This week’s Marvel Rundown has a trio of titles for discussion. First, Meet the Skrulls chronicles the lives of a family of Skrulls living undercover in the suburbs. Does the title avoid the typical tropes of these kinds of stories? Next, Cosmic Ghost Rider is back and ready to damage the Marvel Universe with Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1. And rounding out the Rundown, Age of X-Man: Prisoner X #1 continues the world-building of the event and follows up on threads from the opening one-shot. What are you waiting for? It’s time for the Marvel Rundown!

Meet the Skrulls #1

Written by Robbie Thompson
Illustrated by Niko Henrichon
Colored by Laurent Grossat
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover by Marcos Martin

Alexander Jones: AJ, Marvel is finally doubling-down on the concept of the Skrulls with a brand new mini-series. Robbie Thompson and Niko Henrichon tell the tale of the Warners Skrull family integrating into everyday life. What did you think about the debut of Meet the Skrulls?

AJ Frost: Hey Alex, it’s so good to be back on The Marvel Rundown after several weeks MIA. I would say that this issue of Meet the Skrulls was a fun little story with a nice fish out of water twist to it. There was a lot to like here. You could definitely sense the The Americans influence on this double agent team of Skrulls trying to infiltrate into Earth society.

Jones: There were lots of intriguing twists and turns along the way. The issue had the potential of being generic and relying on tried-and-true genre tropes. However, I think it is safe to say that the debut for Meet the Skrulls is confident enough to not get bogged down in those cliches. The book executes several different ideas and even has a cold open readers should expect from dark noir stories like this. Despite the traditions of the form there are enough novel ideas to keep readers going all the way through the issue.

AJ Frost: There’s a nice piece of foreshadowing right there in the opening pages of the book. The writers reference the classic Beatles tune “I’m Looking Through You” almost as if to say that not everything here is truly what it looks like at first glance. This might be odd to say about a book that features Skrulls who can shape-shift, but that playfulness of the concept is what makes this book pretty refreshing. It’s not just that these polymorphous creatures are trying to sow chaos, but that in their quest to conquer earth, they also get self-reflective. It’s great stuff!

Jones: For once I’m inclined to agree with everything you are saying regarding the work. I want to stress that there is a slight familiarity with the tone and concept with The House of Ideas right now. This book feels a lot like The Vision and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it came from the same publishing house. Also, lots of books at Marvel have the same playful and kitschy vibe. I don’t think there isn’t room in the market for a mini-series like this, I just wouldn’t want to see any more family-oriented titles about aliens hiding in plain sight following Meet the Skrulls #1. I’m also hoping this will go in a different direction besides exploiting internal family drama. Also, the devil is in the details and the details are just different enough to make the title intriguing. It also helps to see artist Niko Henrichon’s inspired artwork do some heavy lifting in making the title feel truly unique.

Frost: Comparing this book to The Vision is an apt take. I got that vibe as well. Everything from the pseudo-political thriller vibe just screams a kind of familiar pastiche. All the pieces really landed in a way that made me walk away from this comic eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

Jones: I know lately you and I have been clashing about Marvel art feeling too generic and I think the interior art on this one truly is different. Did you find Niko Henrichon to break out of the traditional Marvel style?

Frost: I think that we will clash on this, but only a little. The artwork stood out for me more, but there’s still a muddiness to it. Like, it’s not bad by any means, but the house style is just so boring in a lot of ways. This is a pretty quiet book in terms of action, so all the subtlety in the art has to be done with faces and expressions. I think in this latter category, the book exceeds my expectations.

Jones: I didn’t realize it until you brought it up, but there is a level of distortion in the artwork. The muddiness that you mentioned is what keeps the artwork from feeling too generic. Maybe at some points, the outlines and shapes are inked a little too heavy, but overall the book would not have characters that are so expressive without the slightly obtuse nature of the script. I know that your previous complaints have been about the style being too uniform across the publishing line. Did you think this one broke out more and defined a stronger identity for the book?

Frost Yes and no. We’ll have to see the directions that the creators take this series. But I think that, for right now, readers should expect a Marvel-looking book with glimmers of something special happening.

Jones: Does your criticism apply to the script as well?

Frost: Not as much. I really enjoyed the story here.

Jones: Are you ready to award a final verdict?

Frost: I am! This is a BUY from me. With all things Marvel Cosmic getting their place in the spotlight, having a quirky book like this is just what curious readers need. Fun and a little kooky to boot!

Jones: I think there’s just enough here to put this in the BUY category for me. I hope future issues will continue to subvert cliches and stand out from the other books. Meet the Skrulls launched a solid debut and I hope the book will keep taking chances from here.

Final Verdict: AJ and Alexander say BUY

Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1

Written by Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti
Illustrated by Gerardo Sandoval
Inked by Victor Nava
Colored by Antonio Fabela
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover by Gerardo Zaffino

Alexander Jones: AJ and Joe, were you surprised to find that Cosmic Ghost Rider has little respect for continuity in Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1? Were you put off by Frank’s aggressively silly sense of humor, or charmed by his theatrics? What did you think of semi-celebrity Paul Scheer and Nick Giovanetti’s comics writing, and how did you feel about Gerardo Sandoval’s wild artwork?

AJ Frost: My initial impression of Cosmic Ghost Rider is… not good. I think the concept is interesting, but the execution left so much to be desired. This was a clunky and really ugly book. I know that the situation was played for laughs, but nothing landed for me here.

Joe Grunenwald: Yeah, this was rough. I agree with AJ that the concept of this book is interesting, and I’m all for stories that revisit previous tales and give them a new spin or element, but I almost feel like Scheer and Giovanetti were trying to do too much here. Nothing had a chance to breathe or actually build to anything funny. It’s just rapid-fire ‘jokes,’ panel after panel, none of which really landed for me, either.

Frost: It reminded me of when Marvel brought in Brian Posehn to write Deadpool. That kind of comic mind (to use a phrase) can be an asset, but this was a total misfire.

Jones: I agree completely. The script packed a lot of information and ideas. It was exhausting to read with the huge amount of dialogue and captions packed into each panel. I wish Scheer and Giovanetti as well as Marvel editorial had really pared down the script and put only the most important ideas onto the table. I also worry that mini-series like this are going to dilute my fondness for Cosmic Ghost Rider. I really enjoy the wild way creators Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw depict the hero, but I worry that if too many mini-series like this come out, the character will lose the niche appeal.

Grunenwald: This is definitely a dense comic. I appreciated that Scheer and Giovanetti tried to add a level of pathos to the proceedings by bringing Frank’s family into the mix; on the other hand, I kind of wish they hadn’t and had just stuck to making the comic as funny as possible.

Frost: Yeah, for sure. This comic was brought down by its own ambition.

Grunenwald: I really think if this comic had just been a comedic retelling of Fantastic Four #1 with Cosmic Ghost Rider added to the mix, it could’ve been really great and entertaining. What we got was just too much. The amount of exposition needed to set up all of the different vignettes was draining.

Jones: The issue definitely was not focused on one specific tone and really had a haphazard approach structurally. I was apprehensive about the issue because it didn’t have a singular focus and already seemed a little thrown together from the announcement of the comic. In all of Cates’s material with this character, there has always been a more serious tone to balance out the irreverence of Frank’s sense of humor. I really think that element is a major portion of what is holding this narrative back.

Frost: Whatever they thought was funny just wasn’t. It was more of an obnoxious kind of humor that may rouse guffaws from a bunch of twelve-year-olds. But this whole issue was not a cohesive piece of fiction at all.

Grunenwald: How did you guys feel about Gerardo Sandoval’s art?

Jones: His art is so uninspired throughout the issue. The interior art channels an anime influence that comes off as generic on the page itself. Little has changed about Sandoval’s art over the years. The lines are uninspired and a little obvious as what you would expect an anime-influenced western comic art to look like.

Frost: It was fine, but not to my taste at all. Sometimes the characters were just drawn to look so repellant. That being said, to his credit, Sandoval is adept at maximalism and ensuring that every inch of the page has something to look. So, that’s something.

Grunenwald: I really liked the layout of the first page, the circular recap of Cosmic Ghost Rider’s origin and how he got to where he is now. I also liked the last page a lot. Everything in-between, though, was kind of dull, even with the maximalism that you mentioned, AJ.

Jones: I have no more words for Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1 aside from a verdict. Do you guys want to share yours first?

Frost: Sure. This issue didn’t do anything for me, despite being a fan of Paul Scheer. This is, sadly, a SKIP.

Grunenwald: I, too, enjoy Paul Scheer in things. That’s part of why this was so disappointing. It’s a SKIP for me as well.

Jones: This comic has me really worried about the future of Cosmic Ghost Rider and I hope we don’t get overexposed to the character. SKIP.

Final Verdict: Joe, AJ and Alexander say SKIP!

Age Of X-Man: Prisoner X #1

Written by Vita Ayala
Illustrated by Germán Peralta
Colored by Mike Spicer
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Cover by Patch Zircher

Joe Grunenwald: This week’s Age of X-Man entry follows up on a loose thread from the event’s opening one-shot, and continues to build out the world that Nate Grey has created. Samantha, what’d you think of Prisoner X #1?

Samantha Puc: Um, holy Hell! Vita Ayala is writing one of the most high-risk minis in this event and there’s absolutely no holding back in the first issue. Prisoner X #1 carries the frightening tension of Alpha through without missing a beat… Germán Peralta’s art in this issue is also just breathtaking. What did you think, Joe?

Grunenwald: So I have to admit that I’m a little torn about this issue. On the one hand, I completely agree with you that Ayala, Peralta, and co. executed very well on picking up on what happened to Bishop in Alpha. On the other hand, the story felt a lot like any other ‘new inmate in prison’ story. It sort of checked off the boxes of what I have come to expect from that type of tale. The thing that makes it interesting to me is the cast of characters involved, which is great and I loved seeing the different roles they’re playing. But at the end of the issue I still wasn’t sure what made this prison different from any other prison.

Puc: For me, the fact that these prisoners are remembering the real world and could potentially rip through Nate Grey’s “ideal” dream makes this story really interesting. I can see how this issue may have reminded you of similar stories — for example, the language about dampening and reprogramming made me think of Bitch Planet — but the depths of what’s happening beyond the prison walls and even inside them makes this story feel fresh. How did you feel about the transitions between the characters’ memories of the real world and what was happening to them in the prison?

Grunenwald: I liked how those flashes of memory were done a lot, and I think colorist Mike Spicer gets a lot of the credit there. The shift from the sort of drab palette of the prison to the bolder colors of the real world was jarring and disorienting, and did a nice job of bringing the reader into Bishop’s frame of mind. Between that and the cast of characters, it was enough to keep me interested. I just can’t help but be nitpicky about wanting to know the particulars of how the prison is run.

Puc: I don’t know if that’s nitpicky or just a desire for more world-building, which may come with future issues? I have to agree with your assessment of Mike Spicer’s color work. It’s phenomenal. I also love Ayala’s handle on the characters, both under Nate’s control and in the flashbacks. They have a knack for dialogue that translates really well in this issue and I’m excited to see how they handle Polaris in future issues.

Grunenwald: I’m hopeful we’ll get a closer look at the prison in future issues; I’m particularly interested in the ‘reprogramming’ aspect of things. Ayala’s version of Beast was a standout for me. I usually think of Hank as the most gentle X-Man, so casting him as basically a monster was a really interesting move. I also liked their version of Gabby and how she’s retained her playful attitude, but with a harder edge behind it. Really great character work all-around.

Puc: Absolutely! I’m definitely invested in these characters and I’m eager to see how Nate’s world falls apart around and because of them in future issues. I have high hopes for Prisoner X and this debut is going to stick with me for a while — especially all the close-up panels of Bishop as he tries to piece together why everything feels so wrong.

Grunenwald: It’s also really interesting, though it’s not mentioned in this issue but was shown in the Alpha one-shot, to think about the fact that all of the characters in this prison have basically been disappeared. No one remembers that Bishop ever existed, and I’m assuming that’s true for all of the other inmates. Even if they were somehow able to escape and tell people the truth, who would believe them? They are literally nobody. I hope the psychological toll of that is touched on at some point.

Puc: Oh, that’s a good point — there’s no way the inmates could know that, but if they do get out and realize they’ve been forgotten… ouch. I think the psychological toll of being forced into this world as a whole will be A Lot for all of the characters, but that’s an addition I hadn’t fully considered. I also wonder, however, if Jean sees Bishop again, if it will jog her memory somehow and trigger similar flashbacks to what he is experiencing in this issue. Could it be that Nate’s control over this world is slipping? Are the X-Men overcoming his “perfect” view of the world?

Grunenwald: It certainly seems that way, and I’m excited to see how everything falls apart. Is there anything else you want to say about Prisoner X before we deliver a verdict?

Puc: Just that this whole event is shaping up in really interesting ways and I’m glad this creative team is steering this part of the ship. My verdict on this issue is BUY, for the art and character dynamics as well as the issue’s position in the Age of X-Man event.

Grunenwald: The trappings of the story might be somewhat familiar, but the excellent character work and strong art make this a BUY for me as well. I really expected by this point one of the tie-ins would be a dud, but I’m pleasantly surprised that hasn’t been the case, and this one feels pretty vital to how Age of X-Man is going to play out.

Final Verdict: It’s a unanimous BUY from both Samantha and Joe!

Next week, Saladin Ahmed takes over the adventures of Kamala Khan with Magnificent Ms Marvel #1!

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