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Comics Movies

Rest in Peace, Stan Lee

I think most of us know that Stan Lee’s legacy at Marvel for comics is fraught.  Who truly created what, who deserves credit.  That’s covered elsewhere, like the obituary/profile linked above.  I’d like to talk about Stan’s place in my life, as a budding geek who wasn’t sure of his place in the world.

Millenials, for the most part, only know Stan Lee as the kindly Grandpa who pops up in the movies to chew a bit of scenery.  For those of us around in the early 80s through the 90s, Stan was EVERYWHERE that Marvel characters were.  Stan Lee moved to California to hustle them into TV and movies, and he gave it his whole heart.  Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends?  Stan Lee opened every episode.  The Incredible Hulk?  He’s there too.  Every entertainment TV show, late night, daytime, game show, he was always putting Marvel out there.  The consummate showman.

Stan Lee always wore his heart on his sleeve, and his enthusiasm for comics as an art form was infectious.  You knew he was selling you, but he was so darn earnest about it you couldn’t help but grin along.  It helped that he seemed like a genuine good person, trying his best to push, in his own way, for civil rights and equality.  The world would be better than it is now if more people had gotten his message.  Excelsior, Stan.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Crosswind Vol. 1

Crosswind is an Image series written by Gail Simone, drawn by Cat Staggs, with letters from Simon Bowland.  The blurb at Image’s site describes it as “Goodfellas meets Freaky Friday” and it’s an apt description.  What happens if a Chicago hitman and a suburban housewife switch bodies?  Under Gail’s pen, you get vulgar, action-filled fun.

Cason, the brutal mobster, has to clean up a mistake made by his boss’s son, while Juniper has to get a meal ready for her husband’s boss while navigating abuse from all sides.  It’s bad enough BEFORE they get zapped into each other’s bodies, and have to regroup on the fly.

Gail Simone is one of my favorite follows on Twitter, and her trademark wit is well used here.  Cat Staggs’s art has an almost rotoscoped-realism to it, and I particularly love how she captured different mannerisms for Cason and Juniper after the swap.

Crosswind is definitely worth a read if you like any of the above.  Check it out on Amazon/Comixology.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Black Bolt Vol. 1, Hard Time

Volume 1 of Black Bolt’s solo series, subtitled Hard Time, is out.  Writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward fulfilled the promise of the first issue (which I looked at previously) and more.  Ward says a lot about who gets put in prison and why, while not ignoring the kickass fights and teleporting dogs we all crave.

Who is Black Bolt?  Why should I care?

It’s funny, despite the fact that Marvel’s been pushing them for the past few years, AND there was a TV show (which wasn’t great) out this year, AND they are an original creation of Jack Kirby, the Inhumans still feel like a group people don’t know much about.  I think it’s because Terrigenesis is being used in place of “I hit puberty and got my mutant powers” for how to power up new teen heroes.  Everybody’s familiar with a few Inhumans, like Ms. Marvel or Moon Girl, but mostly ignore the Royal Family.

Black Bolt, the silent king of the Inhumans, can speak and shatter mountains.  His voice is a weapon so powerful that he had to be trained from birth to stay perfectly silent (he’s great at parties).  Both his status as king and his necessary silence keep him at arm’s length from most people beyond his immediate family.  This has left Blackagar Boltagon (yeah, that’s his name) as a bit of a blank slate, compared to other heroes who have been around this long.

Doing Hard Time

This series sees Bolt trapped in a crazy prison, his brother Maximus the Mad managing to switch places with him.  He hears a voice, a demand, “NAME YOUR CRIMES!  REPENT YOUR CRIMES!”  He dies, is reborn, and eventually frees himself.  Black Bolt meets his captor and speaks…but nothing happens.  He dies again, and that’s when thing really start.  The other prisoners convince him to work with them on an escape, and it’s a great cast of characters.  The most notable is long-time henchman Carl “Crusher” Creel.  He serves as a sharp contrast to the noble, remote Black Bolt.  My favorite addition to the Marvel universe might be Raava the Unskrulled, a Skrull space pirate who never learned to shapeshift, because she wants her enemies to die seeing her true face.  The book is a great balance between philosophical discussions and butt kicking.

That ART

Christian Ward’s art is gorgeous, from the inky depths of space to bright shocks of color when Black Bolt uses his power, it looks AMAZING.  This might be my favorite comic art since I first encountered David Aja’s work on Hawkguy.  Matt Fraction is actually where I first learned of Ward’s art, in their fever-dream gender-swapped Odyssey comic ODY-C.  I am so glad he’s getting mainstream work, and I sure hope it continues.

Conclusion

If you’re not afraid to think about what we do to criminals and poor people in our world in between all the smashing and crushing, check out Black Bolt: Hard Time.

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Comics Movies Review

Movie Review – Wonder Woman

We saw an early screening, and I’m happy to report director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is everything DC should be doing in all of their movies.  It’s epic in scope, as befitting one of DC’s trinity of heroes.  It’s does something interesting with Diana’s origin, managing to homage both her classic origin and the more recent takes.  It has a great deal of heart, something DC’s other EU movies have so far lacked.  It’s genuinely funny, and not in the “this is a joke, please laugh” way that Bruce delivers that “I’m rich” line in the Justice League trailer.  Gal Gadot embodies Diana admirably, whether it’s handling her business on the battlefield or delighting in her first experience with snow.

The cast of characters surrounding Diana are great, with Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen leading the way on Themyscira.  Chris Pine’s is sneaky good as Steve Trevor, a man capable of being rescued and upstaged by a powerful woman.  The baby-men still railing against all-women showings of the movie could learn something from him.  Their romance never feels forced.  I wish we had more of Etta Candy as Lucy Davis’s reaction faces are great.  I was also surprised with how well Wonder Woman handled the particular horrors of World War 1 – since it wasn’t the focus of the movie it would’ve been easy to gloss over what trench warfare was doing to people, but they didn’t.

Any downsides are fairly minor.  The villain is a bit undercooked, taking a page from Marvel’s book, once you get past the surprise reveal regarding him.  The last third of the movie is a bit of a tone-shift from the first two thirds, but you just know they had to have a big battle scene to end things on.  The slow-motion, 300-esque bits with Diana fighting was overused but I’ll allow it.

Wonder Woman was the first DC movie since The Dark Knight where I found myself leaning in, hanging on the action and the character building bits.  Take your kids (not just your daughters) and enjoy the ride.

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Comics

Comic Book Review – Black Bolt #1 by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward

Creative Team:

  • Writer: Saladin Ahmed
  • Artist: Christian Ward
  • Letterer: Clayton Cowles

The Inhumans are in a tough spot, as far as the fandom goes.  They’ve been around a long time, created by Lee and Kirby no less.  But they’ve always been a bit of a niche group, mostly centered around the Fantastic Four.  It doesn’t help that in modern times, the Inhumans are being pushed hard by Marvel, and it’s seen by some that it’s to the detriment of Marvel’s Mutant characters.  I’ve never bought that particular conspiracy theory, but it’s left some fans with a sour taste in their mouths.

I’m happy to report that Black Bolt #1 is absolutely worth your time, even if the Inhumans have never been your thing.  The story will follow Black Bolt as he’s thrown in a cosmic prison by his brother, Maximus the Mad.  It’s for the worst of the worst, and was supposed to be Maximus’s new home.  BB’s not alone, however, and chief among the other incarcerated folks is Carl “Crusher” Creel, the Absorbing Man.  If you mostly know Marvel from the movies and TV show, he’s made a few appearances on Agents of SHIELD.  The writer, Saladin Ahmed, has something to say about prison and what happens when you toss people aside, but promises not to forget about the guy who can shout mountains apart.  When you combine that with the insane, trippy art stylings of Christian Ward (ODY-C), I’m definitely in to see what happens next.

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Comics

Marvel Joins Amazon Prime Reading

Just a head’s up for anybody who likes to get their money’s worth out of their Amazon Prime subscription, Marvel is now partnered with Amazon to have their comics show up there (as well as some selections in Kindle Unlimited and Comixology Unlimited).  Those are cool if you already pay the extra subscription fee for either service, but even if you don’t, there’s some very good stuff to check out in Prime Reading.  Here’s my favorites:

Star Wars, Volume 1 and Darth Vader, Volume 1:  When Marvel got the license to publish Star Wars comics, they went big.  Assigning some of their best writers and artists (Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron, Salvador Larroca, John Cassaday, Adi Granov, and others).  These comics both follow on straight out of A New Hope, and they go a long way to re-establishing Darth Vader as the pre-eminent menace in that galaxy far, far away.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1:  If you haven’t read this yet, there’s no excuse.  Kamala Khan matters more than ever in our current political climate, a daughter of Muslim immigrants who fights crime not because of some great tragedy, but was inspired by other heroism in the world.  And the story is a ton of fun, to boot.  G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona made a great creative team (along with Stephen Wacker and Sana Amanat editing and helping to create the character).

Hawkeye, Volume 1:  I’ve evangelized this series before, so hopefully you’ve already read it, but here’s yet another chance.

There’s also some Iron Fist, Deadpool, the first volume of Alias (Jessica Jones), and a few other solid comics.  If you are already subscribed to Amazon Prime, there’s no reason not to use Prime Reading.

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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 TV

Batman: The Animated Series – Robin’s Reckoning

Batman: The Animated Series was an amazing show, and there are a bunch of episodes that frequently adorn “Top x B:TAS Episodes” lists.  Robin’s Reckoning (in two parts) often rates highly on those lists, and on the 24th anniversary of the primetime premier of part 1, I’d like to take a deeper look.

Viewing the series now, as an adult, one of my favorite things is how they dealt with Robin.  Rather than show him as a kid, he’s a young man, college age, who is beginning to grow out of the ‘sidekick’ role.  Dick has his own opinions and life on B:TAS, and it provides a complexity and depth to the Bruce/Dick relationship you hadn’t seen in the non-comic book Batman adaptations to that point.

This was never more apparent than with the two-part episode Robin’s Reckoning, which premiered in prime time on February 7th and 14th, 1993.  Batman and Robin are busting up an extortion ring, but things get weird when Batman gets the boss’s name and quickly sidelines Robin.  Alfred and Dick search the name (Billy Marin) and discover that it’s an alias for Tony Zucco, the man who killed Dick’s parents.  From here on, the remainder of the episodes intersperse scenes from the past showing Robin’s origin (adapted from Detective Comics 38) and both Bruce and an enraged Dick hunting Zucco separately.

Much like how Heart of Ice redefined Mr. Freeze for the modern era, Robin’s Reckoning brings a then-40 year old origin up to date.  Bruce takes in this damaged kid, but doesn’t just start training him to fight.  It only happens when Bruce, who had been distant from his young ward while hunting Zucco as Batman, realizes that Dick Grayson has the same drive to do SOMETHING about the injustices life has dealt him.  It’s less “hey, kid sidekicks sell, amirite?” and more “here’s a young man who needs to channel these feelings in a better direction”.  You could actually imagine a kid sidekick working like this (though I hope Robin got a few years of training in before hitting the streets).

The episode finishes with one of Robin’s best moments in the whole series.  Batman is hurting, but just before Zucco can finish him off, Dick bursts onto the scene on his motorcycle, grabs Zucco and drags him to the harbor, ready to drop him to his death.  Bruce tries to talk him down:

Batman:  Robin! That’s enough, Robin!  You can’t allow your personal feelings to guide your actions.
Robin:  Stuff you, Batman!  You and your stone-cold heart!  You don’t know how I feel!  How could you…?

In one of the best moments in the series, Bruce doesn’t answer.  Dick realizes what he’s said and let’s the police take Zucco.  It’s a surprisingly emotional moment for a “kid’s cartoon”, one of many that elevated Batman: The Animated Series above its contemporaries.  Which says a LOT considering there were quite a few good cartoons in the early 90s.  Strong direction from Dick Sebast, great writing from Randy Rogel (who also contributed heavily to the Animaniacs, including many of the memorable songs), and of course outstanding voicework from Kevin Conroy, Loren Lester and the rest of the cast.  If you haven’t seen B:TAS in a while, today’s a great day to revisit it by watching it on Amazon Prime.  If you need a 30-day trial for Prime, click here.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Mockingbird, Volume 1: I Can Explain

We’ve been over the controversy regarding the series and how much of a jerk some of comics fandom can be, but I really want to talk about the Mockingbird comic, too.  IT’S GREAT.  Snarky, action-filled, mysterious, fun.  Bobbi herself gets to shine – it’s not often she does, having been used quite often in the “Hawkeye’s wife/ex-wife” role – and the humor is on point.

The story covers Bobbi (Genius Scientist Spy Martial Artist) developing some weird powers…or is she?  In the course of her investigation she ends up rescuing both Lance Hunter and Clint Barton, runs into Howard the Duck and Miles Morales, and has to deal with zombies, corgis, and the Queen of England.  She might smash a patriarchy or three along the way.

Chelsea Cain writes Bobbi with a singular voice, and the art from Kate Niemczyk (with Rachelle Rosenberg colors) is fun.  Mockingbird is tall and buff and gorgeous.  There are tons of little details to pick out of the background, things that make sense or inform the story or just provoke a laugh.  The middle issues can be read in any order, and I suggest reading multiple times to get everything.

If any of this sounds like you, check out Mockingbird Volume 1.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Reviews – Goldie Vance Volume 1, The Backstagers Volume 1

BOOM! Studios recently joined NetGalley, giving reviewers access to a selection of their comics and graphic novels, and I immediately requested the first volumes of Goldie Vance and The Backstagers.  Goldie Vance because of the art – Brittney Williams, who you may know from her work on Patsy Walker, a. k. a. Hellcat!, is the artist, and Sarah Stern is the colorist (currently working on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Pink).  Hope Larson is the writer, and you may know her work from DC’s Batgirl.

Goldie Vance lives at the Crossed Palms hotel, with her Dad, the manager.  She’s a valet, but really enjoys investigating the cases that the hotel detective, Charles, comes across (whether or not he wants the help).  Take Nancy Drew, make it more diverse, and add in some car racing, and you’re on the right trail.  Cute and fun!

The Backstagers (written by James Tynion IV, Detective Comics) is a YA story about a kid named Jory, who transfers to an all-boys school and has trouble fitting in.  He’s prodded into checking out the Drama club, and is shocked to learn there’s a whole supernatural world behind the curtains that only the stage crew is aware of.  Rian Sygh handles the art, with colors from Walter Baiamont.  Again, cute and fun, if not exactly shaking the foundations of sequential art.

 

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Comics

Comics Twitter is a JERK!

Subtitled “Ask me about MY feminist agenda”.

The thing about this whole mess I don’t get is, why do the misogynist man-babies get so wound up about a book they didn’t read?  They are gleefully vile in attacking Chelsea Cain after the cancellation of the Mockingbird series, and the preview of Joelle Jones’s cover to Mockingbird #8 seen in part above.  Why?  Why are they so threatened by the idea of a comic book series not directly aimed at them?

I’m late to Mockingbird, mostly because I didn’t have a ton of cash for comics over the past year or so, but I’ve read it up as the issues have hit Marvel Unlimited and it’s quite a bit of fun, enough that I’m going to get the trades.  The thing is, if I hadn’t liked it I could just…not read it.  Even if I had bought the first issue, and not liked it, I’m out, like $4.  I could MOVE ON and not make my whole life about the fact that a woman wrote (or drew or colored or lettered) a comic that was not specifically targeted to me.  The fact that Hellcat exists doesn’t actually stop me from reading Iron Man or Batman.  Your local comic shop isn’t going to smack that issue of Superman out of your hand, rip a five-spot from your wallet, and stuff an issue of Lumberjanes in your bag whether you want it or not.  Look, I guarantee comic companies don’t want to replace your manly comics with feminist ones, they want to sell BOTH.  They will make more of whatever sells.  Marvel would put out 100 books a week if they all sold 50k copies.  They don’t, so some books go on, and some get cancelled.  Mockingbird didn’t find an audience, but the correct response shouldn’t be to crow about it and harass the creators behind it beyond all reasonable endurance.  You should be celebrating that a company is willing to try something different than just another comic about a white guy punching bad guys because his parents died.

There is no excuse for what happened to Chelsea Cain, or any other person who has been chased off or had vile insults and threats leveled at them for the ‘crime’ of doing something in a formerly male-dominated space.  Don’t give in to the impulse to gatekeep ‘others’ out of your hobby, and seriously, don’t take your hobby so seriously that you think abusing strangers is a good idea.  I get really tired of being a part of fandoms that act like this (I’m a gamer too).  I plan to be a better ally, and so should you.

Anybody who wants to check out Chelsea Cain’s work, see the below:

  1. Mockingbird, Volume 1:  I Can Explain
  2. Mockingbird, Volume 2:  My Feminist Agenda
  3. Heartsick
  4. One Kick

Go ahead, step outside your comfort zone.  You may just be glad you did.

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Books Comics Review

Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red

Before you start this book, know that while it’s got Black Widow in the name, it’s both about her, and not exactly about her.  If it might bother you to discover the story is told mostly through the viewpoint of a teenaged girl that has an…interesting connection to Natasha, as some other reviewers seem to, just be aware.  Black Widow: Forever Red (by Margaret Stohl) tells the story of Ana Orlova, a young girl rescued from the mastermind of the Red Room, the infamous organization that turned Natasha into the perfect assassin.  Nat promptly dumps the girl into SHIELD’s lap and jets, not being the mothering type.  Fast forward 8 years, and Ana is having strange dreams and that evil from the past roars back to put the whole world in danger.

Forever Red doesn’t break a ton of new ground, being a fairly standard YA novel, just in this case, it’s set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And yes, it’s the MCU, as they specifically mention events like the Battle of New York, and has Coulson as SHIELD director.  There’s also an extended appearance from Tony Stark.  There’s a good balance between the weirdness of the MCU and the more grounded aspects Natasha typically deals with.  I enjoy the interplay between Ana and Nat as their similarities get the better of the older woman (in a “when you get older I hope you have a daughter just like you!” sort of way).  The action moves at a fair clip most of the time, and the story has just enough twists to make you second guess some things.

Forever Red is a worthwhile read, especially for the MCU fan who isn’t up on the comics and wants to know how a spy/assassin gets the skills to team up with gods and monsters and not die.  Preview below: