Downton Abbey

downton_abbey_season_1
Source: wikimedia.org

Six full seasons of tea, crumpets, and snappy dialogue on the BBC/PBS television phenomenon Downton Abbey came to a close earlier this year. I was a bit late to the party, and I only started watching it this year, but Downton is a very binge-worthy show and its immersive recreations of early 20th century Britain make for some very enjoyable period drama. Downton is the most-watched PBS show ever, with its popularity surpassing even the wildest hopes of their show-runners. Anchored by strong casting, witty writing, and absolutely gorgeous sets and immersive cinematography and costume-design teams, Downton Abbey delivered on its promise of grandeur and fun, stodgy British quips.

I must say, I did not expect to be so taken by Downton Abbey. Despite my love of dialogue and enjoyment of Jane Austen novels, I expected the show to be stiff and unapproachable. I could not have been further from the truth. Though episode summaries would lead audiences to believe that very little happens over the course of these 50+ minute episodes, somehow an hour spent at a garden party and debating local gossip over tea became an engrossing and rewarding experience. The clever dialogue, written by creator Julian Fellowes, and brilliant delivery by the large and broadly talented cast makes this show surprisingly gripping despite a relative dearth of action. Maggie Smith is a scene-stealer, harrumphing and hooting her way into my heart as yet another iconic character.

The setting of Downton Abbey is spatially beautiful and chronologically interesting. Beginning in 1912, the show dealt with numerous significant world events at the beginning of the 20th Century: the Titanic, World War I, the advent of electricity, the popularization of the automobile, and even 1920s Women’s liberation. The breadth of issues covered by the show makes it an earnest attempt to highlight the important cultural changes that occurred in 20th Century British society, often expressing the social and cultural changes as much as the geopolitical ones. The tenuous position of the landholding aristocracy was a focal point of the show, and the emphasis on the servant characters also offered a careful dichotomy between the “haves” and “have-nots.” Though somehow, it felt odd, especially as an American, to become so attached to the British aristocracy. Their plight to hold onto power and position was seen as a tragedy and I felt for them, even as it represents a net gain to middle classes and improved equality throughout the Western World. It is a testament to the strength of the show’s writing that I can find myself rooting against my own self-interest and feeling nostalgic for an antiquated aristocratic society.

highclere_castle_28april_201129
Tell me the beautiful Highclere Castle (used as Downton Abbey in the show) doesn’t give you castle envy. Source: wikimedia.org

Though my endorsement of the show is strong and I recommend it highly, that does not come without caveats. I will avoid major spoilers in discussing my few (though substantive) misgivings throughout Downton Abbey‘s six season run. First, I can think of a handful of times that the show deviated from its strengths of slowly building dramatic tension and went instead for crazy, unpredictable shock value. Some plot decisions were too abrupt and felt as though they created a jarring and undesirable tonal shift in the show. This is most notable in the end of Season 3, whose reveal I can think is nothing more than a desperate grab for ratings to leave a cliffhanger for the subsequent season. Second, there were a couple of plot elements that seemed to never go away (most notably the Bates’ subplot). Those who have already seen the show will likely agree. It can come off as lazy writing to continually revisit the same plot element rather than invent new challenges for the show’s characters. It arrests their development and makes a sub-plot become more of a nagging issue. Finally, I often found Mary’s character difficult to root for. Despite the fact that Downton makes her out to be the show’s primary heroine, her snarky and selfish tendencies did, at times, seem unnecessary and the amount that other characters coddled her could be annoying.

Nevertheless, my few complaints aside, Downton Abbey is just about as captivating a period drama as you will find on television. The almost 60 hours of story fly by surprisingly fast and the clever wits and snappy writing provide a thoughtful and entertaining portrayal of a fascinating time period in British history. Any remaining history buffs, fans of period dramas, or even just well-written dialogue that have somehow yet to watch Downton should clear their schedules and dig in for a wonderful viewing experience. Rating: 8 of 10 (would be a 9 of 10 if not for that Season 3 finale that still has me hurting).

Hawkeye in the Heroic Age

Hawkeye is one of the most iconic members of the Avengers, and has appeared in more issues than probably anyone but the big three. Nevertheless, he can’t seem to avoid getting the short end of the stick. Whether it’s his brainwashing in the first Avengers film, an inferiority complex driving him to become Goliath, or his string of middling solo series making it hard to sell the idea of Hawkeye having a life outside of the Avengers. He is undoubtedly a fan favorite, but his role in the Marvel Universe is sometimes in flux.

Before reading any of this Heroic Age material, it helps to know what Hawkeye has been up to for the past decade, so here’s a brief recap. Warning, there are definitely some *spoilers* for the 2002-2010 timeframe, beware! Clint Barton had a rough beginning to the 21st Century, he was killed in the Scarlet Witch’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs bonanza in Avengers Disassembled, only to be reborn in the House of M alternate reality excursion and find his alias had been taken up by a Young Avenger (Kate Bishop, who’s great btw), forcing him to take up a different identity as Ronin (shmeh). Then, in case that’s not enough, Clint finds Mockingbird in the Secret Invasion storyline, who had been long dead in the Marvel canon, only to find out she was a Skrull impersonator, making the loss fresh all over again. He and Bobbi do eventually reunite at the end of Secret Invasion, but even that reunion isn’t all sunshine and happiness. Bobbi’s traumatized by years of imprisonment and torture by her Skrull captors and she can’t bring herself to trust Clint. They had a weird kind of resolution in the four-issue New Avengers: The Reunion mini-series, which led directly into this time-frame, but the flawed nature of their relationship really comes to a head during this time period.

detail20
Cover Artist: Paul Renaud; Source: Marvel.com

Hawkeye and Mockingbird: Average arc overall. The writing has some decent humor and the relationship between Hawkeye and Mockingbird, which is the central focus of the title, is done fairly well. The author (Jim McCann) references their past pretty well, bringing back baddies that have haunted the two in earlier arcs. The art, primarily penciled by David Lopez, was solid, but not spectacular. The supporting cast was pretty underdeveloped and the rationale justifying their involvement in these arcs was thin. Just inventing a tiny quasi-governmental agency with five people in it just seems kind of lazy in order to enable hi-tech gear and bad guy chasing, but I guess that’s not really the point. I think the plot was average at best, but it’s slightly better than that because of the character interactions which sow the seeds for future stories involving the two. The complicated relationship is basically made into a mutually-detrimental spiral that made both of them into worse versions of themselves. The resolution to end their highly flawed romance is a reasonable conclusion that McCann builds to pretty well. It makes the six-issue arc an important read for fans of either title character, though it’s still probably not good enough to buy the book. Rating: 6 of 10

Widowmaker: A weird, four-issue follow-up to the Hawkeye and Mockingbird series. This arc can’t make up it’s mind whether Hawkeye or Black Widow is the main character. The first-person narrative jumps between the two of them. It’s really abrupt and felt like a rushed, half-developed story. I’m not entirely sure what the writer, Duane Swierczynski, was thinking here, and the artist team of David Lopez and Manuel Garcia did an okay job, but the result is just average fare. I didn’t like the bags drawn under Black Widow’s eyes. It made her look like she was always half asleep, it’s an odd look for a superhero. I think that the whole purpose was to set up a situation for Hawkeye to get hit in the back of the head, which sets up for the following arc, which is far superior to this one. Black Widow is a great character, but her team up with Mockingbird and Hawkeye here seemed like a stretch. And her character had no personality. She just seemed really flat. The new team up of Hawkeye and Mockingbird so soon after their “conscious uncoupling” was just kind of awkward. It undid some of the character development of the previous arc, which was its whole selling point. I’d say Widowmaker is worth skipping, as there aren’t really any other plot lines that ripple through later beyond Hawkeye’s one bonk to the head. Rating: 4 of 10

detail21
Issue #4; Cover Artist: Mike Perkins; Source: Marvel.com

Blind Spot: This four-issue arc is a little hit and miss (pun very much intended). With writing duties back with Jim McCann, and art by a team of David Lopez and Paco Diaz, the series regains some of McCann’s earlier tone in the Hawkeye and Mockingbird series. Conceptually, Blind Spot is pretty interesting: what if Hawkeye went blind? How does the world’s best marksman deal with not being able to see his targets? It’s a pretty cool examination of Clint Barton’s character as he struggles to do without his greatest asset and deals with some long-repressed family issues at the same time. The problem is that while this arc is intriguing, it’s not really all that innovative. It basically riffs on Ed Brubaker’s inventive run on Captain America almost a decade earlier, except it swaps out Bucky for Barney. The whole brainwashed vengeance using a childhood best friend/brother to become the evil version of the hero themselves isn’t particularly original, but in McCann’s defense, it does allow for an interesting look into Clint Barton’s past and his strength of character. Barney acts as a Baron Zemo and Barney’s interactions were all pretty well done. The only problem I had was that with Tony Stark’s tech, Clint never really went blind. It would have been much better to see him fight unassisted than to have the hi-tech bailout. It seemed like a cheap way to deal with the culmination of the blindness problem. Otherwise, this arc did accomplish a lot in a relatively short period of time. Rating: 7 of 10

During this gap, there’s a wonderful, incredible series by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Annie Wu that covers both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop in a 22-issue instant classic. Go read it now! Or check out the review here.

detail22
Cover Artist: Ramon Perez; Source: Marvel.com

All-New Hawkeye (2015): After making his name with Marvel’s Distinguished Competition writing for another swashbuckling archer, Jeff Lemire came to Marvel to try a turn on Clint Barton. Partnering with Eisner Award winning artist, Ramon Perez, this series seemed like a good choice to follow up on Fraction’s run. A quick five-issue series here tried to tell two different stories simultaneously. One was a retelling of Clint’s origin story through some beautiful, purple-hued flashbacks, and the other was an odd arc involving Clint and Kate breaking into a Hydra base for a secret weapon. The flashback sequences were clever and helped to showcase more of Hawkeye’s origin story. Perez’s artist style in these memory sequences was absolutely beautiful, all washed purples and sketched in a really wonderful way. The cover art, especially in Issue #1 (to the left) was also stunning. The interior art outside of the flashbacks was also good, but Perez’s flashbacks scenes were definitely the highlight. The banter between the two Hawkeyes was also pretty good (though nothing like Fraction’s in the preceding Hawkeye run). Unfortunately, the primary arc (at least the present day one) was nothing special. I never really understood what Barton or Bishop’s relationship to SHIELD was and what the whole point of those weird kids was. The resolution seemed even more bizarre, as they were about to allow Hydra to just take them back, until the kids went all Raiders of the Lost Ark on the Hydra agents. This arc is a decent read, but I was not really impressed with the plot development in Lemire’s primary story line. There is hope for future runs, but this is worth flipping through for Perez’s art, though I’m not sure if I would buy it. Rating: 6 of 10

Shadowland: A Marvel Event

I’ve already had a bit to say about Marvel events in general (here), but I stand by my assertion that some of these major crossovers are quite good. Not all of them are though. Often, it feels as though the schedule to develop an event is the driving factor, rather than the desire for a specific story to be told. It all seems a bit backward to me, but it is all too often the case for Marvel. But beyond the generalities, I also want to discuss a specific Marvel crossover that I read recently: Shadowland.

Before I start, Blorgon Warning: as a Daredevil-centric event in 2010, this review will contain spoilers to some of the final developments in the Bendis/Brubaker Daredevil runs. I won’t spoil the specifics of this event’s conclusion, but in order to discuss its significance or any plot elements, some big DD twists may be spoiled.

daredevil joke
This review may offend Daredevil’s delicate sensibilities. Source: memecenter.com

So the primary concept of this event is a “What if” question: “What if Daredevil finally had enough and took justice into his own hands?” (pun intended). The basic gist is that Daredevil had recently agreed to take over the Hand in issue #500. The stated intent was to prevent Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) from taking over, and to attempt to change the Hand from within. All of this is set under the Dark Reign of Norman Osborn, so Murdock’s confidence in the proficiency and morality of the legal system were at an all-time low. While all of the lead-in materials attempted to show Murdock’s fight to make this band of evil ninja assassins into a law-abiding, non-lethal strike team, the whole premise is clearly doomed to fail. How are we supposed to believe that Daredevil, sworn to a high moral code and one of the closest protectors of his secret identity, will have so totally changed that he compromises all of his principles, even leading to the cold-blooded murder of Bullseye in the first issue of the event.

The whole premise is so antithetical to Daredevil’s persona, that I am inclined to believe the plot was contrived as an afterthought, and is more reflective of the editorial pressure to deliver a “street-level” crossover event for some Marvel characters who traditionally don’t get as much exposure in the main events. Driven by the recent popularity of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the editors probably wanted to come up with something to drive more spin-off series and increase sales for these characters, causing Diggle and co. to back into the plot rather than develop an event organically from their own creative material. That’s not an excuse, because either way, Daredevil’s entire character was dismantled solely to increase sales. Killing a character off is one thing, but dismantling them ideologically makes for a much more difficult retcon later, and this dark chapter will now always be in Daredevil’s continuity.

 

The Review:

4beabe5873b31
Cover Artist: John Cassaday

Shadowland mini (#1-5): As I mentioned above, I just can’t get past how much I disliked the premise of this event. I am really trying to be objective about the true quality of this event’s art and writing, which means that both concept and execution should be taken into account. So, unsurprisingly, I gave this event a pretty poor rating for concept, given the complete and total compromise of an iconic character’s core principles. I also feel that the entirety of this event, written by Andy Diggle and penciled by Billy Tan, was derived for the sole purpose of creating a crossover for the street-level heroes, who are so often left out of the mega-events (like Secret Invasion and Siege). With this goal in mind, Marvel decided to make Daredevil decide to lead the ninja assassin death cult known as the Hand, establish martial law in Hell’s Kitchen, and virtually terrorize his neighborhood into submission through harsh and overly violent enforcement of his rules. He even erected a Japanese-style fortress in the heart of Manhattan, sat on a throne, and threatened all of his former friends to either join his brutal crusade under penalty of death. Absolutely none of that is a believable turn for Matt Murdock.

In an effort to be objective, I have tried to consider the progression of the story independently of the premise as well. Here, there are definitely some positives, though not so much to redeem the conceptual shortfalls. Billy Tan’s art is very good and classic comic book. It’s not highly stylized, but much like the cover art by John Cassaday, is well-executed classic comic art: brighter colors, rounded edges, and more detailed ab muscles than facial features. I don’t really have any complaints there.

Diggle also had some strengths in plot development for the supporting cast early on. The Moon Knight arc of breaking into Shadowland undercover was very cool, though the decision to throw in Ghost Rider to steal his thunder seemed out of place. Especially since Moon Knight later just disappeared after issue #3 (presumably to go off on his horrible side-adventure). A lot of the set up with Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Shang Chi, Spider-Man, and the Punisher was pretty good. This event was as much about the supporting cast of street-level heroes as it was about Daredevil, and the heroes’ subplots were generally pretty solid. Diggle definitely does deserve some credit for that, as it saves the event for all but true Daredevil fans. *Spoilers* The initial fight with Daredevil in the Shadowland fortress, as well as Elektra’s eventual betrayal were solid plot arcs. Though I found the demonic powers Daredevil gained to be pretty under-developed, Ghost Rider’s failure seemed insignificant, and Iron Fist’s weirdly magical “chi-blast” made for a hokey fix to the problem. If he could do that the whole time, why didn’t he? Finally, *Spoiling the Ending* what was with the weird mental seppuku? How did that kill the demon but not himself? And why did he lay down dead then get back up? I would have preferred that this total dissection of Daredevil’s character to end in his actual death, since that would make more sense as a means of banishing the demon possessing him. It would also seem like a more just self-sacrifice than simply moving away to the Southwest, which is hardly penance for the death and destruction he caused.

Overall, the Shadowland event was a misguided concept under the guise of creatively pushing boundaries, and had some pretty big plot holes, but the art and the characterization of the event’s supporting cast redeems it enough to give it a try. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, but if you have read the lead-in Daredevil issues, or are a big fan of Luke Cage and Iron Fist or Elektra, you may check it out of the library or read it on Marvel: Unlimited. It could have been worse, but it also definitely could have been better.

Concept: 3 of 10;  Execution: 5 of 10

 

Shadowland One-Shots and Tie-Ins: It seems as though this event was also used as an excuse to relaunch some street-level heroes in their own solo or group titles. This makes many of the tie-ins unnecessary to the progression of the key events in the Shadowland timeline, so I provided a quick Yes/No for Shadowland event relevance, as well as a rating.

4c62f6ca859a8
Cover Artist: Roberto Delatorre

Daredevil Tie-Ins (#508-512; After the Fall): Written by Andy Diggle and an alternating tandem of pencillers, Roberto Delatorre and Marco Checchetto, these tie-ins act as the tail-end of the often stellar 1998 run on Daredevil (comprehensively reviewed here). As I mentioned in my previous review of this run’s entirety, I did not like the direction that the final 15-ish issues of the series took. The entire concept of Matt Murdock’s transformation was completely uncharacteristic and relied upon a total abandonment of the very principles that defined his character. I understand that the authors sought to provide a new plot line with different challenges that had been seen before, but this total deconstruction of Daredevil seemed much more apt for a “What If?” title or an alternate reality, rather than an in-continuity event. Since it was the main DD title that led into this Shadowland event, it certainly shares the blame.

However, this subset of tie-in issues was after the groundwork had already been laid, and these issues focused much more on Daredevil’s supporting cast than Murdock himself. In that sense, it provides some interesting insight into how Foggy Nelson, Dakota North, and Becky Blake dealt with the events of Shadowland. Their struggle to remain hopeful of Matt’s recovery, Foggy’s incredulity at the extent of Matt’s transformation, and Dakota’s struggle to keep the three of them safe in Daredevil’s absence, all served to keep these characters relevant during the event. The writing was solid and the artists’ dark and blurry style worked for the tone, even if it’s not my favorite. These issues could have been much worse and Diggle showed good judgement to leave Daredevil almost entirely out of these final few issues, allowing the supporting cast an avenue to wrap up some of their loose ends before the end of the series.

Relevant? Yes; Rating: 5 of 10

 

4c0fc123a0ebf
Cover Artist: Sana Takeda

Elektra One-Shot: I’m not a big fan of Elektra. Not even the Frank Miller version, which could very well be blasphemous among Daredevil fans. Too much mystical mumbo jumbo and a dispassionate violence with which I could never really sympathize. However, her role in this one-shot and the broader Shadowland event is significant, so this issue is one of only a short list that is required beyond the main event miniseries. It tells of Elektra and Master Izo’s journey to Japan and their efforts to find a way to defeat the spirit possessing Matt. A bit hokey, but it also includes some important and rare emotional development for Elektra, whose antipathy and stoicism generally prevents her from taking any moralistic action beyond self-interest. Master Izo’s character also shows some remorse for the events that led to Shadowland, providing a different glimpse into this odd and enigmatic character than Diggle’s run on the primary Daredevil series did. Though not a masterpiece, this one-shot, written by Zeb Wells and penciled by Emma Rios is a solid piece of the Shadowland puzzle.

Relevant? Yes; Rating: 5 of 10

 

4c0fe81dd7739
Cover Artist: Clayton Crain

Ghost Rider One-Shot: I have never understood the interest in Ghost Rider. He’s a tough guy, biker take on the Headless Horseman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The punk superhero. And yet, for some reason, he’s got all of this weird religious and spiritual symbology. The flaming skull dude is sent by an angel as the spirit of vengeance to burn baddies with Hell-fire? I don’t get it. Honestly, I wish this one-shot (written by Rob Williams and penciled by Clayton Crain) had been completely irrelevant because I don’t like the character and I really didn’t get the point of this story. But since Ghost Rider shows up in the main Shadowland event, you may care to read this to see why. But frankly, it is just another random cameo in my opinion and probably skip-able. Only for completionists and Ghost Rider fans, whoever you are.

Relevant: Kind of; Rating: 3 of 10

 

Spider-Man One-Shot: Spider-Man is always good fun, and Shang Chi is a under-utilized character at Marvel’s periphery, so the idea of a team-up could have been a nice little jaunt. However, the entire concept of this one-shot spun out of one panel in Shadowland #3, where Spider-Man is sitting on a windowsill. It is just a pointless side adventure that doesn’t further the plot of Shadowland, or even really show much character development for either hero. This little side-battle focused on the two heroes seeking out Mr. Negative, an odd recent addition to Spider-Man’s rogue gallery, who was over-used during the Dark Reign period. The choice of villain is particularly disappointing given the strength of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery, which is perhaps second only to Batman in all of comic-dom. The resulting brawl written by Dan Slott and penciled by Stephanie Hans is sadly skip-able.

Relevant? No; Rating: 4 of 10

 

4beaffbc28009
Cover Artist: Mike Perkins

Power-Man (#1-4): First and foremost, this is not a Luke Cage story. Luke does show up in the supporting cast, but this is instead an origin story for a new character, Victor Alvarez. This miniseries is only tangentially related to the Shadowland event, so it is definitely not required reading, but it tells the origin of a new young hero out of the tragedy from Dark Reign: The List – Daredevil, an important precursor to the events of Shadowland. In that issue, a fight between Daredevil and Bullseye led to the destruction of a tenement building and the death of 107 innocent civilians. Victor was the lone survivor, and finds himself with some chi-based powers that draw Iron Fist’s interest, and lead to some adventures with former Heroes for Hire baddies. The story by Fred Van Lente is decent, though somewhat formulaic, but the concept of Victor using Craigslist to find new work as a Hero for Hire was pretty creative and worked well to frame these few issues. Mahmud Asrar’s pencils definitely work to complement Van Lente’s story of a young hero dealing with loss and family hardship, all while trying to learn about his new powers. It’s a solid character arc, even if the “big reveal” in issue #4 about his origins is a bit cheesy.

Power-Man is probably the best-written story with the “Shadowland” moniker, but it really is pretty irrelevant to the event’s story. Worth a read if you like street heroes and are fairly familiar with Luke Cage and Iron Fists’ backgrounds. The List one-shot is definitely a pre-requisite, but otherwise this could be self-contained.

Relevant? Not really; Rating: 6 of 10

 

4c518054ec948
One of the coolest covers in the whole crossover. Cover Artist: Francesco Mattina

Moon Knight (#1-3): Moon Knight is perhaps the most difficult Marvel character to write well. Though often criticized as a spoof on Batman, he is much more than that. He is the only full-on, basket of cats crazy superhero I know of. Sure, some have toed the line, had their insecurities and their breakdowns, but even Deadpool’s 4th wall-breaking, delirious rambling can’t keep up with Moon Knight’s dark and twisted reality of Dissociative Personality Disorder. The descent into madness that Daredevil experienced during this Shadowland event is old news compared to Marc Spector (er, Jake Lockley?). His idea of vengeance is a lot bloodier than most heroes are comfortable with, and he doesn’t really play well with others, making him a great fit for this morally ambiguous event.

Unfortunately, none of that played out. Instead, after a really intriguing cameo in Shadowland #1 and #2, where he infiltrates the Shadowland facility under cover to break out the hostages and sneak up on DD, his thunder is completely stolen by Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight skulks off to go on this pointless adventure in his 3-issue miniseries. All three issues have great cover art by Francesco Mattina, but the positives just about stop there. Greg Hurwitz’s story felt out of sync with MK’s cameos in Shadowland and his running around to retrieve some weird Moon-shaped weapon was completely pointless. He is told that the weapon is crucial to the defeat of Daredevil, but he doesn’t even have it when he shows back up toward the end of the main event. The depiction of craziness was not all that believable, going more for shock value with a giant squawking bird-Khonshu and gratuitous blood. The art was weird and cartoony, and Spector’s brother was just kind of gross-looking. I didn’t enjoy the story or the art and would definitely recommend skipping it.

Relevant? No (but I wish it had been); Rating: 2 of 10

 

4beb08e5b0bdc
Cover Artist: Francesco Mattina

Blood on the Streets (#1-4): This miniseries was an interesting concept, but the execution fell flat. Misty Knight, long a peripheral figure in the street hero community, was finally given a chance to shine in this four-issue tie-in written by Antony Johnston and penciled by a team of Francesco Mattina and Wellington Alves. Johnston wrote Misty’s character fairly well, and I wanted to like this story, since her detective skills made for an interesting side arc to the Shadowland story. Those elements often played out pretty well, referencing some recognizable bit players in the old Heroes for Hire series. However, this arc suffered from over-crowding and a poor resolution. Shroud was a character I didn’t know before, and he seemed a bit flat and under-developed, but ok, I guess. His character also didn’t really affect the end results too much. But the inclusion of Paladin and Silver Sable made very little sense to me. They served only to distract from Misty’s primary arc, and really didn’t drive much of the plot.

Solid art, and decent writing on the primary character make this an ok comic, but the other characters distract too much to make it really worthwhile. I think if those secondary characters had been cut, and Johnston and co. had focused more on Misty, this could have had a real chance.

Relevant? No; Rating: 4 of 10

 

4c7c4817d090a
Cover Artist: Jean-Baptiste Andreae

Daughters of the Shadow (#1-3): Oh man, this was not good. I think this mini beats out even Moon Knight’s terrible miniseries for worst Shadowland title. Written by Jason Henderson and penciled by Ivan Rodriguez (covers by Jean-Baptiste Andreae), this mini-series attempted to follow a similar format to Misty Knight’s above solo series, but this time with Misty’s longtime compatriot, Colleen Wing. Wing, another member of the Heroes for Hire series’ supporting cast, is a trained martial artist armed with a katana and exemplifying the ronin (master-less samurai) trope. Wing is a little-used character, whose connection to the core characters of this event could have given her a good jumping off point. However, this miniseries ignores all of this character’s best characteristics and makes her into a glorified errand girl instead.

Following the events of Shadowland #2-3, the contingent of heroes who escaped Shadowland began to plot another way in to end the madness. However, this series expects us to believe that Colleen Wing, one of these heroes who had just fought her way out, would come back to Daredevil and agree to join him simply because he “knows something about her mother.” Really? A hero will give up everything and join a death cult because her demon-possessed friend tells her that she would be following in her mother’s footsteps? That is the entire premise. She takes over some group of powered women to enforce the Hand’s will because of this ludicrous excuse, and is only jarred to her senses when some unimportant innocent neighbor is captured in the crossfire. There’s no emotional development and it all seemed so unbelievable and pointless. Just skip this silliness.

Relevant? No; Rating: 1 of 10

 

4c1291a0d9744
Man-Thing gives the T-bolts their own evil Groot. Cover Artist: Marko Djurdjevic

Thunderbolts (#148-149): Though this title was hardly related to the action at all, it was actually one of the best reads of the entire event. The new Thunderbolts series that followed the Heroic Age semi-reboot saw Luke Cage become the new leader of this convicts-turned-heroes squad. It is solely this Cage connection that brought this new T-bolt team into the Shadowland fore, but I’m glad it did. Written by Jeff Parker, these two issues provided some humorous moments as well as a good window into the writing and feel of the larger Thunderbolts series. The addition of Juggernaut and Crossbones to the mix adds some harshness to the previous rosters, while Man-Thing is kind of like an evil Groot (half mascot, half planty powerhourse), and under the tough-love leadership of Luke Cage, I think the book shows some real promise. The art in both #148 and #149 was pretty good, penciled by Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey, respectively. This small window into the new T-bolts has me intrigued enough to want to read the larger series at some point. That is the biggest win for any crossover title. Though largely irrelevant to the Shadowland event itself, it is still worth a look!

Relevant? Not really; Rating: 7 of 10

 

 

Overall Event Rating: 4 of 10 — a terribly flawed concept, as well as a jumbled cast of thousands, made this “street-level” event into a cameo-splosion with too many mystical shenanigans and contrived emotional struggles. While it is certainly a below-average event from Marvel, Diggle did manage some solid writing for some of the supporting cast (Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Shang Chi) and the first issue was actually pretty strong. It is unclear how much of the creative process was editorially-driven, and how much was from the creative team themselves. I probably won’t read it again, but some completionists and fans of ninja brawls may disagree.

giphy1
Don’t worry, Shadowland. You still aren’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to Daredevil….

gif source: giphy.com