“Alarums and Excursions”
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove
Publisher: Marvel Knights
Is what’s this issue’s all about, see below:
Gaiman’s crafty plan, in taking things so slowly in this creatively re-envisioned universe, pays off big-time with the startling, grand developments culminating in this issue. Seems Queen Elizabeth’s death at the hands of Von Doom was only a minor stop along the way to the real battle, this issue’s all-out war between Doom and his numerous enraged captives.
We also learn some startling things about Murdock’s mysterious charge and his gift from the East, and meet yet other new characters as their roles become clearer in this time-displaced reality.
Gaiman capture’s the voice of the Watcher perfectly, in an explanatory prologue on the moon featuring Dr. Strange. Then we’re off to just a fantastic vision, Xavier’s Witchbreed traveling full-bore speed to Latveria in a floating galleon. On board, Nick Fury sees the obvious that a testy Scotius and a flighty Angel miss, while young lad Jean seems about to manifest a familiar icon of flight.
But what really impresses is what’s happening at the Castle, as we learn the Four, strangely absent from events thus far, were not dead or even soundly defeated, but only biding their time under Doom’s tender ministrations. They take full advantage of the chaos of the Witchbreed’s fantastic attack from the sky, and it’s Doom’s poor luck that another captive happens to possess an important connection to a quite righteously angry Norse thunder god.
Gaiman’s voices for the Watcher, for the Thing, as for Fury and Xavier et al are wonderfully distinct and in character. Which makes it all too unfortunate that Kubert so frequently places everyone’s faces in shadow. Kubert’s angular, graphic art is fine when paired with a solid inker; here I think he’s completely overwhelmed by the digital painting process, in way over his head. While the layout is fine, individual panels and storytelling lack clarity.
The role of women is highly circumscribed in this story, with Susan cast as Doom’s unwilling bed partner, and Natasha as an opportunistic thief. Taking into account Jean’s guise, it seems the only openly strong woman in the story was the murdered Queen. Still, that’s not totally unlike the Marvel of the 1960s that Gaiman has chosen as his model.
Jean, Bobby, Angel, Cyclops, the Four, Thor, Quicksilver and Murdock all put on stunning displays of their powers and abilities in this issue, the most action-packed and best-paced one of the story thus far. And Scott McKowen turns in another classic cover, this time a war-torn Gothic nightmare.
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