Marvel is expanding the Guardians of the Galaxy line with one of the brightest cosmic universe travelers on the planet, Silver Surfer! This week, catch our take on the Norrin Radd’s new lease on life (and hand) in Silver Surfer: Black #1! Next up, the Age of X-Man is coming to an end as we see the last chapter of Age Of X-Man: The Marvelous X-Men! Will Nate Grey’s regime come to an early conclusion? Finally, we’ve got a look at one last book this week with Spider-Man: Life Story #4! This issue is tackling the extremely controversial Spider-Man, the ‘Clone Saga’ storyline with a modern twist. Navigate a busy week of Marvel books with us in this chapter of The Marvel Rundown!

Silver Surfer: Black #1

Written by Donny Cates
Illustrated by Tradd Moore
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by Tradd Moore

After disappearing from the Guardians of the Galaxy title in a mysterious void, author Donny Cates and artist Tradd Moore are back to chart the adventures of Norrin Radd. The title delves right into the supernatural sci-fi concepts that the Silver Surfer property was originally founded upon. It is great to see just how ambitious the title is. Cates and Moore both venture into the cosmic wavelength of The Marvel Universe to give Silver Surfer a new world to experience. This installment answers all of the main questions about the title incredibly gracefully as Radd’s mysterious hand is explained by the conclusion. It is reassuring to see so much ground covered in just one issue.

No conversation about Silver Surfer: Black is complete without a mention of the art from creator Tradd Moore. I have seen Moore’s in the context of superhero stories in titles like Secret Avengers and The Legend of Luthor Strode. However, I have never seen Moore deliver pencils in such an ambitious and beautifully crafted psychedelic style. There is an assortment of moments in the book where the pencils transcend traditional narrative rules of comics and stretch the medium to some incredibly creative directions. One moment where the black is canceled out by the light from Surfer is a definitive highlight. There are also a few really strong poses and interesting figure work from the Surfer.  Moore captures the most interesting parts of the poses. The illustrations by Moore surrounding the solicitations and covers for the book stand out in a really bold manner. Thankfully, that same creativity bleeds directly into the interior artwork for the series.

There are a few villains and characters that have great designs. With so many exciting visuals and artistic flourishes, I believe Silver Surfer: Black is a comic book focused around the artwork. The writing gives a platform for the Surfer to embark on cosmic adventures that are made much more interesting by the alien planets and designs depicted throughout the narrative. Even upon closing the issue several days ago, I can still see some of the designs for the aliens clearly.

It is extremely difficult to get the characterization for Norrin Radd just right in any context. Cates does a great job building the paranoid, excitable characterization of Radd to the forefront and bringing new situations for him to face. While Moore crafts creative visuals for the title, Cates grounds the cosmic scenario in an emotional reality that brings personal stakes to the narrative. The addition of the new elements for the Guardians of the Galaxy title adds an unknown element to the narrative keeping Silver Surfer: Black feeling fresh and new.

Cates has wisely given Moore the room to flesh out vivid alien worlds and directions. I’m incredibly excited to see where the series goes next and hope Cates continues to explore the elements in the issue that keep Norrin Radd’s new adventures feeling fresh. The true revelation of the issue is Tradd Moore’s incredibly dynamic artwork that will make you appreciate the Silver Surfer in brand new ways from an artistic standpoint. If you are a fan of ambitious cosmic stories this issue is a great addition to your pull list.

Final Verdict: Silver Surfer: Black #1 is a confident BUY based on Tradd Moore’s epic art alone.

Age Of X-Man: The Marvelous X-Men #5

Written by Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler
Illustrated by Marco Failla
Colored by Matt Milla
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Phil Noto
Review by Samantha Puc

With just a few issues left in Marvel’s Age of X-Man event, Nate Grey’s “perfect” world is in complete shambles. As he struggles to maintain even a sliver of control over his mutant dystopia, the X-Men are rioting against his manipulation of their minds, their memories and their lives. The Marvelous X-Men #5 is not the conclusion of this arc — that comes in Age Of X-Man: Omega, which lands in stores July 17. However, it’s a major breaking point for the universe, the X-team, and the reality Nate tried to build almost exclusively on lies.

Prior to reading this issue, I went back and re-read the entire Age of X-Man event, in order of release. It helped clarify major plot points and jogged my memory of what’s happened so far; since Alpha came out in January, it’s been a long, jagged six months to reach this point. Since the plots of all six mini-series involved in the event are intertwined, it can be difficult to follow the overall story arc unless you keep up with every run. Admittedly, I fell behind on a couple books, but just a few pages into Marvelous #5, it was clear I needed all of that context to understand the gravity of this final issue in the mini. So, I dove in. And I have to say: reading these as a sprint, rather than a marathon, makes the horrors of this world all the more apparent. It also makes things click much more readily.

Perhaps because there are still so many parts remaining in this story, Marvelous X-Men #5 feels more like a climax than a resolution. Now that the X-Men know what’s going on, their instinct is to go after Nate — to fight, which is what he wanted to eliminate by establishing this world. But it’s not that simple; Nate doesn’t just control this universe. He is the universe and the universe is him. And Apocalypse — uh, En Sabah Nur — is the point upon which everything is balanced. The precariousness of this situation makes it clear that it couldn’t have lasted for long and likely hasn’t, despite how much time seems to have passed within the universe.

A common thread in these mini-series is that the final issues of each feel incredibly rushed. Once one character learns the truth, the dominos fall fast, which works in some cases and doesn’t in others.

In Marvelous, Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler have done some heavy lifting with their script to make the rush in the end feel right. To make the final fight between the X-Men and Nate feel like it’s earned. But again, this isn’t the end. And whatever Nate has to say, it’s probably not going to change the minds of his teammates; creating a fascist dystopia that strips them of their interpersonal relationships is super messed up. But the fact that everyone is given at least some space to process their memories and emotions before coming together to compare notes and team up in this issue is important, and it helps the narrative feel more organic.

Throughout this mini-series, I’ve been super impressed with Marco Failla’s art and Matt Milla’s colors, which hasn’t changed. The merging of past and present plays such a significant role here and these two handle the shifts with aplomb. In particular, the change from Nate’s memory at the start of issue #5 to the present is genuinely breathtaking, as it invokes past X-Men stylings and pulls yet another connecting thread through the story.
It’s rare that I feel a need to call out the cover art for an issue, but Phil Noto captures the demystification of this issue so beautifully. This cover is easily my favorite of all the ones he’s done for this arc.

I must be honest and say that Marvelous X-Men has not been my favorite element of the Age of X-Man event, but its pacing and execution is consistent enough to keep me reading, issue after issue, even when events are confusing. At this point, if you haven’t kept up, I recommend waiting for the trade, which will collect AlphaOmega, and all five issues of Marvelous this August. However, if you have been reading, don’t stop now! You’ll want to know how it ends. Seriously.

Final Verdict: If you’ve been following Age of X-Man, definitely BUY. Otherwise, wait for the trade and instead go for a STRONG BROWSE.

Spider-Man: Life Story #4

Written by Chip Zdarsky
Illustrated by Mark Bagley
Inked by Andrew Hennessy
Colored by Frank D’Armata
Cover by Chip Zdarsky

Alexander Jones: AJ, I wish I could say that the latest chapter of Spider-Man: Life Story is a happy-go-lucky return to Peter Parker’s world in the 1990s, but I think we both know that isn’t true. The high-stakes drama and beautifully fleshed out world of the series handled Spider-Man’s infamous ‘Clone Saga’ with the pathos and drama that I wish the original chapter carried. What were your initial impressions on the story?
AJ Frost: Hey there, Alex! Good to be back after a week off. Spider-Man: Life Story #4 was great drama and a nice exploration of an older hero who still has something to give back to the world. I wasn’t reading comics when the ‘Clone Saga’ was originally published back in the 1990s, so I didn’t have any sort of judgment on how events played out in this book as they might have back during the original publishing run. What I can say, however, is that I found this issue to be a particularly well-executed take on an older Spider-Man, especially one coming to grips with his own fragility. Superheroes can stop a lot of things, but they can’t stop the inevitable progression of time.

Jones: This issue did a great job showing the passage of time and how it has really started to effect Spider-Man. The original ‘90s Clone Saga story was so convoluted and filled with twists and turns at every opportunity. The story started with some good intentions but blew out of proportion. Writer Chip Zdarsky has been talking about how he is looking to spin the story in a different direction. I think he has done an excellent job assembling a couple of new twists and pairing down some of the wild story directions from the original series where the initial book went off the rails.

Frost: I’ll echo your sentiment on Zdarsky. His gift for this series has been to cut away all the fat and focus solely on Peter Parker and his growth as a person. Utilizing this singular focus has been extremely entertaining, but it is also valuable for readers like me who didn’t grow up reading Spider-Man books. There are some accomplishments that the choices that Zdarsky makes throughout these books are really a revelation. Was there anything in particular story idea that stood out to you that made Zdarsky’s rendering of the Spider-Man mythos more refreshing? Or did it just seem more like a streamlined take on a labyrinthine, multi-year plot?

Jones: I liked Doc Ock’s motivations which are kind of an easter egg to early Spider-Man issues. The way Zdarsky motivated Norman and Harry Osborn was an interesting twist on the traditional story formula.  I also found the more streamlined storytelling approach to the storytelling to be refreshing. There were lots of clones in the original story and pairing down the cast and making the narrative more personal for Peter was a solid direction for Zdarsky. I enjoyed Mark Bagley’s art. I still have some technical problems with the art and found that the Parker clones, as well as Norman and Harry, look a little too similar for my personal taste. Overall, this issue contains a more refined direction for Bagley’s art that I want to see on more titles from him going forward. I also love that the title is willing to get so incredibly dark and dreary with each of these installments. Zdarsky and Bagley aren’t afraid of showing how bleak Peter’s life can get.

Frost: Yeah. If there’s something that the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse flick showed, is that Spider-Man (seemingly no matter the interpretation) is simply a tragic figure. Almost nothing in his life is quite golden. He’s brilliant and talented but never recognized. And even when he does have money, it doesn’t buy him security or peace of mind. Zdarsky and Bagley do an amazing job of conveying these feelings and they do it in a way that doesn’t condescend the subject matter.

Jones: In previous installments, we have seen tragic deaths and some hyper-serious art. As the comic starts to wind down, I really hope that we can get some sort of lighter resolution in the last couple of entires. I still think the book retains that fascinating level of break-neck pacing where there are multiple twists per issue. This series really does feel like a well-researched labor of love. The creative team and editorial highlight previous events within the narrative as well as the Spider-Man comics from the time.

Frost: Same. It’s sometimes hard to find a Spider-Man series to stick with, especially when there are so many on the market. The maxi-series format is a solid creative choice for readers who’ve been with Spidey for decades or are just coming into the franchise. Reinterpreting and recontextualizing Spider-Man is a challenge, but one that–when done well and true–feels so right and natural.

Jones: I’m curious to know your thoughts in more depth about Bagley’s art. Also, how do you think Zdarsky and Bagley will take on the ‘One More Day’ controversy next month?

Frost: Bagley’s art is fantastic. The action scenes have a nice zip to them, and the quieter scenes really exude pathos. As for the ‘One More Day’ storyline, assuming it’s going to make up a significant portion of the next issue, I’d say that we’re in good hands. If anything, Zdarsky has proven that he can take the rougher material from Spider-Man’s publishing past and give it meaning when it lacked meaning before, you know what I mean? I think readers will be in for a treat.

Jones: I’m inclined to agree with everything you had mentioned above. I think this series has drastically improved since the debut issue and hope to see Bagley and Zdarsky push the content to the limit as we head towards a confusion. AJ can we both agree on a BUY verdict for Spider-Man: Life Story #4?

Frost: We can Alex. I’ve really loved every moment of this series and excited to see where Zdarsky lands with it!

Final Verdict: AJ and Alexander agree on a BUY for Spider-Man: Life Story #4!

Catch us next week when the dust settles and the War of the Realms ends!

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