Carla Hoffman, Author at Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
Was anyone else expecting something bigger? When Tuesday came around and the big announcement from Marvel was finally revealed, we all learned that … well, Secret Wars is going to happen and the multiverse is going to do battle on a Battleworld to see what reality makes it out alive. When I type that out, it sounds crazy-exciting, but when it’s revealed as this big surprise, it falls a little flat.
We’ve been prepping for this series of events since Marvel NOW!, when Jonathan Hickman took over the Avengers books and put us on a very wordy adventure toward universes colliding into one another. Longtime readers sort of just assumed that was the direction they were going to go, whether through reading the books with a keen eye — Oh, hey! That’s why they called Hickman’s run “Avengers World”! I just got that! — or other announcements made before Tuesday.
I’m certainly not trying to say it wasn’t a big announcement; multiversal collision and universe dominance is kind of the biggest concept you can get until you start pitting multiverses against multiverses, and that won’t happen, no matter how much we might want to see Daredevils fight Batmen. It’s just that the announcement isn’t a surprise. It makes too much sense, what with all the radical continuity changes of late. The Ultimate Universe has gotten pretty far off course, and it deserves to go live on a farm somewhere and be happy. There are already multiversal characters appearing throughout the Marvel Universe, so the idea that we might wrap all of this up on a Battleworld is a cool direction to be heading in.
But this is just the facts of the announcement. We haven’t even gotten into the angry ranting and the wild conjecture! Join me, won’t you?
Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard, which is why there are so many sad superheoes. It’s much easier to kill a character to make us cry than it is to make that same superhero draw a laugh. Humor is subjective, but shooting a loved one in the face is always going to be a terrible act. So I can see why not a lot of writers go for the joke; it could easily fall flat and ruin their story. It’s the fearless type of writer who throws angst to the wind and heads in feet first into comedy!
Ryan North and Erica Henderson are just that fearless. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl isn’t just a regular story with comedy bits sprinkled in, but a full-out funny book with all the trimmings. From the difficult-to-read stingers at the bottom of every page, to the wild squirrel network that alerts our heroine to danger, to the decorations of her college roommate (which I personally adore!), nothing is taken all that seriously.
There’s a certain comfort in being able to point to spectacular successes in modern adaptation, because it keeps you from getting too cynical about yet another announced movie based on something you love. Yes, it could easily be Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, but it could also turn out to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which brought an epic work into the homes of a broader audience.
Marvel has an incredible track record for taking characters from comics, distilling them into their purest forms and making them box-office hits. After all, Iron Man is virtually a household name now — who’d have expected that? — and countless schoolchildren know who Groot is. However, the Avengers are a lot more cohesive in their movies than they are in the comics, so I can see why there are those who still shy away from the source material in favor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Peggy Carter getting her own television series is important for just that reason: It demonstrates that you don’t just have to tell stories about the top-billed characters on the screen — that there’s room and interest enough to take supporting players like Peggy Carter and Phil Coulson and give them a spotlight. The premiere of Agent Carter not only further expands the MCU, but it does so better than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
However, here’s the weird thing: This week, Operation S.I.N. one-ups them both.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the first two episodes of Agent Carter, as well as Operation S.I.N. #1, by Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis, so grab at least a copy of the comic and set aside a couple hours for the TV show and dig right in!
(Time once again for ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman to email each other about the year in DC and Marvel superhero comics. This year’s exchange took place between DEc. 26 and Dec. 30. And be sure to check out Part 1 of the conversation.)
Tom Bondurant: One of the more pleasant surprises this year was the extent to which the Big Two started going after a different audience. New books like Ms. Marvel and Gotham Academy, and makeovers for Batgirl and Catwoman, have found success with distinctive, unconventional approaches. How long can they keep this up? Will digital distribution help these books, if it’s not doing so already? Are the Big Two really committed to branching out?
Carla Hoffman: Branching out is such a double-edged sword. It sounds weird to say that, because diversity is so championed online, but when a book can alienate old readers, you really have to draw in a lot of new readers to make up for it. Believe it or not, there were some who complained that Kamala Khan took the Ms. Marvel name rather than getting her own moniker. The good news is that Ms. Marvel is such a quality book and so important to the next generation of comic readers, not to mention Marvel Comics itself, I couldn’t care less if a (pardon my use) grumpy old fan can’t change with the times. Marvel published about 40 new titles this year — everything from Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu to Rocket Raccoon. Not all of the titles stuck (R.I.P. She-Hulk, try again later), but that’s still a lot of new stuff to try that isn’t just another variation of a Wolverine comic.
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When I was younger, I used to read dozens of Star Trek novels. I would check them out of the library, find them at rummage sales, scour bookstore, all to gather more tales of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Each novel could flesh out the lives of the crew and detail their adventures in ways no television show or film ever could. Want the Next Generation crew to meet the original cast in their prime? It could be done! Want to travel to the end of time and space with the Q Continuum? Or the shape-shifting Constable Odo to become a gigantic monster and battle an even larger creature in the middle of Deep Space Nine? Anything was possible in those novels, except change.
Every novel had to put the crew back into their places by the final chapter. The television shows were still airing in the ’90s, so while those novels could go anywhere and do anything, nothing could really change beyond what we saw on TV each week. Commander Riker couldn’t lose a leg in the novels if Jonathan Frakes wasn’t going to be using a prosthetic on the show. Major Kira couldn’t quit her job in one book if Nana Visitor wasn’t leaving Deep Space Nine. While the novelized adventures had all this freedom, they still couldn’t shake the status quo.
I don’t think I’ve ever said “Oh, boy, a retcon!” with any sort of enthusiasm, especially if adds something new to a well-established and well-loved story.
Fleshing out information between panels or taking a short story and adapting it for a modern audience is one thing; for instance, the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man remains true to the 1962 origin even while expanding on it in a contemporary way. I’m talking about the addition of a new character who was also there at some momentous time, or a “dark secret” a character has been keeping for years and we only now learn it affected everything we’ve been reading.
I think those kinds of retcons are used mostly to make a current storyline or character more important by connecting them to the things we already know and love. It’s even worse when they don’t stick around and are quickly forgotten under a new creative team. I’m still a little sore at Ed Brubaker for X-Men: Deadly Genesis (for reasons that would take up the rest of this column), and I’m not all that thrilled to see Angela take her place as Thor’s sister.
Angela is an Image Comics character: From her design to her origins, she looks and feels as if she’s from a different place and time. The signature ever-waving ribbon around her body and that big miniskirt/belt appear out of place in Marvel’s more modern costuming styles. Instead of placing her within the context of Asgard, vague elements of her backstory have been stapled into the World Tree as a mysterious Tenth Kingdom called “Heaven,” although there’s no word on if it’s connected to the Celestial “Heaven” or if this is a separate chapter of Asgardian mythology. If it’s taking the Christian concept of Heaven and angels and adding it into Thor’s mythology, it seems almost disrespectful to the source material … but well within the bounds of actual living mythology.
It’s time to talk about Avengers/X-Men: AXIS, a crossover whose storyline effects aren’t discussed much, whether in the current comics — which titles affected by the “axis” are really hit and miss — or with an eye to the future. I’m trying to re-read all my Hickman Avengers books to prep up for next year’s Secret Wars, so AXIS gets left behind in the fan consciousness, which is a shame because the concept is really fascinating.
The Red Skull steals Professor Xavier’s brain (a phrase I never get tired of typing) and uses his telepathy to become a super-powerful evil Nazi. All the heroes band together to stop him, and even get villains involved in the fight. Because something of Xavier is still present in his brain matter, the Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange work up a spell that would flip who’s in charge of his mind; the Red Skull would be the echo and Xavier could be in command long enough to get the heroic victory. When Doctor Strange goes down in the middle of the spell, Doctor Doom steps up to complete it and, unsurprisingly, things don’t go according to plan.
While whatever happened to the Red Skull is still in question, the rest of the heroes and villains in the fight have switched alignments. Traditional bad guys are now acting heroic, and good guys have more villainous traits. Take Tony Stark, for example: He’s a philandering ego-maniac, living it up in a fancy mansion on the West Coast and working on ridiculous technology with little to no care on its effects on the public. He’s drinking again and dismissing his friends, leading Pepper to chastise him … and this all starts to sound like Iron Man 2.
It’s a wonderful thing when two things you love seem to love each other as well.
When I read that former wrestling superstar and current Walking Dead enthusiast CM Punk is contributing a story for February 2015’s Thor annual, I enjoyed a small moment of having my cake and eating it too. Forgive my indulgence, but trust me, comics and wrestling sort of sit together on the school bus of storytellling; although they’re different mediums entirely, they share some common traits and interests that let one sort of lean into the other from time to time.
If you think about it, pro wrestling (or sports entertainment if you want to be more direct ) and comic books share a style of visual storytelling that starts in very broad strokes and becomes a masterpiece through the details and context of their respective works. Both deal in good and “bad”; whereas comics has its heroes and villains, wrestling has its faces and heels. Both heels and villains tend to do a lot of the heavy lifting, story-wise, as it’s their antagonism that creates the context and drives the plot. It’s why when Captain America and Iron Man fight, they’re never doing it for the competition; one of them will be in the wrong, enabling the reader to root for or against someone. When the Undertaker fights Hulk Hogan, no matter how cool the Undertaker is (and he’s so cool), Hulk Hogan is our hero, often our champion, so we hope he defeats the “bad guy.”
I’ve been wanting to talk about the Avengers/X-Men crossover Axis for awhile now. It has a great hook, as the morality of heroes and villains has turned on an “axis”, and are now flipped for certain characters. Rick Remender has that old-school bombast to his writing that makes this kind of outrageous concept possible; it’s so far outside the idea of “realistic” storytelling that it becomes more believable. If you’re going to have a Nazi steal a telepath’s brain to create the ultimate evil across the globe, why not go all the way and explore some character traits? It’s fun, and I can’t wait to see how it resolves.
In fact, my only real problem with the event involves what else is going on around it. It has some major continuity issues outside its little bubble that make it difficult for voracious Marvel readers like myself to place it in context with the rest of the series. I know Superior Iron Man is directly related to Axis, but will All-New Captain America be as well? I’m not really sure introducing the world to an angry, possibly morally flipped Falcon as the new Cap is a great idea. Hopefully, his solo book will remain unfazed by this big problem occurring to his left.
It’s easy to compartmentalize with team books and solo books, but what if you’re Storm? In Axis, she’s been morally compromised and is standing next to one of the X-Men’s greatest enemies (read Avengers & X-Men: Axis #4 to find out who), but in X-Men, she’s possibly dead, and in her own title, she’s still alive and mourning the loss of Wolverine. Doctor Doom, a big player in Axis, is possibly morally flipped, but he just announced plans to take over the multiverse in Fantastic Four and possibly has already done so in New Avengers. I could even be wrong about his current whereabouts and motives, because keeping track of all this is starting to get complicated!
We’ve all seen the teaser trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, right? If you haven’t, then please check it out below, and enjoy the sweet, sinister sounds of James Spader (that man could give the evilest recitation of the phone book in history). To be perfectly honest, though, considering how well the first movie did, Robert Downey Jr. could have come out against a black screen and say “Hey everyone! We’re doing a new movie!” and I would have already been in line to see Avengers 2: More Avengering.
But no! Marvel is determined to further expand its cinematic universe by reaching into its history to introduce an amazing villain in the evil robot Ultron. Putting his name front is a bit risky considering the name doesn’t ring a lot of bells for the average moviegoer, but then again, neither did Iron Man once upon a time. Besides, Age of Ultron is such a killer title. The idea of an “Age” of anything makes the danger seem long-term, and Ultron is an amazingly villainous name, with a really scary face to go with it. The idea of an evil robot isn’t lost on the general public, and when you tell them he’s like Skynet with daddy issues, the concept is pretty clear.
Mind you, I wouldn’t blame you if that’s not the first thing you think of when you hear “Age of Ultron.” Some comics might even groan.
So, Wolverine’s dead. That’s a thing that happened.
It’s very easy to be blasé about comic superhero death, so I’m going to try and avoid the dismissive gestures to this event and quit side-eyeing the next one, as Secret Wars looks to be the right environment to revive a character that makes Marvel a ton of cash. Emphasis on “try.”
I can’t say this death came out of nowhere, as he’s been without his healing factor since Wolverine #7, a little more than a year ago. For the record, it was an intelligent virus from the Microverse, which is not only an awesome phrase to use in common conversation, but smart enough to suppress Logan’s mutant healing factor, and you think that would have been a bigger deal to mutantkind. If it could suppress Wolverine’s signature trait, who’s to say the virus couldn’t be used to eliminate all sorts of mutant powers (I’m probably thinking too far ahead on this)? This virus was simply a means to an end.
Wolverine’s initial weakening and eventual demise was set apart from the rest of continuity, just a piece in a larger story that strangely didn’t involve the rest of his friends and family. Sure, it was talked about in hushed tones in a few of the other books, but there was no race for the cure, no mutant apocalypse for him to sacrifice his life to prevent. This wasn’t the result of the grand machinations of some long-established villain. It was a small and humble story of one man and what he though his own life was worth. It was a good story, and well told for the most part, but it still felt as if something was missing.
Here we go again.
According to a distributor listing for June 2015 (are we really looking that far ahead now?), James Robinson and Leonard Kirk’s current run on Marvel’s Fantastic Four will be released in a collection called Fantastic Four Vol. 4: The End is Fourever that includes a “Triple Sized Final Issue 645″. Sighted today at New York Comic Con during a retailer presentation was a big logo for the James Bond-esque title, but there was little other information. Maybe we’ll get an announcement while you’re reading this article, so follow CBR’s comprehensive coverage of NYCC (cheap plug)!
There have been rumors about Marvel ending the Fantastic Four (and possibly the X-Men) to spite Fox, which owns the film rights to both properties effectively in perpetuity, but that seems petty. Who opens a comic and asks, “I wonder what this licensing property will do this week?” We read comics for the stories, characters and creators; corporate politics is probably the last thing fans want to think about while (hopefully) enjoying the latest issue. And people are still opening up new issues of Fantastic Four, as the book’s sales are pretty steadily in the 28,000 range these past two months. Not Batman numbers, but still …
Much like Sam Wilson said himself, the new Captain America wasn’t much of a surprise. We have known the Falcon was going to take Cap’s position since July, so the cover of Captain America #25 is kind of a misnomer. However, as Rick Remender wraps up his current storyline and starts the next chapter, I was plenty surprised to see an enormous roster of Avengers gathered on the page.
Confession time: I haven’t seen the Season 2 premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet. Don’t get me wrong, I want to, but things have been busy here, and when I do tune in (thanks, Hulu Plus!) I want to give it my full attention. TV has become very serious in recent years, and the best stuff tends to require the viewer to invest some brain power into the shows.
It’s a good thing, but it can get a little exhausting. And if you’re a Marvel fan, there’s a lot to keep track of in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Characters, locations, devices and plotlines might trigger some stored bit of trivia in your brain and lead to a different appreciation for the approach.
Here at The Fifth Color, I try to keep abreast of all the Marvel comics news I can, and it’s requiring me to track more and more movie rumors and casting decisions — which is weird because The Fifth Color began as a way to relate to comics and how we readers view the stories. But comics are becoming more than just you and the pages in your hand; there’s a now a strong media influence on how we see comics. Even something as simple as a mobile game can draw you into a comic shop and change how you see the books on the shelves. No joke, I had a customer show me a comic cover he had unlocked on a Marvel mobile game and ask me if we had that book in stock. He wanted to find out what it was about. That’s good marketing.
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
It’s been some time since WWE Superstar Darren Young came out publicly as WWE’s first openly gay superstar, a huge accomplishment considering how the company had depicted gay characters in the past. With the divide between public acceptance and macho stereotypes, former superstar Brodus Clay was asked during an interview with Kayfabe Commentaries about the real behind-the-scenes reaction and concerns surrounding Young’s announcement, and what I learned may shock you.
“In terms of the locker room, it wasn’t a big deal. … We weren’t like, “oh my what?” We’re past that. Our locker room is very accepting of that. Honestly, we’re probably more angry if someone’s not reading comic books than whether they’re gay or straight.”