If you are anything like me, chances are good that you missed out on the bulk of the last crossover event, Marvel Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill. The latest crossover has a sort of looney premise that involves S.H.I.E.L.D. finding a mutant in control of a cosmic cube to trap super villains into a society where they are actively conforming against their will. It was a hell of a premise that was originally setup by author Nick Spencer (Ant-Man), but subsequent issues of the crossover spilled into other books. It was ultimately very difficult keep up with. However, the event is finally about to end, and the climax warrants a renewed look from us.
Doctor Strange is also heating up this week with the debut of Doctor Strange: The Last Days of Magic #1. That story is spilling into two different titles with Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch, meaning that this one is going to be easier to manage. One crossover ends, another begins– it’s time for the newest installment of The Marvel Rundown to tell you if these titles are worth your hard-earned cash.
Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1
Writer: Nick Spencer Artist: Jesus Saiz, Angel Unzuenta
Colors: Acuna and Matt Wilson Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Many of the characters in Pleasant Hill have lost their luster over the course of this event, so writer Nick Spencer does an adequate job pairing the cast of Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1 to focus on a few major players. His clever, humorous, and nuanced narrative style is the perfect way to draw a lapsed reader back into the story. There are more than a few dark moments in the issue that are cut with moments of absurdist humor, resulting in a powerful issue that affects the reader on multiple axes.
There’s a murderers’ row of wonderful artists here: Daniel Acuna (Green Lantern) and Angel Unzuenta (Titans) both make this comic look like a fever dream of splendor. Unzuenta focuses in on the stories of ground level powerless characters while Acuna dabbles in the super heroics a bit more, adding some strong contrast between the quieter and louder moments in the book. However, Acuna ultimately draws most of the story. His stylized approach to pencils allows him the freedom and leverage to exaggerate different features on each character and create a wide range of distinguishable faces. That’s an invaluable talent for a crossover artist, as it often becomes difficult to tell who is who based on facial features alone when an artist has to render so many different major characters.
The creative team works through many plot threads and wraps them up as best they can in order to clear the way for Civil War II, it’s a tough balancing act, but the triumvirate is up to the task. Looking to the past, there are nice callbacks to other work by Spencer. Looking to the future, if loyal Marvel fans have been following any of the teasers released over the past couple of days, they’ll discover a pretty huge reveal tucked into this issue.
The climax of this series contains a lot of pleasant (see what I did) surprises hidden within, rewarding long-term readers who have stuck with the crossover through to the end. However, this issue really does feel like the end of a movie that had no middle chapter. The final fight in this issue is anti-climactic because there isn’t enough emotional weight built up behind it. That said, with Spencer adding so much humor and intrigue, Pleasant Hill really does continue to captivate. If you missed the middle like me, have no fear and jump in– this is just like the ending of a major Marvel Cinematic Universe film– it reads slick and looks pretty.
Verdict: Both Avengers Standoff bookends have been solid comics.
Doctor Strange: The Last Days of Magic #1
Writers: Jason Aaron, Gerry Duggan and James Robinson
Artists: Leonardo Romero, Danilo Beyruth and Mike Perkins
Colors: Jordie Bellaire, Dan Brown and Andy Troy
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit
Doctor Strange has been building to The Last Days of Magic since the first issue, so getting an additional chapter of the narrative here isn’t really a problem, especially when it is drawn by Leonardo Romero (Batman ’66). The artists’ classic style melds extraordinarily well with the Doctor Strange Magical Universe, as it is stylistically malleable enough to adapt to really progressive and bold artwork. The libraries and rich backgrounds in this comic look so beautiful posed against interesting positions and faces.
Romero has a distinctive Chris Samnee (Daredevil) vibe that percolates with all the wonder that Doctor Strange needs to stay charismatic and interesting. Watching lead Dr. Strange writer Jason Aaron add new touches to the Doctor Strange Universe while keeping the ones that have been established before is fascinating.
This comic switches writers, artists and stories without warning, but it does so in a pretty organic way. Doctor Voodoo is a really underexposed character and getting the chance to see solo adventures starring the hero is always a welcome addition, especially when they are drawn by artist Danilo Beyruth (Howard the Duck). He is an extremely bold choice for this issue, and his lines are constantly curvaceous, composing a distinctive style that really makes Voodoo’s own solo adventures feel entire unique. This short story is some of the most fun writing I’ve seen from Gerry Duggan (Deadpool). I would love to see this Voodoo story spin into an ongoing.
This issue sets up a lot of players, which is why The Wu by James Robinson (Scarlet Witch) and Mike Perkins (Carnage) probably doesn’t sit as well as it could. This story actually takes up a pretty large page count and features some pretty and pulpy artwork. The writer and artist explore a new character who will no doubt in the upcoming story line, who has a smart backstory attached that makes her interesting almost right off the bat– I hope Robinson will be able to dig deeper into this character wherever she lands.
Verdict: The Marvel Universe has never really had a great chance to venture into the mystic corners of the shared Universe. Now, the publisher has the excuse of an upcoming film to dig deeper into magic.
As promised, I took another look at International Iron Man with issue #2. The issue actually improved in some aspects, but breaks lots of storytelling rules and barely has a compelling enough story to return for the next installment. I’m kind of looking forward to reading additional issues and seeing how the insane storytelling in this series continues to pan out, but for those on the fence this is not required reading despite a few nice character scenes and beautiful Alex Maleev (Daredevil) artwork.
At almost 1,200 words that’s a wrap– Punisher and Thunderbolts next week…be there!
Fruit snack aficionado. @AlexandComics