK ambassador’s things. Since phones record everything around it, it has the brief conversation between Jean and Nova which could prove that Jean didn’t murder the ambassador. Meanwhile, the people of Atlantis are building Searebro to enhance the abilities of both Jean and Trinary. It seems to be a kind of new Cerebro except that other people can use it, rather than just telepaths.

Most of the fighting in the collection is two-fold: Jean versus Nova on the psychic plane and Trinary versus tiny sentinel nanites. Nova is keeping Forge under her mental command and has forced him to invent nanites which Nova implants into humans. These so-called sentinites detect mutants and make the carrier attack them. We also get a brief Jean versus Rachel fight. (Poor Rachel; despite her powers, she’s constantly mentally controlled.)

The team is just starting to form and work together when the comic ended. While most of the plot lines are tied together, it felt a bit rushed. But overall I really enjoyed the two volumes and even the new characters.

I rather liked the hopeful ending. I also think this could be fitting end for Nova, but I doubt it will stick for long. Presumably, the team also rescued Forge, although we didn’t see it.

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Collects issues 1-5 and annual 1.

Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Mahmud Asrar, Pascal Alixe

The original Jean Grey is back! (In Phoenix Resurrection which I have mixed feelings about.) And she’s not happy about the state of the world and especially about the relations between mutants and humans. So, she’s determined to change things for the better. But to do that, she needs a team of both old friends and she also recruits some new ones. And she wants to rescue as many mutant children from bigots as she can. I really liked that premise. It seems that mutants are even more hated and feared than almost ever before, even mutant children are attacked and some humans want to confine mutants to their own ghettos. It all has a very strong parallel to our own world, unfortunately.

The collection starts with the Annual where Jean is reacquainted with her old friends but also with bigotry when the X-Men are hanging out at the school which has been relocated to Central Park. Some of the humans don’t want to see mutants. Jean teaches one of them a lesson, but it’s not enough to her. She also confronts Black Lightning, the man who killed Scott.

The actual comic starts with a mix of old characters and new. Kurt, Namor, and eventually Storm and Gambit are the old characters. Jean talks with people, she even addresses the UN. Her plan is to make mutants a nation, so that when (other) nations discuss how to “deal with the mutant problem”, the mutants will have a say as well. However, when Jean’s framed for killing the UK ambassador to UN right in front of cameras at the steps of UN building, she and her team are on the run. They go to Wakanda and later to Atlantis.

This was, in a way, a return to X-Men’s roots: humans outright hating mutants, Jean and her team hunted for a misunderstanding, powerful enemies at every turn. It’s also more tied to modern day problems than space adventures. The master villain is Cassandra Nova. I was a bit disappointed that Rachel (Grey) was again going to be someone’s puppet. In this case, Nova’s.

The idea of mutant nation isn’t new, either. Jean mentions Genosha and Utopia which both ended badly. She’s also not an elected leader and some mutants are criminals, so I’m not sure which way Taylor is going to take the story (since the comic ended with vol 2, not very far).

Jean is one of my favorite characters, so I’m happy that she’s back. Kurt is another of my favorite X-Men, so it was great to see them working together. X-23 (or Wolverine) and her sister Honey Badger were also good additions and so is the Indian mutant Trinary. She has technology powers. The later additions of two of my other favorite X-Men Storm and Gambit were also great. I already have the second volume.

Collects: Avengers (1963) 124-125, 129-135, Captain Marvel (1968) 33, Giant-sized Avengers 2-4, Avengers: Celestial Quest 1-8.

Writer: Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas
Artists: Bob Brown, Don Heck, John Buscema, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, Joe Giella, John Tartag, Jorge Santamaria, Scott Hanna

This huge collection has Avengers from 1960s and the Celestial Quest which came out 2001.

However, it’s quite a bit disjointed at the start. The collection starts not Mantis’ first appearance but the first version of her backstory. A criminal which the Avengers have just arrested, Libra of the Zodiac, claims that he’s Mantis’ father. But Mantis has no memory of him and doesn’t believe his wild story. However, Swordsman believes him and even though the Swordsman is wounded, he takes a quinjet and heads to Saigon to confront the man who killed Mantis’ (Vietnamese) mother, a crime boss the Swordsman worked for before. The Avengers follow him and find him defeated. The Avengers fight against a monster from the stars. When they return to the mansion, they’re drawn into an epic space fight against Thanos’ forces. These issues also establish that Swordsman loves Mantis but she doesn’t love him, that the Vision loves Wanda and she loves him but Mantis wants the Vision because Mantis wants someone more powerful that the Swordsman (who apparently doesn’t have any powers).

The Celestial Madonna story starts when a large star appears over the Avengers Mansion. Kang the Conqueror appears and claims that the star announces that the Celestial Madonna has come and since the Madonna will give birth to “the one” and her mate will be the most powerful man on Earth, Kang is determined to take the Madonna for himself. There are three women inside the mansion: Wanda, Mantis, and Wanda’s mentor Agatha Harkness. So, after defeating the male Avengers, Kang kidnaps all three women so that he can find out which one of them is the Madonna and he also takes the Vision, Iron Man, and Thor to power his robotic minions. The Swordsman he scornfully leaves behind but Harkness guides the Swordsman to where the women are kept prisoner. While he can’t free them, he meets with the most important ally the Avengers will have, time-traveling Pharaoh Rama-Tut. The Swordsman, time-traveling Rama-Tut, and Hawkeye go after Kang.

The Avengers are rescued but the Swordsman is killed. When he lies bleeding to death Mantis apologizes to him the way that she’s been treating him and confesses that she does love him. The Avengers and Mantis return the Swordsman’s body to the garden of Priests of Pama and then she returns to Saigon where she thinks she grew up, on the streets. Thor, Hawkeye, the Vision, Iron Man, and Thor accompany her. However, things aren’t as she remembers. Eventually, Kang and Immortus kidnap the male Avengers and Mantis again, this time to to fight against the Legion of Unliving in Immortus’ Limbo.

The story reveals the first version of the Vision’s past but, perhaps more importantly because they aren’t retconned as much, also the past of the Kree and the beginning of the Kree-Skrull war, alongside with the story of the Celestial Madonna which is actually very small part of the story. In fact, even the story titled “the Origin of Mantis” isn’t. It continues the origin story of the priests of Pama and the sentient plant the Cotati, and the Vision.

The final eight issues are the Celestial Quest where Mantis has left her son with his father on the planet of the sentient plants the Cotati, and returned to Earth. Except that she has been split into several incarnations of herself (the freak, the mother, the prostitute, the priestess, and the avenger). When Thanos kills each incarnation, the remaining Mantises become more and more aware of herself until the next to last one is able to call to the Vision for help. The current Avengers (the Vision, the Scarlet Witch (who have broken up), Thor, and Silverclaw) along with the Squadron Supreme’s Haywire (who is grieving his girlfriend Inertia and is only with the other heroes because he thinks he’ll have chance to get her back by appealing to Death herself) accompany Mantis to the Cotati’s home planet to save her son Quoi from Thanos. On the way there, Mantis and Vision get together and Silverclaw develops feelings for Haywire. They also tangle with some reptilian space pirates whom later become Thanos’ minions, except for the only female pirate who eventually starts a romantic relationship with Quoi. Unfortunately, Quoi is rebellious a teenager who resents Mantis for abandoning him and he refuses to listen to her.

I rather enjoyed the older comics more, especially the middle part with the huge fights with Kang. Although Kang does come across as far more bluster than bite, he’s still one of my favorite Avengers villains. However, I really didn’t care for the odd “romances” which were straight out of E. R. Burroughs: the woman (both Wanda and Mantis) gets upset with her man (Vision and the Swordsman, respectively) and she’s cold towards him until he rescues her (or a revelation is made in case of Mantis) and then suddenly they marry. In fact, Wanda is only in a couple of the older comics because she’s learning witchcraft from Harkness and stays behind. She and Mantis constantly snipe at each other.

Mantis is a very different character from the movies. I’m not sure if Englehart wrote her deliberately as such an unlikable female character. If so, my hat’s off to him. Mantis a “mistress of the martial arts” and even defeated Thor with her skills. However, she doesn’t appear to have any superpowers except for some vague empathy. She’s a fearless fighter. But romantically she’s very capricious, turning her affections from the Swordsman to the Vision whom she knows is in love with Wanda. Mantis later explains that she wanted a super-powered man and that she felt close to the Vision because they were both lonely and felt that they weren’t really part of humanity. I don’t know if she tried to flirt with Iron Man or Thor but it seems a bit strange that since they’re both single, she wouldn’t try. (Of course, they both have their own comics and she wouldn’t appear in them, that’s probably the real reason.)

Interestingly enough, we find that Mantis is linked to another unlikable female character, Moondragon.

I was less happy with the Celestial Quest. Mantis’ son especially grated on my nerves. He speaks strangely and is far too much a grumpy, self-absorbed teenager to be a fun character.

Collects Wonder Woman (vol 3) issues 40-44.

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, Chris Batista, Fernando Dagino, Doug Hazelwood, Raul Fernandez, Nicola Scott

Simone’s final collection has again two story lines. Murder of Crows is a two-part story guest-starring Power-Girl. The five (male) children of Ares and some of the Amazons have apparently mind-control powers. They talk to people and make them believe what they want, even inciting violence. They start with twisting Diana’s heroic battles by questioning if she was heroic or if she was working with the villains in the first place. Then they use their power on Power-Girl and twist her against Diana. The lasso of truth plays a big part, of course.

The final story line is the Wrath of the Silver Serpent where an alien armada comes to Washington and only Diana and her friends can stop them. This story hails back to second story line in “The Circle.” A couple of Green Lanterns find a world devastated and the destroyers are heading to Earth. The space ship makes a force field around Washington DC. so nobody can get in or out. So, only Diana, Achilles, the gorillas, and the remnants of the DMA can resist the Citizenry.

The Citizenry have huge silver snakes which can destroy whole cities and in the end, they will ground the whole planet into food and fuel for the Citizenry and their ships. But their leader turns out to be a more personal menace to Diana: she’s Diana’s aunt Astarte.

This was a good ending to Simone’s run. Once again, Diana shows her strengths as a warrior, a diplomat, and a strategist. She’s confronted by a horrible nation where children are turned into remorseless killers from a young age. Yet, she finds compassion for them and offers peace before she’s forced to use violence. Still, there are a couple mysteries which were left unsolved. The biggest being Astarte’s history; she remembers herself and Hippolyta as children while in this incarnations, they were all created as adult Amazons. Also, we don’t get to see Hippolyta’s and Astarte’s meeting after being apart for 3000 years.

Still, I quite enjoyed Simone’s run.

Collects Wonder Woman (vol 3) issues 33-39.

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, Bernard Chang

This collection has two story lines. The first is a two-part story “Birds of Paradise” where Diana finds out that Genocide isn’t dead but someone is hiding the body in Tokyo, in a metahuman fight club. She asks the Black Canary to show her the ropes and together they go to the fight club, undercover. In the second one, several story lines get a conclusion when Diana confronts Achilles and eventually Zeus.

The first two issues are campy fun. Diana and Dinah dress up as slutty wrestlers to hide their identity. Dinah says: “We look like high-end trashy hookers in a Tarantino nightmare… Perfect!” However, they don’t find Genocide. Instead, they find Dr. Psycho and Director Steel and the goddess of violence who wants revenge.

When Diana returns home, she has a talk with Tom. Earlier, she admitted that she doesn’t love Tom, but she wants to have children with him. So, Tom breaks up with her. Luckily, Diana can vent her frustration on Giganta but then she and Giganta have a bonding moment over their dissatisfaction of their love lives and they team up to take down Achilles’ peace party. Achilles threatens Hippolyta and Diana backs down. But then Diana realizes that she must confront him and heads to Themiscyra.

Zeus is going to retire the Amazons. In order to do that, he resurrected some of Greek mythology’s greatest heroes, including the Argonauts. He also created Achilles to be the king of the Argonauts and the Amazons. Zeus is apparently the only one to be surprised when the Amazon are very dissatisfied with that. Hippolyta agrees to step down because that’s the will of her gods. However, Alkyone, the villain from Simone’s first WW story, agrees to marry Achilles, legitimizing his rule. Alkyone was the captain of Hippolyta’s guard but she hated Diana so much that she (and her three loyal Amazons) tried to kill Diana when she was an infant. The four were imprisoned. Why Achilles would think that they somehow represent the Amazons, is beyond me. However, Alkyone is a great villain and her actions are understandable. Since this is a superhero comic, it all leads to a huge fight between Diana and Achilles, with the Argonauts and Amazon caught in the middle, choosing sides.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this collection. The first two issues were campy fun but didn’t really add to the story line much and the whole retrieving Genocide’s body was forgotten in the second issue. I loved the main villain in the second issue; Diana agreed to make amends to her and no doubt her choice will come back to haunt her. I’m happy to see Tom go but was baffled with Diana wanting to settle down and have kids. I guess that’s supposed to show her “human” side, make her more relateable. But I don’t remember anyone else taking this angle with Diana. And she seemed to have misled Tom a lot, which was very out of character for her. I liked most of the conflict Zeus created and the Argonauts ended up not so villainous, after all, which was a nice touch. I’m glad that Donna also got her chance to shine and that the conflict between her and Diana was resolved. A good, solid ending for Alkyone’s story that started in the Circle. She’s one of the best WW villains.

One more Simone collection to go. I must confess that I enjoyed Birds of Prey much more. Also, Simone’s collections aren’t stand alone. Definitely start with the Circle to get the most out of the stories.

Collects Wonder Woman (vol 3) issues 26-33.

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, Bernard Chang

Simone changes the status quo of the Amazons and their gods in this story. The Hollywood story at the end of the previous collection was a comic breather and now the story is much grimmer.

The Greek gods return to Earth. Apparently, they’re aliens. Darkseid and his underlings have fouled Olympus and on top of that humans, and even the gods’ supposed champion Diana, have abandoned them. The gods are unhappy to say the least. But Zeus has a plan. A terrible plan.

On Earth, Director Steel’s paranoia grows. He sends agent Diana Prince and her team to a mall which has been destroyed by a new superbeing called Genocide. However, Steel claims that he has another job for Tresser who stays behind. However, as soon as Diana is gone, Steel tries to arrest Tresser. But Tresser escapes and is now a wanted fugitive.

Meanwhile, the villains in Secret Society are scheming against Wonder Woman. Cheetah has convinced Dr. Morrow to create something even he’s afraid of.

When Wonder Woman fights Genocide, she realizes that Genocide is or was a deity. Genocide has an aura that makes people despair and she kills a lot of people. She defeats Diana, beating her near to death. Troia and Wonder Girl are called to help her but Genocide continues her rampage to the DMA itself.

This is an intense and grim story. The Greek gods almost literally stab the Amazons in the back when Zeus creates a new group of elite soldiers to serve him, intending to replace the Amazons. They, the Olympians as they’re called, are trying to force the world to become peaceful. Which never works.

Diana faces her most difficult challenge yet when she not only fails to stop Genocide but must lead her friends against the murderous being while grievously wounded. Genocide is a very good villain to challenge WW and more than worthy addition to her rogues’ gallery. It’s also great that she’s not as sexualized as female villains tend to be. Her face isn’t shown, her hair is short and spiky, she doesn’t have a cleavage; in fact her skin isn’t showing much at all. She’s scary and not in a sexy way. However, I can’t help to think that there should have been some more dramatic way to tell her origin, at least to the readers if not to Diana.

The ending is mostly satisfying with some emotional drama and mostly likely a new direction for Diana.

Collects WW (vol 3) issues 20-25.

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, Bernard Chang

Ends of the Earth story line runs the first four issues. It’s a bit on the strange side. First issue starts with Diana in a foreign, wintry land fighting wolves. She ends up in a tavern, looking for fabled hero Beowulf. Then we return to the beginning. Department of Metahuman Affairs’ agent Diana Prince is promoted. She’s expected to lead a team of six agents. Diana is quite flustered because she feels that she hasn’t earn a promotion, quite the contrary. But then a strange man with omnious red glowing eyes (I can think of only one time when that’s been a good sign) confronts Diana in her own office. He asks Wonder Woman to kill the devil. Diana uses her lasso on him, but that’s a terrible choice. It turns out that the man, who calls himself only Stalker, has no soul and so ensnares Diana’s soul (or mind). Apparently, he sends Diana to another dimension. There, Diana needs to find the heroes Beowulf and Claw to help her defeat the demon Dgrth.

For the rest of the story, Diana and Beowulf journey in a couple of other worlds. Diana’s soul is diminishing and so her compassion is leaving her and she becomes more and more violent and cold. Eventually Diana, Beowulf, Claw, and the Stalker confront the demon.

Meanwhile, DMA’s director Steele recruits agent Tresser, Diana’s partner and love interest, into spying on Diana and agent Candy. Steele (quite right) suspects that they’re Amazons and that they’re looking for more info in preparation for the Amazon’s next attack (which of course isn’t true). Tresser manages to find out that the giant intelligent gorillas are in Diana’s apartment. It’s gorillas vs Tresser!

By the fourth issue, Diana has returned and it’s now time for Tresser to meet her mom, Queen Hippolyta. Of course, they did meet briefly during Amazons Attack when Tresser was almost killed… However, Hippolyta seems to accept Tresser. Then Diana goes to Hollywood! People are making a Wonder Woman movie and they want Diana’s endorsement. Of course, this being a superhero comic, an old WW villain is involved.

I’m a fantasy fan and Diana, more than any other superhero, has a mythological roots, so I quite enjoyed the short romp in these Hyborian-like fantasy worlds. We even get some philosophizing about what it feels like to loose your soul and what it means to live without one. However, I thought Claw was Conan and I wasn’t familiar with the other characters. Turns out that they are some older fantasy character. I’ve no idea why Simone chose to use them or if it was some weird editorial decision. Also, another enemy is left loose to plague Diana later.

The final two issues set in Hollywood are fun. The movie is a horribly twisted version of Diana’s life but considering that she’s a real person, I’m not sure if they could have done it with Diana objecting. I enjoyed Diana’s two advisers, Rhanda and Tolifhar. They’re giant white gorillas. With briefcases. Once again, Diana shows both her warrior and diplomat sides. This shows how very, very badly a WW movie could have gone wrong.

Overall, this was an uneven collection even if it was fun for me.

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