Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I think I finally realized why we’re here. The penultimate issue of Nathan Edmondson’s run on The Punisher, Issue 17, arrived this week and contained more of a solid understanding of the Frank Castle than I felt the previous installments had. Don’t get me wrong, Frank’s adventures in Los Angeles fighting a South American drug cartel have been spectacular in design and action, but the purpose of the run hasn’t come into focus until the Punisher was staring down Captain America in our nation’s capital.
You see, the Punisher is kind of like a very fancy hat: It looks great with the right outfit and on the right occasion, but you simply can’t wear it with everything you own.
Sports entertainment and comic books are like cookies and milk these days, what with pro wrestlers stepping into the writers’ chair from time to time to the Marvel offices being huge marks for the WWE. We’ve hosted quite a few Wrestlemania previews on ROBOT 6, and as the Super Bowl of wrasslin’ ramps up to the inevitable Mania on Sunday, my mind’s been particularly preoccupied with the most entertaining of sports.
Which is why I saw the above panel from Magneto #1, viscerally drawn by the incredibly talented Gabriel Hernandez, and thought to myself, Huh, that reminds me of John Cena.
I haven’t done one of these in a while, because if you look too long into the solicitations, they start to stare back.
With all the access we have to spoilers, reviews, previews and other online chatter, it can be difficult to enjoy what’s in front of you when you’re already thinking about what’s to come three months from now, let alone when the next event is going to hit. But that next event is coming, along with a enormous overhaul of the Marvel line, so let’s hop in the time machine of this year’s June solicitations and try to find a road map for the end of the world.
First off, 33 series will reach their “616 finales” as a result of Secret Wars, with some returning in one form or another. The list is extensive, with some titles cleared away for redundancy after two Marvel NOW launches, probably a few canceled for poor sales (I’m looking at you, Avengers World), and then you see this: The Amazing Spider-Man. But let’s think of this another way, as in the long, long ago of the 1990s, Marvel canceled every one of its bestselling X-Men titles. The whole line was scrapped … and retitled under “Age of Apocalypse.” Yeah, there was no Uncanny X-Men or Adjectiveless X-Men anywhere, but we did have Amazing X-Men and Astonishing X-Men, so it was a name and a theme change for the larger event. So while the announcement might sound the air-raid sirens that something super-drastic has happened, it probably hasn’t. Post-Secret Wars, we’ll probably have a new Spider-Man book with a new #1 on the cover (ugh) and a new creative direction.
Wolverines is such a cheesy book.
The idea that fans would clamor for a book chock-full of weird Wolverine lore and characters who are effectively talking to each other about Wolverine and going through his motions almost seems like Mary Sue fan fiction, that “Enough about me, what do you think about me?” kind of egotism. It’s a very ’90s kind of book where Wolverine could head off on globe-trotting adventures and run into cyborgs and beat up Yakuza while lamenting his melodramatic past. Only it doesn’t actually have Wolverine in it. All the same stuff is happening, but just without the lead character. It’s kind of like having your “sales-boosting death” cake and eating your weekly series, too.
So why can’t I stop reading it?
I was willing to give the first issue a try, and Wolverines has remained on my pull list — despite my side-eye every Wednesday. I don’t even experience that weird “Wait, didn’t I already get this?’ feeling that most weekly series give me. The book is making me want to know what happens next.
Now that we’ve all giddily watched the latest trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, we can all agree it needed more Spider-Man. Now that Marvel Studios is free to use the web-head in its ever-expanding cinematic universe, it’s kind of all you want to see, right?
Spider-Man is unique in that, despite not having the best box-office track record recently, he’s the most profitable superhero in the world. Slap his face on a lunchbox orT-shirt and it will move more cash than Batman, and that’s saying a lot. There’s something universal about the Spider-Man story (if you ignore the Spider-Totem arc — and I do); he’s not a billionaire, gifted with an Übermensch’s physique, or born into greatness. He’s just a guy who took the circumstances life gave him and set out to make a better world. He’s one of the few heroes with a full face mask that hides every element of his identity. His world is our world, in that he lives in New York City and swings by places we recognize.
And there’s nothing inherently race-specific about his story.
Taking a large step back from what we know as fandom today, it’s amazing to imagine what things were like in the beginning — before we had the Internet to produce original material, before we had hundreds of pay channels. Long, long ago in the far away time of the 1960s, when a show reached a generation of people in a surprising new way.
The best stories sneak in moral lessons or truths about ourselves and our society, not in a preachy direct way, but couched in the comfort of fantasy and fable. “Persevere” sounds like a direct command, but “slow and steady wins the race” can be taken however we wish. Star Trek could be about racism, religion, greed or power balance, but because it was set in space and spoken in the language of science fiction, we chose how to interpret its meanings and the messages given to us by Mr. Spock.
A lot of obituaries for Leonard Nimoy, who sadly passed away today at age 83 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, will mention that Gene Roddenberry called him “the conscience of Star Trek,” something I’d never heard before but that I can believe wholeheartedly.
OK, first let’s get this out of the way: A-Force? Really?
That’s a terrible name! That’s just going to lead to schlocky journalists serving up headlines like “These Marvel ladies are A-FORCE to be reckoned with!” It seems lazy and uninspired, although you could say that they were inspired by X-Force, but that’s a tacky name I’ve had decades to get used to. Also, it was the ’90s, everyone had tacky names. I suppose I could count myself lucky they aren’t “Force Works,” but when the Defenders are right there and Valkyrie was already tasked to create a team of heroines … ugh. A-Force.
More important than the name or the roster is the writing team of G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett, who are bringing incredible work to the pages of Ms. Marvel and Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, respectively. Both authors have taken the idea of diversity in stride, making representation in their books relatable and honest. Ms. Marvel isn’t just a Muslim superheroine; she’s a teenager with the same hopes and likes as a variety of readers, young and old. There’s a new element added into Angela: Asgard’s Assassin that I won’t spoil, but it’s an accomplishment to be sure, done with heart and little fanfare.
Smashing a guitar on stage is cool, or at least was cool when Pete Townshend of the Who popularized the act in the mid-1960s. The Who breaking their instruments in one form or another was the No. 1 spot on VH1’s 100 Greatest Rock & Roll Moments on TV and among the Top 50 of Rolling Stone‘s “50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll.”
But what does it really mean? Townshend admitted it started as an accident that then became sort of performance art. When you think of a band smashing their instruments these days, it seems like this big rebellious expression. It’s a statement that only lasts up to a certain point. Bands that are just starting out can’t really afford to break their stuff; it’s all they have. Big-name bands, however, can go hog wild and break everything, knowing full well that their manager or their label is going to produce new instruments at the end of the show.
Knowing that, the act loses meaning and seems wasteful. Matthew Bellamy of Muse holds the Guinness World Record at breaking the most guitars in one tour, with 140, and that just sounds expensive and cruel.
That said, I’m not sure whether Brian Michael Bendis is Pete Townshend or Matthew Bellamy.
WARNING: There’ some mention of this week’s issue of Uncanny X-Men, so grab your copies of Issue 30 and read along!
Was anyone else expecting something bigger? When Tuesday came around and the big announcement from Marvel was finally revealed, we all learned that … well, Secret Wars is going to happen and the multiverse is going to do battle on a Battleworld to see what reality makes it out alive. When I type that out, it sounds crazy-exciting, but when it’s revealed as this big surprise, it falls a little flat.
We’ve been prepping for this series of events since Marvel NOW!, when Jonathan Hickman took over the Avengers books and put us on a very wordy adventure toward universes colliding into one another. Longtime readers sort of just assumed that was the direction they were going to go, whether through reading the books with a keen eye — Oh, hey! That’s why they called Hickman’s run “Avengers World”! I just got that! — or other announcements made before Tuesday.
I’m certainly not trying to say it wasn’t a big announcement; multiversal collision and universe dominance is kind of the biggest concept you can get until you start pitting multiverses against multiverses, and that won’t happen, no matter how much we might want to see Daredevils fight Batmen. It’s just that the announcement isn’t a surprise. It makes too much sense, what with all the radical continuity changes of late. The Ultimate Universe has gotten pretty far off course, and it deserves to go live on a farm somewhere and be happy. There are already multiversal characters appearing throughout the Marvel Universe, so the idea that we might wrap all of this up on a Battleworld is a cool direction to be heading in.
But this is just the facts of the announcement. We haven’t even gotten into the angry ranting and the wild conjecture! Join me, won’t you?
There’s a certain comfort in being able to point to spectacular successes in modern adaptation, because it keeps you from getting too cynical about yet another announced movie based on something you love. Yes, it could easily be Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, but it could also turn out to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which brought an epic work into the homes of a broader audience.
Marvel has an incredible track record for taking characters from comics, distilling them into their purest forms and making them box-office hits. After all, Iron Man is virtually a household name now — who’d have expected that? — and countless schoolchildren know who Groot is. However, the Avengers are a lot more cohesive in their movies than they are in the comics, so I can see why there are those who still shy away from the source material in favor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Peggy Carter getting her own television series is important for just that reason: It demonstrates that you don’t just have to tell stories about the top-billed characters on the screen — that there’s room and interest enough to take supporting players like Peggy Carter and Phil Coulson and give them a spotlight. The premiere of Agent Carter not only further expands the MCU, but it does so better than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
However, here’s the weird thing: This week, Operation S.I.N. one-ups them both.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the first two episodes of Agent Carter, as well as Operation S.I.N. #1, by Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis, so grab at least a copy of the comic and set aside a couple hours for the TV show and dig right in!
(Time once again for ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman to email each other about the year in DC and Marvel superhero comics. This year’s exchange took place between DEc. 26 and Dec. 30. And be sure to check out Part 1 of the conversation.)
Tom Bondurant: One of the more pleasant surprises this year was the extent to which the Big Two started going after a different audience. New books like Ms. Marvel and Gotham Academy, and makeovers for Batgirl and Catwoman, have found success with distinctive, unconventional approaches. How long can they keep this up? Will digital distribution help these books, if it’s not doing so already? Are the Big Two really committed to branching out?
Carla Hoffman: Branching out is such a double-edged sword. It sounds weird to say that, because diversity is so championed online, but when a book can alienate old readers, you really have to draw in a lot of new readers to make up for it. Believe it or not, there were some who complained that Kamala Khan took the Ms. Marvel name rather than getting her own moniker. The good news is that Ms. Marvel is such a quality book and so important to the next generation of comic readers, not to mention Marvel Comics itself, I couldn’t care less if a (pardon my use) grumpy old fan can’t change with the times. Marvel published about 40 new titles this year — everything from Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu to Rocket Raccoon. Not all of the titles stuck (R.I.P. She-Hulk, try again later), but that’s still a lot of new stuff to try that isn’t just another variation of a Wolverine comic.
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(Time once again for ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman to email each other about the year in DC and Marvel superhero comics. This year’s exchange took place between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30.)
Tom Bondurant: First let’s address the elephant in the room — or, more accurately, the infinite number of parallel rooms, each containing a slightly different elephant. In 2015, both Marvel and DC are building Big Events around their respective multiverses. Conventional wisdom predicts that DC is doing this to address fan criticisms of the New 52, perhaps resulting in some continuity tweaks.
Carla Hoffman: Oh, man, I hope that’s true! Honestly, I have a hard time judging the inner workings of our respective companies sometimes because I always hear more from the fan side than the production team. Enough customers come in, day in and day out, with a piece of their mind on how things should be run or changed, but rarely do the people in charge — not creators and editors, mind you, the people who sign the checks at the end of the day with real power — come forward to say, “We feel this is the right direction.” Tom Brevoort on Tumblr comes close with his tireless open forum, but even then there’s always going to be company policy. If DC is brave enough to go “Maybe we shouldn’t have thrown the entire baby out with the bathwater” and massage their continuity into a more pleasing shape for fans, that’s going to be a heck of thing that will have an effect on readership, for sure.
When I was younger, I used to read dozens of Star Trek novels. I would check them out of the library, find them at rummage sales, scour bookstore, all to gather more tales of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Each novel could flesh out the lives of the crew and detail their adventures in ways no television show or film ever could. Want the Next Generation crew to meet the original cast in their prime? It could be done! Want to travel to the end of time and space with the Q Continuum? Or the shape-shifting Constable Odo to become a gigantic monster and battle an even larger creature in the middle of Deep Space Nine? Anything was possible in those novels, except change.
Every novel had to put the crew back into their places by the final chapter. The television shows were still airing in the ’90s, so while those novels could go anywhere and do anything, nothing could really change beyond what we saw on TV each week. Commander Riker couldn’t lose a leg in the novels if Jonathan Frakes wasn’t going to be using a prosthetic on the show. Major Kira couldn’t quit her job in one book if Nana Visitor wasn’t leaving Deep Space Nine. While the novelized adventures had all this freedom, they still couldn’t shake the status quo.
I don’t think I’ve ever said “Oh, boy, a retcon!” with any sort of enthusiasm, especially if adds something new to a well-established and well-loved story.
Fleshing out information between panels or taking a short story and adapting it for a modern audience is one thing; for instance, the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man remains true to the 1962 origin even while expanding on it in a contemporary way. I’m talking about the addition of a new character who was also there at some momentous time, or a “dark secret” a character has been keeping for years and we only now learn it affected everything we’ve been reading.
I think those kinds of retcons are used mostly to make a current storyline or character more important by connecting them to the things we already know and love. It’s even worse when they don’t stick around and are quickly forgotten under a new creative team. I’m still a little sore at Ed Brubaker for X-Men: Deadly Genesis (for reasons that would take up the rest of this column), and I’m not all that thrilled to see Angela take her place as Thor’s sister.
Angela is an Image Comics character: From her design to her origins, she looks and feels as if she’s from a different place and time. The signature ever-waving ribbon around her body and that big miniskirt/belt appear out of place in Marvel’s more modern costuming styles. Instead of placing her within the context of Asgard, vague elements of her backstory have been stapled into the World Tree as a mysterious Tenth Kingdom called “Heaven,” although there’s no word on if it’s connected to the Celestial “Heaven” or if this is a separate chapter of Asgardian mythology. If it’s taking the Christian concept of Heaven and angels and adding it into Thor’s mythology, it seems almost disrespectful to the source material … but well within the bounds of actual living mythology.
It’s time to talk about Avengers/X-Men: AXIS, a crossover whose storyline effects aren’t discussed much, whether in the current comics — which titles affected by the “axis” are really hit and miss — or with an eye to the future. I’m trying to re-read all my Hickman Avengers books to prep up for next year’s Secret Wars, so AXIS gets left behind in the fan consciousness, which is a shame because the concept is really fascinating.
The Red Skull steals Professor Xavier’s brain (a phrase I never get tired of typing) and uses his telepathy to become a super-powerful evil Nazi. All the heroes band together to stop him, and even get villains involved in the fight. Because something of Xavier is still present in his brain matter, the Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange work up a spell that would flip who’s in charge of his mind; the Red Skull would be the echo and Xavier could be in command long enough to get the heroic victory. When Doctor Strange goes down in the middle of the spell, Doctor Doom steps up to complete it and, unsurprisingly, things don’t go according to plan.
While whatever happened to the Red Skull is still in question, the rest of the heroes and villains in the fight have switched alignments. Traditional bad guys are now acting heroic, and good guys have more villainous traits. Take Tony Stark, for example: He’s a philandering ego-maniac, living it up in a fancy mansion on the West Coast and working on ridiculous technology with little to no care on its effects on the public. He’s drinking again and dismissing his friends, leading Pepper to chastise him … and this all starts to sound like Iron Man 2.