Comic Review: ‘Secret Empire’ #1

Hail Hydra-Cap?

Written by:  Nick Spencer / pencilled by:  Steve McNiven

What’s it about?

Hydra has taken control with Steve Rogers as its leader…can the remnants of the superhero community prevail and restore hope before all is lost?

In review

Building on the prelude chapters in Secret Empire #0 and the Free Comic Book Day issue (and spilling out of the pages of Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Steve Rogers series), Secret Empire #1 thrusts readers into the midst of Marvel’s latest comics event.  You’d be forgiven for finding the word “event” wearying, especially with the disappointment of Civil War II still lingering in the thoughts of many, but with this opening salvo and the shocking revelations of issue #0 it seems that writer Nick Spencer is stirring up a rich brew that will truly shake up the Marvel Universe.

As even the most casual comics reader will by now be aware, Secret Empire is the culmination of Hydra’s plans to seize control of the United States – and the free world beyond – with Steve Rogers’ Captain America as their leader.  The reveal of Rogers’ Hydra allegiance (thanks to some reality altering meddling via a sentient cosmic cube named Kobik – see the Avengers: Standoff crossover) way back in the premiere issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers caused significant controversy, with heavy ripples of discontent still reverberating throughout fan circles.  To see Marvel’s greatest patriot become a symbol of evil is understandably distressing and although Spencer has not been restrained in this regard, he has managed to construct a compelling arc that any true fan of comics should approach with an open mind.

With Secret Empire #1, Spencer keeps the controversy flowing as we skip ahead some months after issue #0 with citizens of the U.S. under the rule of Hydra and kept in check by Steve Rogers and his forces.  With the bulk of the superhero community either stranded in space battling endless hordes of Chituari or trapped beneath a Darkhold ‘bubble’ over Manhattan, it’s left to an underground resistance lead by Black Widow and Hawkeye to plot Hydra’s downfall.  Whilst new readers will likely be lost (luckily Marvel have just published catch-up collection The Road to Secret Empire), having the story told mainly via the perspective of a young schoolboy named Rayshaun helps to ease us in without an overload of exposition as images of schoolchildren raising a ‘Hail Hydra’ immediately establish that there is an ominous shift in the Marvel U’s status quo.

What Spencer does with Steve Rogers is not to make him purely evil in a one dimensional sense, whilst he may not be the hero we’re familiar with there are layers to the characterisation as he paints a man who feels he is simply doing what is right in the circumstances of his altered history.  Despite the revelations of issue #0 as to the nature of these ‘alterations’ it’s unlikely that Marvel will facilitate a complete and permanent perversion of such a beloved and treasured character.

Secret Empire also has some definite parallels to the current political climate and tenuous international situations we see playing out in the news every day.  To Spencer’s credit it doesn’t feel totally overt or unnecessarily forced in the face of the reader but it’s there as much or as little as any individual might wish to read into it.

It might be dark and pessimistic stuff but there’s still a layer of hope and even fun as the younger, brighter Marvel heroes of the resistance, including Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Amadeus Cho’s ‘Totally Awesome’ Hulk and Riri Williams’ Ironheart take the share of the action and together with the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing provide some much needed beats of humour and optimism.

Visually, Secret Empire #1 is solid albeit the usual sharpness and detail of Steve McNiven’s pencils are a little muddied by the dark, washed-out colours by Matthew Wilson.  It’s by no means as stunning as McNiven’s work on the original Civil War or Old Man Logan but decent enough and a good fit for the overall tone of the book.  It’ll be interesting to see how much consistency can be maintained with the rotation of numerous different artists on the nine issue series.

Controversies aside, Secret Empire is making for enjoyable reading and will surely pave the way for the hope and heroism promised by Marvel’s forthcoming Legacy initiative.

The bottom line:  A strong ‘start’ to yet another Marvel Comics event but one that builds on an already solid foundation as Nick Spencer presses forward with Hydra’s domination of the Marvel Universe.

Secret Empire #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Secret Empire #1

A new has risen as Marvel Comics event ‘Secret Empire’ commences (cover art by Mark Brooks).

Film Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

Marvel’s cosmic Avengers are back…

 Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell

Directed and Written by: James Gunn (based on the Marvel Comics by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning) / 116 minutes

What’s it about?

Falling foul of an alien society they were supposed to be working for, the Guardians of the Galaxy find themselves in deep trouble and thrust into an adventure where Peter Quill finally meets his father…

In review

Marvel’s rag-tag bunch of cosmic heroes return in the fun-filled and heartfelt sequel to 2014’s runaway hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.  Picking up a few months after their inaugural adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finds the group, comprising Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and ‘Baby’ Groot being pursued by a squad of Ravagers, hired by a race called the Sovereign to take out the Guardians when a mission goes awry.  It’s during this cross-galaxy chase that Star-Lord comes face to face with his long lost father, ‘Ego’ – played by screen icon Kurt Russell.

If the first Guardians of the Galaxy was more concerned about introducing the various characters and the coming together of a team a la Avengers Assemble, then Vol. 2 goes a little deeper and more personal whilst still delivering the charm, laughs (in this instance a Marvel film where the humour is actually a welcome and natural component) and excitement audiences will expect.

As Peter Quill/Star-lord, Chris Pratt is once again the charismatic and heroic lead whose father issues and yearnings for Zoe Saldana’s Gamora form the backbone of the film’s emotional crux.  The casting of Kurt Russell (whose Tango & Cash co-star, Sylvester Stallone also appears) as Quill’s father is a real coup with a reliably great performance from the star of numerous hits from 80s cult classics Escape from New York and The Thing to more recent turns in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and goliath blockbuster The Fate of the Furious.  It’s a role made all the more enjoyable by a solid rapport with Pratt and the script’s satisfying character arcs.

Vin Diesel earns another easy payday as the cute youngling version of Groot (see the events of the last film) who together with the gun-toting mania of wisecracking space Raccoon, Rocket (a well-cast Bradley Cooper) and the hilarious and inappropriate perspectives of Dave Bautista’s Drax, especially in his interactions with Ego’s companion, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), facilitate the biggest laughs.

Complicating matters for the Guardians is the return of Michael Rooker’s Yondu who, having fallen out of favour with his fellow Ravagers, soon finds himself having to ally with Rocket and Groot in desperate circumstances.  Also back is Karen Gillan as Nebula – the ‘other’ daughter of galactic overlord (and mega villain of the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War) Thanos – whose adversarial relationship with Gamora is explored in greater detail, adding some nice dramatic weight that’s to the benefit of both Gillan and Saldana and their respective characters.

Writer and Director James Gunn infuses Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with the same enthusiasm and quirks for this second helping of fun space adventure that melds soulful and funky 70s tunes and influences of Star Wars and Flash Gordon with a good story brought to life via lavish, colourful visuals, equally colourful characters and rollicking action that still manages to excite despite culminating in the usual disaster-laden cataclysm of CGI doom.  The only real shortcomings arise from the early separation of the team that the script calls for and like the first Guardians there’s some sluggish pacing here and there and it perhaps feels a little overindulgent at times – but it’s mostly forgivable when the overall results are as entertaining as this.

The bottom line:  A fun, exciting and at times emotional blockbuster ride, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is bound to be another crowd-pleasing hit for Disney and Marvel Studios.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in cinemas across the UK now and opens worldwide from 5th May.

Guardians 2

They’re back! Marvel’s cosmic crusaders return in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ from Marvel Studios/Disney.

TV Review: Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’ S1 EP1 “Snow Gives Way”

The final Defender is unleashed in the latest Marvel Comics-based Netflix Original…

Starring:  Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphry, David Wenham

Series created by:  Scott Buck (Iron Fist created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane)

Written by:  Scott Buck / Episode directed by:  John Dahl

What’s it about?

Fifteen years after surviving a plane crash in the Himalayas, Danny Rand returns home with new abilities and in search of a purpose…

Episode review

Launched on a wave of largely negative pre-release reviews, the premiere season of Marvel’s Iron Fist arrives on Netflix establishing the final member of the line-up for the Defenders.  Much like Luke Cage, “Snow Gives Way” presents us with a slow yet intriguing start to the series.

As Danny Rand, Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) makes for a likeable lead, a dishevelled, humble drifter with signs of an inner strength and a wise, shrewd perspective beyond his years.  Rand’s backstory is teased via a series of flashbacks where events from his childhood and a tragic plane crash in the Himalayas are revealed.

With the Rand family being declared dead during Danny’s absence, Rand Enterprises has come under the management of siblings Ward and Joy Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup, respectively) who are in disbelief that this stranger could be their long-lost friend, Ward in particular only interested in protecting his hold on the company.

With a focus on personal strife and corporate conspiracy, the script by showrunner Scott Buck (Dexter) does tend to evoke shades of Dallas but despite those soap opera-like elements being a little generic it does help to build character and plot.  There’s also room for some comic book Kung-Fu action and whilst lacking the edge and brutality of Daredevil it has a grace and skill to it that goes hand in hand with the character’s philosophy and martial arts mastery.  Another highlight is the introduction of dojo-master Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, who gets to have some fun interplay with Jones in a couple of key scenes that help to define both characters and hints toward a developing camaraderie.

It’s fair to say that the origin story presented in Iron Fist isn’t the most original, already familiar to viewers through the likes of Batman Begins and Arrow but Finn Jones turns in an enjoyable performance and the mystery surrounding Danny Rand’s absence, eventual return and his path to heroism has potential for, at the very least, entertaining viewing…but hopefully something a bit more.

The bottom line:  Despite a slow start, there are still signs that Iron Fist could develop into another enjoyable Marvel series for Netflix.

All 13 episodes of Iron Fist season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.  The Defenders is due for release in the summer.

The way of the warrior? Finn Jones is Danny Rand in Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’.

Film Review: ‘Logan’ (spoiler free)

Hugh Jackman hangs up those iconic claws in a fitting farewell…

 –

Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant

Directed by:  James Mangold / Written by:  Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green (story by James Mangold) / 135 minutes

What’s it about?

Logan – the mutant once known as Wolverine – now spending his days caring for a frail Charles Xavier, is thrust into one last adventure as he travels across North America in search of a place of safety for the mysterious young mutant named Laura…

In review

Seventeen years after making his debut as the iconic Marvel Comics character Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Hugh Jackman delivers a career-high performance in his much touted final appearance as the adamantium-clawed hero.

Taking place in 2029, at a time when there are very few mutants left, Logan (based loosely on the “Old Man Logan” comic books by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven) sees the man once known as ‘the Wolverine’ in a dark place in ever darker times.  His mutant healing abilities diminishing, Logan now goes by the name of James Howlett scraping together a living as a limo driver to pay for medication to subdue the increasingly uncontrollable mental powers of an elderly Charles Xavier.  Heavily burdened and wearier than he’s ever been and turning to alcohol to numb pains both physical and emotional, Logan seems to have no purpose until he meets a young girl named Laura who he discovers has abilities much like his own.  With Laura being tracked by a team of mutant hunters (lead by Boyd Holbrook’s Donald Pierce), it’s not long before the trio of Logan, Xavier and Laura hit the road in search of safety.

Written and Directed by James Mangold – who also tackled Jackman’s previous solo outing in The WolverineLogan is an atypical breed of a superhero film, of course it has the comic book/science fiction elements that come with the territory, but it largely plays out as an intimate, quite often brutal character drama and a journey that’s both thrilling and sombre as it evokes nifty vibes of the classic western and Mad Max.

Whilst not being overly concerned about continuity, there are still hints and references to Logan’s overall placing in the X-Men film universe without becoming burdened by it, the history of the X-Men themselves almost mythologised in the pages of dusty old comic books.  It’s a standalone story that anyone can enjoy but all the more effective and satisfying for those who have followed the screen exploits of Messrs Jackman and Stewart all of these years.

Jackman excels in the lead role that has defined his career, delivering his gruff and grizzly best with more than a few shades of melancholia.  Equally impressive is Patrick Stewart who relishes in providing a deeper and more complex portrayal of Charles Xavier than we’ve ever seen that’s as crushingly tragic as it is at times outright funny.  As Laura, Dafne Keen makes a strong and memorable screen debut, playing an important part in making the growing bond between Logan and the young mutant one of the film’s clearest highlights.

Rounding out the already commendable cast is Boyd Holbrook as the appropriately snarly Pierce, British comedian Stephen Merchant, in a surprisingly enjoyable turn as Caliban, Logan and Xavier’s quirky mutant companion and a sorely underused Richard E. Grant as villainous scientist Dr. Zander Rice.

Whilst Logan doesn’t feature the elaborate CGI spectacle and destruction we see in the main X-Men film series it’s certainly not short of action and given the film’s adult rating (15 certificate here in the UK, R-rated in the States) we get to see Wolvie fully unleashed in no holds-barred, Berseker Rage fuelled combat.  It’s unapologetically brutal, shockingly visceral and it’s what all Wolverine fans have wanted to see for a long time.

Logan does at times feel a little too slow and drawn out, yet just about manages to not completely drag and is made up for by the strong performances of the central cast and it’s moments of cutting, blood-soaked action.  In the end, Logan comes out as a satisfying finale that aptly closes out to the gravely, aged tones of the late Johnny Cash.

The bottom line:  Hugh Jackman bows out in a fittingly dramatic and brutal finale to his tenure as the iconic Wolverine in a film that binds fine performances with well-drawn character drama.

Logan is in cinemas now.

The sun sets on Hugh Jackman's time as Marvel Comics character Wolverine in 20th Century Fox's 'Logan'.

The sun sets on Hugh Jackman’s time as Marvel Comics character Wolverine in 20th Century Fox’s ‘Logan’.

TV Review: ‘Legion’ S1 EP01 “Chapter 1”

Fox explore the more bizarre corners of the X-Men universe for their first X-based television series…

Starring:  Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, David Selby, Hamish Linklater, Katie Aselton, Jean Smart

Series created by:  Noah Hawley

Written and directed by: Noah Hawley / aired in the UK : 09/02/2017

What’s it about?

David Haller has heard voices all his life but soon discovers that there may be more to his ‘condition’ than meets the eye…

Episode review

In partnership with Marvel TV, Legion sees Fox bring their live-action X-Men franchise to the small screen.  Developed by Fargo series creator Noah Hawley, Legion is based upon the Marvel Comics character David Haller, created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz who first appeared in New Mutants #25 (published in 1985).  Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) plays Haller, a mental patient who throughout his life has been plagued by voices that he is starting to believe are real and has drawn the attention of the mysterious Brubaker (David Selby) and his interrogator (Hamish Linklater), who are interested in Haller’s telekinetic abilities and his potential as the most powerful mutant ever discovered.

From the outset it’s obvious that Legion is far less comic-y than its big screen brethren favouring a more restrained, less colourful and more cerebral approach reminiscent of a Netflix or HBO production.  Whilst fans of the X-Men comics universe may find that an initial disappointment, what unfolds in this series premiere is too compelling to ultimately ignore.  Via a series of flashbacks we learn of David’s increasingly tortured mental state from innocent childhood to teenage delinquency and his current plight as a resident of Clockwork Psychiatric Hospital where he is teased by the presence of people who may or may not be real, including his inseparable ‘pal’ Lenny (a suitably sardonic Aubrey Plaza).

Events become all the more unreal as David ‘meets’ Syd (Rachel Keller), a newly admitted patient that he quickly becomes captivated by.  To say much more would spoil things, but it’s this meeting that forms the basis of David’s present situation as he grapples with a loosening grip on ‘reality’.  As Haller, Stevens is magnetic with a melancholic, at times manic, performance that he deftly mixes with prominent shades of agitation, frustration and bewilderment intertwined with smatterings of black humour.  The supporting cast are all perfectly able in their roles but it’s Stevens that carries much of the proceedings as we’re left perplexed by the hallucinatory visualisation of this unusual story.

Written and directed by Hawley, “Chapter 1” is a predominately trippy experience that leaves the viewer in a similar predicament to the show’s central character, primarily in a state of almost maddening confusion, yet manages to leave you intrigued and hanging on for what’s next.  Hawley skilfully depicts the bizarre imaginings of his script, the interesting use of lighting, colour, camera angles, editing and digital effects (not to mention some rather spacey music cues by Jeff Russo) stringing together the non-linear construction of the narrative.  Whether future epsidoes will maintain this approach, to such a degree as it is here – and succeed – remains to be seen but it certainly proves effective for this series opener.

Legion comes off as a creative collision that feels something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Being John Malkovich via Inception but ultimately is a strange brew that forms its own personality.  In fact, part of Legion’s unusual appeal is that its setting is at times vague, it’s apparently present day but some of the costumes and decor resemble a period closer to the sixties – a neat visual homage to the times of the original X-Men comics, maybe?

Despite the show being unconnected to Fox’s X-Men films and somewhat distanced from the Marvel comic books, “Chapter 1” still offers solid hints at the core elements of X-Men mythology as it touches on the themes of prejudice and fear of the unknown that stretches back to the stories created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early 1960s.  Given David Haller’s connection to a certain wheelchair-bound mutant Professor in the X-Men comics universe it wouldn’t be unwelcome to see more ties into the overall mythology, whether subtle or not.

If there’s any real drawback to Legion it’s that it’s lack of lucidity can be challenging but perhaps that’s part of the plan, to lure us in and become invested in a series that could prove to be unique and addictively entertaining?

The bottom line:  Legion debuts with a complex, chaotic, weird and – in moments – quite funny premiere for a superhero based series that could prove a refreshing addition to an ever popular and increasingly exploited genre.

Legion airs in the UK Thursday evenings on Fox.  U.S. viewers can catch it Wednesdays on FX.

Insane or not? Dan Stevens is Davidd Haller in Fox's 'Legion', based on the Marvel Comics character.

Insane or not? Dan Stevens is David Haller in Fox’s ‘Legion’, based on the Marvel Comics character.

What did you think of the Legion season premiere?  Share your thoughts below!

Comic Review: ‘Civil War II’ #8

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencilled by:  David Marquez

What’s it about?

As the visions of Ulysses become more intense, Tony Stark and Carol Danvers face off with the future of the entire superhero community at stake…

In review

After numerous delays, Marvel’s blockbuster event draws to a close with the extra-sized final issue of Civil War II.  Showing great promise in its first couple of issues, Civil War II quickly slid comfortably into a by-the-numbers comic event rhythm.  That being said, the event did produce some standout moments (the vision of Miles Morales’ Spider-Man killing Steve Rogers’ Captain America on the steps of Capitol Hill being particularly vivid and unnerving) and David Marquez’s art has elevated each instalment above mediocrity, but on the whole it failed to be anywhere near as ground-breaking as Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s original Civil War.

In favour of this final issue, Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez deliver some exciting edge-of-the-seat action with Bendis maintaining the tension and drama and Marquez presenting his amazingly detailed, blockbuster visuals as the conflict between Tony Stark/Iron Man and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel reaches its climax.  As with previous issues the moral debate is touched upon but never fully explored (a shame considering the strength of some of Bendis’ other work) and ultimately taking a backseat to those aforementioned blockbuster elements.

Given that the delays Civil War II has faced meant its finale following the release of several relaunched ‘Marvel Now!’ titles, the conclusion – specifically the fate of Tony Stark – is unsurprising given what we’ve seen in Infamous Iron Man and Invincible Iron Man but it non-the-less still carries some dramatic weight as the path is paved for the future of the Marvel Universe.  Perhaps that’s where the problem lies, with the need to establish the status quo of Marvel’s latest line-wide shake-up it’s left less room from Brian Bendis to really delve into the commentary of Civil War II.

In the end, taken as a whole Civil War II was an enjoyable albeit undemanding blockbuster event that is unlikely to be heralded as a classic in years to come but may still be worthy of a revisit when the dust has settled.  It’s not the greatest story Marvel has delivered in recent years but it’s also far from the weakest.

The bottom line:  Whilst Civil War II ultimately failed to live up to the potential of its premise, this final issue succeeds in delivering some great moments of action and drama with a fitting conclusion that establishes the future of the Marvel U.

Civil War II #8 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Marvel's grand event comes to a close in the final issue of Civil War II (cover art by David Marquez).

Marvel’s grand event comes to a close in the final issue of Civil War II (cover art by David Marquez).

Film Review: ‘Doctor Strange’ (spoiler free)

Mighty Marvel casts its spell…

Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen.

Directed by:  Scott Derrickson / Written by:  Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill / 115 minutes

What’s it about?

His hands mangled in a car crash, brilliant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange’s career is seemingly over.  Exhausting all surgical efforts to repair his injuries, Strange travels to a place called Kamar-Taj where an encounter with a mysterious figure sees him thrust into the world of the mystic arts…

In review

With the runaway successes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, Marvel Studios have proved adept at bringing lesser and more obscure comic book properties to the big screen and in a manner that manages to please fans and regular audiences alike.  Doctor Strange would immediately seem a far trickier and more daring gamble than those previous hits but for the most part, Marvel Studios succeed once more.

Based on the Marvel comic books by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the journey of neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange from arrogance to fall from grace and eventual redemption may be a little clichéd but via the film’s exploration of magical abilities and mystic realms there lies another dimension to the storytelling that opens up the possibilities for future Marvel Studios productions.  It’s fair to say in that sense that this makes the “Sorcerer Supreme” an important character as the looming apex of Avengers: Infinity War approaches.

In the role of Stephen Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch makes for a strong lead and although for some it may take a little time to adjust to his American accent, the Sherlock and Star Trek Into Darkness star laps up the material handed to him in a performance that’s impassioned, witty and by the end of it all, noble.  Seemingly the requisite love interest, Rachel McAdams is somewhat underserved as Christine Palmer although she does share some vital scenes with Cumberbatch that helps the audience become more invested in the character and his arc throughout this origin story.

Tilda Swinton is wise and otherworldly as the enigmatic Ancient One and co-stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong fit nicely into the mix as fellow sorcerers Mordo and Wong respectively.  As the main antagonist, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius – a former pupil seeking to unlock the secrets of dark magic –  has some great moments, rising to the challenge of being pitted against the talents of Cumberbatch and Swinton but is ultimately less memorable than Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger) or James Spader’s Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron).

There’s a slight over reliance on humour at times, parts of it are welcome relief but some moments feel forced, included merely for the sake of it and arguably undermine several key scenes that would have benefitted from a more dramatic tone.  Where Doctor Strange really excels is via its jaw-dropping, kaleidoscopic visuals as director Scott Derrickson intertwines influences of Escher with the cinematic awe of Inception and the mesmerising psychedelia of 2001: A Space Odyssey that bring the trippy imaginings of Messrs. Lee and Ditko breathtakingly to life.  The extra expense of an IMAX 3D ticket is fully warranted for the fullest possible immersion in the mind-bending spectacle of folding cityscapes and unravelling astral planes.

Ultimately it’s the visual elements that gloss over the overall flaws in the tone and narrative of Doctor Strange but there’s no denying the charm of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance and the potential of further adventures of Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts.

The bottom line:  Despite some formulaic elements and jarring moments of silliness, Doctor Strange is a reliably entertaining and visually stunning addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Doctor Strange is screening in UK cinemas now and opens in the US and worldwide from 4th November.

Benedict Cumberbatch confidently leads Marvel Studios' 'Doctor Strange'.

Benedict Cumberbatch confidently leads Marvel Studios’ ‘Doctor Strange’.

Comic Review: ‘Infamous Iron Man’ #1

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencilled by:  Alex Maleev

What’s it about?

In the fallout of the recent superhero civil war, Victor Von Doom takes up the mantle of Tony Stark to become the new Iron Man…

In review

Following the conclusion of the globe-hopping International Iron Man and in the (impending) wake of Civil War II Brian Michael Bendis reteams with artist Alex Maleev to bring readers Infamous Iron Man, where the reformed Victor Von Doom decides that nature abhors a vacuum and that the world still needs an Iron Man.

Part of the Marvel Now! refresh, Infamous Iron Man continues to follow Von Doom’s path from villain to ‘hero’ set forth by the conclusion of Secret Wars (which left him with a face devoid of that grotesque scarring) and explored initially in Bendis’ first volume of Invincible Iron Man.  Von Doom has always been one of Marvel’s greatest villains and we’ve already seen that there’s plenty of potential for the former Doctor Doom to become an equally compelling hero.

Infamous Iron Man gets things off to a slow, yet interesting start – much as was the case with International Iron Man – and if you’re prepared to forgive the larger focus on exposition there’s much to enjoy here.  It seems that Bendis is merely setting the scene with Von Doom’s motivations kept relatively vague.  Bendis has helped to delicately redefine Von Doom over the last year and it’s an interesting evolution for the character, there’s still a streak of darkness and a restrained hint of ego but there’s an iron will that makes him an appealing successor to Stark.  Touching on the tragedy of Doom’s past (and facilitating the emotional crux of this opening chapter), Bendis manages to delve into the mind of the character whilst maintaining some of the enigma.  It’s certainly going to be interesting to see the layers peel away as the new Iron Man rises.

The art by Alex Maleev is nothing short of superb and neatly fits the tone of the book with dark, scratchy and moody visuals complemented perfectly by Matt Hollingsworth’s muted colour palette.  Fans of Maleev’s work on International Iron Man and Daredevil will not be disappointed.

Minor pacing issues aside, the only real drawback is not down to Infamous Iron Man itself but with the delays to the remaining issues of Civil War II.  There are significant hints as to the fate of Tony Stark but it remains to be seen if the lack of conclusion to that story will creatively hinder this title’s opening arc.  Still, there’s enough mystery and intrigue that will keep Iron Man – and Von Doom – fans reading.

The bottom line:  Despite it’s slow pace, Brian Michael Bendis infuses Infamous Iron Man with plenty of intrigue that together with great art provides enough reason to keep reading.

Infamous Iron Man #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Alex Maleev provides sublime visuals for Marvel Comics' 'Infamous Iron Man'.

Alex Maleev provides sublime visuals for Marvel Comics’ ‘Infamous Iron Man’.

Comic Review: ‘Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy’ #1

Written by:  Dan Slott / pencils by:  Jim Cheung

What’s this issue about?

With the return of the Jackal, Peter Parker soon finds that the odds are once again against him as he faces demons from the past…

In review

Spilling out of the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott launches the next Spider-Man event which could prove both surprising and controversial as Peter Parker is set to face ghosts from the past.  Further elaboration would result in spoilers, but needless to say there are certain elements to The Clone Conspiracy presented here that threaten to undo defining events from Spider-Man history, which will either be welcomed or derided in the months to come.

Building on the “Before Dead No More” arc in Slott’s recent ASM issues, Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy #1 opens at the funeral of Jay Jameson as Peter wrestles with the decisions he’s made and the ongoing mysteries tied to the New U corporation.  Slott sets the scene with some emotionally charged exchanges between Peter and Anna Maria, yet it proves to be a slackly paced opening as the dialogue becomes weighed down by exposition designed to make this series accessible to new readers whilst also serving as a recap for existing ones.  To an extent, it works however there’s a definite sense that those who haven’t been following this current volume of ASM and without some familiarity with previous events such as the Superior Spider-Man run and Spider-Verse (as well as overall Spider-Man history) will ultimately wind up a little lost and less invested in this particular saga than established fans.

Luckily, once the set-up is out of the way and Peter continues his investigations of New U as Spider-Man, Slott’s narrative begins to gather pace and before long thrusts the reader into some wonderfully staged action, culminating in a confrontation with Dead No More’s central villain, the Jackal and a cliffhanger that will leave readers anxiously awaiting more.  It’s in these moments that artist Jim Cheung shines with detailed, cinematic layouts that accentuate the excitement. Some wonky character facials during the early funeral scenes aside, Cheung’s art is a perfect fit for the title – especially if it proves to be pacier in subsequent instalments.

The book closes with a back-up story from Slott with art by Ron Frenz that harkens back to a key, classic Spider-Man story that plays as a fitting tribute to that particular era of comics whilst adding layers to one of The Clone Conspiracy’s biggest twists.

The bottom line:  Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy #1 is a decent, if slightly uneven start to Dan Slott’s latest Spider-Man saga that certainly shows signs of promise.

Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art for Marvel's 'Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy' #1 by Gabriele Dell'Otto.

Cover art for Marvel’s ‘Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy’ #1 by Gabriele Dell’Otto.

Quick Review: Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage’ S1 EP01 “Moment of Truth”

Starring:  Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard

Series created by:  Cheo Hodari Coker

Written by:  Cheo Hodari Coker / Episode directed by:  Paul McGuigan

What’s it about?

As tensions on the streets of Harlem rise, Luke Cage finds his attempts to live a quiet life becoming more difficult and a hero’s calling hard to ignore…

Episode review

Marvel TV brings a nifty, gritty urban vibe to Netflix with Luke Cage, the latest in their run of adult orientated street-level comic book shows, following the success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  Judging by this first episode, Marvel/Netflix have afforded the same care and attention to Luke Cage as they did with those previous series with another strong and deftly executed production that once again boasts some great casting.

Mike Colter’s Luke Cage already made his mark on the MCU as an integral part of Jessica Jones and certainly demonstrated promise for a series of his own.  Following what transpired in Hell’s Kitchen, Luke Cage opens with Marvel’s indestructible ‘Power Man’ (and eventual hero for hire) maintaining a low-profile in Harlem, working two jobs as he struggles to live day-to-day and keeping himself uncommitted to tackling the city’s growing crime problem.  It’s not necessarily essential to have seen Jessica Jones but it certainly helps in understanding where Cage has come from and how events have led him to this low-point, as he continues to be haunted by a past that left him with unwanted abilities.

Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) is appropriately menacing and dislikeable as ‘Cottonmouth’, club-owner and crime boss who beneath a demeanour of grandeur there seethes a fearsome rage of Wilson Fisk proportions.  His influence is enforced by his cousin, corrupt Councilwoman Mariah Dillard – played by Alfre Woodard (completely unconnected to her role in Captain America: Civil War) whose gravitas provides this series’ element of star power.  As Cottonmouth connects with former convict ‘Shades’ (Theo Rossi) we’re also introduced to Simone Missick’s Misty Knight, a potential ally for Cage and who may be more than she first appears.

Written by showrunner Cheo Coker (Ray Donovan), “Moment of Truth“ favours a slow-burn approach in setting the scene and establishing the key players and status quo but by the closing credits there’s a sense of threats brewing and a storyline building (with promising hints that we’ll get to explore that back story alluded to in Jessica Jones), leaving no doubt that Cage won’t remain on the side-lines for much longer.

The bottom line:  Marvel/Netlix deliver a promising and enjoyable start to Luke Cage that on first impressions looks to evoke the same quality as their previous efforts.

All 13 episodes of Luke Cage season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.

Bulletproof and ready for action: Mike Colter is Luke Cage in the latest Marvel/Netlix venture.

Bulletproof and ready for action: Mike Colter is Luke Cage in the latest Marvel/Netlix venture.