Whatever happened to all those great old anthology comics?
What we have here is a brief return to the anthology format comics that used to be super popular in the past, but are pretty much gone now (and in 2009, when this book came out).
Over the 6 issues of this run, there are 3 continuing stories and 1 short one shot story in each issue. Let's take a look at them separately. . .
Punisher/Wolverine: I LOVE Rocafort's artwork, which is why I even picked this series up in the first place. It's insane how good this guy is! Here, I especially liked his version of Wolverine. Not my favorite character. I like him better when in "Logan" mode instead of in his X-men outfit and was glad to see that's the way he's shown in this story. The story itself is a well-written introduction, if a bit simple. Punisher and Wolverine meet in a bar in Madripoor and violence ensues as Hydra and some kind of giant creature show up. A very promising beginning!
Iron Man 2020: I'm not familiar with this character at all, but the story does a good job of introducing him in the short space it has. The art is a bit of a let down. . .it reminds me of the "Kid Friendly" Marvel titles on the bottom shelf of the comic shop. This part of the book isn't bad at all. . .it's just not outstanding in any way.
Iron Man: The short one shot explores the difference between the public and private identity of Tony Stark/Iron Man. It SHOULD be good, but falls flat in execution. The art isn't that great and the story is cramped by the writer feeling they just HAD to put some fighting in it. Worst part of the issue.
Mojoworld: I have no idea who ANY of these characters are (2 b-list X-Men and the ruler of an entertainment obsessed other dimension) but I liked this story a lot. It's played for laughs and the art reminds me of something that would be in a Deadpool comic. Some of the jokes fall a little flat, but this was a pretty good introduction due to the totally ridiculous nature of the story.
All in all, this book was 50/50. Two good stories bookending an okay story and a pretty bad one.
With one exception, this issue was stronger than the first. Let's take a look at the pieces separately. . .
Punisher&Wolverine: This was the exception. Rocafort's art remains the stellar high point of this series, but the story this time out was pretty much just a fight scene. Not bad, but not as good as the introductory chapter.
Iron Man 2020: The art on this one remains the most "Comic booky" of the series, but the story was nicely done by concentrating on the character of Arno Stark Starking it up at a high class party. The ending makes me think this one might slide off the rails first as Starks luxury skyliner is attacked by sky pirates. . .
M.O.D.O.K. : Not a bad little story. Played for laughs as the villain comes across a superhero themed restaurant and attacks it, only to be foiled by a sticky dart to the eye shot by a kid. The story was ridiculous, but what stood out was the best art by Ted McKeever I've ever seen. Normally he's a bit. . .abstract. Here, his art is awesome!
Mojoworld: I liked this part the best this time out. Mojo and the 2 B-List mutants make an entertainment deal and it's negotiated by them playing hilarious Mojo versions of different earth game shows and board games. There were several laugh out loud moments here, and the artist nails the visuals. Very well done.
First. . .that cover by Rocafort. ASS-Tastic!
Wolverine & Punisher: This episode is split between finishing the big fight scene from last issue and Wolverine, Punisher, and Tyger Tiger talking amongst themselves trying to figure out what's going on. It's not bad, and Rocafort can make people sitting around talking look GOOD. Still. . .if he wasn't on art, this would probably be the worst of the bunch this time out.
Iron Man 2020: This one starts to slide as Arno Stark suits up and heads into battle along side a team of. . .babies in robot bodies (Wha ?) against a sky pirate ship. Definitely belongs on the kiddie rack.
Mojoworld: Not quite as funny as last time out, but still got a few chuckles as the Mutants start making a Civil War movie starring a bunch of superheroes. . .in the civil war (and civil war uniforms). . .but fighting about superhero registration. Complete with a "Gone With The Wind" love scene between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage wearing a wig. Completely ridiculous. The double page spread of the "Civil War" itself is over the top detailed.
Spider-Woman: A short, but sweet tale with outstandingly realistic artwork by Fiona Staples with Jessica Drew being lured to investigate vampire snuff films with the intent to make her the victim without knowing she's Spider-Woman. It's a nice little story. Nothing special, but it has it's moment. The art is the star of this particular show.
All in all, this issue slumped a bit compared to the others.
Probably the best cover in the series on this one. . .
Wolverine & Punisher: The story picks up a bit as the hunted become the hunters in a plan to turn the tables on Hydra. Some good moments in this one, including Punisher telling Wolverine how he buys his famous skull shirts in bulk. The art is still stellar. I hate Wolverine's yellow X-men costume but Rocafort manages to make it look badass anyway. Nicely done.
Iron Man 2020: This story has devolved from a nice examination of the character of Arno Stark into a standard superhero punch-fest against a bunch of flying robots. Not completely off the rails, but getting there.
Daredevil: Definitely the weak point of this issue. Bad art in an almost completely silent story. If you're going to let the art do the heavy lifting, it has to be better than this. Fail.
Mojoworld: In a riff on "Wedding Crashers", the mutants try to get Mojo laid and fail spectacularly when they give a bunch of money to Elektra to do the deed and she thinks she's being paid to kill. Completely ridiculous, but still extremely enjoyable. And once again, the art on expressions is spot on. Probably the best part of this issue.
Hitting the home stretch!
Wolverine & Punisher: Another pretty much all fighting episode as Hydra doubles down on their efforts to take out Punisher & Wolverine. Not great, but not bad. Has some pretty good moments, like the smile on Punisher's face as he pulls a giant 90's-style rocket launcher from a duffle bag. Of course, Rocafort's art saves this from being a groaner of a punch fest.
Iron Man 2020: Unfortunately, this one doesn't have Rocafort to save it. The art belongs on the kiddie rack and the story is now all about robot punching and nothing else. Too bad. It started pretty strong.
Shiver Man: Now HERE'S the star of this show (to me, anyway). I have no idea who this character is, but this short silent (except for caption boxes) story is dark, moody, and has me interested to find out more about the ghostly western gunman it features, who is apparently doomed to walk the earth until there's no more earth to walk. Fantastic!
Mojoworld: A hilarious sequence of vignettes featuring takeoffs on cop movies, romantic comedies, Princess Bride, and so on. This story hasn't failed to entertain me yet. Probably the strongest part of the series just for embracing the total lunacy of itself.
And now for the big finish!
Wolverine & Punisher: Not a bad ending. It all wraps up nicely. All in all, it was a very simple story. . .pretty much a cliche "Two characters searching for the same thing on different paths get thrown together against their mutual enemy" comic book team up. Fortunately, the superior art of K. Rocafort elevated it above the mundane level of the overused story.
Iron Man 2020: This one started strong and went on a quick slide down into robot punching territory. The art and the story (after the first 2 episodes) puts this one on the level of the "All Ages" Avenger and Spiderman books. Too bad. . .I really enjoyed it at first, with the great introduction of Arno Stark who is (if at all possible) an even bigger jerk than Tony Stark. I'd say this turned out to be the worst of the 3 continued stories in this series.
Sabra: Never heard of this character. This story doesn't really make me want to find out more. The art is incredibly "90's Good/Bad Girl" cheesecake. No bueno. . .
Mojoworld: This was probably the most consistently entertaining continued story. The art never failed to hit the mark. The writing always had at least a chuckle in it. The finish is no exception, as the Mutants make a Magnum P.I./Indiana Jones mashup before figuring out how to get home without becoming Mojo's slaves. Well done all the way through on this one.
All in all, Wolverine & Punisher had the best art. Mojoworld was the most entertaining. Shiver (from issue 5) was the best of the one-offs. All things considered, both good and bad, I'd certainly suggest this series. . .but it would probably be better in Trade with the separate stories put together.
And there you have it. . .Marvel's 2009 6 issue run of Astonishing Tales.
Overall, I really enjoyed this series and would certainly suggest it. It had a few slips, but not so much that I had to force myself through. One thing, like I said in the review for Issue 6, Astonishing Tales would probably be better read in a collection where (I would assume) the stories are put together instead of spread through separate issues.
Coming Next. . .Travel back in time with me to a long-forgotten age where the internet was in its infancy, there were no smart phones, and an unknown artist by the name of Alexander Ross was just starting out in comics. . .
NOW Comics Terminator: The Burning Earth. Be there or be square!
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Issue # 1