The Fifth Color
At the end of every year, ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman get together over the e-mail tubes and talk Big Two comics. Part 1 is here.
Tom: Something I’ve been curious about, off and on — what did Metro‘s customers think of the Man of Steel trailer? What do you think the average superhero fan wants out of a Superman book?
Carla: It’s mixed. It really is, some love it, some are grumbly and already ready to complain. I think what the average superhero fan and what the general fan wants are entirely different. Superman’s a difficult character to get right because of his status as a cultural icon and how much that character can mean to different generations. Some people just know Smallville and, at least from the trailer, it doesn’t even seem to be that. [Producer Christopher] Nolan’s influence looks pretty strong and, as much as formula might work in the Avengers movie mythos, the same style and tone for Batman really doesn’t jibe with the Man of Steel. Well, for me. Others might totally want a deep, emotional connection to an outsider and an outcast. Mind you, I’d tell them there are some great X-Men comics out there, but eh, what do I know? It’s a trailer, and very hard to judge on what the movie is going to be like when we see the full thing this summer.
What do you think the Man of Steel trailer is all about? What kind of Superman do we need in the new millennium?
Tom: To me, the basic Superman approach is that Superman always does the right thing. It’s not about the powers. The powers just underscore that he can do whatever it takes. So it’s easy for Superman to punch something, or fly into the sun. The question should be, how can he do what’s right? I think that applies regardless of millennium.
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At the end of every year Carla Hoffman and Tom Bondurant exchange emails about the fortunes of the Big Two. Look for Part 2 on Wednesday!
Carla: Here we are, heading toward the year the Mayan calendar might not have thought would ever come: 2013. The future gets closer and closer! Technology advances! Politics change! And yet, comic books are still here. How cool is that? It’s been a heck of a year, full of ups and downs, movie premieres, new #1 issues and the never-ending race to produce better, faster comics.
I have to admit, Image has been doing a really great job keeping up with the Big Two, producing award-winning books in a variety of formats and getting involved in TV to draw new readers into a wide array of comic book genres. But we’re not here to talk about them! We’re here for the greatest shows in town, the Merry Marvel Marching Society and … our Distinguished Competitors.
My first question is kind of a no-brainer: How’s the New 52 treating you these days? And, after a year, is it still the “New 52″?
Tom: Well, as a practical matter, it’s the “New 52″ for as long as DC wants it to be. Actually, I think I have stopped seeing that little blurb on the covers. I happened to look at Aquaman #15 yesterday, kind of out of the corner of my eye, and was surprised it was there. Part of me thinks that it could confuse those hypothetical new readers, but then I thought that about “Earth One,” and that doesn’t seem to have hurt those books.
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There’s a professional wrestler named Cody Rhodes. His family has been in the wrestling business for longer than he’s been alive, his father being the legendary Dusty Rhodes and his brother the offbeat Golddust, both working for the WWE. Following family tradition, he’s a fantastic wrestler, absolutely charming and has only recently gotten the crowd’s attention through a horrible-looking mustache.
Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.
As I said, Cody Rhodes is fantastic. He’s worked with legends, played mostly heel roles and tried to work the crowd against him. He even had a stint with a Doctor Doom-esque look, complete with mask, dark hood, minions and a hatred for the ugliness of WWE fans. I thought it compelling, at least, but most crowds seemed to find it lukewarm at best. He brought a sense of prestige back to the Intercontinental Title; it’s already moved on and stagnated once more. Nothing seems to stick with a guy who has so much going for him … until this mustache. After some time off for an injury, he returned to a tag-team partnership with — gracious, just look at it. It’s horrible. It’s laughable. Patchy in places, it just doesn’t fit his face quite right, making him look less like Tom Selleck and more like a guy with candy in his unmarked van. The very night he returned, the audience seemed to wake up. A spontaneous chant of “Co-dy’s mus-tache!” broke out and has followed him since. Other wrestlers can poke fun at it, he can be angry and indignant about it, bad guy wrestlers can support this horrible decision and somewhere down the line, there can be a “Mustache Match” or something where the thing is removed and we have story line closure.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Superior Spider-Man is Cody Rhodes’ mustache.
Confused? Read on!
WARNING: We’ll be talking extensively about The Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 as well, so grab your copies and read along!
In just three months, we will be pretty entrenched into the new NOW! of Marvel. So far, so good, right? Can’t say that they’ve all been hits, but considering the alternative (*cough*reboot*cough*), I’d say we’re doing pretty well.
Will this be an era that’s looked back at as a radical change in publishing and a landmark era of storytelling for Marvel? I get the feeling that a lot of people are hoping so, most of them in marketing. This is a fresh face for the Marvel brand, and we should be looking at a moment that will be well-documented by journalists, historians and (more importantly to the layman) comic book price guides. Sadly, my precognitive powers are only available in March solicitations, so let’s look at those and see what NOW! will look like then. Or THEN! I’m not sure.
First, let’s talk about the trades. I rarely get to do so because they’re always at the bottom and there’s normally a huge amount of comics to sort through and events to define before we reach the reasonable road of the trade paperback. But in March, Marvel NOW! will officially be the final status quo on the shelves, so we’ll begin a steady stream of trades for major titles in hardcover and softcover format.s The first volumes of Uncanny Avengers, Iron Man and Avengers will be out in hardcover, with Fantastic Four, Red She-Hulk and X-Men: Legacy getting softcover editions; I think the change in format probably has to do with the price of the original issues.
Marvel NOW! is not half bad! In fact, from this new vantage point where we’ve mostly seen the first major debuts roll out through November, I can say that it’s a bigger success than the Heroic Age. There’s been some significant changes to theme and tone of our superheroes while still leaving continuity intact and everyone recognizable to the public. Everything that happened in the past few months of comics has carried over into the NOW!, we’re just looking at it with a new style, a fresh coat of paint and, of course, oodles of variant covers.
Story styles and artistic choices come and go, and while we might love a particular run or artist team, we have to adapt and move into more modern and evolving ideas for the Marvel Universe. Sure, I’m not too on board with the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy series because I really enjoyed their previous iteration, but if you look at the last series, it was a far cry from what it was when it started. Why not give the new book a chance and see if it can hook me in all over again? Losing Peter Parker as Spider-Man (for a while) is a big deal, but why not watch just to see how Dan Slott pulls this whole thing off? Change is good is what I’m trying to say, and Marvel NOW!, while still essentially the same heroes and villains we know and love, is also a lot of change.
It’s weird to think that Brian Michael Bendis pretty much set the Avengers for the modern era. Yes, great storytellers had come before to establish what we all know and love about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but Bendis really did blow all that up and rebuilt Marvel’s premier super-team from the ground up. From Stark Tower to the essential leadership of Captain America and Iron Man to who’s on the roster and why, to endless, endless lunches, most new comic readers know of the Avengers through Bendis’ work. He’s the man who made us read the book, for better or for worse and for six years, he’s been the bottom line in Earth’s Mightiest Heroism. It’s a really tough act to follow, but if anyone is going to make us say “Bendis who?” in the next few months, it’s Jonathan Hickman. Starting from the first issue (on sale this week!), there’s a stage being set that will change the way we view the Avengers and their place in the grand scheme of the universe.
But who are the Avengers? What does it mean to join their ranks? How is it that, within the confines of a single issue, we’ve learned the essential secret to this new NOW! series? Click on, Dear Reader, and I will explain.
WARNING: I’ll be talking about the contents of Avengers #1, but you still probably want to read Avengers #1 and see for yourself if any of my theories match up. So grab a copy and read along!
Now that more books are out and more of the lineup is being revealed, letting us know what’s in store, we’re in a better position to understand Marvel NOW! This week was a big one as All-New X-Men hit the stands with Fantastic Four, Thor: God of Thunder and the possibly underrated X-Men Legacy. The two X-books are important. and I might talk a little about the books as we go along, but the reason why is because, before today, I had no idea what on Earth Marvel’s Merry Mutants were going to be doing. We knew the school was intact, but … that was it? What about this semi-villain team that Scott’s in? He seems to want mutant unity, but has he crossed the line into superiority? Is he just the bad guy now or are we getting two “social justice” stories, two ways of handling the issue of being hated and feared? We may not have gotten all the answers, but there’s a lot more to go on than what we had by the end of AvX: Consequences.
We’re going to be waist deep in Marvel NOW! by the end of the month, so the questions about the new landscape can be more specific instead of just “Wait and see the first issue!” Looking at the solicitations, we start to put what we’re seeing this month with what will be happening three months from now and, like focusing a telescope, stories and characters are becoming more clear.
Despite being in a better position, there’s still going to be a lot of questions and some I’d even like ot pose to you, Dear Reader, as we take a stroll through February 2013 and see what Marvel will be putting to the printed page. Let’s take a look!
I’ll be honest, part of me really wants to curl up in a blanket with a pint of ice cream and bemoan the loss of Avengers Academy, whose final issue came out this week. That Avengers Arena ad in the back the book was a kick in the pants, wasn’t it? It’s sad to think the little book that could, one of the best all-ages titles on the stands, has ended and we may not see its like again in the foreseeable future. It’s wasn’t a top-selling title but what it lacked in sales it made up for in heartening and brilliant content. Again, I could foist my woes upon you, Dear Reader, but we are trying to live in the NOW (which is a little like the present but just a scooch toward the future), so let’s set aside our sadness and look at a new development this week.
Cullen Bunn will be bringing us the Fearless Defenders in 2013, a team book centered around Valkyrie creating a new team of eight Valkyrior (a cooler way of saying Valkyries) out of existing (and possibly new) Marvel heroines. It’s been a fantastic concept for a team book since Mr. Bunn previewed it in Fear Itself: The Fearless, and I’m happy to see that there was enough interest (from we, the fans) and support (from they, the editorial staff) to see this idea hit print. It’s a cool premise, we’ll see a lot of characters we honestly don’t normally get to and there’s a great overarching purpose to the book to keep it from getting stale.
However, especially in today’s Avengers-rich environment, why would they call it the Fearless Defenders? Just because Valkyrie leads a team? Why not call it the Fearless Avengers and loop it all together? I can’t be the only one who likes the name Lady Liberators, right? What will make this team a Defenders title? I have a few ideas.
WARNING: I’ll be talking about the end of Matt Fraction’s Defenders #12 in vague terms, but there might be a spoiler or two dropped without warning. Be prepared!
I love the language of Thor. Sometimes, I even love more of what Thor says in comics than I remember what he’s actually done. Even the font in his word bubbles has always been a little fancy, a little script-like, just right for the Son of Asgard who speaks so boldly. His phrases are packed with story and character: “Ultron … We would have words with thee.” “I say thee NAY!” I’m sure, Dear Reader, you have your own awesome Thor quote tucked away just in case. Mine’s “‘Tis I, Alchemist, I will pilot your Blood Colossus,” and you’d be surprised how often I get to use it. A new Thorism I’ll add to my repertoire is from this week’s issue:
“Bring me my Doom Ring.”
The Mighty Thor #22 is Matt Fraction’s last, a final Marvel THEN! before Marvel NOW! brings in Jason Aaron to rock us like a metal album cover. It’s missing that letter in the back to fans that other last issues are posting to take us through a whole issue with one last concept to ponder over, a long reflection for storytelling, the medium and tropes of comics and what essentially Thor means. In this, Fraction pretty much brings us full circle all the way back to the ideas behind Thor: Ages of Thunder, then breaks that circle into pieces.
Let’s talk more about The Mighty Thor #22 after the break!
WARNING: Yes, the most recent Thor issue, so spoilers ahoy! Please take a moment to read the issue, see what you learn from Thor’s trials and then grab that copy and read along!
Comedian Demetri Martin has this great, short bit about how he loves digital cameras because they allow you to reminisce instantly. That we can take a picture and immediately look back with clarity and fondness at something that happened only seconds before — “We were so young!” — is essential to current comics culture. The world so quickly and drastically changes for readers that events that happened just last month can feel oh, so long ago. Characters die and return, sometimes within months of our grieving. It seems like only yesterday when we were still under the threat of the Phoenix, because it was only yesterday, relatively speaking.
This week sees the ends of five titles, and each one takes a final bow with all due gravitas for its moment in history. Invincible Iron Man #527 says goodbye to Matt Fraction and Salvador LaRocca, who began their run when the first Iron Man movie was hitting theaters. Ed Brubaker relinquishes his Captain America writing duties with Issue 19; not exactly an illustrious numbering to leave on, but when you look back at all the work he’s done and how it’s changed the common reader’s understanding of Steve Rogers, it’s a remarkable career. Kieron Gillen leaves Journey Into Mystery with #645, after which the whole title gets a new face to focus on, a new creative team and a new mystery to journey into. And Jonathan Hickman leaves FF, a book he created to serve a beautiful purpose for Marvel’s First Family, and I dare anyone not to get a little misty eyed after turning those final pages.
These are all weighty doors closing on eras that changed the face of our comics, and we may never see their like again. Times, they are a-changin’ … but are they, really? This moment with these books written in such a way is over, but Captain America lives on. Iron Man will fly again, as will Fraction, both just moving in new directions. Heck, Loki isn’t even leaving Gillen’s hands; they’re just moving into a new apartment with different roommates.
So why do we mourn? Why do we read these books as the final issue of Captain America when we all know logically that Captain America will continue next month with a new issue? What exactly are we losing when so many things stay the same? I’ve got an idea; see if you agree.
WARNING: we’re talking about this week’s comics listed above but might spoil some Avengers #32. So grab your copies (and a couple hankies because man, FF is a tearjerker!) and follow along!
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The last blows were thrown in the six-month long battle between the Avengers and X-Men, where someone had to win and someone had to lose. In professional wrestling (a.k.a. sports entertainment), if two faces (good guys) fight, one of them by default had to become a heel (bad guy). His values can change, he can become cowardly, he may use a dirty tactic or even something as simple as turning on the audience can start the herald of boos from the crowd and shifty looks from former allies. If two heroes fight, someone has to be the loser and someone has to be in the wrong.
But what if they’re not? Can one straddle the line between good and evil and use both for their own purposes? We can see it didn’t work out too well for Scott Summers, but what were his goals and how did they suddenly seem so horrible? If we have antiheroes, why can’t we have the opposite, the antivillain?
WARNING: Avengers, X-Men, one of these guys had to lose, so grab your copy of Avengers vs. X-Men Round 12 and let’s study the results!
A Punisher team-up still seems like a really bad idea. No matter who’s book he guest stars in, the Punisher is just not the guy you want to stand next to for any real length of time. Not only is he a loner by nature, but your average superhero is immediately at odds with something as simple and dangerous as a man with a gun. His motivations just don’t jibe with the code one has to follow to be a hero, let alone a sane human being. To paraphrase Ray Stevenson, who played Frank Castle in Punisher: War Zone, no one should want to be the Punisher, but everyone should be glad he’s out there.
That movie title is catchy because it’s very apropos; Frank Castle truly is a one-man war zone. Please note the one-man part. In recent years, there has been some absolutely brilliant comics work showing you just how strange and solitary the Punisher is. Greg Rucka has brought us the pure poetry of life at Punisher’s right hand. Jason Aaron on PunisherMAX drove us right on through how cruel a world can get to create the Punisher. And, of course, Garth Ennis showed us Frank Castle as a force of nature, something that happened to the worst of the criminal element. Not a bogeyman or a fable but cold, dark fact.
So I can’t say the idea of the Punisher as we’ve come to know and love him in recent years would be signing up for a matching uniform to run around with Ross’ Thunderbolts. He’s not a team player. He certainly doesn’t seem like a man who could even tolerate Deadpool for more than it would take to put air in his lungs. How could a one-man war zone work well with others? Well, let me take a moment of your time, Dear Reader, to theorize with you. I think there’s enough duty and dignity to Frank Castle to will allow him to co-exist with comrades-in-arms.
WARNING: One of my examples comes from the absolutely gorgeous Punisher #16 that was released this week, so grab your copy and read along!
It won’t even be January before the Marvel Universe changes as you know it. Yep, the slow roll of Marvel NOW! continues to rearrange our common landscape into something new. As longtime readers, we both hate and fear change yet long for it deep down in our bones. Spider-Man shouldn’t change his costume! But that black version was really cool! It’s a constant war we wage internally and externally and, as a comic shop employee, I have seen its front lines. But as change and hope war with one another on the fields of the Marvel Universe, we should all spare a moment and look behind us. Sure, NOW! might be a confusing and frightening place, but what about the after-NOW! What will grow in the fields, plowed and sown with new titles? Deep down, there’s something I think we all want, both large companies and small readers: new fans.
It all comes down to new fans, another reader to the story, another dollar to the register. Commerce continues as more people pick up or download (legally!) a story and read along. It’s a simple, basic wish and I would like to think everyone shares it, at least all the people who would come to a comics blog and read these very words. So please, Dear Reader, take all this news of new No. 1 issues and of titles that are ending with a grain of salt. It’s a bitter grain for sure, but one that’s going to flavor unseasoned palettes and help new fans get a taste for the Marvel style.
Are you hungry? I’m hungry. I’m going to go grab a snack and then we’ll talk about the NOW! ahead of us, Marvel solicitations for December 2012.
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!