The Fifth Color
With the recent announcements about Inhumanity, the aftermath “banner” title of Infinity, doesn’t it seem like things are moving a little fast toward October? Sure, we always get our solicitations three months in advance, and yeah, that’s going to lead to a little future thinking on books that haven’t even started (or debuted in some cases), but Infinity looks dense. If it’s anything like Jonathan Hickman’s current Avengers stories, I feel like I’m going to need a road map or just some CliffNotes to get through this upcoming epic and here we are, already talking about what’s to come after. It can certainly be overwhelming.
October is a month of change at Marvel, so join us as we look into the October Solicitations and see just how much of this change we should hate and fear! Onward, brave Marvelites!
I wasn’t exaggerating about that month of change thing, or maybe the solicits are, because that seem to be a theme throughout several books. We start off with INFINITY #4 and #5 (of 6), the penultimate chapters of this six-part cosmic extravaganza. We’ll be “negotiating the fall of worlds” and “the war for Earth begins” respectively, making me wonder that if the war for Earth starts here, what in heaven’s name have we been doing up to this point? One more issue to go and the war starts now?
What If comics are awesome, just not utilized as much as they used to be. It makes sense because anthologies, despite being a fantastic way to get into comics, meet new writers and artists and test out concepts on an open-minded audience, sadly don’t sell well in the United States. If something doesn’t sell well, we all know that means it isn’t going to last, and why spend money on a series that’s just going to be canceled in a month or less, right?
Aspersions on the comic market aside, What If comics are still nifty little treats of reading joy, and the current trend of basing them around big events makes a certain kind of sense. After all, everyone will have read the story in question, be familiar enough with how it went down and might be intrigued enough by a plot twist or two to try out the new take. So, this week we got What If … Avengers vs. X-Men #1, the first of a four-part story that promises us … well, what does it promise us? Let’s take a look at the issue and the What If? format and see what we have in store in the annals of tragedy, because SPOILERS: Almost every What If story I can think of has a “down ending,” to borrow a Clerks phrase. Join me, won’t you?
Tales to Astonish #44 hit newsstands, and our hearts, in June 1963. The cover promised us a cool, green space monster and the debut of a new character: “Meet the flying Wasp!,” we’re told and, hey, there she is flying across the front of the book in a triumphant fashion. While she may be Ant-Man’s new “partner-in-peril,” she doesn’t look too imperiled as she carries what looks like a swooning Hank Pym out of the creature’s grasp.
The Wasp rarely is the swooning, damsel in distress: She’s gone through some peril to be sure, from her personal life to her costumed adventuring career, but this woman doesn’t shirk her responsibilities or morals to cower or retire. Technically, she’s been an Avenger since the team’s inception and remains unique in the field of superheroics: while most heroes have greatness thrust upon them or fight to survive, Janet Van Dyne actively chose this life. She’s accepted herself enough to be public about being a “costumed adventurer” and is rich enough to make it her primary occupation with little to no angst about how she got to where she is today. Becoming the Wasp was a way for her to avenge her father’s death, and that may have inspired the name for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
This month is the 50th anniversary of the winsome Wasp and, while most think of her in small terms, her impact on the Marvel Universe is gigantic.
A few years ago, my husband was in the hospital for a fairly serious procedure that required an extended stay. After the surgery, he began experiencing excruciating pain and, following a bit of work, learned that it had to do with the stitches: There had been too many and some were too tight, so the surgeon was called back in to take a look. The surgeon spotted the problem immediately and asked a nurse to bring him some scissors. Snip, snip, the tension was released and the surgeon said everything should be fine in a few hours.
Which it was, but after the surgeon was gone, my husband was left with bloody gauze, a pair of scissors and the remains of his stitches left all over his chest. We waited and didn’t touch anything, thinking, “Oh, that guy is coming back or something.” He didn’t. I grabbed a nurse, and with a long-suffering sigh, she apologized and cleared away the remains. When we said we thought the surgeon had left everything behind because he would be coming back, she explained this is just something surgeons do. When in the operating room, there are people on hand to take care of the little things so the surgeon can concentrate on the task at hand; they tend not to give things like cleaning up a second thought, if even a first.
Brian Michael Bendis is an incredible surgeon of event storytelling, and Age of Ultron #10 leaves stitches and scissors all over the reader’s chest. I can’t even say I’m surprised, nor can I really confirm that this is a “bad thing.” There’s no value judgment here: Age of Ultron needed to get to point B, it got there after 10 issues, and point C is going to be handled by a variety of folks (including Bendis himself, but we’ll get to that). In the end, I’m not exactly sure why it needed to be encased in black plastic, as the ending literally tells us to stay tuned for yet another issue (or series entirely). But I’m getting ahead of myself. Did you dare to open your sealed copy of Age of Ultron #10? Of course you did! Follow on, Dear Reader, as we talk about the skill inherent in a Bendis event and all the things that are traditionally left behind.
WARNING: Yep, spoilers for Age of Ultron #10. Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about knowing something that would ruin your enjoyment of the series whole, but it’s up to you if you read further. Do you dare? Click on, brave soul.
This morning I woke up to the Tumblr rumblings that Journey into Mystery would no longer be with us. Sure, it was absent from Marvel’s September solicitations, but I could kind of lie to myself and think maybe the book would skip a month, or maybe the publisher just forgot. I can lie to myself with the best of them! But sales haven’t been kind, and writer Kathryn Immonen left us a very gracious note that August’s Journey into Mystery #655 will be the final issue.
And I cannot take this lying down.
This morning, Marvel held a press call to confirm that this week’s promotion of a new team only referred to as “Mighty” would in fact be a new Mighty Avengers title, set to debut in September. Now, you’d think a new team of heroes that includes both She-Hulk (Jen Walters flavor) and Adam the Blue Marvel (lost hero of color) is and tied to Jonathan Hickman’s turn at bat in the latest event series Infinity would be pretty cool. Hickman has assembled Avengers these days for big, mind-bending reasons. These are characters who don’t get enough screen time (if any) and might not get the chance at their own solo title, so why not enjoy this young new team for a chance to see more heroes?
Shouldn’t we be grateful? Don’t we need another Avengers team? How’s that hole-in-your head collection coming?
For those who might’ve missed this 2006-2007 miniseries, Doctor Strange: The Oath is a five-issue story written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Marcos Martin — that pedigree alone should ensure it has a place in your long box or the handy trade paperback sits on your shelf. Vaughan’s clear, lyrical writing style is in full force, and Martin’s art is as fluid and dynamic as it’s been for Mark Waid’s Daredevil. The story delves into the occult to save Wong, who’s been stricken with a fatal disease. Not only does it have magic and mysticism, it also reminds you of Strange’s classical origin as an arrogant surgeon who had to learn humility in an area both street-level and far-flung dimensions. It also brought Night Nurse in as a strong supporting character to the good Doctor’s retinue and, as the back cover tells me, firmly establishes Doctor Strange in the Marvel Universe.
A nice idea, but it really did nothing of the sort.
This time I think I’m going to be less biased. That’s not to say I wasn’t fair to the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie; in fact, I thought it was a pretty ingenious way to honor the past while divorcing it from your present. There’s something to be said for discovering that balance between old and new, continuity and change, that’s so hard to find when adapting something as well-chronicled as Star Trek. We’re looking at years of television history, hours of movies, and shelves and shelves of novels to work into the mix, and 2009′s Star Trek managed to juggle all of that to an extent I wouldn’t have expected to work. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but it tried, and it got the heart of this new universe centered into its own final frontier.
Also, I was in that movie, so like I said, this time I’m going to be less biased.
I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness (no colons needed!) in the finest format I could think of: true IMAX and in real 3D. It was vivid and full of life; as the closing credits rolled and I watched the names of countless CGI artists and editing staff go by, I was once again thinking of that balance between the old and the new. The 2009 Trek brought in boatloads of new fans, a whole new generation to enjoy the adventures of the Starship Enterprise. Die-hard Trekkies and Trekkers had a breath of fresh air and something of their favorite television show back in the public eye, giving us new life and new civilizations to explore. While I’m sure there are plenty of opinionated people on the Internet that prefer one or the other, there’s been a resurgence in the Star Trek community that has benefited from Abrams’ new vision. And as I can wax rhapsodical about what the new movie means and how it will effects fans and the stories to come, it’s really important to take a moment and talk about Star Trek Into Darkness for what it is right here and now. Is this a good movie? Regardless of impact on science fiction or as a litmus test for what the Star Wars franchise is in for now that Abrams is tapped to work in a galaxy far, far away, join me as I look at what we see on screen and if it works just as well the second time around.
WARNING: SPOILERS for Star Trek Into Darkness ahead! Lots and lots of SPOILERS!! We’re talking plot, major scenes and character arcs, so for those who haven’t gotten to see the movie yet, please be warned. Everyone else? Let’s boldly go …
Not too long ago, Comic Book Resources talked to director Shane Black about Marvel’s Iron Man 3, which arrives in theaters today. When asked about David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s infamous “Demon in a Bottle” storyline, considered the darkest and deepest Tony Stark of them all, and its potential adaptation to the big screen, Black said, “No, because if we go there — it’s part of Tony’s character, but I think the ‘Demon in a Bottle; aspect, if you go there, you really have to go there. The film then becomes about that, because the journey that involves recovering from alcoholism is an entire movie. I mean, I want to keep it dark and interesting and edgy and spicy and all those things, but I don’t think we want to go as far as to deal with Tony’s descent into alcoholic madness. That’s maybe not where we want to be.”
This turned some heads, triggering accusations that Disney demanded sobriety, that Black forswore any alcohol in Iron Man 3 and insistence that it was a big deal that this issue wasn’t going to be addressed at all. I can see where the director is coming from on this: Iron Man has a lot on his plate already with four films’ worth of continuity and troubles following him, and to stop in the middle of all of that to take that turn down a dark and lonely path isn’t where we want to be in our Marvel movie medley.
Believe it or not, Iron Man 3 deals with a lot with demons, just not the particular demon of alcoholism. There are demons that are spawned from poor decision-making and from being a bit of a bastard in one’s younger years. There are demons that terrify us but, at heart, are completely manufactured from insecurity and doubt. And there are even more personal demons than that, ones that drive us into the night and can slowly crush you from the inside.
Seeing Iron Man 3 last night taught me something very important about myself and heroism, and those great, grand concepts I love to take from comics about dudes punching each other. Because, while the spectacle is fantastic, the effects and details are dead on, the acting is challenging and sly, it’s those message moments done just right that make viewers realize they just might have seen a different movie than everyone else.
WARNING: Iron Man 3 will be discussed below! I’m keeping out as many details as possible, but if you’re remaining spoiler-free, you might want to bookmark this one for later. To the brave, read on!
Maybe it’s because I’ve been playing Bioshock: Infinite lately, but the choice we make now can lead to infinite worlds of harder choices in the blink of an eye. There’s a philosophical weight to certain scientific theories that takes the dryness of numbers and calculations and puts them into context for who we are as human beings. One of science fiction’s many functions is to play around with that: Robots can be used as puppets to play out our feelings about our own humanity, the aftermath of post-apocalyptic nightmares can show us how societies work at the broken point, and then there’s time travel.
Oh, man, time travel is a huge trope for the deep thinkers! The infamous “go back in time in kill Hitler” question is still debated in classrooms to this day and bandied about online forums. It’s huge temptation to think that, by changing a single thing about our past, we could create a brighter future, whether that’s saving 11 million people or simply knowing where we put our keys in the morning. It’s something we can comfortably wonder about because no one on Earth is capable of actually traveling through time to change anything.
Comics, on the other hand, can and often do. There are time-travel powers, devices, plot elements … it’s a fun topic to explore, and so our heroes jump into the time stream with little time for debate or even a basic plan. This creates the action and adventure we came to read and allows the creative team to test out a variety of scenarios for our entertainment and enlightenment. We debate, but fiction can act.
Does this make comics smarter than us for acting on these ideas or are comics more frustrating for tossing caution to the wind when any of us would pause to understand if we were doing the right thing? This is why Age of Ultron bothers me so much.
WARNING: Big reveal from last week’s Age of Ultron #6, so grab your copies and read along!
July is going to be a big month for comics. Mind you, it should be as spectacular as they can make it at the House of Ideas because the fans who have fought hard to go to Comic-Con International won’t be forgiving if it’s reprint month. Nope, all the stops need to be pulled out, questions need to be posed, if not answered (as much as plotline questions are ever answered in serial comics), because there’s going to be a large audience ready to ask the big questions about what the heck is going on and what’s coming next.
Sure, the upswing of comics produced and plotlines kicking into gear isn’t all Comic-Con armor; some of it is the sort of halfway mark between events. Summer comic events should be in full swing by the time July comes around, and this year we’re seeing the end of Age of Ultron, and the stirrings of Infinity, Jonathan Hickman’s no doubt mind-blowing event. It’s a big-time shift for the Marvel Universe … or is it?
Let’s take a look through Marvel’s July solicitations and see what clues we can find about our future, shall we?
Every so often, public opinion shifts and popular culture gets a craving. Remember when everything was all about pirates? Then we all got on this huge kick about vampires and the supernatural, and we had a variety of different television shows to slake our thirst? The remnants of those yearnings still linger (well, not so much the pirates), and now the masses have all lined up for zombies.
Zombies play into so many metaphors for the fears that plague us (death, communities turning against us, a loss of identity and so on), and they can even reflect economic shifts with consumerism and political-mob mentalities. That latter point is probably why Game of Thrones (a fantasy political drama) and The Walking Dead (a morality play on humanity versus its corrupted self) are TV-ratings gold.
Sadly, this cannot last. I’m not saying zombies are on their way out, just that the cultural craze is reached a peak and is moving toward something new — and Marvel comics has your back.
With robots! They’re fantastic and a personal favorite of my science fiction-loving heart, so the announcement of Avengers A.I. left me looking past our zombie-filled present with a hope for a new future-craze. We should be looking forward to what comes after our old rotten selves, pushing forward with our fiction to better understand the human condition. There is no better metaphor than that of the robot to help us grasp our own humanity and morality by looking through mechanical eyes; the future of our pop culture might not be full of artificial men, because who can really predict the public’s taste for fantasy or fiction? But Marvel seems primed and ready to try to take us into a new age of androids.
I’m sure that a lot of you reading these words have very strong feelings about Comic-Con International, and not all of them are joyous and pleasant. Writing this, I get that sort of “ugh” knot in my stomach thinking about all the hard work and money it takes to go on a five-day “vacation.” Getting in the doors has become this epic-level event worthy of its own video game; finding a place to stay so you can use those badges you masterfully acquired can mean camping in your car. Being inside the convention center can be overwhelming and, even worse, you may not even get inside the panel you worked so hard to get these tickets for anyway.
There’s so much that can go wrong at Comic-Con that there’s a palpable sadness when you realize you don’t have it in you to fight to do it all again next year. I’m not going this year, and when I tell people at the shop that, sometimes I feel like I’ve said there’s no Santa Claus.
YouTube link-clicking has replaced channel-surfing in my house these days, so I happened upon this fantastic video from science guy Vsauce called “Is Your Red the Same As My Red?” It’s about color comparison, qualia, the explanatory gap and the theory of mind, and it’s a fantastic watch at around 10 minutes. So check it out when you’re in a Mr. Wizardy or Bill Nye-ish sort of mood and learn why painting a room with a spouse can become quite a challenge when no one can really explain what an off-white means to them.
This, of course, got me thinking about comics. Despite the basic “refracted light” of basic character bios, I’m pretty sure not every fan sees the same characters on the page. Our own influences, when we started reading, what popular culture was thinking at the time, there are so many exterior conditions that can bring a hero or villain to popularity or disuse that I can’t imagine what it’s like for the House of Ideas to try to single out a “new hit” to promote. Take Rogue, for example: At heart, she’s a scrappy Southern gal who can’t touch anyone for fear of draining their life force. Pretty basic, but when colored by the reader’s perception, this could be a metaphor for trauma survivors, an example of teenage physical anxieties, just a dangerous “bad girl” who tantalizes you by being actually physically dangerous, or a number of things. All of these reasons can catch the imaginations of fans and keep them reading, each for their own purposes.
Avengers Arena is unfair. From the initial announcement of this book, it had everything going against it. We were going to lose one of the very few strong teen books to make way for an obvious cash grab for the Hunger Games scene and, by age discrimination alone, force young heroes to hunt and kill one another. Raise your hand if you were hoping to just get a new Runaways book? These are some fan-favorite characters here, seen in drips and drabs, and when they finally get some on-panel time, we find they’re nothing more than targets in an absurd trap set by villainous joke Arcade. Arcade! Their lives were in peril thanks to low-rent Elton John with a Rube Goldberg fetish!
But the worst sin of Avengers Arena is that it’s actually really good.
Yeah, I am absolutely serious. Avengers Arena has surprising potential, and it has introduced some interesting characters and developments that keep me grudgingly coming back each issue. It’s hard to admit that, considering how much I really wanted to hate this book, based on little more than its Battle Royale cover. Despite the calm, honest words of Avengers Academy writer Christos Gage when he asked readers to give the new book a chance, the whole premise turned me off. When the first issue of Avengers Arena came out and we lost our first teen hero, that death proved how right I was. Why trust a book that’s just going to kill everything you love? And why kids?
It seems unnecessarily cruel to put together an ongoing series promoted to us as sensationally as possible. Don’t get too attached to anyone! Kids will die! They might even kill each other! The shock value of teens in terror can pull the reader right out of the narrative and forces us to look at the value of the story line than just enjoying the ride. Kids have to be killed for a reason, not just as scare tactics and and cheap heat.
So why does the death of children hit us harder than your usual comic book demise? Why is the loss of a child’s life so difficult to bear in the super-heroic medium? And why in heaven’s name do I keep reading Avengers Arena?