Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fantastic Four: Extended Family (comics)

Writers: Numerous, including Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Dwayne McDuffie and more
Artists: Numerous
Collects: Fantastic Four #1, 81, 132, 168, 265, 307, 347, 384, 544, Fantasic Four (1998) #42

Here we are with another theme collection. This one was brought about by the events of Johnathan Hickmans run on the property, where a plot twist leaves the team one short and in need of a replacement. So naturally, a collection of other times heroes filled in on the team is in order.

I generally like these sort of collections. You'll recall The Black Casebook went over well with me, while Strange Deaths of Batman was also a decent time. They tend to have their problems though. This one is no exception; and in this case, it kind of hampers the enjoyment.

So, there's no real story to this volume. Each issue is part of a different era doing its own thing. But reading this, it quickly becomes rather obvious that the Fantastic Four do have quite the "extended family". Members over the years have included Crystal of the Inhumans, She-Hulk, one of the Ms. Marvels, Luke Cage, an Ant-Man or two and various others. Fitting, really, since this is the team that helped give birth to the Marvel Universe as a whole. They should have connections from all over the place.

Of course, many of them vary in quality, but on the whole the issues within are at least decent. The writing is usually serviceable to good, with the same to be said of the art. Though if either of the two suffers more than the other, it's the art. You can tell right off when you've reached the issues from the early nineties. The art takes the predicted nose dive; and Invisible Woman tarts it up in your typical impractical sleazy 90's costume, this time with the four of her costume cut out to show her skin and cleavage because of course. The art picks back up again with the last issue collected, but man some of these are rough.

The problem, then, is that there are some odd choices. That's part and parcel for these kind of things - not everyones favorites will be collected and some deserving issues will be passed over for iffier ones - but this volume trends odder than usual. For example, why, exactly, is Fantastic Four #1 included? It's the first of the series, but it doesn't fit the MO of the book. It's the formation of the classic team; it has nothing to do with "other members". So, while more Jack Kirby art is never a bad thing, it's an odd choice to include over another issue.

More pressing is the volumes tendency to show us the formation of a team, but not any real adventures. Fine early on - the more compressed nature of old comics allows for an adventure to be packed in with this - but later it starts to become a problem. She-Hulk, Ant-Man and others show up to help Johnny when others are missing, but we never get to see the assembled team in action?

Then there's the well known "New Fantastic Four" story with Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Hulk and Spidey. We get the first issue, of which the majority consists of the old team being taken out, with the new team only forming and getting the gist of the problem at the very end. We never see them do anything. Perhaps an issue a bit further in where we see them do something would have been more appropriate? Just a thought.

So in this way, the volume doesn't give is the full picture of the advertised adventures of alternate teams. Not exactly something in their favor. The volume really needed a few issues from later in a couple of the teams tenure. Hell, if they insisted on the first issue of the "New Fantastic Four", they could have included the second in place of reprinting the very first issue.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

This collection could have used a bit more attention to its contents and for that the score is hurt. It's not a terrible collection, just a bit more flawed than some of it's contemporaries for obvious reasons. Worth a look if you can borrow it from a library or friend, but not really worth buying.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

X-Men: Nation X (comics)

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: Greg Land, Terry Dodson, Alan Davis
Collects: Dark Reign - The List: X-Men, Uncanny X-Men #515-522, Nation X #1-4

There's a question regarding where the X-Men franchise has been going in recent years that bears asking. If the X-Men have turned their back on Xaviers dream and what they stood for - mainly striving for peaceful co-existence with normal humans, understanding, an end to fear of differences and other points - are they still the X-Men? As they go further and further down the rabbit hole, I find the answer to be a resounding no; and it makes the adventures of the team even less appealing than before.

Here's the thing, I don't really care about the main adventures of the X-Men anymore. A couple years ago, I came to a realization that the only two runs on the flagship books I've ever truly cared about were the legendary Claremont run and Grant Morrisons game changing run on New X-Men. Anything else I find interesting tends to be the side books, the occasional arc in a major book that doesn't connect to the status quo much or the ones off doing their own thing with next to nothing to do with the core book.

There are numerous reasons I borderline hate the current status quo and unfortunately this volume is a pretty good encapsulation of why.

First, lets get the general overview of the plots out of the way. Opening the book is the Dark Reign - The List one shot. You may recall that I had a few choice words to say about the collection of the numerous one shots, but in the X-Men collection this fits much better. It feels like more of an epilogue to the conflict in the last volume, when the Dark Avengers and X-Men squared off, which led to Namor and Emma basically telling Osborn to take a hike. Osborn didn't take too kindly to that, so he sends a big monster to presumably eat Namor. This goes about as well as you'd expect. It's a pretty okay one shot, though there's no mistaking the fact that the vast majority of what makes it worth the time is the art by Alan Davis.

Then there's the main arc, Nation X, which eats up about eight issues of Uncanny X-Men. Basically, after the events of last volume, the X-Men have set up their "Utopia" on top of the floating Asteroid M. Now they have to figure out the nuances of how to survive. This goes on for eight issues, with a few flashes of interesting conflict with in but largely decompressed nonsense.

The back third of the book is dedicated to the Nation X anthology series, which focuses on characters acclimating to the new situations or just little vignettes; some are bad, some are good, a few are even pretty great, but that's par for the course for any anthology series of any kind. You can't really review this kind of thing, but I can at least vouch for a pretty decent batting average of good to bad.

First off, the Nation X arc is horribly decompressed and not terribly interesting. For eight issues we find our cast dealing with various problems on the island nation, from things like fresh water and food to where to put the result of a hundred plus mutants who presumably need to take a dump from time to time. Some of this is fine, but it's the focus of over half the arc. It's not exactly the most interesting reading. Fraction tries to keep things exciting with a few conflicts - and a hint or two at future arcs - but he doesn't necessarily succeed. This isn't the most riveting stuff ever put to paper.

Second, the art is pretty yuck. Greg Land is far from the worst artist to ever grace the pages of comics, but he isn't exactly good either. Some poses just look outright ridiculous, characters will look off, a character will be drawn as if their suddenly screaming out of nowhere when a second ago they had the calmest face imaginable. Land has his problems and he illustrates six of the eight issues in this collection.

The Dodsons are far better, but their contribution to the collection as a whole is a drop in the bucket. Even they aren't without their issues. I'm not sure how much of this was called for in the script - Cyclops even has a line describing it - but when we go into Emmas mindscape, it's the dullest thing ever. It's all just white. We've seen characters psychically traverse another characters head in the past and it usually reveals something about them. Apparently Emmas mind is nothing but white space. It makes a two issue conflict within a larger story blander than it should have been.

Worse than the dullness, however, is the fact that we're treading even further into territory that makes the X-Men almost unrecognizable. There's obviously potential to be mined in the whole "M-Day" scenario, but it was patently flubbed most of the time. A lot of what we see ends up turning the X-Men into a group so far removed from what the X-Men always stood for that the editors themselves feel it necessary to come out and defend the direction every interview or so.

It starts with Cyclops. I've never been a huge fan; even back in the Claremont era he was as dull as a block of wood. This is an obvious problem, since he's frequently a key player in X stories. The one time he became remotely interesting was during Morrisons X-Men run. Almost immediately afterwards he became a dick, which has been the norm since.

Ever since the X offices went out of their way to try and demonize Professor X, Cyclops has been portrayed as superior and this perfect leader. But here's the thing; he's not. It's just that no one who ever questions him lately is taken seriously. He's basically a Jerkass Stu, to go with a TV Tropes term.

Here's the thing though; no matter how much the writers try to portray him as cool or the bestest leader ever, it ends up backfiring on them because Cyclops is, long story short, a douchebag who makes questionable moves. In what reality is publicly locating just about every goddamn mutant left on a small, sinking asteroid a good idea? One orbital bombardment later and barring Colossus and Armor, the mutant race is dead. Letting Magneto on the island? Yeah, sure, he puts on a nice face, but the guy is a goddamn rattlesnake; he is going to bite you eventually. How many times has he pulled this? Professor X even states this outright. Nope, let's let the genocidal, terrorist maniac on the island, that'll be great for morale.

But this is all okay, because Cyclops has a plan. He admits he's kind of making it up as he goes along, but you have a dream Professor X and he has a plan. Except, you know, that's the exact goddamn opposite of a plan. But he's not called out on this because he's friggin Cyclops.

I'm not even joking. No one really dissents. He's like King Cyclops and almost all of his little subjects fall in line. It's kind of striking when Wolverine - the guy who would basically question every move Cyclops or Professor X made - basically says "he's making tough choices and he's right".

There are people who speak up, but they're written like they're heels for doing it. Professor X immediately suspects a trap when Magneto arrives, but his outburst is treated as if it's unnecessary and over the top. Despite the fact that, you know, Magneto has pulled this "I'm good now, really" business before. Even Beast isn't wild about some changes, like Magneto being on the island, and gets a lecture from Iceman for his trouble. He - and his departure - is written to come off as a whiny douche instead of a fair portrayal of someone disillusioned with the choices the fearless leader has made. Half the island barely even notices he left.

Beast himself even brings up how he was left to be tortured until the "time was right" for a rescue, presumably for the greater good of the mutant race. This is spliced between scenes where Cyclops has dropped everything to perform "psychic surgery" on Emma Frost once it's been deemed a viable option. No one questions this hypocrisy or pats Beast on the back. The mutant race comes first, except when it doesn't.

So many things about this arc just come off as false because of it. Magnetos sudden, practically out of nowhere change of heart just doesn't jive with how he was even a short time ago. He even goes so far as to say he was wrong about mutants being the future. The X-Men themselves have basically become a glorified military group and represent everything the group has ever fought against, yet it's handwaved away as necessary and made in the midst of tough choices.

All this and the fact that Cyclops is content to put all of his eggs in one basket with the "mutant messiah". Then there's something that isn't brought up in this arc in particular, but is an important bit; the fact that Cyclops - leader of the X-Men - has personally sanctioned a kill squad. So what we're reading is another step in the destruction of everything the X-Men ever stood for; they've essentially turned their back on Xaviers dream because times got tough and the only people who care are Professor X himself, Beast and Nightcrawler.

As it stands, the way mutants have been acting under Cyclops stewardship, there's plenty of reason for regular humans to be scared of them. Hell, they now have Magneto chilling with them on their island. The guy that's committed numerous terrorist acts and wanted to wipe humans out if they didn't go with his demands a time or two. Add this with them declaring their own nation of super powered mutants just off the coast of San Francisco and it's a miracle missiles aren't headed their way.

Worse still, the status quo this book begins to explore not only hurts their appeal, but it unwittingly sends several bad messages. It's no secret that the X-Men have long been a concept following the general theme of fighting against hate. Racism, homophobia, all that stuff. The editors and writers freely admit it. But now, mutants are segregating themselves because the government doesn't agree with them, they have kill squads, they stop caring about advancing their standing in the world and they generally start acting like a military group.

So what message is this sending? Should the blacks all be congregating on their own island nation? Should gays have a kill squad to take out their enemies because they might be harmful to them? Should hispanics form themselves into a military group? You can't have it both ways, but Marvel wants to take this team in a darker, grittier, the-end-justifies-the-means direction while still trying to make the team a metaphor for race relations. I don't think I need to tell you it doesn't work and this volume does nothing but make it worse.

Matt Fraction is a talented writer. He is. He's deservedly a big star in comics. But the X-Men do not seem to be gelling with him. I don't know if it's the direction not agreeing with him or what. But this is not his best work. Which isn't a big deal - even the greats have off days - but it's disappointing. He is unable to make any of this work, if only because of the fact that this status quo he's working with - and advancing - is anathema to what the X-Men have always stood for.

As you can tell, the writing is completely unable to make this work on several levels. But at the core of it all, it all comes back to the point I made earlier; this arc is just dull, dull, dull. There's always the chance this could be made to work by using action to keep you from thinking too hard on it, but there are maybe two real action beats in the whole eight issues that are relatively short. The subplot that contains said action scenes ends up having nothing to do with the rest of the arc. It's just overlong, doesn't seem to go anywhere and if anything seems to just be buying time until Second Coming, the crossover that sees the "mutant messiah" return.

On the plus side, Second Coming doesn't have to do much to be more interesting than this, that's for sure.

Obviously, I don't like where the franchise is - and has been - going. I don't think that's all of this volumes problem - I've tried to list everything I find wrong with it here, but I'm sure I've rambled way too much for it to be concise - as the writing in general isn't up to snuff, but it is an issue. But if you like where the X-Men have been going, you may like this more than I did; it's still very dull and bland on a writing level and the arts not that great on six of the eight issues, but it does advance the status quo, for good or ill.

There's definitely a positive or two here though. One very good thing about this - whether you like the direction or material or not - is that this is a thick, thick volume. It contains, after all, the eight issues of the arc, The List one shot and the four Nation X anthology issues. That's thirteen issues total for thirty dollars SRP; you can even get it much cheaper online. Considering Marvel's really annoyed me with their habit of four issue trades lately, I feel I must applaud them when they give us a volume with good value for the money.

Now if they'd just do it more than once in a while, we'd be set.

Some of the various short stories that make up the Nation X anthology are pretty good too. Though, as expected, the quality varies. But there aren't many that are outright bad, which is kind of a win for any anthology.

Another good thing is, well... uhh... did I mention the one shot was drawn by Alan Davis? That's always a plus. I think I'm about out of good things to say already.

The Score: 5.5 out of 10

Skip it. For the love of everything good, just skip it. Matt Fraction just couldn't pull this one off. It's inoffensive reading, but it's also pretty bland and dull. Not worth the time or money unless you really, really like where the franchise is going. I don't, which makes the volumes problems even worse for me.LinkLink

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dark Reign: The List (comics)

Writers: Brian Bendis, Jason Aaron, Greg Pak, Rick Remender and numerous others
Artists: John Romita Jr., Alan Davis, Adam Kubert and too many others to count
Collects: Dark Reign: The List - Avengers, Daredevil, X-Men, Punisher, Secret Warriors, Hulk, Wolverine, Amazing Spider-Man

Hoo boy. This book. There are so many problems with doing something like this. Let's you and me talk about why.

Essentially seven or eight one shots with an over-arching narrative, the conceit is that Norman Osborn is making a list. He's checking it twice. He doesn't really care who's been naughty or nice. He's just gonna shoot you in the face. Or more likely have you shot by someone else, since he employs a bunch of murderers as a team of Avengers.

I'm not really going to get into the individual quality of each one shot; as you'd expect, some are better than others and this really isn't the point of the exercise. There are about three different ways you can try and run something like this. The first option is to have the overarching storyline take precedence; this is the approach that would have actually necessitated a collection like this. The other way is to be light on the connective tissue and have each writer treat it as an extra chapter of whatever ongoing they presumably work on. The final option is to try and do both; this route very rarely works out, becoming a jack of all trades, but master of none.

This book takes the second approach, which results in a scattershot group of one shots that barely connect.

Talked up as an important part of the overall Dark Reign status quo, they try to tie everything together with the overall plot of Osborns list. It doesn't necessarily work, because only about three chapters actually involve the list itself or Norman actively going after his target. Each issue does involve him, but as mentioned earlier they're all basically extra chapters of different books across the Marvel line. Different vibes and tones follow, with the overall series not feeling like a cohesive whole. There are a few important scenes to affect the status quo, but it doesn't really work as it's own story, which is a big, big problem.

Since what we're left with here are extra tales of the given character or team, we're left with about what you'd expect for most of them. Quite a few of them involve the ongoing events of a given book, which means that divorced from said context they mean little. Why is Norman pissed at Namor? Who knows, but he's damn sure going to throw a hungry monster at him. What's Osborns beef with the Punisher? You might be able to take a guess, but if you haven't read the events of his ongoing at the time, you won't have the concrete answer. Why the hell is Hulk not the Hulk? Same deal.

In short, most of the one shots assume familiarity with the ongoing events at the time. The hope is to get your readers hooked and want to read those books. But without a given context, what we get is going to mean little to most of the people who read it. Even with people who are reading several of the given ongoings, few of them will have been invested in all of them.

Worse still, the entire exercise - and even this collection - is unnecessary. While we could have been in for an interesting story if Osborns downfall came from the fallout of the last one shot, Spider-Mans, it's ultimately inconsequential. The Siege event would come soon after, which led to Osborns downfall in a way that had nothing to do with the events portrayed here. Sure, Peter damn sure screwed up Osborns PR, but things would have come to the same conclusion with or without him. Which leaves the appeal to the writing and art, which are both admittedly pretty great.

As for the collection itself, as you can guess, each individual one-shot is also collected in the collections of the associated book. They fit in much better there and the events are separate enough that removing them from the rest doesn't hurt them. So, with the one shots all available elsewhere and the overall story remarkably flimsy... the point of this collection is what again? Aside from the obvious goal of a little extra money coming in from the sales of this too.

Really pointless volume overall.

The Score: 5 out of 10

Let me be very, very clear here; this score is for this volume as a whole. As a separate entity, this collection fails to be worth the time or money in every way. Many of the individual one shots themselves, however, are very good; several well written and several very, very well drawn by some of comics best. But you're better off reading them in the associated collections. There's absolutely no point in wasting the money on this thing. It means absolutely nothing if you're not already reading the given comics; and if you are, that means buying this volume would have you paying for the same comics twice.

By all means, skip this; you'll get them when you get around to the volumes of the ongoings they're collected in.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Astonishing X-Men: Exogenetic (comics)

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Phil Jimenez
Collects: Astonishing X-Men #31-35

It's funny how in the back, Astonishing X-Men is referred to as Grant Morrisons legacy. Really, the only reason for that is because Whedon was the only one who didn't seem to wipe the slate clean of what Morrison did; you know, considering Marvel shat on Morrisons run immediately after it finished. He kept the characterization of several characters, but it was a far more conventional book than what Morrison did. Which isn't a knock; Astonishing is generally good and one of the few X books worth reading.

Then Warren Ellis came on board; thankfully, the good times have kept rolling with this one.

After M Day, there was that whole "No More Mutants" thing going on, so most of what followed that was a bunch of "mutants band together" stories, dark secrets from long standing characters and so on. After a while, someone figured, hey, the mutants are in one place now and no one has tried to commit genocide in the past three months. Why not take a crack at it?

Except this time, said genocidal maniac is pretty good at manipulating genetics. Expert at raising the dead is apparently on his resume as well. Thus, we have dead X-Men returning to try and kill the ones that are still breathing and somewhere along the way the villain decides it would be a slammin' idea to drop a clone of a living island on them. As you can probably guess, the X-Men find all this to be in really bad taste, so it's time to give the villain a stern talking to!

If all this sounds familiar, congratulations, you've read a few X-Men stories. Typically, a plot like this would be a sign of trouble; it's been done so many times before that it can be pretty difficult to imagine anyone wringing anything new out of it. How many times have the X-Men faced a foe who wanted nothing more than to wipe them from the face of the Earth? I lost count a long time ago.

Apparently, there's still things to do with the concept and Ellis opts for subversion of the typical way this kind of thing plays out. There's no high minded validation for this, no excuses or delusions of protecting humans or the like. This attempt - this complex, planned attempt on their lives - stems from nothing more than sheer pettiness from a source close to home. It's a very human reaction, when you strip away the flesh and blood sentinels and the zombified islands. Jealousy and spite leading to unreasonable backlash.

In the midst of it, the notion of just how outside they really are is tackled. As pointed out, the X-Men aren't exactly wanting. Most of them are beautiful or handsome specimens in colorful spandex with fantastic powers. As much as they bemoan being freaks, do they truly even know what it means? It's an interesting question, despite how far the villain took things. But it's one that's even arguable from both sides. Cyclops himself asks Wolverine, bemused, "There are people who hate us because we're not outcast enough?"

As for the dialogue and writing, you know what you're getting into with a Warren Ellis scripted comic. Somehow, some way, he's going to get in his traditional brand of snark. To varying degrees, he manages it across most of the cast here, but unlike other writers, he manages to work it so they still feel in character. That's something some writers struggle with, even popular ones.

The scripts obviously tailored to give the artist plenty to draw, as well. The hook of the story - dead mutants being reanimated and controlled - allows for a bevy of typically unavailable foes. This is played to the hilt, with Jimenez getting to draw the Brood, Krakoa, flesh based Sentinels and more. There's even a crazy rescue from the wreckage of a ship in the midst of atmospheric re-entry from space.

Do I really need to say Phil Jimenez does well with it? Oh, alright. Seriously, he's fantastic. Great at illustrating the large scale, the small and everything in between. Seeing him tackle things like the Brood is a treat and overall a fair amount of what makes the whole thing worthwhile. Oh, did I mention he's good at facial expressions, too? Jimenez was a perfect fit for the arc; overall, Ellis writes a sharp script, but it's the artwork that helps push the book that much further.

All this in mind, I must grant that this volume isn't exactly going to shake the Earth or anything. This is a solid, enjoyable read, for sure. Still, many seem to see Astonishing as a strictly marquee, high tier title. It comes with high expectations for some. Personally, I enjoy Astonishing in that it gives me a relatively self contained fix of the X-Men, away from all the bull the franchise is frequently embedded in. It hasn't really done me wrong yet. But some seem to view it different - hell, some think it should have ended with Whedons departure, which is retarded, because could you imagine if Thor ended when Jack Kirby left? - and it's worth bearing in mind.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

I doubt it will win any awards, but as a continuity light, contained dose of the X-Men, this is hard to go wrong with. Worth a read if you're sick of all that mutant messiah mumbo jumbo and just want to see the team fight a bunch of superpowered zombies. Even if you're not, it might be worth it just to see Cyclops get a bit of a verbal smackdown.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Marvel Zombies 3 (comics)

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Kevin Walker
Collects: Marvel Zombies 3 #1-4

So did you hear the one about those wacky Marvel Zombies?

Here's the problem with Marvel Zombies; in some ways it's essentially a joke in comic form. It's popularity was borderline ridiculous for a while there and they've since turned it into a franchise. The original appeal, however, rested largely on the novelty and giggles gained from seeing a bunch of zombified heroes eat things.

But the reality of comedy is that if you keep telling the same joke over and over, eventually it's just not funny anymore. How many jokes do you know with sequels? Even the second volume seemed almost cognizant of this; the dark humor was dialed down and while it was generally more of a real story, it also seemed to make it quite clear this concept couldn't sustain itself forever without an overhaul.

So overhaul it they did. This time, the regular Marvel 616 Universe is involved*. The result leaves me thinking that just maybe there's a little life left in this quickly rotting husk.

The last volume pretty much picked up where the first left off and it ended on a cliffhanger, presumably for this volume to pick up on. It doesn't. Actually, this volumes story doesn't even take place after the events of volume 2**. The 616 universe we all know and love is clearly set in present continuity while the time period of the Zombieverse they encounter is actually the time between the cosmic seven leaving and returning. This takes a bit of retconning, really***, but whatever, I can roll with it.

The story opens with a mission gone horribly wrong. Floridas Initiative team, the Command, combs the swamps of Citrusville after a distress call, quickly finding themselves confronted with a grisly scene. Before they can realize what's happened, they're wiped out; only one survives, while another goes into hibernation for an uncertain amount of time to try and purge the virus. One of the zombies from that troublesome universe managed to make it over using the Nexus of All Realities; no one knows how many infected are roaming the swamp, which is, of course, a problem, especially if they make it out of the swamp. Before you know it, the "fleshy" hating Machine Man is sent into the zombie universe to get a sample to help come up with some manner of vaccine.

You can probably guess how smoothly that mission goes.

The new approach actually does wonders for extending the life of the flagging franchise. For the first time, we've got a pretty distinct set of characters for our main cast. It feels more like they're trying to tell an actual story - with, of course, the dark humor - instead of constantly trying to outgross themselves. The zombies are now an element, not the sole driving force of the series, and it makes a bigger difference than you'd think.

Van Lente's style is a fair amount of why this works. He brings back the comedy elements that had been toned down last time, but it's no longer about the joke or hearing about Daredevils blood bloated ankles needing to be punctured. The chief character, Machine Man, actually shows character growth over the course of the volume.

Starting as the distinct NEXTWAVE version Warren Ellis introduced us to, he changes a bit as the volume goes on, especially when confronted about his dickery by an old robot flame. By the end, he's even accepting of a name he long denied. That's a pretty big jump in actual storytelling for a series that mostly subsided on things like Hulk eating a human and then having the bones explode through his stomach when he reverts to zombie Banner.

We even get a pretty decent addition to the Marvel universe out of ARMOR, an organization dedicated to handling inter-dimensional threats. In a way, it completes the circle in some way. It's not just the acronyms - you know, armor goes with sword goes with shield - but the fact that it makes sense that the Marvel world would have an organization each dedicated to different threats. With SHIELD handling most Earth based problems, SWORD dealing with space and ARMOR handling threats from other dimensions, they're pretty much covered.

I hope this is the last of these though. If I see HELMET or BOOTS, I'll be unable to keep from laughing uncontrollably. As it is, we still have HAMMER lingering around as a villain organization when it really should have dissolved entirely at the end of Osborns time at the top.

This time, we have Kevin Walker on art. His work is a bit cleaner, but when it comes time to illustrate the yuck, he doesn't shy away. Check out the image of the zombie Kingpin, champagne glass full of blood and eyeballs, bloody human bones on the table behind him. It's ridiculous, but a fun ridiculous. I wonder how much of the little touches were Walkers idea and how much was actually in the script. Either way, a good job all around.

One last thing to note. This volume does come complete with a cover gallery, one that goes the whole nine and collects all the zombie variants that were on books while this series ran. I'm always happy to see a full cover gallery in volumes, but good grief these zombie variants. Can we nix these whenever a Marvel Zombies miniseries shambles around? I'm tired of them. The joke - you know, taking iconic covers and zombifying them to disgusting effect - is just not funny anymore. See above about telling the same joke too many times.

The Score: 8 out of 10

I actually really enjoyed this one. Moreso than both of the preceding volumes. Van Lente and Walker revitilize a concept that was withering on the vine. Worth checking out; hell, despite the number three on the cover, you don't need to read the previous ones. Skip 'em, if you're so inclined. Originally I thought this would be the last volume for me, but I'm going to stick around, especially considering the next one is going to have Man-Thing and the Midnight Sons.

I am always down for teams of ridiculous super movie monsters.

* Interestingly, this is probably the first time there's been any kind of actual link between the Main universe and the Ultimate universe. Both have come into conflict with the Zombieverse by now, which is the closest the two ever came to crossing over. Whether Marvel will stick to their guns on the determination not to let the two directly meet remains to be seen.

** I don't believe the story and characters of the first two Marvel Zombies are wrapped up within the numbered line. MZ4 is apparently a direct sequel to the events of this volume. I'm pretty sure they got around to tying the original plots off in one of the numerous offshoots.

*** The end of the first volume had the remaining members of the main zombie crew we followed assert dominance over the right to eat Galactus. They were, quite simply, the alpha zombies. I recall it being pretty clearly implied they wiped out the rest of the zombies who tried to get in the way of their cosmic meal. The events of volume 2 - where aside from the docile Hawkeye, Wasp and Colonel America there isn't a zombie to be found on Earth - backed it up. As you can probably guess, this volume shows us that there's still a pretty damn big contingent of zombies floating around after the cosmic zombies left. Doesn't make much sense, but the first two miniseries were riddled with odd contradictory moments, so it's not worth thinking on too much.