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The Fifth Color | Now and later with Marvel in February 2014

that’s a whole lotta new

There just has to be a better way to do this every month. Not only is seeing previews for comics three months ahead of time a little tricky to keep up with and stay hyped for (kind of like finding out your Christmas presents on Halloween and remembering to act surprised on Dec. 25), but it’s also weird in a numbering sense. I know I’ve talked about this before, but Marvel’s Tom Brevoort has been handling some questions on how new NOW! is when there’s a bunch of No. 1 issues on the horizon. Some, like the new Wolverine #1 debuting in February, aren’t even new; the title will continue with its current writer and follow up on the current storyline. When you remember that comics are internally dated months ahead of the date they actually hit the stands, it’s amazing we ever know what is going on in comics.

But back to the numbering issue: Brevoort has talked about this on his Formspring-turned Tumblr account thusly:

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The Fifth Color | Weight of ‘Dark World’ rests on Thor’s shoulders

an epic poster for an epic movie

Looking back, the first Thor movie was a marvel, no pun intended. It was the first of the Marvel Studios films not to have Iron Man in it at all, plus it was the first major step toward what we would come to know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Incredible Hulk was really its own little world, with a little Stark tacked on at the end to hint at the idea that was still forming. By the time Thor came out, the path toward a full fledged Avengers movie was on the horizon and Thor was our introduction to the next Earth’s Mightiest Hero.

Although the character is difficult to translate, Thor showed modern movie audiences a near-perfect tale of a god humbled, heroic triumph and the kick-ass design of a Jack Kirby-inspired Asgard. There was a flexibility of tone and style that showed us the fantastic was possible too in the Marvel world of science and technology; Thor even explains to Jane Foster and the audience very clearly that science and fantasy aren’t that far apart, sort of justifying the god’s association with more science-based characters. The movie had an amazing balance between so many different themes, it’s still my favorite Marvel movie yet.

Sequels to such great films can be incredibly difficult. On one hand, they can often flesh out the elements we liked from the original while trimming a bit of the fat (see Star Trek II vs. Star Trek: The Motion Picture). The second film can strike directly to the heart of the matter, rather than spend time telling audiences where they are and why they should care about the people on screen. On the other hand, reference can equal preference, and when the second movie is nothing like the first, it can fall flat if it’s not what we were expecting. Not everyone can return for the second movie, be they actors, directors or designers, so cracks can form if there’s not a consistency from one installment to the next. Others can complain if the next movie relies too heavily on the first, “continuity porn” showing up on angry Internet forums or from more casual movie-going folk. It’s a lot of concern to carry with you into a sequel.

The good news is that the god of thunder bears this weight heroically in Thor: the Dark Work. I can’t say he juggles it all effortlessly, I can’t say it doesn’t seem a little awkward and uneven at times, but all the troubles are carried in an impressive spectacle. Want to know more? Read on!

WARNING: No spoilers. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen any plot details that I might discuss, so click with confidence!

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The Fifth Color | ‘X-Men: Battle of the Atom’ battles for the unknown

xmenbattleoftheatomX-Men: Battle of the Atom seems poorly named. The title references the nickname “Children of the Atom” often given to mutants for an old school, sci-fi feel, so you think this battle would have something to do with being a mutant, when in actuality, it has more to do with time travel and really, just being an X-Man. They could have called it X-Men: Fight for the Future and that would have made more sense, but then everyone would have just thought about that one X-Files movie and that would have gotten us nowhere.

Still, while X-Men: Battle of the Atom is an awkward title, it seems to promise one thing, deliver another and both ideas were a little oversized to begin with, much like the story the title denotes. Brian Michael Bendis once again hits the readers with a surgical strike, but this one’s a little more invasive and disguised than the clean-up or shakedowns of events past. Comparing it to Infinity, Hickman seems to be working from very broad concepts (intergalactic battle, world building/destruction) that started his Avengers event to the very narrow (save Earth, Thanos has a son, new Inhumans popping up on Earth) and more easily understandable to the reader, almost like a reward. Did you bear with us for the Alephs and Builders and high concepts? Here are some new characters and human interest stories to make it more palatable. In the end, I think Infinity will work much better as a coherent trade and over-arcing narrative telling a big space yarn.

In X-Men: Battle of the Atom‘s case, the story started out simple (put the time-traveled X-Men back where they came from) and got more and more complicated as he wrote further, from a narrow point to broader strokes full of brand new characters who had maybe a glimpse of a reason to be there. The story reads much better as single issues, like tiny bites of candy that make you sick if you eat them all at once. In the end, it will probably make more sense… well, let’s face it: at the next big event.

Let me see if I can make sense of what went on….

WARNING: I’m giving you the short, short version of X-Men: Battle of the Atom so if you want to read it for yourself, stop here and visit your friendly neighborhood comic shop! If you’ve already read the X-Event, read on!

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The Fifth Color | The Iron Man you think you know

IronMan17_cvrKieron Gillen had to remind me to be angry. I read through my comics stash for the week, feeling very proud of myself and then went on about my day, wondering what I was going to be writing for you, Dear Reader (hi, Mom!). Then I browse through Twitter to see this posted by the writer: “You know, after yesterday with Iron Man 17 and YA11, I’d have expected my @s to be worse, but people are being really nice. Thanks!”

Being really nice? Why shouldn’t they? What should I be mad at?! Nothing happened that was all that shocking in Young Avengers, as long as you know who Loki is and that Loki: Agent of Asgard is debuting in February, so it’s just putting two and two together. That couldn’t be the reason for torches and pitchforks. Then I remembered Iron Man #17 and still felt no need to reach for my oil-soaked rags and farming tools. There’s a twist to be sure, and a fairly large change to Tony Stark’s tried and true origin, but is the cover right? Is this really “The shocking conclusion that will change the world of Iron Man forever”?

Not exactly. Read on and find out why!

WARNING: Oh yeah, big spoilers for the current run on Iron Man! Huge, massive spoilers. Click no further if you haven’t read Iron Man #17! But if you have (or simply love spoilers), please do read on!

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The Fifth Color | Deadpool reminds us tragedy is easy, comedy is hard

deadpool18_cvrI hate “dark and gritty.” Some days I wake up and say a little prayer on announcement weekends like this one, where the House of Ideas sells us on the next batch of comics’ twists and turns that no one hails a new book as being a must-read because it will be “dark and gritty.” I like to think that’s we’ve moved past thinking that shading your books in big, black washes and stockpiling your panels in death, dismemberment and human anguish means your comics are better or “more realistic” than one that’s more lighthearted. After all, death not only gets you an annotation in the Overstreet guide, but it also means something important has happened.

That’s what makes Deadpool so interesting as a character and as an ongoing comic. Nothing really important happens in a Deadpool comic; he doesn’t cross over with big events all that often, and he’s more a guest star in other characters’ comics than a major player in his own. He also happens to be wacky, dangerous in a Bugs Bunny sort of way and more self-aware than most heroes, whether anti- or super-. With the right creative team, Deadpool can make you think while making you laugh, or tug at the heart string and your funny bone. At his worst, he’s like a CBS sitcom: high in ratings, panned by critics, divisive in his target audience and competing against the better shows.

Marvel NOW! Deadpool wonderfully leans toward the former, with Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn balancing humor and horror on a katana’s edge, as Deadpool #18 expertly delivers on both this week.

WARNING: HUGE spoiler for Deadpool #18 this week, so please grab your copy and a box of tissues and read along!

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The Fifth Color | ‘Avengers: Endless Wartime’ struggles with identity

AvengersCoverFINALIt’s difficult to find solid synergy between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the current comics line. On one hand, that’s a good thing; not everything should stop and shift on a Hollywood dime. On the other, you’d think there would be at least one book that followed the Avengers movie characters. Anyone familiar with the films and looking for a little Avengers action would be picking up an Infinity tie-in, and … man. I mean, I’ve been reading comics for what seems like forever, and Jonathan Hickman is writing some crazy-dense stuff right now. Avengers Assemble went from being the go-to book for quick-and-simple adventures of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and now it’s just as important a tie-in for Captain Marvel and Infinity as the Hickman books. Visually, Marvel can tweak Tony Stark’s character model to be a lot more Robert Downey Jr.-y, adjust some costumes to be more realistic and put movie favorites like the Warriors Three closer to the action, but it’s difficult to produce a book that remains event story-neutral or even simply set in Marvel’s on-screen world.

The good news is that the House of Ideas is trying a couple things that might be a little more reader-friendly than just sticking a #1 on the cover. One is the new Marvel Knights line; the inaugural series, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man debuted this week. Another is the return of the “original graphic novel”: a story that was only reprinted in a larger format and never collected from regular issues. These are traditionally done-in-one books that used to be more magazine format and gave you a taste of the characters in a more isolated environment, and these are the books I think will probably lure more new readers into the fold. No commitment, just a complete story with the characters you already know in their own island-like adventure far from the shores of the Marvel universe.

This week saw the arrival of Avengers: Endless Wartime, written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Mike McKone. Interestingly enough, it has a foreword by Clark Gregg, good ol’ Agent Coulson. As he is a beloved figure from both the big screen and, more recently, on the new television ser Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I figured this would be an ideal start for Marvel fans from other media where Coulson is more present. Would he make an appearance in the book? Who is this targeted for? Join me after the break and find out.

WARNING: We’re talking Avengers: Endless Wartime ahead and I’ll try not to give away to many moments, but I’d still grab a copy and read along!

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The Fifth Color | Agents of W.H.E.D.O.N.

GenerationX-posterMark your calenders, folks! Marvel again reached a milestone as it ventured into the world of television once more. If you think about it, when was the last time Marvel had a live-action television series? The first thing I think of (and I’m sure I’m in the minority on this one) is the Generation X TV movie/pilot that aired in 1996.

Some of you might remember the Mutant X TV show that actually did pretty well (“pretty well” meaning it lasted for more than one season — three, in fact! — in syndication) but it doesn’t legally count. Effectively, it’s been 17 years since Marvel has attempted live-action television, and 25 years since it’s been a hit, back when The Incredible Hulk was all the rage. So score one for the House of Ideas, as ABC aired Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week to exceptional ratings, with 11.9 million viewers watching the premiere live.

Despite having the name in the title, I can’t bring myself to call it Marvel’s show after seeing the pilot. If anything, this is Joss Whedon’s show, as his earmarks are all over every scene, plot point and casting choice; this makes sense, considering Whedon is, primarily, a TV guy. His name conjures up a list of cult series, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dollhouse, all serving a die-hard audience that will watch his works because of the man behind the camera. Whedon is comfortable enough here (and probably has enough free rein over Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) to work in his classic tropes and story style to make a hit (that hopefully won’t get canceled this time).

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The Fifth Color | Living in the All-New Marvel NOW!

long boxMarvel recently announced the next big thing, in the form of the All-New Marvel NOW. Since last year’s refreshing take on a variety of titles, and the introduction of a few new ones, turned out to be a success, the publisher has gone back to find new and interesting ways to keep the stands fresh and recharged, directing readers to the latest stories and longtime readers to the new creative teams and focus of the Marvel Universe. A sort of lead-in to Inhumanity, the next event-as-varnish over the heroes and stories, kind of a way to just drum up support for some new ideas. But they’re renumbering the Avengers.

OK, it’s not a blatant renumbering; you see, to highlight the All-New Marvel NOW titles, they’ll be getting a Point-NOW issue to direct fans to where the next hotness is. It’s kind of like the Point One issue, but less of a long-term, situation I’m guessing. Don’t get me wrong, the Point-NOW issues will be here for a while, as it kicks off in December with Avengers #24.NOW and then leads into a new series (or more than one new series, in some cases) every week. I know, it’s a lot to take in, and so far, there’s not much else to report besides an All-New Invaders series and the early info we’ve gotten on Inhumanity. I expect an avalanche of interviews and promotions the closer we get to December’s launch. Yet there’s one thing in the announcement that just got right under my nails; it’s a small issue, but in the long run, it becomes a much bigger point of contention.

How are we supposed to file these Point-Now issues??

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The Fifth Color | What can I say about ‘Inhumans’?

inhumans_jaelee There’s a lot of new information coming out of Marvel as the publisher preps us for the next major event, even as the current one is just getting its sea legs. But for the moment, I want to talk about the past. This week, the original Marvel Knights Inhumans miniseries returned to the shelves in a super-sexy oversized hardcover, and it’s been a long time coming — not just because it was originally promised in the late 2000s, but because this one series is a milestone not only for the characters but for the company as well.

When this series — written by Paul Jenkins and illustrated by Jae Lee — was released, I was working at my first comic-shop job in the City of Industry, California, and I was pretty much a mainstream X-Men junkie. I’m not saying the issues weren’t any good, but there is a candy coating that went over a lot of ’90s comics: We didn’t ask them to do much besides look pretty and accumulate value, and that’s exactly what they did. At Marvel, Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti were given the opportunity to grab unique creators and kind of make the Marvel Knights imprint their own. That obviously started with the incredible reinvention of Daredevil, Christopher Priest’s amazing work on Black Panther, and the Punisher series no one likes to talk about. All of those titles challenged the reader to think differently about well-known characters, and put a more “adult” spin on them than you’d find in your average Marvel title. The artwork was phenomenal; Lee was in almost a transitional state between the hyper-stylized work we’d seen in Namor the Sub-Mariner in the early ’90s to what he does now. But I don’t think it was the art that really drew me into the Inhumans series; it was the simple fact that I was invited in.

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The Fifth Color | Different states of Captain America

Captain America #11

the cover to Captain America #11 by Carlos Pacheco

Everyone needs a little reinvention now and then. It’s human nature to take a look at ourselves and try on a different hat to see if it changes anything. Halloween, cosplay, even just a vacation to another place can be a way to escape the person we are now for the person we could be. Sometimes, the reinvention sticks; after all, none of us is who we were in high school. Sometimes it’s a terrible idea that we can pull ourselves out of, like a bad haircut. Either way, who we are remains essential while the trappings can change for a fresh perspective.

Comic characters need the same thing, much to our chagrin. Some of these heroes have been around for 60 or 70 years, so obviously they can’t be the same people they were in World War II. There have been cultural shifts that practically demand characters change to keep up with the times and standards; we just don’t call characters “Lass” or “Lad” anymore, and Sue Storm’s early Invisible Girl years can be embarrassingly sexist. Comic book characters have to retain their audience, if not attract a new one every generation, and a new costume can go a long way in creating a water mark for when fans started reading a particular title. Most of all, creative teams demand these changes as no one wants to write the same character over and over, year after year, without a chance to make their mark on the hero’s legend. And much like a bad haircut, sometimes these changes don’t go over very well with fans; this still does not change the character at heart.

It can be even more difficult when a comic book character is more than a hero, but a symbol of a country. Rick Remender and John Romita Jr. have brought us 10 issues of a new chapter in Captain America’s life and there has been so much change it might be hard to swallow. Because Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting were so wildly successful with their reinvention eight years ago, we’re having a hard time letting go of what was working for something new and decidedly different. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad haircut to be suffered through; if anything, a reinvention can help fans look at a beloved hero in a new way, just another facet of their history and character.

WARNING: We’ll be talking about the Marvel NOW! run of Captain America and, mostly spoilerly, Captain America #10 where a bunch of stuff happens. Grab your copies and read along!

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The Fifth Color | Jubilee, vampire mom

X-Men #4 - Shogo

Look Upon Your Doom

Comics love kids. Whether as protagonists or antagonists or (especially) readers, comics have a long-established history with the young and young at heart. Youth are blessed with innocence and wonder, easily fitting into fantasy situations without fail and delighting in the escapism that most “grown-ups” would dismiss with cynicism or disbelief. It’s an easy starting point for a story to begin in a character’s youth or with the cliche “I was born …,” because it’s something everyone reading can relate to. We can all shout, “Hey, I was born once, too!” and suddenly everyone’s on the same page.

So, it sort of makes sense that comics hate parents. Any chance they get, parents are abusive, neglectful, swept off stage or, frequently, killed. Having parents around limits a character’s independence. They drag a “real world” sensibility into fantastic situations where we all have to wonder who are the people putting these kids up at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, taking us out of the fun of just having a super-powered school in the first place. Parents also tend to prove that kids don’t really “know everything,” and can put a damper on the adventurous spirit that kid superheroes require. And, let’s face it, not everyone has been a parent and, sadly enough, not everyone has had parents that stuck around. Aside from some debatable exceptions (and one awesome mom in Sue Storm), parents don’t get panel time in comics unless they are an obstacle to overcome.

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The Fifth Color | Fearlessly defending your trust

fearlessdefenders7Death really seems like the end, doesn’t it? Aside from the very literal definition, fiction tends to end when your protagonist completes his journey. What bigger way can you end the “ultimate journey” than by dying? Sure, another character can pick up the plot and the story can continue, but where our dead character coughs his last breath is where that story ends. Characters die when their story purpose is served and there is simply nothing else to say about them.

Or at least that’s what you’d assume. Comic books, however, have a really odd relationship with death. It’s an eye-rolling trope that no one really stays dead anymore; in fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of something that can really and truly end a comic book character’s life. At best, death temporarily shelves the character in question, pulling them out of the game to grab some Gatorade and cool off on the bench before the coach sends them back in. At worst, it’s a cheap marketing trick to garner rubber necking sales and speculation. Death can be a change in status or design for a long-running character gone stale, or the cliched motivation for all the other characters around them to grieve or avenge their death. No matter what shape death takes in comics, it’s pretty much a given that death is nothing more than a transitional state and that the character never really leaves us for very long.

So why do we fall for it every time? When a character dies in a comic, there’s this big collective gasp from the readers as if someone actually died despite our cynical nature and regular readership. It’s no surprise that eventually Peter Parker will return to the pages of a Spider-Man comic when the current status quo has run its purpose, but there is still an angry undercurrent from the Spidey fanbase about his demise. On one hand, I feel like we’re the hapless victim of a playground gag, forever interested in a Hertz Donut or a nice Hawaiian Punch and falling for a gag that most of us should be calloused toward by now. On the other hand, isn’t that just a sign of great writing? To take a well-worn trope and achieve fan outrage by using it constructively should be a heralded accomplishment, a difficult trick that puts us in the story despite knowing better.

Fearless Defenders pulled this trick on us with a one-two punch that must have been so hard to keep under wraps. The shock and drama from one issue was fed into the next for a unique solution, but it took 21 days for that plot point to resolve itself, long enough for a fan reaction, proclaiming to cancel their subscriptions and write angry letters online. It’s hard to know what to do when you fall for the ol’ Death trick one more time, especially with such a short turnaround. Let’s talk abut Fearless Defenders #6 and #7 this week, and figure out if Cullen Bunn is a genius or just a jerk for pulling Death’s wool over our eyes one more time.

WARNING: Yep, spoilers for Fearless Defenders #6 and #7, but since the issues have been out for at least a week, I hope they’re not too spoilery. In any case, grab your copies and read along!

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The Fifth Color | Comic connectivity and you

Captain Marvel #17Here I am, like so many of you fine, wonderful people, relaxing at home instead of walking among the majestic masses of Comic-Con International in San Diego. Comic Book Resources and Robot 6 are keeping we homebodies abreast of all the news from this year’s mega-super-hyper event, so it’s kind of nice to be able to sit in a comfortable chair while still keeping informed and not having to pay $9 for a burrito.

Sure, it’d be nice to be there, wouldn’t it? To stand in line and take your chance at a microphone to tell the House of Ideas your opinion, ask questions of your favorite creative teams and get attention from the editorial team? Good news! That’s what social media can do for you! We live in an amazing time where a tweet to your favorite artist could be replied to with casual familiarity or a Tumblr post could get you a sneak peek at exclusive artwork. Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort has a Formspring account (now moved to Tumblr here) so you can ask him any question at any time of night. The people who produce comics are surprisingly at the hands of their public, which for Marvel, isn’t that new of an idea.

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The Fifth Color | Forward into the past with Marvel in October

New Avengers #20

Look out! Another event is on it’s way!

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?

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The Fifth Color | So what if ‘Avengers vs. X-Men’ has a ‘What If’?

whatifAvX_1What 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?

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