Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
It’s a wonderful thing when two things you love seem to love each other as well.
When I read that former wrestling superstar and current Walking Dead enthusiast CM Punk is contributing a story for February 2015’s Thor annual, I enjoyed a small moment of having my cake and eating it too. Forgive my indulgence, but trust me, comics and wrestling sort of sit together on the school bus of storytellling; although they’re different mediums entirely, they share some common traits and interests that let one sort of lean into the other from time to time.
If you think about it, pro wrestling (or sports entertainment if you want to be more direct ) and comic books share a style of visual storytelling that starts in very broad strokes and becomes a masterpiece through the details and context of their respective works. Both deal in good and “bad”; whereas comics has its heroes and villains, wrestling has its faces and heels. Both heels and villains tend to do a lot of the heavy lifting, story-wise, as it’s their antagonism that creates the context and drives the plot. It’s why when Captain America and Iron Man fight, they’re never doing it for the competition; one of them will be in the wrong, enabling the reader to root for or against someone. When the Undertaker fights Hulk Hogan, no matter how cool the Undertaker is (and he’s so cool), Hulk Hogan is our hero, often our champion, so we hope he defeats the “bad guy.”
I’ve been wanting to talk about the Avengers/X-Men crossover Axis for awhile now. It has a great hook, as the morality of heroes and villains has turned on an “axis”, and are now flipped for certain characters. Rick Remender has that old-school bombast to his writing that makes this kind of outrageous concept possible; it’s so far outside the idea of “realistic” storytelling that it becomes more believable. If you’re going to have a Nazi steal a telepath’s brain to create the ultimate evil across the globe, why not go all the way and explore some character traits? It’s fun, and I can’t wait to see how it resolves.
In fact, my only real problem with the event involves what else is going on around it. It has some major continuity issues outside its little bubble that make it difficult for voracious Marvel readers like myself to place it in context with the rest of the series. I know Superior Iron Man is directly related to Axis, but will All-New Captain America be as well? I’m not really sure introducing the world to an angry, possibly morally flipped Falcon as the new Cap is a great idea. Hopefully, his solo book will remain unfazed by this big problem occurring to his left.
It’s easy to compartmentalize with team books and solo books, but what if you’re Storm? In Axis, she’s been morally compromised and is standing next to one of the X-Men’s greatest enemies (read Avengers & X-Men: Axis #4 to find out who), but in X-Men, she’s possibly dead, and in her own title, she’s still alive and mourning the loss of Wolverine. Doctor Doom, a big player in Axis, is possibly morally flipped, but he just announced plans to take over the multiverse in Fantastic Four and possibly has already done so in New Avengers. I could even be wrong about his current whereabouts and motives, because keeping track of all this is starting to get complicated!
We’ve all seen the teaser trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, right? If you haven’t, then please check it out below, and enjoy the sweet, sinister sounds of James Spader (that man could give the evilest recitation of the phone book in history). To be perfectly honest, though, considering how well the first movie did, Robert Downey Jr. could have come out against a black screen and say “Hey everyone! We’re doing a new movie!” and I would have already been in line to see Avengers 2: More Avengering.
But no! Marvel is determined to further expand its cinematic universe by reaching into its history to introduce an amazing villain in the evil robot Ultron. Putting his name front is a bit risky considering the name doesn’t ring a lot of bells for the average moviegoer, but then again, neither did Iron Man once upon a time. Besides, Age of Ultron is such a killer title. The idea of an “Age” of anything makes the danger seem long-term, and Ultron is an amazingly villainous name, with a really scary face to go with it. The idea of an evil robot isn’t lost on the general public, and when you tell them he’s like Skynet with daddy issues, the concept is pretty clear.
Mind you, I wouldn’t blame you if that’s not the first thing you think of when you hear “Age of Ultron.” Some comics might even groan.
So, Wolverine’s dead. That’s a thing that happened.
It’s very easy to be blasé about comic superhero death, so I’m going to try and avoid the dismissive gestures to this event and quit side-eyeing the next one, as Secret Wars looks to be the right environment to revive a character that makes Marvel a ton of cash. Emphasis on “try.”
I can’t say this death came out of nowhere, as he’s been without his healing factor since Wolverine #7, a little more than a year ago. For the record, it was an intelligent virus from the Microverse, which is not only an awesome phrase to use in common conversation, but smart enough to suppress Logan’s mutant healing factor, and you think that would have been a bigger deal to mutantkind. If it could suppress Wolverine’s signature trait, who’s to say the virus couldn’t be used to eliminate all sorts of mutant powers (I’m probably thinking too far ahead on this)? This virus was simply a means to an end.
Wolverine’s initial weakening and eventual demise was set apart from the rest of continuity, just a piece in a larger story that strangely didn’t involve the rest of his friends and family. Sure, it was talked about in hushed tones in a few of the other books, but there was no race for the cure, no mutant apocalypse for him to sacrifice his life to prevent. This wasn’t the result of the grand machinations of some long-established villain. It was a small and humble story of one man and what he though his own life was worth. It was a good story, and well told for the most part, but it still felt as if something was missing.
Here we go again.
According to a distributor listing for June 2015 (are we really looking that far ahead now?), James Robinson and Leonard Kirk’s current run on Marvel’s Fantastic Four will be released in a collection called Fantastic Four Vol. 4: The End is Fourever that includes a “Triple Sized Final Issue 645″. Sighted today at New York Comic Con during a retailer presentation was a big logo for the James Bond-esque title, but there was little other information. Maybe we’ll get an announcement while you’re reading this article, so follow CBR’s comprehensive coverage of NYCC (cheap plug)!
There have been rumors about Marvel ending the Fantastic Four (and possibly the X-Men) to spite Fox, which owns the film rights to both properties effectively in perpetuity, but that seems petty. Who opens a comic and asks, “I wonder what this licensing property will do this week?” We read comics for the stories, characters and creators; corporate politics is probably the last thing fans want to think about while (hopefully) enjoying the latest issue. And people are still opening up new issues of Fantastic Four, as the book’s sales are pretty steadily in the 28,000 range these past two months. Not Batman numbers, but still …
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?