The Best of Marvel’s Fresh Start #5 – Captain America

As much as I enjoyed Mark Waid’s post-Secret Empire run on Captain America, the entire arc felt like it was doing its best to avoid dealing with the fallout from Nick Spencer’s subversive epic. Initially, Waid’s book, launched under the Legacy trade dress, took the form of a Steve Rogers road trip, an effort to reconnect with a country that had been torn apart after Red Skull successfully re-wired Captain America’s reality to create a bastion of fascism and a conquering leader of Hydra. Then, before that reflective journey could really get going, Cap was frozen (again) and awakened in a future U.S. similarly gripped by an oppressive authoritarian regime. It’s almost as if the editors asked Waid to reinvent Empire, but with Steve now as the savior, rather than the enslaver. And when that little escapade had concluded, we got a few more fill-in issues featuring yet another far-flung future America, this time under the control of the Kree, and with Rogers’s descendants cast as the heroic protagonists.

We expected Marvel to put some distance between “Captain Hydra” and the relaunch, but avoiding a storyline that was so clearly part of Marvel continuity began to feel somewhat cowardly.

Secret Empire #1 (2017)

Everything about Secret Empirefrom its fomenting lead-in story in the pages of Steve Rogers: Captain America, released during the summer of 2016, and the eventual event series, which premiered in 2017, feels like a dark fairy tale of the Trump Era. And, as such, maybe it would have been better received, and, indeed, more impactful, had it been a self-contained “Elseworlds” type story.

Don’t get me wrong — I applaud Spencer and Marvel for boldly following through with such a politically charged story. The problem arises when the comics introduce themes of external forces manipulating our democracy, denials of freedoms, and paralyzing social divisions directly into the mainstream Marvel universe, but then seemingly ignore the repercussions.

Enter Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Francis Yu. Uniting the acclaimed political writer and author of the inspired new Black Panther series with the artist responsible for Secret Invasion seems to be, on the surface, a pretty clear indication that the series was finally ready to address the ominous overtures of last summer’s crossover event. And their first storyline, “Winter in America” does not disappoint.

Continue reading The Best of Marvel’s Fresh Start #5 – Captain America

Ranking Marvel’s Fresh Start: 10 – 6

10
Sentry

Jeff Lemire & Kim Jacinto

Ask the prolific Eisner-winning Lemire, whose recent successes include a love letter to Golden Age superheroes, Black Hammer, and various journeys into the fractured psyches of humanity, both powered and otherwise, as seen in Royal City and Bloodshot, who is the one Marvel character you’d most like to revive? Moon Knight. Okay, you’ve done that. Who is the next Marvel hero on your list?

Gotta be The Sentry. This first issue is rife with classic capes n’ tights bombast, juxtaposed brilliantly with real human struggles — a Robert Reynolds that looks like he was pulled fresh from the towns of Essex County. In fact, Kim Jacinto’s art, when it isn’t aflame with dynamic action sequences, even resembles Lemire’s illustration style, sketchy and expressionistic with every shade of human emotion wonderfully styled. – MMDG

When I saw that a new Sentry book was out, I was skeptical. The Sentry is a lot like Superman in that it’s hard to come up with scenarios that can seriously threaten them and make for suspenseful and dramatic stories. I think Superman writers overcome this with solid character writing and an exploration of his personal psychology. Seeing Lemire’s name on this book inspired confidence and it wasn’t misplaced. Lemire is the perfect guide to further explore a character that I feel is hard to write for, and has ultimately made him underutilized in the books. The situation Bob finds himself in, literally living two lives, is a great take on the super hero/alter ego concept, and I gotta say, I’m happily growing sympathy for the character. Part of that is the writing, but I immediately noticed Jacinto’s strong facial expressions. They’re intense! His illustration strengthens the juxtaposition of the golden guardian to the dark void and underlines this particular book as a psychological horror story. This could be the defining story for this character, and I’m excited to see where Lemire, Jacinto and co. take it. – tyrannofloresrex

Man can this guy rip bodies! Great art — despair with a hint of imbalance — match the tone of the story. And I’m a sucker for a cliffhanger so I’ll probably pick up #2 to see who the villian is. – lebronald

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9
Venom

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman

Stegman has really managed to turn his art into some next level stuff. I will keep reading as long as he is on the book. The opening Norse segment looks so good. I like Cates’s direction of making the symbiotes more of an ever-present part of the MU. Reminds of the Brubaker/Fraction Iron Fist run. Still not the biggest fan of the symbiote in general but this is well written and has a good mystery. I am intrigued enough to want to continue with this one. – MeanOldPig

I love these red faced aliens. I hope it stays dark and gets creepier. – lebronald

Still not a fan of the character, but Donny Cates has done marvelous things with Dr. Strange and Thanos in recent months, and Stegman’s art is unbelievable. I’ll be reading this. – MMDG

Continue reading Ranking Marvel’s Fresh Start: 10 – 6

Ranking Marvel’s Fresh Start: 20 – 11

20
Quicksilver: No Surrender

Saladin Ahmed & Eric Nguyen

This could be an intriguing physics adventure and I’ve always wanted to move through time like Mork, but I bet this will be stupid. The art is unique – always a welcome sight – with some panels looking like pop art. Other entire pages are bland and skimmable. – lebronald

Not sure how to feel about this – like Ahmed’s work and I’m a fan of Nguyen’s art… just not sure why we needed a Quicksilver mini. And this first issue did nothing to answer that question. – MMDG

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19
Shatterstar

Tim Seeley & Gerardo Sandoval

Amusing concept for an unremarkable character. I have a general antipathy for all of the Liefeld creations, but at least in this book Seeley (who surprised us with his Nightwing series for Rebirth) is focusing more on the Mojoverse/multiverse promise of Claremont. I’ll read through. Also, thanks for writing a series starring a gay superhero that doesn’t feel the need to remind us that he’s gay every other panel (looking at you, Sina Grace). – MMDG

Never heard of this guy and had no plans on getting #2 but I like the premise. These old multi-parallel-reboot-universes definitely need some clean-up crew storylines. – lebronald

Continue reading Ranking Marvel’s Fresh Start: 20 – 11

Green Lantern by Morrison and Sharp

The superstar Scottish scribe has worked his magic on solo books for each member of DC’s trinity of superheroes, and now Grant Morrison turns his attention to the Emerald Knight for the relaunch of an ongoing title. The Green Lantern #1, by Morrison and artist Liam Sharp, focuses on arguably the most famous member of that interstellar peacekeeping force, Hal Jordan.

Morrison’s deserved do-no-wrong status, particularly on capes n’ tights books, meant I was very much looking forward to this run, and was committed to picking up every issue even before DC started peppering the back of their monthlies with four-page previews. I will, however, admit that I was bracing myself for something slightly… well, obtuse. As accomplished as he is at straightforward superhero fare, Morrison can just as easily fold galaxies of plot threads and characters into a marvelously labyrinthine story, a la Final Crisis or Multiversity. And given the treatment of the Green Lantern mythos over the last decade or so, with a broadening spectrum of emotional avatars and an endless parade of cosmic enigmas, I fully expected the craziest kid in the sandbox to go absolutely nuts.

Continue reading Green Lantern by Morrison and Sharp

Ranking Marvel’s Fresh Start: 30 – 21

30
Iceman

Sina Grace & Nate Stockman

Still bad. I’ve given this book three tries now, on three different reboots, and I just don’t see Sina Grace graduating from boring, puerile superhero fare. Seems like his style would be better suited to a CW adolescent dramedy. Someone should tell him that. He’d probably become rich. And then I wouldn’t have to read his shitty comics any longer. – MMDG

Iceman is a nice, simple, old-school superhero. A man made of ice who can shoot ice and rides an ice wave. He should be a regular part of the super-teams arsenal whenever they meet a fire demon or firestarter or any villains from the tropics. He should be the best at those confrontations. I like simple powers with clear strengths and weaknesses. This book is boring and I don’t care about Bishop (time travel sucks). – lebronald

Not sure why this book keeps surviving. The art is really an eyesore and the story doesn’t really have any narrative flow. It just shifts from one scene to the next without any real flow or consequences. Getting really tired of reviewing this book. – MeanOldPig

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29
Deadpool

Skottie Young, Scott Hepburn, & Nic Klein

I’d like to see Deadpool tone down his fourth wall-breaking shtick a little bit and emphasize his weapons skills in a meaningful way. Maybe tie him into a real overarching scheme that makes him matter in the universe. Doesn’t look like that’s happening with this run so I’ll probably avoid further issues. That back and forth with the kid on her phone was terrible. – lebronald

Art notwithstanding, there is only so much meta-humor and dick references that I can handle. I will say that the “Deadpoolization” of the Celestials bodes well for what I hope to be a full-on Eternals push in the coming months. But.. this gurgleballzer or whatever the hell it is seems like another slow-motion eyeroll. Doubt I’ll read another issue. – MMDG

Continue reading Ranking Marvel’s Fresh Start: 30 – 21

Comic Book Trivia: The Halloween Edition

We hosted another successful Comic Book Trivia night yesterday at Mission: Comics in San Francisco. Caught up in the spooky season, and on the cusp of Halloween, it only made sense to go with a horror comics theme…

Congratulations to Team Immortal for winning first place, besting Green Latrine on the tie-breaker question! They took home $60 in store merchandise, and the top four teams each left with a Halloween-appropriate trade ranging from Richard Sala’s latest to the first Locke & Key collection.

Now for a chance to test your knowledge. Partly for posterity, and partly to avoid doing a new comics post this week, here’s the quiz in its entirety. Lots of creepy questions.

Question #1 – Easy Opener
Which best-selling zombie series is celebrating its 15 year anniversary in 2018?

Question #2 – At the Movies
James Wan, the horror movie genius behind Saw, The Conjuring, and Insidious, is directing which upcoming superhero movie?

Question #3 – On TV
Netflix’s new spooky series, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, is based on comics from which publisher?

Question #4 – Matching
Match the comic book character to the demon or entity that has possessed, enchanted, or otherwise affected him.

1) John Constantine 2) Jason Blood 3) Johnny Blaze 4) Juggernaut

a) Cyttorak b) Nergal c) Etrigan d) Zarathos

Question #5 – First Appearances
In which comic series did Moon Knight make his first appearance?

Continue reading Comic Book Trivia: The Halloween Edition

The Whispering Dark

While I acknowledge that good, spooky entertainment shouldn’t be relegated to a certain season, I am particularly excited each October to see movie marathons on streaming networks, horror blockbusters on the big screen, and an inordinate number of creepy titles popping up on the new release comic rack. Of course, this could just be because I’m looking for something in that vein, but… whatever the case, I was glad to see Dark Horse’s The Whispering Dark #1 on the shelf this week. The comic, by Christofer Emgård and Tomás Aira, combines two of comics’ most popular genres of ages past — horror and war — and offers something that would have made Bill Gaines proud.

The Swedish author, best known for his acclaimed video game writing, is crafting a slow-burning mystery that combines the psychological terror of combat with elements of the supernatural. The series opens with an Army pilot, Hannah Vance, taking over as de facto commander of a party of soldiers shot down and caught behind enemy lines in the mountainous forest of some unnamed war.


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Shuri

We’re coming up on the six-month mark of Marvel Comics’s “Fresh Start,” an informal publishing initiative that began with the release of Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness’s new volume of The Avengers back in May. The initial flurry of #1 issues solicited under new EIC C.B. Cebulski’s direction, however, seemed anything but fresh. His promise of a creative shake-up that would include “new creative teams, new titles, new directions, and new beginnings,” appeared as empty bluster at best and, at worst, a tragic concession to a closed-minded segment of Marvel’s fanbase that preferred the same-old to diversity and true creativity.

Artists and writers were merely shuffled to different titles; series were rebooted (again); new directions were just old scenarios that were being repurposed and repackaged. It seemed as if all the truly progressive storylines and interesting creators that had been a hallmark of Axel Alonso’s final years at Marvel were going to be swept aside in favor of bland mediocrity. I half-suspect that the same Russian bots that tried to torpedo The Last Jedi were likewise targeting any superhero comic featuring a strong female character.

As I soon discovered, however, diversity and creativity had not been stymied completely. And if malcontents were looking for another minority superhero to spotlight their ignorance, Shuri #1 provides a fantastic foil.


Continue reading Shuri

Cursed Comics Cavalcade

I’ll admit it. I have something against superhero annuals. One-shots, FCBD special editions, back-up features that aren’t meant to be humorous, digital exclusives… All by and large crap, and I typically disregard them as such. Could be because I grew up in the 80’s and my formative years of four-color superheroics were filled with gawdawful annuals that usually had nothing to do with contemporaneous storylines; featured shitty art and even shittier writing (and attempted to make up for that fact with a gimmick, like a “first appearance” trading card of some hero or villain that never had a chance at making a second appearance); or worst yet, were part of some annual-only arc that forced me to buy overpriced issues of series I’d never cared about (“Citizen Kang” comes to mind).

But I love capes-and-tights comics and I do like short stories. Self-contained issues are fantastic when done well! And I really do want to see more sterling efforts from talented creators, especially if allowed to tackle premier characters and properties.

So I flipped through DC’s special 80-page Halloween anthology, Cursed Comics Cavalcade before adding it to my weekly stack. Ten eight-page stories by first-rate writers and exciting artists. No reprints, and nothing that felt like a Wal-Mart special. Swamp Thing looking extra ominous. Professor Pyg behaving appropriately dreadful. Ghosts, space zombies, demons, and possessed kids. Hell yes, Halloween, let’s go home and read this by candlelight.


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Bastard

This month Fantagraphics is publishing the collected English edition of Belgian cartoonist Max de Radiguès’s Bastard. Originally serialized in a zine format, Bastard tells the story of May and her young son Eugene, accomplices in a series of recent robberies, who are desperately traveling across the U.S. while avoiding both the law as well as their double-crossing cohorts.

Crime drama has enjoyed a lasting popularity in entertainment media for decades. The comics industry’s biggest boom, one could argue, was mid-twentieth century detective rags. Seedy subcultures of organized crime make for riveting television. Everyone loves a good heist flick.

One of the things I have found most interesting in much of the crime television that has my attention of late, is the exploration of how criminality affects the family, children’s formative years in particular. On shows like Bloodline, Ozark, and Sneaky Pete, the machinations of the central protagonists often take a back seat to the effect those schemes have on the family members caught up in the act. There’s this notion of confronting our societal desensitization to crime; we love these stories of transgression, these characters who operate outside the law, the thin line that seemingly separates upstanding citizens from fugitives. But how often are we really confronted with what those anxieties do to a family? To children? The Sopranos pokes fun at it; The Wire paints a brutal reality. But neither ever really zeroed in on the kids.


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