"Rowdy" Roddy Piper Reported Dead at 61
Now that we’ve all giddily watched the latest trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, we can all agree it needed more Spider-Man. Now that Marvel Studios is free to use the web-head in its ever-expanding cinematic universe, it’s kind of all you want to see, right?
Spider-Man is unique in that, despite not having the best box-office track record recently, he’s the most profitable superhero in the world. Slap his face on a lunchbox orT-shirt and it will move more cash than Batman, and that’s saying a lot. There’s something universal about the Spider-Man story (if you ignore the Spider-Totem arc — and I do); he’s not a billionaire, gifted with an Übermensch’s physique, or born into greatness. He’s just a guy who took the circumstances life gave him and set out to make a better world. He’s one of the few heroes with a full face mask that hides every element of his identity. His world is our world, in that he lives in New York City and swings by places we recognize.
And there’s nothing inherently race-specific about his story.
One of the neat things about this upcoming Secret Wars mega-super-hyper-combo event is that a lot of cool projects are coming out of the woodwork — not just to support the unfolding crash of realities, but to sneak in some books that make entirely too much sense. While Battleworld rages on, it would be ridiculous not to have a cadre of teen heroes roaming the field and making their way in the mighty Marvel manner. Since the Secret Wars themselves are happening to create a universal order on a massive scale and enforcing a set universe out of countless others, it makes sense that someone (or someones) are going to want to rebel against that universal order. Thus, the Runaways.
Taking a large step back from what we know as fandom today, it’s amazing to imagine what things were like in the beginning — before we had the Internet to produce original material, before we had hundreds of pay channels. Long, long ago in the far away time of the 1960s, when a show reached a generation of people in a surprising new way.
The best stories sneak in moral lessons or truths about ourselves and our society, not in a preachy direct way, but couched in the comfort of fantasy and fable. “Persevere” sounds like a direct command, but “slow and steady wins the race” can be taken however we wish. Star Trek could be about racism, religion, greed or power balance, but because it was set in space and spoken in the language of science fiction, we chose how to interpret its meanings and the messages given to us by Mr. Spock.
A lot of obituaries for Leonard Nimoy, who sadly passed away today at age 83 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, will mention that Gene Roddenberry called him “the conscience of Star Trek,” something I’d never heard before but that I can believe wholeheartedly.
OK, first let’s get this out of the way: A-Force? Really?
That’s a terrible name! That’s just going to lead to schlocky journalists serving up headlines like “These Marvel ladies are A-FORCE to be reckoned with!” It seems lazy and uninspired, although you could say that they were inspired by X-Force, but that’s a tacky name I’ve had decades to get used to. Also, it was the ’90s, everyone had tacky names. I suppose I could count myself lucky they aren’t “Force Works,” but when the Defenders are right there and Valkyrie was already tasked to create a team of heroines … ugh. A-Force.
More important than the name or the roster is the writing team of G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett, who are bringing incredible work to the pages of Ms. Marvel and Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, respectively. Both authors have taken the idea of diversity in stride, making representation in their books relatable and honest. Ms. Marvel isn’t just a Muslim superheroine; she’s a teenager with the same hopes and likes as a variety of readers, young and old. There’s a new element added into Angela: Asgard’s Assassin that I won’t spoil, but it’s an accomplishment to be sure, done with heart and little fanfare.
Smashing a guitar on stage is cool, or at least was cool when Pete Townshend of the Who popularized the act in the mid-1960s. The Who breaking their instruments in one form or another was the No. 1 spot on VH1’s 100 Greatest Rock & Roll Moments on TV and among the Top 50 of Rolling Stone‘s “50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll.”
But what does it really mean? Townshend admitted it started as an accident that then became sort of performance art. When you think of a band smashing their instruments these days, it seems like this big rebellious expression. It’s a statement that only lasts up to a certain point. Bands that are just starting out can’t really afford to break their stuff; it’s all they have. Big-name bands, however, can go hog wild and break everything, knowing full well that their manager or their label is going to produce new instruments at the end of the show.
Knowing that, the act loses meaning and seems wasteful. Matthew Bellamy of Muse holds the Guinness World Record at breaking the most guitars in one tour, with 140, and that just sounds expensive and cruel.
That said, I’m not sure whether Brian Michael Bendis is Pete Townshend or Matthew Bellamy.
WARNING: There’ some mention of this week’s issue of Uncanny X-Men, so grab your copies of Issue 30 and read along!
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.