Friday, November 21, 2008

Collection Spotlight: New Avengers: Illuminati

Illuminati, a word that for some means nothing, and others, means an entity of others to fear. A secret society that runs the world, pulling its strings. But not all cases are the same, here we have New Avengers: Illuminati, telling the tales of the 5 of the most powerful men in the Marvel universe as they form together to keep their world safe. Iron Man, Black Bolt, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Dr. Strange. They are the illuminati, and this is a review, of their tales.

(Sometimes I just can’t resist a weird opening)

Written: Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed

Art: Jim Cheung

Story comments: Right off the bat I have a problem with this collection book. It doesn’t have the Illuminati one-shot tale pre-Civil War. If we’re going to get a book about the Illuminati, why not include all their stories of their gatherings? Sure, it doesn’t hold this book back, but it would have been a nice touch on Marvel’s part to add it.

Now since this is made up of 5 stories, we’re going to take on each one at a time. No, not Comic Report Card style, but still it will make this a little easier both to write and read.

Chapter 1

This story is one of the 2 Secret Invasion Infiltration chapters that are important to the Invasion itself. That alone makes the chapters relevant, but this one takes place way back when during the Kree/Skrull war. Having a good knowledge of the Marvel Universe is necessary for this series, as all through it, important things are mentioned here and there, that Marvel newbies wouldn’t pick up on.

While the opening moments are great, the Illuminati waltzing into the Skrull throne room and kicking ass, what follows is all right. Their capture/torture is over as soon as it begins and really outside of some good character moments, this was just an okay opening chapter. Nothing too special really like we see later on in the book.

Chapter 2

This is where things pick up a bit more. We deal with what has always been an issue in the Marvel Universe, the Infinity Gauntlet. We see the Illuminati hunt down each Infinity gem and assemble them, as to keep them out of villainous hands. We get some hilarious moments, such as Iron Man sickened that a She-Hulk villain got a hold of a gem, but really the story overall is more entertaining then the first chapter.

Characters are nicely done, Namor and Reed Richard’s bickering is spot-on with their characters. Iron Man is great, but doesn’t have a lot of memorable liens. That mainly comes from Namor, who is just an absolute jackass through and through.

The climax was…well, anti-climactic. And from there comes my biggest problem with the Illuminati book, with only one chapter per story, you can’t really tell too much of an interesting story, because it has to be wrapped up in one issue! Sure, It’s nice that it isn’t a 6 chapter story, dragged out slowly bit by bit, but there could have been some really fantastic stuff here if they’d been allowed a 3 or so issue storyline.

Still, the climax is all right and resolves the issue for the day, and leaves it open for something else to come off from this. Though really I was disappointed in how much of a quick fix the ending was.

Chapter 3

Probably the strangest of the 5 chapters here is chapter 3, as we take on…ugh…the Beyonder. Always a character I see as “one-hit” really. Sure, he was great for a time, told a really cool story and it was great to see him that one time. But really, after Secret Wars, he kind of became an annoyance.

Now I will grant that Bendis and Reed, despite how odd the story is, tell a good story nonetheless. I was confused by the lack of Iron Man, but at the same time, it didn’t take away from the story here.

The idea that Beyonder is making his own personal world in the stars to interact with is…well that’s about where the weird starts at least. From here, it just keeps spinning to the point where we have Iron Women, Dr. Strange sleeping with Clea and Night Nurse and Namor wanting to destroy the surface world or, whatever crazy things the Beyonder makes happen.

While this never becomes so strange to the point where it’s incoherent, it is still a bit annoying.

We finally get the Beyonder’s Origin; apparently he’s a mutant Inhuman. This was a nice twist and it’s interesting to find this out about him, it doesn’t really go anywhere, and just has Black bolt/Namor talking him down and getting out of the universe.

Overall, not a bad chapter in anyway, it has some funny and cool moments and some really explosive stuff written for Cheung’s art, but outside of that, not too great.

Chapter 4

Easily my favorite chapter, and simply for the opening. Now I’m sure everyone’s got a select group of friends they hang around with, you talk about stuff in your life, relationships if you’re close enough. This can lead to some hilarious moments for you, I’m sure, and that kind of hilarious buddy/buddy talk is captured in the opening as the men of the Illuminati discuss their love lives.

The dialog here is spot on as the characters all sound like themselves, but more grounded as they talk. This isn’t a bunch of super heroes talking; it’s a bunch of guys. Regular guys like you and your buddies. Having laugh out loud moments, even if they don’t point out how laugh out loud it is.

But unfortunately, this is a case of “the opening outshines the rest of the story” as when things buckle down and get serious, taking on the issue of Marvel Boy, its hard not to lose interest. Sure, the scenes with the Illuminati talking to him, trying to persuade him, are all nice and done well with good dialogue, but it’s hard to follow such a hilarious and spot-on opening like this chapter had.

Overall, a great chapter with some strong moments, both funny and serious, and I’d recommend this book for this chapter alone.

Chapter 5

A very exciting read with a more relevant story to tell, this story takes place after the events of Civil War and rather puts the Illuminati in a no-win situation. On one hand, the Skrulls are here because of them, on the other, they can’t just sit around and play the blame game all day.

My only real complaint with this chapter is that it echoes of lot of the “I don’t trust any of you!” stuff that the Infiltration was filled with, and it’s all rather old. Though the action is where the issue shines, as the opening assembling of the Illuminati is nice, when the action picks up it’s all very exciting, fast paced, and very well done.

This chapter was a wicked read, and it almost chimes in the “end of the Illuminati” as they no longer trust each other, therefore there are no more Illuminati. It’s very well done and overall a great ending for the book.

Art Comments: I am a huge fan of Jim Cheung, and of all the artists Marvel has in their stalls, he’s my favorite. If not for his issues with timeliness, he’d be golden, as others would be. His style is truly unique and one of a kind, no emulations can be accepted and his work here is incredible. Sure, his stuff on Young Avengers/New Avengers has been good, but something about Bendis/Reed’s strong writing team brings out the best in Cheung and he turns in absolute gold.

Characters look great a big bombastic page spreads shine bright as even the most subtle of details is incredibly well done. The action is intense and strong and expressions are spot-on with the words and emotions of the moments. Cheung truly does a masterful job here.

Closing Comments: While there are some slow moments here and there, and the opening was a tad weak for the overall book itself, Illuminati is an incredible read that any seasoned Marvel fan will love. Though if you’re relatively new to the Marvel Universe, you may want to spend an hour on Wiki catching up on terms such as Beyonder, Marvel Boy, Kree and Infinity gems, outside of that setback, this is an absolute must have with strong characters and incredible artwork.

Must Buy

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