"Rowdy" Roddy Piper Reported Dead at 61
Confession time: I haven’t seen the Season 2 premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet. Don’t get me wrong, I want to, but things have been busy here, and when I do tune in (thanks, Hulu Plus!) I want to give it my full attention. TV has become very serious in recent years, and the best stuff tends to require the viewer to invest some brain power into the shows.
It’s a good thing, but it can get a little exhausting. And if you’re a Marvel fan, there’s a lot to keep track of in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Characters, locations, devices and plotlines might trigger some stored bit of trivia in your brain and lead to a different appreciation for the approach.
Here at The Fifth Color, I try to keep abreast of all the Marvel comics news I can, and it’s requiring me to track more and more movie rumors and casting decisions — which is weird because The Fifth Color began as a way to relate to comics and how we readers view the stories. But comics are becoming more than just you and the pages in your hand; there’s a now a strong media influence on how we see comics. Even something as simple as a mobile game can draw you into a comic shop and change how you see the books on the shelves. No joke, I had a customer show me a comic cover he had unlocked on a Marvel mobile game and ask me if we had that book in stock. He wanted to find out what it was about. That’s good marketing.
To call something a “series of mini-series” seems a bit clunky, doesn’t it? There should be a better, agreed-upon term for comics published in short bursts of story arcs, only to return after a hiatus with a new No. 1 issue and new storyline. Mind you, that’s a difficult mode of publishing to define: Do canceled ongoings count as a series of miniseries? What about hasty “reboots” or creative-team switches that lead to the renumbering of a title? And how do you even sell a book that comes with an expiration date?
There’s a habit of readers jumping ship after an ongoing has announced its final-issue date, and people are frequently more comfortable waiting for the trade paperback when they know there’s only going to be so many issues. Series of miniseries (see how awkward that is?) are a low-investment opportunity, both monetarily and plot-wise.
And yet they really work when the right effort is put in. They keep heroes that have been relegated to the back burner fresh in everyone’s mind without adding yet another character to the Avengers roster. The arcs they follow might be smaller in scope, but they give a bigger focus to the hero at hand. I’d much rather read a series of minis about a fan favorite than watch the character jockey for space in an event title or (again, because I pick on them) an Avengers series.
Event books seem tricky, but they’re really not. With their sprawling casts, catastrophic plotlines and massive fallout for books yet to come, it’s easy to see how some events (we’re looking at you, Siege) can go horribly wrong. But there are some key items each event must have to succeed, if not always spectacularly, whether or not we readers liked the outcome.
We will always need a threat, something too big for one hero, or, we hope, one team, to deal with. If the event were called Ninjariffic! and everyone just fought the Hand, we’d throw Daredevil at the problem and it would be solved. No, we require a large cast, as many and as diverse characters as we can assemble. After all, event books are here to help promote the rest of the Marvel line, and if it were just an Avengers story, it’d be an arc in one of their many books.
If the event can be personal, then we can have a role for all of our different heroes to play where no one is left out, or simply included to fill in space on a splash page. At the end of the event, we need some sort of ramifications for subsequent comics; it doesn’t have to be life-changing (though deaths are a go-to for this kind of thing), but it should shake up at least a few titles. On the other hand, the ripples don’t necessarily have to be massive, as the rest of the books have stories to tell as well; we don’t want one event ruining other creators’ work.
Civil War is an example of doing things right, no matter how much the end of the series fell apart. It had a threat in the form of the Superhuman Registration Act, it affected characters personally by making them choose sides, and the aftermath continues to be felt in the Marvel Universe. Another good example — and again, controversial in reader’s judgments — is Fear Itself. The threats posed were entire realms at war using Earth as a staging ground. It affected heroes personally, as they all faced their fears, and at the end of the day, the fallout was mostly contained to Asgard, letting the other stories get back to work in their own books. Whether or not you enjoyed the stories, they were told pretty artfully and got the job done.
Did Original Sin pass the test? Read on and find out!
WARNING: BIG HONKIN’ SPOILERS for all of Original Sin, mostly the big finale that came out this week so grab your copies and read along!
As a child of the ’80s, I’m well aware of the PSA comic. There was a lot of media at the time intended to teach kids about the dangers of everything from drugs to molestation to crossing the street. It was difficult to avoid that “very special episode” of your favorite television series, or that equally special Spider-Man comic in which the wall-crawler confronts drug abuse in Canada.
They were often heavy handed, with strong narration reminding you to tell an adult, or scary scenes depicting the the horrible death of a minor or previously unknown character. Pop culture tried to use its powers for good, and often these PSAs were skipped over, at best, or mocked tremendously in our older years.
But then there are those times when a comic can actually teach you something, or provide a little solace in its handling of a tough issue. I’ve talked here about the X-Men comic I received in a burn ward to help kids cope with the trauma, and there’s also a line of called Medikidz to explain other medical issues like cancer, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. These are pretty weighty topics, but a comic can make the information easier to digest. For the “PSA” comic, it seems like the more specific the information given is, the better the story comes out, and the more helpful it can be to a younger reader.
Does the same hold true for older readers? Recently, Daredevil #7, by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez, dealt with a mature topic that wouldn’t really fly with a younger audience. Did it hit its marks, or was this just another “very special episode” with Matt Murdock? Read on and find out.
WARNING: Spoilers for Daredevil #7, so please do yourself a favor and grab a copy and read along!
Jonathan Hickman writes a dense story. I’d almost consider him the anti-Bendis in the matter/anti-matter chamber that is the Avengers. While Brian Michael Bendis focused on the small story (sometimes a bit myopically), Hickman branches out into the vast unknowns of space and reality, and presents stories in a massive scope and scale. He has complex, overarching plots that have enormous charts to keep track of timelines and major events. He creates mythologies for his own subcultures for readers to delve into. The threats his Avengers face are beyond the realms of mortal ken, which sometimes means beyond the reader’s ken as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that the Avengers are facing down greater problems and dangers than, say, ninjas or hoodlums. If you’re going to be the premier superhero team, you have to be challenged by something no one hero could face on her own. Giving the Avengers grand designs makes them seem more important and, therefore, more heroic when they succeed. On the other hand, sometimes a larger scope can be too large to grasp, and when the reader loses the personal interest of the story, it can be a chore to slog through. I’d be lying if it didn’t seem like homework sometimes to figure out Hickman’s builder/mapmakers/Ivory Kings/Black Priests cosmology, and that my eyes didn’t glaze over during some issues as I waited for the heroes to do something spectacular.
Well, the wait is over! The last three issues of New Avengers have gotten us back into the game with a huge reveal, some personal triumphs and tragedies, and I feel more invested in this Incursion story than ever before. What’s been going on? And why did it take so long to get to the fireworks factory? Read on!
WARNING: Spoilers (obviously) for the New Avengers #21-23.
Decompression in storytelling sucks. I’m not saying that it can’t be done right and really enhance a plot — the first few issues of the original Ultimate Spider-Man prove that point quite well. I’m just saying that, for the most part, it wastes our time.
As much as I respect Jonathan Hickman, I have to admit his Avengers arcs are running really long in the tooth and are densely packed with so much information and so little resolution that I feel as if I’m being strung along. It took this week’s issue of New Avengers to get me reinvested in the grand arc, and the story had to get all WorldstarHipHop to shake things up. As a reader, you can feel when things slow down, and the less you want to go back and reread to remind you of content that should have been addressed issues ago. It can start to cause regret, resentment against the book itself (why am I still reading this?) and a weird sort of Stockholm syndrome where you don’t like a particular series but you keep buying it because, man, the payoff better be good.
On the other hand, comics that “compress,” or at least move along at a faster clip, leave little time for regret. It’s not even that shorter stories can’t be as complicated as longer ones; the story simply leaves it up to the reader to unpack the plot and characters long after the story ends. And hey, even if it’s bad, at least it didn’t waste your time? There’s a certain amount of assumed intelligence when a comic moves at a good clip and packs in as much detail as it can to give you the biggest bang for the number of pages, and, in the Thanos:The Infinity Revelation, Jim Starlin wants you to be super-smart.
Does the original graphic novel live up to the very well-deserved Starlin hype? More importantly, is it worth the $25 price tag for such a thin little hardcover? Read on!
Once again, I found myself sitting in a theater at midnight, watching credits roll by and wondering “How on Earth did they get away with this?”
Marvel movies, for all intents and purposes, are incredibly risky. Where as the Distinguished Competition fears treading outside its bankable Christopher Nolan sphere on the big screen, Marvel Studios continues to push the boundaries of what an audience will by into.
Let’s put it another way: There was one moment where I realized I was sitting in a packed theater as people cheered for a prison riot started by a raccoon and a tree. Frames of this movie, taken out of context, feel like I made them up. The plot is purely run on emotion rather than anything logical or realistic. At times, even the emotional context is mocked by characters on the screen. Just look at the soundtrack! It’s like an hour’s worth of “-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70’s.”
And yet, for all this absurdity, it works. It works really well.
Marvel keeps doing this, though. It keeps bucking tradition and taking chances that are paying off with big bucks at the box office. Iron Man was a movie about a hero few people knew about and rested entirely on the strength of the lead actors, and it created a franchise. Thor looked so unique and treated its source material like Shakespeare, and audiences cried out for another. Captain America: The First Avenger told possibly the most honest and altruistic hero story ever put to screen. Marvel’s The Avengers brought all the other movies together for a complete cinematic universe.
With Guardians of the Galaxy, audiences will be taken back in time.
WARNING: No real spoilers, as what I’m mentioning was in the trailer for a half-second. But if you wish to remain pure and unsullied, please do yourself a favor and go see Guardians of the Galaxy and enjoy the ride. Everyone else, read on!
We’re less than a week away from Comic-Con International, and that means announcements from major publishers are coming in early to jockey for position before the masses gather in sunny San Diego. Marvel struck hard with big changes debuting on major media outlets, leading to your grandma knowing what’s coming up in the pages of Thor.
It’s a weird world we live in these days.
On The View, Whoopi Goldberg announced there will be a woman taking over the mantle of Thor. Marvel’s Ryan Penagos (a far better source for Marvel news, no offense to Goldberg) clarified that this wouldn’t be a more traditional female counterpart, but the actual god of thunder title would pass to a female character. On The Colbert Report, actually a decent and known source for Captain America news, Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada informed Stephen Colbert that she shield will be passed to the Falcon, Cap’s longtime partner Sam Wilson. In fact, Colbert specifically said that the event was tied to the events of Captain America #21 and the rather complicated story line within, which I believe is the first time a recent back issue was ever advertised on a cable TV show.
Superior Iron Man was also announced, indicating a darker outlook and a lighter “Genius Bar”-looking set of armor for Tony Stark, which led everyone from the New York Daily News to MTV to carry stories about what it means.
Ms. Marvel #5 is the most important comic of the current era. Wait, I got ahead of myself.
Comics have distinct eras that you can recognize simply by flipping through an issue. Whether it’s the artwork, subject matter, costume design or the overall presentation, fans can get an idea of when the book came out, and who its intended audience is. It’s one of the reasons I have a hard time recommending older first issues to new readers; X-Men #1 is going to seem weird to someone who has never read any X-Men, whether it’s due to the silted language and design of the original or the ’90s posing and over-lettered pages of the Claremont/Lee version. It can seem really dated for new readers, and can completely color a generation of fans’ expectations of what comics should “really be like.” This is my only explanation for the extreme Jim Lee-ness of the New 52 costume designs.
With this is mind, trying to peg the overall theme of the current era of comics is still a little tricky. Do we use the movies as an example of how future generations will view the medium? Will Civil War and Identity Crisis, with their adult themes, be how the early 2000s are remembered? Do we have Brian Michael Bendis to thank for the voice of this modern era?
This brings me back to my cause this week: I would like Ms. Marvel #5 to be the bar by which the current era is measured. This comic does so much right, and is so absolutely inspiring, that I want to see followers, imitators and an entire generation of fans who will expect this level of quality in their comics in the days to come. Did I get ahead of myself again? Let me catch you up.
WARNING: I’ll be discussing Ms. Marvel #5, so grab your copy (buy three more!) and read along!
Tom Brevoort is a saint. Seriously, I don’t know how he can keep an open ask forum on Tumblr and be patient enough to answer incoming questions from fans morning, noon and night. He’s an incredible resource and incredibly honest, which makes some of his answers hard to stomach, but at least you know Brevoort cares enough about Marvel comics and his job as senior vice president of publishing-executive editor to give you the truth.
Recently, he was asked about the length of a comic’s storyline and, in particular, whether editors inform writers how long an arc is going to be. The question came in regard to Brian Michael Bendis’ run on his two X-Men books where, in a way, I agree that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of answers and/or change. Particular complaints aside, Brevoort responded:
Every story is different, every series is different, and every creator is different. All throughout his career, Brian has engaged in long-form storytelling. And he’s not the only one — Jonathan Hickman is another good example. And for those that enjoy what they do and stay on for the ride, there are payoffs for that devotion.
Who are we putting that devotion into? The comic characters? The creative team? The publisher? Who decides where a book begins or ends?
The past few weeks have given us drips and drabs of drama regarding two movies on Marvel’s amazing slate of cinematic wonders: Ant-Man lost long-attached director Edgar Wright and hunted down a new one (successfully, I might add; Peyton Reed’s indie-comedy cred is solid with Mr. Show and Upright Citizens Brigade, plus Down With Love is a personal favorite), and Doctor Strange now has Scott Derrickson directing and a slew of casting rumors. It’s made my Twitter feed abuzz with opinions and fancasts and denouncements of studio interference in the creative efforts of the auteur. It seems everyone wants to talk about the next Marvel breakthrough hit.
But not the comics. God forbid we ever talk about the comics. Ant-Man and Doctor Strange are absent from the shelves, outside of cameos in Original Sin, a canceled gig on the FF for Scott Lang and … well, something odd going on with Doctor Strange in New Avengers. As I scroll through Tumblr and Twitter demands about how Doctor Strange and Ant-Man should be presented, no one seems all that keen on picking up a comic with either character in a starring role. When contradicting someone’s fancast, I offered my own choice for Doctor Strange as a Ming Doyle sketch, and was told that “drawings are not good actors.” Oh, man, I hope they were joking …
Despite there being an entire genre around the subject, science has a hard time fitting into mainstream comics fiction. A single mind conceiving of a single advancement or scientific theory in a singular world created to fit the topic? Great. A bunch of different scientists just making science all over the place to fill a variety of plots and necessities? It gets messy. Not only can too many minds spoil the plausibility of the Marvel Universe — Richards can build a portal to the Negative Zone in his house, but can’t cure cancer? — but shouldn’t all these geniuses have done better for the world they live in?
Let’s take a look at the science bros of the Marvel Universe, and see how they compare and contrast with one another. Who doesn’t love a good power ranking?
WARNING: Despite this Fifth Color being about scientists, please know that there is no scientific formula to the rankings you’re about to see. This is all conjecture, making me absolutely wrong on all counts. Feel free to make your own lists elsewhere, but for the humble opinions of Yours Truly, read on!
X-Men: The Last Stand was the last X-Men movie I thought I would ever see. I was so let down that I didn’t even want to watch X-Men: First Class when Fox tried to lure fans back with the promise of a clean slate. X3 was just too far. All the buildup and promise of the first two films was washed away with thoughtlessness and a complete misunderstanding of what made those adaptations great.
It’s easy to forget that the first X-Men movie really kicked off the revival of major comic-book adaptations that continue today. I know, Blade came first and was a big hit and really rekindled Hollywood’s love affair with comic properties, but X-Men was the start of the uniformed team, super-powers and the struggle between good and evil that modern audiences crave. The idea of peace and war for survival, the human-rights angle played as a mutant allegory portrayed by talented actors was all there comfortably next to stabby fight scenes, snarky quips and Halle Berry. From the first movie, we went to what could be debated as the best X-Men movie, X2: X-Men United. Themes were expounded upon, comic morsels were dropped for fans to pick up on, and the special-effects budget improved tenfold. After that, development problems, the wanton destruction of characters and the complete mishandling of the Phoenix storyline all combined to create a movie that nearly killed the franchise.
X-Men: First Class was a chance to get the audience back with a younger, sexier cast of mutant heroes and villains. For the most part it worked, but I didn’t want a new group of X-Men; I wanted the old one back. Everything in the first two X-Men movies still worked, and it didn’t feel right to just jettison it all because of one disaster. To borrow a phrase, just because one stumbles and falls doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.
If only we could go back in time and change X-Men: the Last Stand. ..
WARNING: SPOILERS for X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’ll try and remain vague, but I’ll definitely be talking about the final act because — short version — it’s worth the admission price to see if you’re a fan of the original films. For more, continue on, True Believers!
This is a weird analogy, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense: While cruising YouTube, I found a review of the 1989 Disney classic The Little Mermaid that mentions, off-hand, how Ariel is a huge fangirl of human culture: She has big cave of collectibles that could be featured in ROBOT 6’s “Shelf Porn,” her father doesn’t really get what his youngest daughter is “in to” and dramatically objects when her fandom starts to take over her responsibilities. She’s obviously passionate about human life and culture, and while she might not have all the facts right, her enthusiasm is infectious.
(Quick aside: I’m going to replace “fangirl” with “fanatic” instead, as being enthusiastic and a little immature is not limited to a girl’s fancy. From Cheeseheads to Deadheads, everyone can look a little stupid for something they love. You know who’s just as annoying to me as the mobs of women lusting over Robert Pattinson? The dude that screams “I LOVE YOU, SCARLETT!” at every midnight showing of a Marvel film featuring Black Widow. DUDE. SHE CAN’T HEAR YOU. So, yes, let’s just call them fanatics for whatever — and whoever — they love, because everyone gets a little goofy sometimes. Moving on …)
Fanatic Ariel loves human culture and swims about in her cave of collectibles, longing to take her fandom to the next level. Cue song. And while she might not be the best role model in the Disney Princess lineup, her story does have some empowering lessons all fans could learn.
While we all roll our eyes or groan inside (or on message boards) when the summer blockbuster season rears its ugly head, part of me hopes we get another clean, classic Secret Wars out of the bunch. It had a great mix of heroes and villains from across the Marvel Universe who didn’t normally hang out together. It took those character completely out of their normal element (quite literally) to give them room to interact and put everyone on an equal footing. There was a clear common goal and a threat to face in the form of the Beyonder, and a host of villains he collected to fight our heroes. We had some new characters created in Volcana, Titania and Spider-Woman, growing the event into an origin story. And then everyone went home having learned a little something and … oh, yes: the black costume.
Secret Wars had a lasting effect on the comics that came after it despite having a clear finish when it was released. Heroes go to Battleworld, they battle the Beyonder and Doctor Doom, everybody dies, everybody comes back, they overcome their obstacles and go home (or stay, as Ben Grimm would do). It wraps up but still gives us so much to work with for future comics. This should be a checklist for all of Marvel’s event series.
Sadly, it’s not. However, Original Sin has the potential to get back to those classic roots. Please note that we’ve only really seen the zero and first issue, but there is just something from the simplicity of storytelling to the theme of the event that gives me hope. Let’s see if I can’t translate that hope to you, Dear Reader.
WARNING: I’m going to talk about Original Sin today, and if you’ve been avoiding promotional material and interviews to remain spoiler-free, you might want to skip this one, too. Everyone else, grab your copies and read along!