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Comics

Marvel’s Biggest Missed Opportunity

It’s kind of shocking how quickly the tables have turned on the big two in the comics industry.  Just a few years ago, while DC was languishing under the “New 52”, Marvel was having a creative boom.  Whether it was Matt Fraction and David Aja bringing a fresh take to Hawkeye, their first headlining Muslim hero, or amazing women taking on important roles in their universe (Carol as Captain Marvel, Jane Foster Thor, SQUIRREL GIRL), things seemed to be looking up for the House of Ideas.  It all came to a satisfying crescendo with 2015’s Secret Wars event, which should’ve allowed Marvel to set up their new universe exactly as they saw fit.  Somebody dead that you need alive?  Go for it.  It was a golden opportunity.

So what went wrong?  To me, it comes down to one thing, and that’s the constant stream of events.  Crossover events can be fun, no doubt, but when you are ALWAYS preparing for the next big thing (and there’s 2 or 3 of them every year), you’re not able to do any justice to the stories of the individual characters.  A rebooted universe, renumbered and starting over to boot, should be all about bringing new readers into the fold.  The guy reading Spider-Man for the past 10 years is in, you know?  The grognards might roll their eyes at yet another renumbering, but as long as the book is still there and Spidey is still himself, they’ll stick around.  A new number 1 issue should be a jumping-on point for the MCU fans, or kids, or whoever it is you want to start reading comics.  But with the constant event cycle churning, you never give that new reader a chance to get to know the character before their life and story are interrupted.

Post-Secret Wars, you rolled straight into Avengers: Standoff!, with Spider-Women and Apocalypse Wars disrupting some of the Spider-centric and X-Men books.  That all led into Civil War II, a sequel event nobody asked for, which included some character assassination of Captain Marvel to boot.  But you barely caught your breath before the Spider-books were disrupted by another event, a Clone Conspiracy revival.  The X-Men and Inhumans fought, a bunch of monsters were fought, and then you may have heard about that whole Secret Empire thing.  It’s exhausting just to read all of that.  Imagine you are a new comics fan, how do you reconcile all of that?  If fifteen to twenty books every month have some event banner on ’em, and put the character building on hold for some other story, why would you keep reading?

I stopped reading comics as a teen mostly because of the event cycle.  While Infinity Gauntlet was classic, I got annoyed at having things happening across multiple books that I couldn’t afford to buy (and that was when comic books were only $1-$1.50).  Your choice was either to not know what was going on, or to stop buying.  What brought me back to comics was my friends raving about the Matt Fraction/David Aja Hawkeye series, which did it’s own thing and built a deep, interesting story about Clint and Kate.  It was funny, it was experimental, and I fell back in love with comics.  I branched out from there, but always with an eye to comics that had a solid running story of their own (Tom King’s The Vision series for example).  The thing is, whenever I might start to get invested in a more mainline comic, it would get interrupted and I would throw up my hands and decide to trade-wait it, or at least see if the event as a whole that was pre-empting my normal programming was worth it.  Spoiler alert:  most of them haven’t been, so I’ve pretty much stopped buying Marvel comics.  There are still some gems here and there (Black Widow, Ms. Marvel although she’s well and truly embedded in the event cycle now, one or two others) but most I’m content to wait for Marvel Unlimited to go on sale again to catch up.

Marvel’s comic books are in fairly dire straits right now – a gimmick Spider-Man issue was number 1, but beyond that, the top 25 is dominated by DC.  Star Wars comics are helping Marvel from being totally embarrassed in the top 100.  When DC can put both double-shipped Batman comics ahead of every Marvel comic but the aforementioned gimmick Spider-Man, you need to make changes.  Some suggestions:

  1. Pare down the lineup.  Marvel released 94 different comics in March.  There were seven different Avengers or related books if you count Great Lakes Avengers (and I’m not counting the Avengers cartoon tie-in book).  Deadpool (or a Deadpool-adjacent character such as Deadpool the Duck) appears in at least 5 or 6 books.  Doctor Strange was in 3!  If you love a specific character, it’s ridiculous to try and follow them.  Trim it down.
  2. Let the stories develop.  I would put this to Marvel as a challenge – the next time the universe is rebooted (and you know they will), let all the comics go one full calendar year telling their own story.  Let the characters shine and develop a following before smashing them against a planet- or universe-destroying entity.
  3. Retain your talent.  Tom King.  Tim Seeley.  Sam Humphries.  James Tynion IV.  It seemed for a while in 2016 you couldn’t go a week without someone new signing an exclusive deal with DC, many of whom had been creating for both companies.  Tom King and Sam Humphries were huge losses in particular.  Marvel has their own stable of talent, but you can’t keep losing creators without it affecting quality.  The same 6 people can’t write all your books, especially if you are releasing 100 a month.
  4. Count the trades and digital sales.  I know they look at the sales, but they are still mostly concerned with monthly sales at your local shop.  Sorry, but not everyone goes to the local comic shop for individual floppy issues.  Especially since they aren’t particularly collectible in modern times.  I much prefer sturdier trade paperbacks, as I share a lot of my comics with my kids.  I also have quite a few in the digital format from various sources (Comixology/Amazon sales, Humble Bundles, etc.).
  5. Keep the diversity going.  Any media is improved by having other viewpoints, so efforts need to be re-doubled to engage with and retain writers and artists of color, women, and LGBTQ+ creators.

Look, as quickly as things went south for Marvel, they can turn it around.  They’ve got a built in audience thanks to the MCU that would love to engage with them, and they only need the content to be there.  This time next year, the roles could be reverse – or we could have a new golden age where Marvel and DC are both high quality at the same time.  Imagine that!Marvel versus DC

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – The Vision #8

Creative Team:

  • Writer:  Tom King
  • Art:  Gabriel Hernandez Walta
  • Colors:  Jordie Bellaire
  • Letters:  Clayton Cowles

Last month, the cover shown for this issue (shown in part above) seemed to indicate the arrival of the Avengers and the beginning of the final battle.  Well, as usual expectations are twisted.  There IS a new arrival, but it’s Victor Mancha, Runaway, former Avengers AI member with the Vision when he was not exactly this version of the Vision (long story), fellow ‘son of Ultron’.  He’s got an internship on the Hill, you see, and he’ll be staying with the Visions for a while.

Taken at face value, the issue unfolds with little excitement.  Victor has a moment with each family member, getting to know them.  It’s gotta be weird for him, finding a whole set of new ‘family members’ created and living this seemingly normal life.  Even with only being shown short interactions with each of the Visions, Victor can’t help but see that something is off.

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The reveal in the final pages will have you going straight back to read the story again, viewing the conversations in a new light.

I find my self dreading the end, because I’m afraid something might happen to Viv.  She’s seemed the most like a normal teen throughout this whole story, and has gone through a lot…and I can’t see anyone in the family left unscathed, with what we have been told all of this is building up to.  Kudos all around, especially to Walta and Bellaire for art this week.  I love the little details, like you see above, Virginia’s hand passing through the vase, the way she’s standing inside the coffee table.  Or the face on one of the other diners as they ‘eat’ in a restaurant, nervously looking over his shoulder.  The tension just keeps building.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – The Vision #7

Creative Team:

  • Writer:  Tom King
  • Art:  Michael Walsh
  • Colors:  Jordie Bellaire
  • Letters:  Clayton Cowles

The Vision #7, as usual, plays with expectations.  You might think, considering the big tease at the end of the last issue, with Agatha Harkness warning a bunch of heroes about the Visions going off the rails, that you’d see some fallout from that.  Maybe Cap going to talk to Vision, or T’Challa or Tony.  Instead, we get taken back into the past, when Vision and the Scarlet Witch were together.  It’s skillfully used to inform on what’s happening today, the nightmare that the Vision has created.  It’s a great set-up if you are coming in to the comic without knowing the twisty, convoluted background of the whole Vision/Wanda/Wonder Man thing, and really illuminates the tragedy of it all.  All of the Vision’s history has brought him to this point.

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Michael Walsh fills in admirably on art this week – an issue like that, almost all flashbacks, is a good one if you need to have a fill-in artist step up.  I run out of superlatives for the rest of the team but it’s all good here again, man.  Next week will bring in the Avengers…I hope they survive the experience.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – The Vision #6

Creative Team:

  • Writer:  Tom King
  • Art:  Gabriel Hernandez Walta
  • Colors:  Jordie Bellaire
  • Letters:  Clayton Cowles

Much of the unease and tension in The Vision thus far has come from what we haven’t seen as much as what we have.  Tom King and company pulls that trick again here in The Vision #6.  Again, we get the mundane – neighbors George and Martha and a lost dog – which escalates into something much worse, all framed by the narrator’s description of the classic computer science problem P vs. NP.

There’s a lot of reveals in this issue, as there should be for the final issue of an arc, but it also sets up the (sadly) final arc for Tom King before he goes DC exclusive.  We learn who the narrator has been and Vision discovers what Virginia did to the Grim Reaper.  That’s where P versus NP comes in – the Vision chooses to keep trying to fix his family, to keep them safe so they don’t get dismantled or taken from him.  By the end of the issue, the various Avengers/Ultimates are made aware of Vision’s choice, and well, Agatha Harkness says it best:

ohshitvisionwhatdidyoudo

If you’ve been enjoying the comic but wishing for more punching/blasting, I think you are about to get it.  Yikes.  At this point I can’t see this ending well for anyone involved.  I have to see it, but I don’t want to see it.  Especially for Viv who seems to have suffered the most.  I’ll be devastated if she doesn’t make it out of this.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – The Vision #5

Vision5pic1There was a discussion on Twitter the other day by some comic creators, about how the phrase that got them to ignore a review the quickest was “nothing happened”.  I would not be surprised if some of those comments were made about this issue of The Vision…but they’d be completely wrong.

Now, there’s little action, compared to your typical Marvel book, but I think we’ve already established The Vision is not your usual comic book.  What this issue does is build atmosphere.  There’s been a sense of impending dread, that this eggshell-fragile life that Vizh has built is going to shake apart spectacularly.  You KNOW it’s coming, but it keeps not happening – but the tension builds.  Here the Vision himself finally gets his hands dirty, makes a mistake, and the consequences could be devastating.

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I feel like saying the art is amazing over and over again but it’s true.  A particular favorite part of mine is the short panels showing the 37 times Vision has saved the world, and how many of those times were due to plots by Ultron.  Perhaps Vision should’ve reviewed those events a few more times before creating his family.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – The Vision #4

The fourth issue of The Vision is one of contrasts, something Tom King and the team have mastered so far.  We see the ideal for what Vision was hoping for when all this started.  The kids playing football in the yard (with humorous synthezoid banter reminiscent of Charlie Brown and Lucy), his wife in the house, a family.  But it can’t last – it won’t last, we KNOW this from the narrator – and Virginia gets a call on the blackmail phone.

The emotional seesaw continues from there.  Viv bonds with her lab partner, Virginia meets with the blackmailer.  I won’t spoil the climactic scene, but I will say it was an excellent example of suspense.  I saw the tragedy coming, actually held my breath hoping it would be different than what I thought, but no, it happened just as I dreaded.  Vision himself doesn’t know it yet, but his familial experiment just ended in disaster and I both can’t wait and can’t stand to see it coming.

I’d like to give a final shout-out to the art team of Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire (along with letterer Clayton Cowles), for the facial expressions and body language throughout the book.  Just great stuff.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – The Vision #3

What weirds out Tony Stark?  It’s not the sight of a female synthezoid in lingerie, though that DOES happen in The Vision #3.  No, what shocks Tony is the lengths Vision is going to in order to bring back his daughter.  Vizh explains that some of her nerves went incorporeal to dodge the Grim Reaper’s blade, and they have to be shocked back into place.  Sort of like shocking your heart back into beating, if your heart took all the power contained in the US power grid to do it.  And it has to pass through your father’s body into yours.  It’s a powerful scene, like much of the series so far, it sets you on edge.  We are all Tony Stark, who despite knowing the Vision since the time of his creation, was shocked by the sudden changes in his friend.

The Visions are also dealing with being the ‘wrong’ sort of people moving into a neighborhood, as some kids were spray-painting an anti-robot slur on their garage doors.  In a nod to modern kids, they had to Google ‘bad names for robots’ to pick what they painted.  Get their comeuppance, too.  Punks.

Intertwined throughout the issue, however, is the witch Agatha Harkness on Mount Wundagore, using the blossoms of the Everbloom plant to see into the future.  In stark contrast to the family reunion and home life drama, this is where the violence and blood loom again over the Vision’s family.  Agatha has a vision, you see, and it’s of THE Vision…covered in blood, surrounded by the bodies of his friends and fellow heroes, the Avengers, the FF, the X-Men.  My first thought is, something happens in the neighborhood (that bit early on about the neighbors who will die when one of them sets their house on fire), and it’s possible the Vision tries to defend his family, but I suspect it won’t be that simple.  Still, I’m invested, and I’m curious to see if any of the wider Marvel U makes their presence known now that more information is out there.  Will Agatha talk to Wanda?  Tony and SHIELD were looking for the Grim Reaper, do THEY buy Virginia’s story?  Can’t wait.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – The Vision #2

King, Walta, and Bellaire do it again, as the second issue of their new series following the Vision’s attempts at family life continues with another dynamite issue.  There’s a lot to take in – Vin nearly strangles a kid at school asking about his sister (who nearly died after the Grim Reaper’s attack in issue 1, and it leads to Vision and Virginia having a talk with the school’s principal.  In a discussion that could be ripped from our headlines, he compares Viv and Vin to guns – things made of metal which can kill – while Vision stands up to the man and demands Vin get the same punishment as any other student.  But who is going to be right, here?

We also see Virginia’s lie to the Vision – the story she tells him about what happened when the Grim Reaper attacked, versus the images of what really happened after.  Things start to look up for them, as he takes her at her word, and Vision finishes diagnostics on Viv…she can be fixed.  It all comes crashing down at the end, however, when Virginia opens the mail and finds a phone…with a video of her burying the Reaper.

I am dying to know what happens next.  The Vision really should know better about just creating new AI for his own purposes.  This is quickly becoming my new favorite book.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – The Vision #1

It’s not surprising in the least that the Vision would get a title in Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” lineup.  He made his big-screen debut in this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron after all.  When this sort of thing has happened before, you have often seen changes made to the comic book version of the character or characters involved, for better synergy.  Peter Parker develops organic web-shooters, or the X-Men wear leather costumes, what have you.  What writer Tom King, artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and colorist Jordie Bellaire created here is something VERY different, and it’s got me hooked from the jump.

If you need to know the basics about the comic book version of the Vision, he is a synthezoid, which is basically a synthetic human, who had originally been created by Ultron to infiltrate and destroy the Avengers.  He turned on Ultron and ended up joining them.  Vision’s emotional capabilities have changed numerous times, and currently he has his memories (more or less) but has purged the associated emotions from them.  I don’t think it means he’s purged ALL emotion however.

As you can guess from that history it would take a lot for things to get stranger for the Vision, but Vision #1 certainly does exactly that.  It seems that Viz has created a while family for himself and settled down to a ‘normal’ life in a DC suburb.  He’s doing liaison work for the Avengers to the White House.  His wife Virginia, and children Viv and Vin seem like a perfect simulacrum of a normal family…which is exactly why they are so darn creepy.  Add in the fact that it’s implied that Vision used the Scarlet Witch’s brain patterns to create Virginia – and who’s more stable than Wanda! – and combined his and hers to make the kids, and you fall straight into the Uncanny Valley.  The Visions’ blank eyes and 50’s style politeness are unsettling and as you read deeper it becomes clear that there are some serious problems with Vision’s plan.

Vision Panels 1

Punctuating the story and adding to the creepy tone are the captions, matter-of-factly describing both the mundane and the horrific.  As the story goes along, you begin to get a sense that the Vision family have the same sorts of problems we have – the kids don’t fit in at school, the mom is depressed, and Vision himself seems to be having a nightmare and doubting his ‘love’.

Much like aVision SWny other super hero’s family, the Visions come under attack by a supervillain – who it is and why stems from Vision’s own creation, using the memories of Wonder Man.  The story ends with Virginia telling the children to lie to their father about what happens and yeah, when is issue 2 out?  I love when one of the big companies is willing to go experimental on us, and while I can’t see this being a long-running book, I HAVE to know what happens next.