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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost
Directed by Taika Waititi

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Since the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor the God of Thunder has been traveling across the Nine Worlds and the universe in search of the Infinity Stones with no luck. Meanwhile, his brother Loki has been posing as Odin since Thor: The Dark World. The two siblings are confronted with a significant change to the status quo in Asgard. The results of this shake-up send them hurtling across the universe to Sakaar, a junk planet run by The Grandmaster, the host of the Contest of Champions. Thor finds himself reconnecting with an old friend and discovering that another lost Asgardian has made their way to this strange corner of the galaxy. It will be up to Thor to gather a ragtag group of heroes to reclaim his home. Or, will the prophecy of Ragnarok, the death of the gods, come to pass?

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Written by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley, Jon Watts & Christopher Ford, and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers
Directed by Jon Watts

spiderman

Peter Parker is riding the high from helping out Iron Man during the events of Captain America: Civil War. With his new Stark designed Spidey suit, he patrols Queens every afternoon after school and awaits the call for his next mission with the Avengers. However, he quickly learns that the primary focus of Tony Stark is for Peter to continue with his education and stay safe. Meanwhile, former salvage worker Adrian Toomes and his crew have had their livelihood taken from them by the newly formed Department of Damage Control, feds who come in and take over the recovery of tech from Avengers-related battles. Seeing that they are living in a new world, Toomes leads his men to steal and harvest this tech as weapons for ordinary criminals. Toomes himself wears a pair of vulture wings that allow him to swoop in and hijack shipments of technology. Peter and Toomes’ paths begin crossing, and our teenage hero has balance life as a high school student with the impending danger of these new weapons.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, dir. James Gunn)

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The Guardians have made a name for themselves and now act as heroes for hire. They finish up their latest job, protecting the energy source of The Sovereign, a genetically engineered “perfect race” but run into trouble on the way out. This leads to Peter Quill meeting his father for the first time, a strange man named Ego. Meanwhile, Yondu and his Ravagers are hired by a party disgruntled with The Guardians and wanting revenge. Gamora is also dealing with family issues (her vengeful sister Nebula), and everyone else seems to have their own interesting arcs as well.

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S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-3
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver

Remember reading in the history book about how Galileo fought back the invasion of Galactus on Earth? You probably don’t, as such stories have been hidden in the shadows by the cabal of S.H.I.E.L.D. This mysterious organization operates from the catacombs of Rome, in the city of Urbis Immortalis. They have discovered how the world will end and fight those forces that seek to bring it about too early. In addition they push humanity’s evolution forward by giving support to all the great minds through out history. In the opening of this series its 1953 and a young man named Leonid is recruited by Agents Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark.  Leonid learns his father was a super being named the Night Machine who has been in battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. for years. Night Machine causes Leonid to question the true purposes of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the first issue ends with the young man meeting Leonard da Vinci, who has traveled through time to deliver a mysterious device.

S.H.I.E.L.D has all the trappings of a great Grant Morrison comic and these first few issues have already made me think of series like The Invisibles and Morrison’s Batman. These are comics where you have an avalanche of ideas in a single issue, that force you to re-read just to make sure you got each and every little concept. The original premise of S.H.I.E.L.D, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the group was created by  Nick Fury as a espionage version of the United Nations that worked in the shadows. Hickman’s series purports to do a little retroactive continuity work (retcon) by establishing that the organization was around long before Fury. It remains to be seen if this series in the greater continuity of the Marvel Universe, or its own little pocket, but it does seem to feature cameos by a lot of mainstays.

Why S.H.I.E.L.D stands out so strongly from the rest of the Marvel titles may be because it was originally a creator-owned idea. Hickman hadn’t tied to the MU until his work on Secret Warriors and Fantastic Four gained him acclaim at the company. He’s managed to create a little corner for himself at Marvel and for the incredibly nerdy-minded of us if you pay close enough attention you see references in one book to something going on in the other. Smartly, these are not details that hinge on you understanding the plot, but make you grin when you realize the connections. Its outstanding work from a writer who is still early in his career. Very excited to see what Hickman gets up to in the coming years.

He’s the most intelligent human being on the planet, and with such a mind comes a lot of pressure to make things better for his fellow man. Even before the bombardment of cosmic rays that turned him elastic, Reed Richards was amazing his peers with complex advancements in science. In college he befriends fellow intellect Victor Von Doom and roommate Ben Grimm. Doom is developing technology to transport a human’s consciousness into other dimensions, and Reed points out some flaws in the man’s calculations. Letting his arrogance get the best of him, Doom activates his device and is scarred horribly. From then on, it became Doom’s mission in life to prove his mental superiority to Reed. During college, Reed rents a room in a boarding house owned by the mother of Susan and Johnny Storm. During this time, Reed’s father Nathaniel vanishes without a trace and Reed gets a job NASA. Before the experimental craft he is building can be launched, Reed learns his funding is being cut. Desperate to get data using the craft, he convinces Ben (who is now an airforce pilot) to help him out. Sue and Johnny insist on coming along. In the end the four are bathed in mysterious cosmic rays, each gaining a power, with Reed becoming the stretchy Mr. Fantastic.

This new group of heroes became The Fantastic Four and funded their exploits with Reed’s inventions. He also proved himself a formidable figure during the team’s early years, in particular warding off the destruction of Earth at the hands of the world-eater Galactus. Reed and Sue grew closer during these years as well, eventually became engaged, and married. Sue gave birth to a boy, Franklin, who was revealed to be a latent mutant. Fearful that Franklin’s powers would harm someone, Reed attempt to shut his son’s mind off for a little while. Sue discovered this and became enraged at Reed, leaving him for a short time. This would come to be a recurring theme with the Fantastic Four, Reed’s mental acuity leading him to form emotional barriers between himself and people of average intellect. He would find peers amongst the other brilliant heroes of the Marvel Universe, eventually forming the Illuminati.

In aftermath of a major alien invasion, Reed met with Tony Stark, Professor Charles Xavier, Doctor Strange, Namor, and Black Bolt to form the Illuminati. Their goal was to head off catastrophes on Earth before the general public ever became aware of them. This would lead to their journeying to the homeworld of the aggressive Skrull race, informing that species that Earth was off limits to them. Reed and Sue reunited and once again he found himself in the presence of Galactus. This time Galactus was vulnerable and Reed had a chance to kill him, instead he showed humanity and spared the being’s life. As a result, Reed was captured and put on trial by the species whose worlds were devoured by the world eater. Reed won with the defense that Galactus was a force of nature, and an essential piece of the evolution of the universe. Back home, Sue was having complications with her second pregnancy and Reed tried to do what ever he could with his knowledge, but sadly the child was stillborn. Reed also learned his father had been living his life out of a parallel world and had become somewhat of a villain.

Reed and Sue took a leave of absence, during which they briefly joined the Avengers, but mostly spent their time recovering from the loss of their second child. When they finally returned, Reed was forced into teaming up with his long time nemesis Doctor Doom against an alien entity. In the final moments of the conflict, the two men were disintegrated before the eyes of the rest of the Fantastic Four. While believed dead, Reed had actually been kidnapped by his future grandson, Hyperstorm, a demented overly powered despot. Sue led the team while searching for any trace of Reed. Eventually she found him, and Hyperstorm was defeated. Little Franklin, whose mutant powers had manifested recently revealed that he had saved his little sister who was stillborn years ago, by transplanting her soul to an alternate Earth. She was discovered by Dr. Doom who raised the child as his own, Valeria. To the surprise of everyone, despite being only around five years old, Valeria was a brilliant genius who rivaled even Reed.

A couple years later, the teenaged superhero team the New Warriors were battling villains in a small Connecticut town when the villain Nitro (a living nuclear bomb) went off killing hundreds. This forced Superhero Registration legislation through in Washington which was backed by Iron Man, Tony Stark. Reed along with the rest of his Illuminati cohorts agree that it is time for the age of secret identities to end for the safety of humanity, while other heroes, including Sue, disagree. This leads to the violent Civil War, turning hero against hero. Reed volunteers to build a prison for unregistered metahumans in the strange Negative Zone, an act which turns even more heroes against him. He later defends his position, citing Isaac Newton’s fictional psychohistory theory: that using a mix of math, science, and sociology one can predict the outcome and severity of global disasters. The heroes end up split, many signing up under the law but many going underground. Reed meets with the Illuminati again at a later date where Black Bolt reveals he is not who he appears, but is a shape shifting Skrull alien that has replaced the hero. This kicks off the Secret Invasion, wherein it is revealed many of Earth’s heroes have been replaced with Skrull sleeper agents.

Most recently, Reed has revealed that he has a secret room stored away in a pocket universe with thousands of equations scrawled across the walls. Each equation is a solution to a problem in the universe and he has decided to implement them. One of his most ambitious tasks has been to challenge long time adversary The Wizard about the nature of humanity. He has adopted on of the The Wizard’s clones, a young man still, and decided to encourage him to use his scientific gifts for the benefit of humanity. While Reed has always been well intentioned, it seems his intelligent arrogance may get him in the end.



The Thanos Imperative: Ignition
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Brad Walker

The Thanos Imperative #1,2
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Miguel Sepulveda

The year I really got into reading comics seriously (1991) was the same year Marvel released the epic mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet. At the time, it was just a really cool cosmic story with all the big Marvel superheroes (Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, etc.) battling a cosmic despot named Thanos who had gathered the Infinity Gems, jewels imbued with great power and sought to sacrifice existence to Death, his lover. He actually succeeded, destroying reality, with a few heroes saved inside a pocket with him. Captain America eventually got his hands on the Gauntlet and brought back all of creation and Thanos was exiled. For years since, Thanos has returned, seeking the sweet relief of Death, which is what he believes is perfection. About five years ago he was finally killed off, but it seems someone doesn’t want him to have the rest he craves.
For the last six years, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been redefining the cosmic elements of the Marvel Universe. Starting with a mini-event called Annhilation, they brought together The Silver Surfer, Thanos, Nova (think Marvel’s Green Lantern), and many more to tell a story that created a status quo for the space faring characters. Since then there have been two more Annhilation mini-series, a War of Kings storyline, and then a Realm of Kings storyline. It sounds like a lot, but instead of doing monthly series its all been pretty much contained to 3 to 6 issue minis. Along the way Nova has gotten his own ongoing, and some of the characters have assembled into a team known as The Guardians of the Galaxy, but its the sort of epic crossover event that isn’t taking up a billion titles and becoming too complex to follow. Abnett and Lanning really cut their teeth on handling a huge cast with DC Comics’ Legion of Super-Heroes in the 90s, a futuristic science fiction series featuring over two dozen adolescent metahumans and aliens. What they’re doing at Marvel is taking all these disparate elements that made up the cosmos and finding logical connections that make the whole thing much more cohesive.

Storywise things kicked off when the Inhumans, an earthbound race of people genetically modified by aliens decided to track down their creators and usurp them. Their creators were the Kree Empire, a militaristic society devastated during the aforementioned Annihilation storylines. The Inhuman leader Black Bolt took the throne of the Kree Empire and went to war with neighboring Sh’iar Empire. If you are familiar with your X-Men comics, you’ll know the Shi’ar are partially responsible for poor Jean Grey becoming the Phoenix. At this point in time, the Sh’iar were ruled by Vulcan aka Gabriel Summers, brother of Cyclops. Vulcan was a cruel leader and he and Black Bolt clashed in a epic battle that ended with them both dying and a tear forming in space. Over the next few months, both the Kree and Shi’ar dispatched vessels to probe this growing tear in space time and what they found was parallel universe where death no longer existed. Sounds good, right? Well, the way death was nullified appears to be through some sort of arcane pact with Lovecraftian elder gods. Now the forces of this parallel reality are swarming into the Marvel Universe attempting to “bless” them with undeath. When you have a character like Thanos who has a bizarre romantic relationship with the embodiment of Death there’s bound to be some conflict.

The first thing that stands out about the three pieces of these mini-series so far is the stellar artwork. There’s a two page spread in Thanos Imperative #2 that involves joined fleets of Kree, Shi’ar, other species, Galactus, The monolithic Celestials, and other cosmic beings battling the enemy fleet emerging from the tear in space. Its one of those moments where a still image is anything but static. Despite the lack of sound in real space, you can hear the unloading of thousands of laser cannons, energy blast explosions, and all out cosmic war. The Silver Surfer is drawn in a very interesting way as well by Sepulveda. He is almost featureless, his face simply a blank silver head and it really works. The effort has always been to humanize the Surfer but I like the idea of really making him alien and distant. The level of power he possess should eventually make him feel that he has little in common with mortals.

The series has shown great pacing and made its shocking reveals perfect. Every issue so far has ended on a well earned cliffhanger that’s making me chomp at the bit for the next issue. It was also a brilliant idea for the ongoing series of Nova and The Guardians of the Galaxy to go on hiatus till the end of this mini series. It helps avoid the glut of cross overs that fill space until we can get back to the core of the story. Because these are not core Marvel characters the stakes actually feel high. Reading an earthbound Marvel title, you know that Iron Man isn’t going die and that Spider-Man will make it out alive. With these characters you know its not beyond the possibility that they could die, that the heroes could lose. Because of the quality of work of Abnett and Lanning with the Marvel cosmic line so far I have huge confidence in this story to deliver. It’s definitely worth your time and puts a lot of summer blockbuster films to shame.



Shadowland #1
Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Billy Tan

Daredevil #508
Written by Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston
Art by Robert de la Torre

A few months ago if you had told me I would be excited to read the new issues of Daredevil I would have said you were nuts. Daredevil has been one of those characters that never clicked with me, not even the critically acclaimed Frank Miller run or Bendis’ over 100 issues on the series. Blind lawyer vigilante just never appealed. However, Andy Diggle’s current run on the character seems like a shift towards a very interesting change in the fundamental aspects of Daredevil. The once by the books lawyer has abandonded the law in favor of pure street justice and has walled in Hell’s Kitchen, turning into Shadowland, his realm under his protection. And those who get in his way will die.

It began with Norman Osborn. The former Green Goblin assumed control of America’s top security forces after saving the world from an alien invasion and some epic PR. Put in charge of SHIELD, renamed HAMMER, Osborn set out to turn New York’s heroes into criminals in the eyes of the public. HAMMER agents were told to target an tenement in Hell’s Kitchen labeled as a hiding place of the notorious ninja clan known as The Hand. The building was firebombed and 100 innocent people were killed. Daredevil blamed himself for not being able to protect his fellow residents of the Kitchen and pledged himself to The Hand, his long time enemies. They promoted him to the leader of the clan, over all else, and along with his lieutenants Black Tarantula and White Tiger they drove the NYPD from his kingdom. Unbeknownst to Daredevil, the other leadership in The Hand are pushing him down this path in an effort to unleash a level of power their group has never experienced. In the background Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin is slowly reassembling his crime cartel after being released from a long stay in prison.

The events of these first two parts finds Luke Cage and Iron Fist, two fellow street level heroes venturing into Shadowland to talk to Daredevil, who has distanced himself in the preceding months. What they find is that he is unwelcoming to any interference. Just around this time, Daredevil’s arch nemesis Bullseye arrives, newly escaped from a prison transport. How Daredevil deals with his longtime enemy shows Cage and Iron Fist just how different their old friend is. Foggy Nelson, Daredevil’s former law partner and Dakota North, a private eye and former lover of Daredevil, drive to the borders of Shadowland but are stopped by White Tiger and some Hand agents. As the two leave they are attacked and their card explodes due to a masked archer on the rooftops. Needless to say things are getting worse and worse in Hell’s Kitchen.

The idea of making Daredevil a villainous figure is very intriguing to me, and the main reason I have started reading this current run of the series. The blind superhero part of Daredevil/Matt Murdock has always been a yawn for me. What is more interesting is the fact that he is/was a lawyer. How does a man who has devoted himself to the law justify vigilantism to himself. The Shadowland story is revealing how years of tragedy (the murders of Elektra and Karen Page first and foremost) have scarred Murdock. The embrace of some of his worst enemies in The Hand, while pushing away his closest friends marks a major change in the psyche of the character. This is one of those character arcs that you can’t see them coming away from the same every again. In many ways this is probably as close as we would get to a storyline where Batman takes over the Gotham crime families, a story that would be amazing.

Next up: Shadowland #2 in August!