We all knew it was coming, right? Possibly by the first issue, someone was already taking bets on which character would bite the big one during Avengers vs. X-Men. After all, I think there’s some sort of rule of thumb that after so many characters get involved in an event storyline, some of them have to be picked off so that the other get inspired by the loss and push on to victory. Or to make the point that these battles haven’t been just tossing action figures in the dryer and watching them tumble for twelve issues.
Anyway, I didn’t come here to be bitter, I came here to be rational, and rationally, the death in the event book makes sense as a classic comic storytelling maneuver. These last few months have been exciting in their philosophy and their theories on power and destiny, but haven’t really knocked people’s socks off in terms of summer blockbuster action. The penultimate issue is the best place for a big twist to take us into the last few moments, and the biggest twist is the odds-on favorite, death.
WARNING: We talk about who died in this week’s Avengers vs. X-Men Round 11, so grab your copy and read along!
Machine Man has had a pretty good career in comics. One of those trendy sort of alternative careers where he’s filled in on guest spots, played with cyberpunk in the ’80s, a bad-ass mission to kill in the late ’90s (along with one of the most important philosophical roles in Earth X), a good dose of cynicism and humor with Nextwave. Heck, he even fought zombies, which is the trendiest of things to do in fiction right now!
Because he’s been sort of a unique cypher for the writer and reader, I think Jack Kirby would be proud of his creation. I say this as if I would know anything about Kirby personally, but in a way, thanks to some amazing moments in the original pages of Machine Man under his pen, I think I just might know something of the King. Machine Man had a lot of questions in his creation, a sort of philosophy on man and humanity. Within the pages of gorgeous, larger-than-life art, Kirby himself invited us to answer the questions he posed in the story.
I’m three days late, but what can you do? You can take a little time with me and look back at the weird and the wonderful idea that started as “The Machine — As the Dude Next Door.”
WARNING: We’ll be talking about the first volume of Machine Man, written by the King himself! So find a copy and read along …
Fire is terrible and beautiful. From someone deep down in our earliest roots, we as human beings know that fire can be useful and can be deadly, sometimes both at the same time. Action movies love to watch things explode, and artists can tickle our emotions with depictions and metaphors of the ever-burning flame. I certainly don’t have to be the one to tell you that fire can also slip out of control and ruin lives and forests; to burn away something you love means you’re never going to get it back.
The Phoenix myth, at heart, needs both of these qualifiers. After all, it’s a cycle of death and rebirth, not just one or the other. Death is normally the first part of the equation, as we need to lose something forever to have it be reborn, not just resurrected. It’s also kind of a fiery chicken-or-the-egg story, too, as the Phoenix myth is a cycle, but the two essential elements are clear: death and rebirth.
WARNING: We’ll be talking about the reasonably guessed ending to the recent Uncanny X-Men #17 and the Sinister Earth story line. Grab your finest ascot and a copy of the comic and read along!
The Marvel year sort of ends in November, doesn’t it? Looking back, it seems like this is the month of fallouts from events, the rebirth of familiar titles, a new banner emblazoning our books, the loss of a few under-the radar hits. Everything changes, whether we like it or not, and the cycle begins anew right around the holiday season. I’m jumping back on the “Forward into the Past” arena with one of the more important times of year: August, when we talk about November like it’s January of next year. Confused? Me too. But hopefully if we just keep in mind how this usually goes, we’ll be able to fit right in as the old guard becomes the new guard and we lose Avengers Academy.
We should form a support group, you guys. That book has been my bright and shining star of Avengers hope for so long, I’m not sure what I’m going to do without it.
Hold back those tears! Let us forge ahead and see what these Days of Future’s Future might look like in Marvel’s solicitations for November.
Losing your identity is terrifying. Hearing the story about the Wired writer who lost his digital life through an Apple and Amazon security flaw had me changing my passwords instantly, and I don’t even have an AppleID. It’s weird how much of ourselves we offer to people, and yet that sense of self is probably one of the most precious things we have. When confused or uncertain, not having a clear idea of who we are can make simple decisions, such as what you wear, or more complicated ones, like whether to take a better job, crippling. Gaining a sense of identity is a crucial step in being a teenager and that uncertain feeling can last all the way until adulthood. Maybe that’s the reason we take solace in superhero stories; the reassurance of an alter ego, the mystery of deceiving appearances, the sense of satisfaction in doing the right thing and the defeat in wondering if it really was right to begin with.
Spider-Men watches Peter Parker struggle through identity issues in a much more literal sense. Sent to the alternate “Ultimate” universe, he’s instantly confronted with who he was (a teenage superhero rather than the man he is now), who he is (a grateful New Yorker knows the man behind the Spider-Man mask right off the bat), and who he could be (a dead man). It’s rough, but we take it in the gut alongside Peter Parker, thanks to the skillful writing of Brian Michael Bendis and the incredible art stylings of Sara Pichelli, both of whom really bring the story into your brain and let it soak in all the emotional juices. But what will happen next? Issue 4 came out this week, and we only have one issue left before Peter Parker is sent back to his own universe, hopefully a little wiser and better off for his stay, but what will he leave in his wake? I’m going to talk about that and some bullet points about Spider-Men #4.
WARNING: Yep, I’m going to talk about Spider-Men #4 below, so grab your copy and read along!
Back in June, all of your Marvel comics that were priced $3.99 and up came with a free digital code to help you start a digital comics collection. You had one in your hand and one on the Internet, two comics for the price of one, right? At the register of my local comic shop, I’d remind customers that, hey, there’s a free digital comic with this issue, and I’d get some mild interest in return. I’d explain how to redeem the code in the back of the book and how Marvel.com basically saves that redeemed code on an account for you, so you can read the digital comic anywhere you can log on to the Internet, whether that’s your phone or computer or a tablet. I am again met with mild interest. I’ve explained that Avengers vs. X-Men has this special symbol where you hold your phone or whatever computer you have that has a camera, you can learn a few things about the book you’re holding. I’ve demonstrated if I have the time, showing off the cover animation on the first Avengers vs. X-Men issue, which I can’t say worked perfectly every time. But when it did, customers seemed interested, but no one leaped back from the counter, declared this the finest innovation in the world and ran down the street to declare me a witch or hail the amazing new Marvel Revolution.
I mean, I wish they had but it was always just mild interest.
At my comic shop, Metro Entertainment (cheap plug!), we do our part every week to look through books for violent or sexual content, and then shelve them accordingly. It’s important to do that because no one wants their young son or daughter to accidentally pick up an issue of Crossed, right? Things that get graphic are bagged and labeled to keep them out of the hands of curious kids and to give parents a little sense of safety, knowing that when we recommend a book for their kids, there’s not going to be any HBO-style content inside.
Parents should be protective of their children’s exposure to violence; it’s a rough world out there, and not worth jumping into the big problems of society and strife too soon. At the same time, watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon and try and tell me what violence is appropriate (what’s that mouse doing to the cat OH GOD NO). In the realm of superhero comics, it’s not all that out of line to expect Spider-Man to swing at a supervillain or for the Avengers to fight toe to toe with the X-Men.
Marvel has its own rating system to handle what gets in the hands of who. It’s a little imperfect — the difference between ALL AGES and A is a little difficult to explain by just looking at the cover — but it does give an idea of content and structure. An A-rated title is for ages 9 and up, while ALL AGES is self-explanatory. Between A and T+, the content will mature; more talk about romance and teen drama than in the A books. From T+ to Parental Advisory, I think the content matures again between the iCarly fans and the Law & Order set. MAX is … pretty understandable by now. So if we take Wolverine and the X-Men #14 (rated T) and Uncanny X-Force #28 (Parental Advisory), there’s a clear change in artwork and intensity between the stories.
How violence is handled is absolutely key in good storytelling. There’s a big difference between The Amazing Spider-Man and Space: Punisher. Even as adults, sometimes a tasteless drawing of a guy with a grievous head wound is just a guy with a grievous head wound, while a slim shadow drawn over someone’s face can imply a lot more violence than a few dozen swords. Comics can handle violence in an all-ages fashion without resorting to picking flowers and, even better, can use an act of violence as a backdrop to a much larger theme of justice, morality and heroism. And who doesn’t want kids learning about justice, morality or heroism?
WARNING: Spoilers up ahead for Uncanny X-Force #28, so grab a copy and read along!
Sadly, I’m broke this week so, no thoughts on The Amazing Spider-Man.
Actually, I have a lot of thoughts about the idea of the new Spider-Man adventure out in theaters this week and a lot more thoughts on the idea of the new … *sigh* Marvel NOW! relaunch happening this October. A lot of thoughts about the need to be popular and successful, and what that means for the little nerd in all of us.
Because it’s very important to remember that when you see a new and younger Spider-Man or a fresh first issue on the stands for a book that was just renumbered what seems like last year, all of that gloss and fanfare just isn’t for us. It’s not for the longtime reader or the devoted fan; marketing rarely takes us into consideration. After all, they have our money. All they have to do is put together a solid creative team with a fresh idea and publish it regularly. And who wants to make it that simple?
Let’s talk about how frustrating it is to organize a comic collection when things get renumbered, and mourn the loss of the familiar, and why we don’t have to rage against the marketing machine after the break.
This wasn’t the halfway point I was expecting. When it comes to summer events, it’s kind of an unstated rule that there’s going to be a bigger focus on spectacle rather than content. When a giant cosmic force of life and death barrels toward your planet, you expect all the heroes to get some new costumes, maybe pick up a couple of new skill sets and give it all they’ve got to battle the Big Bad of Summer 2012. Not a philosophical comment on the nature of man and their relationship and understanding of the future.
Of course, that’s awesome, but unexpected.
It’s like getting a box of Fruit Loops, and about halfway through the box you find the answer to life, the universe and everything (to borrow a phrase). Sure, it’s not the most reliable answer, as it came out of a box of Fruit Loops, but how astounding is it that it’s even here? Does it give the answer more or less weight considering where you found it?
Let’s talk a little thematic philosophy and also kicking and punching in this week’s Avengers vs. X-Men Round 6, shall we?
Hey, did anyone else notice that $3.99 books are coming with a free online copy? This announcement must have missed my eagle eye because this week it sort of came to me as a happy surprise. I know I’ve only recently learned to love the digital comic, and it’s actually been super-helpful when I miss an issue or want to share my comics with people in another state. Having Avengers vs. X-Men be so interactive really warmed me up to letting comics online and in person coexist comfortably. If you haven’t bothered with it yet, try it out and create your own little library online for free.
Also, as I turn my gaze toward the end of summer and the new cycle of comics due to hit the shelves in September, I wonder why some titles have two solicitation entries or just one with the numbers listed together? Won’t each comic have enough information to be sold as a separate entity, or are we getting to the point in modern comics storytelling that 32 pages can’t contain the decompression? Why are some books twice a month and others just one? Join me, won’t you, as we take a look at what Marvel will be sending our way this September and try and make heads or tails of the future.
There’s news being reported by fan sites and our own Spinoff Online that The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will not be making it past the current second season. You might not have seen the animated series, and that’s sadly understandable: It’s on at a weird time (Sunday-morning cartoons?) on a weird station (Disney XD), and it had a ridiculous theme song for the first season (we’re talking Star Trek: Enterprise bad). Cartoons are still more or less considered kids’ fare, so I can imagine someone eschewing these half-hour animated stories.
Now, I have no idea why they would want to, but I could see some factors involved in missing it, not getting around to it, or simply not having access to it.
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is the most important cross-media ambassador we have to attract a new generation of comic fans that might still hold true to the original values the last age fell in love with. It’s a Herculean feat to transform classic comic storylines into fresh-faced continuity kids young and old can enjoy. Did you know Rocket Raccoon and Groot were in an episode? ROCKET RACCOON! GROOT! There are such deep wells of character development and introduction that I can honestly say The Avengers: EMH version of Carol Danvers is the one I know best. There are no gimmicks, no CGI or special power suits, just quality adaptations of quality stories, all wrapped up in a bow and left on a really far away doorstop at a really awkward time of day.
A few weeks ago, Gail Simone posted something on Tumblr that shamed me:
I love Barbara Gordon so much.
I love her as Oracle, I love her as Batgirl, I love her in Year One, I love her in the cartoons, I love Babs cosplayers…
…I just freaking love her, all right?”
There is no doubt in my mind that this is true. Last year, when the New 52 was announced and changes were rolling in, Simone was one of the few creators who listened to fans’ complaints against changes and maybe mourned a little with them as Oracle went back on the shelf and Batgirl returned. She has been steadfast in the development of Barbara Gordon for a long time now (man, since around 2003), and there is simply no doubt in my mind that she really loves that character.
And how wonderful is that? That a creator can love all incarnations of her favorite character, even the ones she has nothing to do with? Yeah, Simone has a lot of control on how we see Barbara Gordon, but there are so many mediums where that character is there but she is not. But with every incarnation comes another chance to see that Barbara Gordon in a new light and with fresh eyes.
How come I couldn’t say the same?
I had a dream last night that comic books were dead. It wasn’t a bullet or a ray gun that killed them; it was just economics and a general shift of popular culture. The bottom dropped out of the New 52 and DC couldn’t regain lost readers. Marvel moved out to Los Angeles, and their publishing arm waned after relentless budget cuts and eventually dwindled down to nothing. Robert Kirkman had a huge lawsuit over rights and appropriations, and he left to go work on movies and television, taking a lot of young hopefuls with him. Popular titles got sold off like police auctions, and creators left comics for the greener and more lucrative pastures of other media. Less comics came out every week, leaving comic shops to stock up on action figures or Magic cards, eventually phasing out their back issue stock and relegating comics to a small corner of the store. Eventually, comics just disappeared entirely.
After the massive, colossal hit that is Marvel’s The Avengers, there’s a lot of buzz in the air about what comes next. What will be the next property to hit the big screen? Will it tie into the new movie continuity? Will Joss direct the next Avengers installment? Even on my way into the theater for the midnight showing of the Avengers movie, I had friends trying to tell me what the next “obvious” sequel was going to be. With as much success as Marvel Studios has seen this year and others, the doors are wide open for all sorts of properties to find fresh new life in a whole new medium. But none of this brave new frontier of pop culture seems to really involve the actual comics medium. So let’s talk about it.
Where do I start? There are so many things in the Avengers movie that it’s super difficult to find just one idea and use it to explain that this was … this was a dream come true. In my lifetime, there is a big-budget Avengers movie written by and starring incredibly talented people, and everyone I know is going to see this. Not just a few friends with a bootleg tape we can groan over, but a real-life movie full of real live people who have no idea that Hawkeye is deaf in one ear or that the Avengers have a charter by which they elect chairmen to lead them. But there they are, selling out seats in midnight showings, crowding theaters overseas, all there for the excitement of seeing these characters do heroic deeds on the silver screen.
I once asked Geoff Johns at a signing if he liked the (at the time) new Teen Titans Go cartoon show. Johns was writing a very in-depth and classic Teen Titans run in the comics, and I would have thought that the incredibly anime attempt at storytelling might have irked him. Instead, he told me that he loved the show and that it was amazing that thousands of kids who watched it now knew who Cyborg was. As I left the theater and two teens passed me by in delirious midnight showing glee and shouting to one another about “Oh my god, Arrow Guy! I thought Captain America, but- ARROW GUY!!” I think I get what Johns was talking about.
So where do I start? At the amazing fact that this movie even exists and will make tons of money? At the continuity kept between this movie and the rest of Marvel Studios productions? With all the massive character development or all the massive action that took place around (and during) the character development? In fact, this movie has so much going for it, it’s nearly overwhelming to watch. If anything, its great success as comic book storytelling brought to film could be its greatest detriment.
WARNING: I’m going to try and not reveal too much as far as spoilers, but it’s safe to say that’s going to be difficult in a movie this awesome. I’m just going to want to grab you and shout, “Oh my God, Arrow Guy!” So if you’ve seen the movie or just want to read about someone who has, join us in the link below!
What follows is a theory about one of Marvel’s most resilient characters, Nick Fury, and all the forms he takes. From a sergeant with the Howling Commandos to an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Samuel L. Jackson and beyond, the character of Nick Fury endures. But why? Let’s talk about Battle Scars #6 and look at all the Furys (Furi?) we have on the table.
WARNING: Yep, talking about Battle Scars again, so if you’ve picked up issue #6 or are just a fan of internet spoilers, read along!