[Previously on The Grumpy Color's 2011 roundup: Tom and Carla sat down to discuss DC and Marvel's corporate movements, how much cat-burglars love underwear, and how DC events progressed throughout the year to tumble right on into the New 52. Join us, won't you, as Tom has asked if, in light of the success of DC's reboot, Marvel will follow that lead with "Season One" and the Point-One projects, or perhaps something more... drastic?]
Carla: Oh Tom, you are adorable.
You see, Marvel did this thing, you might have heard of it: the Ultimate universe? It’s our having our reboot cake and eating our rich continuity other cake too. Two-fisted cake, sir! We can renovate and innovate to our heart’s content, rework the Avengers into the Ultimates, recostume everyone on the X-Men into a slicker, movie finish and draw readers in with a fresh setting and start. Meanwhile, business as usual can continue in our regularly scheduled books, and everyone should be fat and happy on delicious comics cake.
[Continuing their yearly tradition, Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman have joined forces to compare notes on the the relative fortunes of DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Here is Part 1 of 2.]
Tom: Okay, old chum, if it’s late December it must be time to wrap up 2011 and usher in 2012. It’s the New 52 versus dozens of Avengers and Spider-Man titles! Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Christian Bale versus Joss Whedon, Andrew Garfield, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! High collars versus Point Ones! Judd Winick and Guillem March’s Catwoman versus … who, exactly?
Carla: I read Catwoman #1 and stopped there so this analogy is lost on me. Don’t go where I can’t follow, Frodo.
Tom: That was a dig at Marvel’s lack of female-lead titles….
Carla: Oh! I thought it was about our underwear-clad heroines. She-Hulk and Emma Frost have been flashing their bras at people since the 80′s! And don’t get me started on the Black Cat, how many female creative people we have, etc. etc. =D
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You’d be surprised by how many people don’t know how comics “work.” Really. Moms and aunts mostly, but a few granddads slide in or brothers or other assorted family simply don’t know or choose not to know. Mind you, it’s a little tragic to say that how comics work is unfathomable to anyone who, I don’ know, has functioning sight and understands how to read. You would think that the average Christmas shopper would be able to figure this out, but I stand before you as a retail clerk from a local comic shop and can announce with some shame that “how comics work” is apparently one of the mysteries of the universe.
With this in mind, it’s a little easier to understand how pop culture has accepted our sequential art and storytelling style. Comic book movies and TV shows (as we’ve gotten them in the new millennium) traditionally start at the beginning. People want to be there as our hero dons a mask for the first time or witness the tragedy of Uncle Ben’s death with them, any moment in which mortal man becomes …well, super. The idea that the new Amazing Spider-Man movie could bear the words “The Untold Origin” seems ludicrous since I’m pretty sure this is an origin well explored. But here we are anticipating a new story that’s the same story promising new information on what we already know.
Why? Because comic books are an impenetrable wall that no mere mortal can scale. Despite the fact that the tools are simple, despite the fact that basic characters and story concepts are now known around the world by the mass market, comics remain confusing. To the general public, the common knowledge may be there, but understanding lives underground with the Morlocks and Mole Men.
Writer James Robinson tweets that low sales might cut short his twelve-issue Shade miniseries. That would be a shame, because the first two issues of The Shade are tremendously entertaining, great-looking superhero comics. Robinson has returned to the character he revitalized, bringing with him the artistic talents of Cully Hamner and a bevy of high-profile guests like Darwyn Cooke, Frazer Irving, Javier Pulido, and Jill Thompson. The Beat’s Todd Allen has written a supportive post, noting along the way that certain New-52 titles which are selling below The Shade #1′s level (30,648 issues estimated sold to retailers) might also face the axe.
I’m somewhat skeptical of this rumor, despite Robinson’s insider knowledge, for reasons having to do with the 2009-10 miniseries The Great Ten.
Holy hand grenade, it’s been a week of nasty cancellations over at the House of Ideas! Yesterday it seemed like it wouldn’t stop as smaller titles were stripped away seemingly far too soon. Ghost Rider feels like it only just got here, but that’s now ending with issue #8. X-23, a successful breakout character in her own right (and currently on my TV screen in Ultimate X-Men vs. Capcom 3) is gone with Kssue 20. We’ll also be saying goodbye to a personal favorite: Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive is ending as of #529. 2012 does not seem to be a good year for new ideas as, while I can’t say that a Kirby-created character and two male-derivative heroines are all that new, we’re losing some of the more fringe books while our core titles seem to be bringing up old fan favorites.
Then, while PunisherMAX is coming to a conclusion rather than a short and final stop, there’s a quote from a Marvel representative saying that “A big change is coming to the MAX universe and nobody can miss what we’ve got coming.” Couldn’t tell you why, perhaps it’s the littered canceled titles scattered before them, maybe it’s the fact that the MAX titles are a struggle to publish and promote, but this statement doesn’t rest any fears.
The marketplace is vast; I mean, have you seen a Diamond catalog? While I think it’s a little thinner that usual these days, that doesn’t mean it’s not a PHONE BOOK OF COMICS AND COMICS ACCESSORIES produced monthly. Sure, maybe a little more white pages than yellow, but that’s still a lot of published titles you may honestly never see. Or perhaps want to see, as the range and scope of subject matter extends far beyond super-heroes. Marvel itself publishes Halo and Sense and Sensibility comics, and then everything in between. And while I might think Jane Austen is a bore, someone reading right now might be willing to club me with a shoe for maligning the great Jane’s name (please don’t hit me with a shoe). One reader’s Gravity is another reader’s Sammi the Fish Boy. While every comic may have a fan, they might not always have an audience.
Marvel has canceled books before they hit the shelves, before retailers have had a change to order them, and I’m sure there’s even books pitched right now that might never see the light of day. What do we do? What can we do as readers to change such a system, and how do we keep the hope alive? Here are a few thoughts.
Have you ever seen a word so often that it starts to lose its meaning? Louis CK has a great bit on the word ‘hilarious’, go check the link (right about the 1:38 mark, NSFW language) and you’ll see what I mean. Because it feels like the word “Ultimate” means nothing to me anymore. I don’t know what Marvel means by it, I don’t know why it’s there now instead of a new label, but it’s been on a lot of comics. Just as a word, the adjective has five definitions, all of them relating to a finite point. They’re all various shades of getting to an endpoint.
So what shade do we call this particular line of comics? At NYCC editor Sana Amanat said that it wouldn’t be right to put one label on them all, but one general theme of the Ultimate comics was of identity exploration, with characters like Miles Morales and Nick Fury coming into their own. I don’t think that’s enough. Identity exploration happens in all comics, and labels help you sell those comics. The word “Ultimate” needs to have meaning. Seeing that name should let the reader know what they’re getting, after all, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke and Coke Classic are all different types of soda, but looking at the label, I know exactly what I’m going to enjoy (heaven forbid it say Pepsi!). I believe the Ultimate line started out with such a label, that they were a way to market a particular type of story to a particular type of reader at their inception, but just through time and ever-changing story, the Ultimate name has lost its luster and clarity. As an adjective it can mean five different things, and I’m not even talking about nouns (grammar humor!).
Right now, we have four titles united by one word, all different facets of their totality. Sit down and take note–I’m looking at you, Marvel Marketing–because I’m going to explain this and tie it all together.
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As the wordwide protests continue, Occupy Wall Street becomes more and more a part of our popular culture. Whether you’re holding a sign, reading about people holding signs or complaining about those signs, protests of this intensity are weighing in our thoughts. There’s a lot to ponder by questioning the establishment, finding a personal connection with hot-button social issues, and the division and unity in all of us.
See, now you just know I’m going to talk about the X-Men!
How can you not, when they are the go-to comic book metaphor to play and experiment with all sorts of social issues. Fear of the future, minority oppression, youth activism, why there’s even this MAJOR SCHISM that divides their public on how to achieve their goals. In the blue states- I mean, Wolverine’s camp, we have a return to the foundation of education and the protection of the next generation. In the red visor camp, we have a more aggressive approach, the idea that war is inevitable and the way to meet a world that hates and fears you is with heavy hitters, young and old. They even have a handy chart to know whose side you’re on (ooh, deja vu).
If you take a look at Cyclops and his Extinction Team (Really? What a terrible name), Dani Moonstar and her friends are listed as “Clean-up,” which one would think means some kind of X-Force-like hit squad (X-Force being mysteriously absent from these breakdowns). It’s a strange sort of listing, and once you read New Mutants #33 and understand what exactly these characters want to do, you’ll see how this might just be the answer for an entire out-of-place generation.
WARNING: We’ll be talking about New Mutants #33, so spoilers and nostalgia to follow. Grab a copy and read along!
As most of you CBRians know, Marvel’s solicitations for January 2012 came out last Friday, so our look forward into the past is a little delayed. On the bright side, the first of 2012′s books seem like something that deserve a few more days reflection. After all, 2012 is the year it all comes together! You guys, there’s going to be an Avengers movie. A real, live action, big budget, A-list star Avengers movie! All Marvel’s rather crazy Hollywood ideas are paying off next summer and, with a little hard work, the House of Ideas could come to a beautiful fruition.
So while our celebratory May month is still off in the distance, the recently hung Chrismas decorations let me know that January is just around the corner. Can we get an idea of what next year will look like, through the first books to roll out at the start of the year? Let’s just read along and find out, shall we?
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“This store is so negative!,” a woman said in astonishment. She had a kid with her, a happy elementary schooler who was perusing our new comics wall. The young shopper’s mom, perhaps grandmother had ambled her way to the counter to make this proclamation. I asked her why she thought the store was negative and the woman went right to the heart of the matter: violence. There was just too much of it in the store for her to consider this a positive place for her child. Calmly going into “Oh man, what did she see?” mode, I calmly explained that not all comics were for kids and that Batman sometimes has to fight a bad guy or two to make sure they go to jail. She understood, but there was something displayed behind me that got to the heart of the matter: our Fear Itself promotional poster.
“Fear, that’s terrible for kids to see, and all the violence, it’s just too negative for them,” she explained. I looked at the poster, wondering if there actually was something terrible on it but no, no gore, sexual situations or excessive violence. She actually had a problem with the title. I told her the title came from the quote that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, an appeal for strength. How every kid faces a fear at one time or another and why not show them how super-heroes handle theirs? “After all,” I told her, “… you know the good guys win.”
She thought about it and we talked about fear and being strong. In the end, I hadn’t changed her mind entirely but she did admit that saying the whole store was negative was probably a bit rude. The young customer bought something he liked and everyone went home happy. If a robot had carried in a cupcake for me, it would have been the perfect day.
But then again, nothing in this world is perfect, not even my unflinching adoration for one of Marvel’s finest architects (FRACTION 3:16!). But if you boil Fear Itself down to its base elements, you will find jewels of the human spirit expressed in the Mighty Marvel Manner. It may not be the best event book, but I’m starting to think that the core of Fear Itself is one of the most important stories you can read for inspiration.
(WARNING: We will be talking about Fear Itself, including this week’s cataclysmic issue #7, grab your copies and read along)
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Now, I will admit that the Distinguished Competition has given this month an air of finality. So many No. 1 issues, what could possibly come next? Tonight there will be drinks raised high and hands shaken to a job well done as their Wrap Party ends this publishing month at Golden Apple Comics. And it does seem a little final, doesn’t it?
It’s the perfect mood for looking ahead to December, where the last of the Marvel books published this year will leave 2011 not with a bang or a whimper, but with a dawn of things to come. I’m not saying it’s a very big dawn or a brilliant one either; right now, I will full admit things look kind of so-so for December at Marvel …
… then again, I have been wrong before, so let’s take a look at December’s books, shall we?
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In last week’s Axel-In-Charge Q&A right here at CBR, Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso ended the weekly exchange with a loose-lipped hint that a long-delayed Man-Thing project is lumbering its way toward comics shelves. “All I can say,” said Alonso, “is we do have a Man-Thing project coming out soon that is older than some of Marvel’s assistant editors and well worth the wait.”
Well lucky for you, I know what he’s talking about.
A Man-Thing graphic novel by writer Steve Gerber and artist Kevin Nowlan. Initially started and announced in the 80s, it reportedly fell by the wayside while sitting on Nowlan’s drawing board. The original title was “Screenplay of the Living Dead Man”, intended to be a follow-up from the story “Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man” published in Man-Thing #12 way back when. It wasn’t until Gerber’s passing in 2008 that Nowlan refocused his energies and began working on the project again in his spare time. Back in March, Nowlan told me that it’ll end up being a 62-page painted story, and I even confirmed with Marvel that they’re going to publish it once Nowlan completes it.
With New Teen Titans: Games coming out this week and this other long-awaited release finally coming out, what other great stories might be lurking out there waiting to be finished?
Talk about your harmonic nerd convergences: John Hodgman spoke with George R.R. Martin about Marvel Comics in yesterday’s episode of public radio’s The Sound of Young America. In one corner: George R.R. Martin, author of the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire and its #1 New York Times–bestselling latest installment A Dance with Dragons, executive producer of the HBO television adaptation Game of Thrones, and inspiration for Dynamite Entertainment’s own comics adaptation A Game of Thrones, whose first issue debuts tomorrow. In the other corner: John Hodgman, nerd-friendly writer, comedic cultural commentator for The Daily Show, and “I’m a PC” guy, filling in as the radio program’s guest host. The topic: One of Martin’s first pieces of published writing, a piece of fanmail published in Avengers #12 in 1964 when Martin was 16 years old.
Hodgman used the letter, which entered wide Internet circulation a few weeks back, to kick off the interview. And he was probably kidding around when he asked Martin to explain why his 16-year-old self believed Avengers #9 to be superior to Fantastic Four #32, as his letter had argued. But once Hodgman jogged Martin’s memory by reminding him that Avengers #9 marked the debut of Wonder Man, Martin knew exactly why he liked the issue so much. His explanation to Hodgman is a solid exploration of why the early Marvel superhero comics were so groundbreaking for the genre — and in offering it, Martin seems to come to the realization that that issue had an impact on his own writing that resonates with him to this day. (For readers of the book or viewers of the show, the influence will be obvious.)
Read a transcript of the relevant section below, then listen to the entire interview.
Apologies for my absence, but I think it all worked out in the end, because this week we celebrate the end of Greg Pak’s six-year run on the Incredible Hulk. And we do so by talking about someone else’s comic.
Fantastic Four #51 is titled “This Man… This Monster.” It’s one of those inspiring cover blurbs like “Spider-Man No More!” and “This Issue: Everybody Dies!” Phrases which catch the eye and demand you read the book. “This Man…This Monster!” is about the struggle of man… versus also man; our darker parts or outer appearance versus who we really are, inside. You’ll notice there is nothing between the man and the monster, just an ellipsis. It’s not “This Man AND This Monster,” which would suggest two different people, nor is it “This Man, This Monster” suggesting they are one and the same. Three little dots almost let the reader decide as to what exactly the inner struggle is. And that’s kinda what I’ve been doing with the Incredible Hulk throughout my adoration of the book.
No matter who he fought, the internal battle is key. It’s tortured scientist Bruce Banner versus his raging alter-ego in a never-ending stalemate over who gets to be human. I can’t say this is always the thrust of an issue or storyline, but it IS the thrust of the really good ones. The ones that make you think, and linger with you long after you’ve put the book away. We come for the “Hulk smash,” but stay for the “Hulk think.” And then Incredible Hulks #635 came along and blew my freakin’ mind.
Because after six years, the struggle is over. (A few SPOILERS after the jump!)
I hate to start it out this way, but we have to talk.
Despite fan apathy, despite the louder bolder act from the Distinguished Competitor, Fear Itself is a mighty fine event book. It has a very easy premise that people unfamiliar with comics can get into (hey, you know Thor? It’s like all the bad guys are that strong now), it’s got that “Versus” style atmosphere where people can debate all day long on who should have really been the first down or defeated in the Worthy vs. Heroes, it’s got a super-powered upgrade coming up for us by Iron Man, there’s been some tragedy and some triumph, and coming up in October, we’ll have closure with an ending that multiple comics can build up or down from.
Or maybe not.
Remember in the last Lord of the Rings movie when they just kept having to tie up so many loose ends or add so much finality to the main story that it just felt like the audience just didn’t know where to applaud in a well-made film? Or even worse, you drank a really big soda during a three-hour+ movie and really wanted it to have a firm sense of a finish so you could escape? Yeah.
So, thanks to some New Math numbering by Marvel, it looks like #7 of Fear Itself really doesn’t end so much for our heroes because come November, we’re getting a Captain America ending, an Iron Man ending and a Thor ending (Depending on how well you do playing through the game, does this unlock any achievements?) If your mini-series is seven issues long, you should be able to tell me a complete story between issues #1 and #7. Afterwards, if there is a banner theme running around the books as they’ve done historically since Avengers: Disassembled and even further with some of the old annual arcs, so be it. I think, as comic readers, we’re more familiar with picking up what looks good coming out of a major event and deciding for ourselves that hey, let’s see the prologue with a certain character after the book is finished. Even a Fear Itself: Thor #1 one-shot would be more preferable, because at least with some distance from the main series, it feels like we’re moving on and not buying a very sneaky issues #8, 9 and 10.
Yeah, it’s probably too much of a sour note to play against the backdrop of a very solid set of storytelling, but man. What a way to start November.
Let’s see what else is coming from the House of Ideas in November 2011, shall we?
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The weird thing about the internet and having a strong fanbase is that comics can often disappoint without even trying. Here’s my story: Last month I fell in love with a weird little mini-series called Vengeance. Artist Nick Dragotta and writer Joe Casey made this unclassifiable story that had all these weird touches to it, moments and names and items that jumped immediately to that place in my brain where I store the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (Deluxe Edition, please). The story is set “nowish,” with characters seeing current Marvel events like Fear Itself played on bar TV screens and a few flashbacks setting the tone, like the Red Skull and Hitler chatting about the Red Army’s eugenics program. The appearance of Forge’s old gun that takes away a mutant’s powers being toted around by the new Ultimate Nullifier, the fact that the book opens up with the Red Ghost sitting alone at a bar somewhere, watching Captain America face down an angry mob, that anyone would remember Sugar Kane the pop star that dated Chamber in order to seem edgy to her public … I might have taken those for granted. But all these little morsels of info in a rather disjointed book left me enamored with it.
My esteemed, saintly and incredibly good-looking editor here at Robot 6 mentioned that an annotation of the Vengeance series might point out all these little things and bring them to the surface for more fans. So I spent a couple weeks going over the book, making notes, putting things in order and then… the worst part. I made conjectures. After all, you can’t put a bunch of puzzle pieces out in front of someone and not expect them to make a couple guesses, right? But then one guess turns into two and the more you dissect a frog to see how it works, well, you learn a lot in the process. But in the end the frog is dead.
So with Vengeance #2 on the stands this week, there’s all this new information to prove me wrong on everything I had assumed. Which was disappointing at first; after all, my ideas are pretty cool, why didn’t they go in that direction? If you bring out the Red Ghost in act one, he has to have monkeys by the end of the play, it’s integral! But then, is there a lot of disappointment running through comics sometimes? The flashed image of a character’s redesign can send fandom into fits. The lack of information on a missing character can start wars in convention halls. I can sit here, read Vengeance #2 and think, “This isn’t what I expected at all.”
First issues are like that, though. We don’t normally have all our ducks in a row for our introductions in modern comics storytelling. The boards have to be set up, players chosen, the rules in place and only then does the game begin. So how do Vengeance #2 and WWE tag team matches relate? Read on and find out, gentle viewer.
WARNING: Rampant discussion of the events from Vengeance #1, Vengeance #2 and 75% of WWE tag team matches follows. You have been warned.