Just a couple days before Christmas, Marvel is loading their bases with tons of important releases including the return of two Fantastic Four characters in Marvel Two-in-One #1. Given the Fantastic Four’s publishing hiatus, any glimpse of these characters feels important. Given the recent acquisition of Fox by Disney, chances are Marvel is itching to get back to these characters–synergy! Elsewhere, Ed Piskor’s X-Men: Grand Design debuts this week and AJ Frost has his impressions: Read on!

Marvel Two-In-One #1

Written by Chip Zdarsky
Illustrated by Jim Cheung
Inked by John Dell and Walden Wong
Colored by Frank Martin
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Reviewed by AJ Frost & Alexander Jones

Alexander Jones: AJ, the Fantastic Two (?) have returned to Marvel Comics! What did you think of humor writer Chip Zdarsky and veteran artist Jim Cheung’s return to 1/2 of the four in the relaunch of Marvel Two-In-One?

AJ Frost: Hi Alex! Glad to catch up this week. Zdarsky’s is one of my favorite writers on the scene right now. Obviously, his stuff with Howard the Duck is gold, and Sex Criminals just keeps getting better and better. Didn’t know what to expect coming into this Two-in-One, but any reservations I may have had were thrown out the window quickly. Zdarsky’s stories are always packed with so much earned humor (no cheap laffs) that everything feels so natural and real. In short, the writing was top notch.

Jones: I enjoyed this issue and am curious about where this title is going to go next and liked the appearance of a certain Fantastic Four villain at the end of the series but I’m not sure what to make of this title as a whole. Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm are likable cast members but it was strange how the two of them reacted to each other in the context of the book. I understand Storm misses the rest of his family and is definitely motivated by some of the events of the story that happens at the end of the comic to act slightly more aloof, but I still don’t know what is next for these characters. This issue was an oddity I enjoyed but am still not 100% sold on. Did you love this issue or just think it was okay?

Frost: I enjoyed it for what it was. It definitely read it more like a bridge to the next chapter of the Fantastic Four mythos. While some people might grumble we’re spending too much time with only two members of the legendary team, the notion they are still their old selves adapting to new norms is not inherently bad. In fact, it must be liberating as a writer to not have the burden of using every beat for the purpose of smackdowns of evildoers. The freedom to explore these decades-old dynamics, even in the space of only a few panels, is worthwhile if the investment is there to look beyond the norm and try something fresh.

Jones: I thought this comic wasn’t very focused and a few of the events in the issue just happened to occur. The guest stars notably weaved in and out of the comic to just straight up just tell Grimm what to do in a couple of cases. I liked the opening sequence, but because of Storm’s power set, the sequence didn’t have any stakes or dramatic tension. There’s a couple of guest stars and sad flashbacks and the book is basically over. Zdarsky doesn’t even really get the chance to tell very many jokes. I don’t mean to be all cynical but after deconstructing the issue based on some fundamentals, the skeleton the creators built upon didn’t feel particularly solid to me.

Frost: A fair assessment. We might have to disagree on this one, though.

Jones: Make your case!

Frost: Ok. Just as a reader, I felt there was a lot to enjoy the issue. The story went at a nice clip, nice appearances of characters from disparate parts of the Marvel Universe, some great lines from Grimm, and really well-constructed action sequences. Maybe the script was a tad loquacious, but the overall pacing and tone worked out in such a way that I came away feeling satisfied with the story.

Jones: Thematically the goal here seems to be to save the rest of the cast members and Grimm is given a way to do so in the issue. Towards the end of the comic, the duo might have their motivation to start building towards a goal but I’m not sure if just introducing what these characters are going to be doing over the next couple issues makes for a strong issue. This certainly is not a bad book by any means, I just have high expectations.

Frost: You always do! But that’s a good thing.

Jones: There’s no reason why this couldn’t develop into something I really like over the next couple issues. Aside from structure and pacing issues I think is a technically sound comic book. It is great to see Jim Cheung’s work again as well–the artist has such an insane and perfectly developed style now at this point in his career.

Frost: Jim Cheung’s artwork was simply fantastic. His pencils are gorgeous, epic, and filled with many sparks of inspiration. I went back and forth several times throughout the issue to stare at the work within. Did you happen to catch the great reference to Alex Ross on this issue?

Jones: Where Storm burst into flames at the beginning?

Frost: That’s one I might have missed, but Cheung does this great homage to Ross with a quiet image of Grimm sitting on his chair looking at an old newspaper clipping highlighting a Fantastic Four triumph over evil. He based the image from a panel in Superman: Peace on Earth. Without this context, it’s a lovely panel highlighting Grimm’s state of being. But in the larger context of the concept of superheroes having inner lives filled with doubt and self-pity, it’s an even more incredible piece of art.

Jones: Very cool. It is great to have more subtext. AJ, do you have anything more to say about the book before naming your final opinion?

Frost: My hot take on this issue is that it will probably annoy super hardcore fans, but will be an engaging read for more casual readers of Marvel. Zdarsky and Cheung work well together and the final product is a strong addition to the current storyline.

Jones: Why do you think it will piss off old readers?

Frost: Probably because older readers want a comic giving them payoff quickly, without too much meandering. They want action, action, action. But this issue’s strongest moments are in the panels of silence, in reflection. I’ll go back to the Ross homage. It’s my favorite moment of the issue precisely because it provides a brief respite from the norm and focuses on interiority.

Jones: I think my biggest problem with the comic is how the book is assembled. I certainly don’t have any qualms about a book with no action. I think curious readers should take a look at the comic and would recommend a BORROW if possible.

Frost: I’ll see your borrow and raise you a STRONG BROWSE. There were many great moments in this comic, and I want people to check it out. If they want to go the extra leap, they should be ready to invest in something which may not meet their expectations!

Verdict: Alex says BORROW, AJ says STRONG BROWSE–they are just making up ratings at this point!

X-Men: Grand Design #1

Written and Illustrated by Ed Piskor
Reviewed by AJ Frost

Ed Piskor has seemingly done the impossible. The rare auteur with a defined visual aesthetic that broke off with mainstream comics decades ago, Piskor nonetheless has the uncanny ability to be one of the freshest, most dynamic voices in contemporary comics. Anyone who has read Hip Hop Family Tree will know that Piskor’s aptitude for compressing years of action into a single story is one of his greatest assets as a practitioner of the sequential arts. Perhaps this, more than any reason, is why I’ve been so hyped to read X-Men: Grand Design, Piskor’s thesis/reimagining of the sprawling and at times incomprehensible mythos of the X-Men universe. As someone who has barely cracked open an X-Men story just out a pure sense of I have no idea what I’m doing, Grand Design is a rare opportunity to step back and not be worried about history while enjoying a piece of art that not only brings readers up to speed, but entertains them in meaningful ways.

From a visual perspective, everything about Grand Design oozes Bronze Age artistry. The coloring, the action, hell, even the color of the paper should make readers feel they’ve jumped back to an era where the X-Men weren’t multimedia extravaganzas, but straightforward meditations about bigotry, power, tolerance, and acceptance. For my money, there’s just something about Piskor’s work (go ahead, call it the X-Factor) that makes it shine above the pablum of people in tights beating each other up. There’s a great humaneness to his work. In his previous work with Hip Hop Family Tree, Piskor’s extensive cast of characters had to deal with the conflict of getting a nascent art form taken seriously (while also trying to make ends meet while doing it). In Grand Design, the central existential conflict has greater stakes and emphasis for the characters: peaceful coexistence or tyrannical destruction.

The genesis of X-Men: Grand Design starts with a small question with big implications: what would happen if more than fifty years of history and 8,000 pages of story was condensed into a singular narrative that could be easily followed by old pros and newbies alike? The answer is not as daunting as it might seem at first glance. Piskor is one of the finest artists on the scene today, and anyway, as someone who has seemingly imbibed something from every era of X-Men—from Marvel’s earliest history, to the era of Claremont and Bryne, to the anarchic glee of Liefeld; no narrative stone is left unturned.

It would be easier to say that, in lieu of a standard plot, Grand Design is more akin to a series of vignettes, each of which explains how the familiar mutants came to be in their universe and the manifold means by which they came together to be under the tutelage of Charles Xavier. Piskor’s natural mastery of the original materials means that he has the economy to wring issues of classic tales and place them within the format of a panel or two. It’s truly remarkable to see.

Verdict: BUY! X-Men: Grand Design is the type of bold, creator-driven project that Marvel needs right now.

Tales of Suspense #100

Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Illustrated by Travel Foreman
Colored by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by Alexander Jones

Some pretty crazy stuff happened in Secret Empire, but few big plot points really stick out to me aside from the end. Tales of Suspense #100 dives into one of these ideas headfirst with writer Matthew Rosenberg giving his best impression of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s beloved work on Hawkeye while varying up the execution just enough to make the book work. With the gritty linework of horror artist Travel Foreman, this issue looks unique while telling a narrative that intersects both a modern and retro style. The work retains the neurotic caption box storytelling of old Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics while giving the issue a more modern plot which twists and turns as the comic speeds along. Rosenberg remembers his unique sense of humor as Clint Barton continually gets himself into trouble but always takes a moment or two to laugh specifically about he got there in the first place. This issue feels remarkably different from what any creator was trying to during Secret Empire and I worry sooner than later the story will have to be addressed in this comic. Sometimes when comic books try to get into the head of the main character, aspects of the story can fall flat or feel dull–this is not the case here as the  Tales of Suspense #100 has just the right attitude to not feel derivative or stale.

After investigating leads, Hawkeye gets the idea even after the events of Secret Empire Black Widow could still be alive. This information leads Hawkeye into the gritty aspects of the Marvel Universe, giving Barton a platform to do what he does best. The sequence is light on its feet and thanks to the inclusion of the Foreman art and some of the writing. Barton, Black Widow, and The Winter Soldier make much more sense in the context of their own respective series outside of the greater power levels in the Marvel Universe. While this is a great showpiece for Barton, in particular, the conclusion of the comic does become a little silly and the book could lose the grounded sensibility making the series enjoyable in a heartbeat. I hope Rosenberg has a tightly plotted idea of what is coming next. Going forward, the series could also use a stronger antagonist pulling the strings behind the foreboding aspects of the comic. This debut is still promising but there are a few aspects of the narrative Rosenberg can introduce to further punctuate the script.

Foreman brings something slightly sinister to Rosenberg’s narrative, the underlying surface between Barton’s thoughts teases a different look at Hawkeye. The facial expressions and movement can be slightly stiff in a couple panels but vibrant and kinetic in others. At times, the action can be thrilling while in other circumstances, following the fisticuffs from point A to B can be difficult. The gritty attitude and moments where the action is fluid and facial expressions are properly emoting, however, look fantastic. I also cannot deny Foreman draws an excellent Barton in sunglasses just looking cool from a cosmetic level. The artist wouldn’t be the first choice for the book but bears such a distinctive style and if Rosenberg is going to take the comic into darker territory, I think he could turn out to be a perfect choice.

Tales of Suspense #100 plays a fun guitar chord paying tribute to Hawkeye’s recent Marvel Universe continuity. I hope the book continues to carry its strong voice and more straightforwardly flesh out the rest of the underground Marvel Universe. Rosenberg and Foreman have a great handle on both the humor and intrigue the book calls for.

Verdict: Buy. Tales of Suspense #100 is filled with espionage and Hawkeye’s trademark sense of humor.

Jean Grey is back next week and we have thoughts!


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