Asgardians of the Galaxy

At the onset of Marvel’s current Fresh Start, the publisher made a predictably uniform push to give its marquee characters renewed rack appeal. The whole initiative kicked off with Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness’s new volume of The Avengers and, in short order we had new #1 issues for fan-favorites like Deadpool, Venom, and Thor. From those first solicitations, there seemed to be very little “freshness” in the back-to-basics approach promised by new EIC C.B. Cebulski. Thor was a boy again; Peter Parker was a broke shmuck again. Tony Stark wasn’t dead, or in a coma, or whatever… and The Avengers looked more or less like the casual fan expected. I braced myself for a disappointing regression from the diversity, creativity, and artistic experimentation that had made Marvel stand apart from the major publishers in recent years.

Instead, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that Fresh Start, while pandering slightly to the fans who couldn’t deal with a Black Captain America or teenage girl in Iron Man armor, has been replete with some genuine excitement. Creativity preempts the same old: Mike del Mundo and Christian Ward, whose fantastic art is outside the capes ‘n tights norm, get the nod to kick off Jason Aaron’s final Thor volume. Al Ewing and Joe Bennett re-imagine Hulk as a chilling EC-inspired horror book.

Women writers take the reins on noteworthy titles: Kelly Thompson is tapped to bring back West Coast Avengers. Mariko Tamaki unveils the best Laura Kinney to date in the new X-23. And Margaret Stohl continues to orchestrate the comic book face of the MCU’s proudest new property, Captain Marvel.

Most interestingly, however, peppered among the predictable #1 issues, is a host of oddball books and unexpected revivals. Jeff Lemire is writing a great Sentry. Matthew Rosenberg is allowed to bring Multiple Man back from the dead. Cosmic Ghost Rider — maybe as odd as it gets — graduates from the pages of Donny Cates’s Thanos into his own mini. And my favorite Marvel B-lister of them all, Valkyrie, leads a marvelously unusual crew of cosmic godlings in this week’s Asgardians of the Galaxy #1.

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Comics of the Revolution

The revolution may not be televised, but nothing has stopped it from being splashed and sequenced, stapled and folded, colored and squarebound. It’s marvelous credit to the medium that comics of a revolutionary bent have evolved from the field of underground pamphlets and zines into thoughtful, well-written, mass-produced monthlies and graphic novels. It’s also a little frightening to realize how much our contemporary social consciousness has fueled this surge of four-color rebellion. Superheroes, who, like it or not, have become synonymous with the medium, achieved their Golden Age ascension at the height of World War II, when the enemy was without (interestingly, subsequent to the War, those selfsame heroes dwindled in popularity, losing ground to crime, romance, and western rags). But the enemy within, particularly in the last decade, has never felt more menacing. For a mainstream publisher like Marvel to unveil a summer-long event like Secret Empire, in which our own country is beset by a subversive fascist force literally wearing the American flag seems like a testament to how wide the fires of resistance have spread.

Scarlet #1, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, is the latest incendiary response to societal unrest. The book continues the creator-owned saga begun under Marvel’s Icon Imprint, with a new number one to kick-off the arrival of Bendis’s Jinxworld line at DC. This first issue of the new volume does a decent job catching new readers up to speed… but it may do a better job at selling the uninitiated on the merits of those first two volumes (DC is also publishing new editions of those collections).

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West Coast Avengers

I’m honestly surprised it took this long. With the whirlwind international acclaim that Marvel’s film universe has brought to this brand, making The Avengers the kind of household name a teenage me hadn’t ever even imagined, why have we waited until 2018 for the return of the title’s first spinoff? We’ve had Initiative, Academy, YoungSolo, and Spotlight. World and Secret, New and MightyAssemble and A.I. And most of that was just in the last decade. Hell, even the Great Lakes Avengers have had their own title in the interim! Finally, almost thirty-four years after Clint Barton first put out the call to assemble a California-based branch of Earth’s Mightiest, West Coast Avengers is back on the stands, courtesy of Kelly Thompson and Stefano Caselli.

Refreshingly, this reboot of the Hawkeye-led best-coasters seemingly has nothing to do with editorial mandates or higher-ranking media imperatives. There wasn’t an earth-shattering crossover event that necessitated a tie-in title. In fact, the impetus behind Kate Bishop’s “heroes wanted” rally is a Santa Monica infestation of a random horde of mindless landsharks. Apart from Clint Barton, AKA the original Hawkeye (who’s really more of an adorable mascot), this goofy ragtag lineup doesn’t feature a single character with an MCU counterpart. Quentin Quire, in fact, after somehow avoiding being drafted into one of the seventeen X-teams falling off the racks, gets to shackle his irascible punk apathy to the meta-fictitious fangirl enthusiasm of Gwenpool. Wonderful. You can get away with anything in the Golden State.

It might also help when you’re Kelly Thompson, and your fan-favorite Hawkeye series recently leaped over the radar and onto the Eisner list of best series nominees. I’d like to imagine the conversation went something like…

“Kelly, the world wants more Hawkeye! How do you feel about bringing back the West Coast Avengers?”

“I feel great about it! Can I pick the team?”

“Of course! So long as it has Deadpool.”

“Fuck that. Never mind.”

“No no no it’s fine. Any team you want. (But you’re going to have to put him in your Rogue & Gambit book…)”

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The Last of the Antenna TV Generation

Holy Bee of Ephesus

TVIt can be mildly frustrating being on the dividing line between generations. I am on the younger end of “Generation X,” and a few years too old to be a “Millennial.” I’m that between-the-cracks age that is young enough to spend a lot of money on games from Steam, but old enough to remember Betamax tapes. Can’t remember John Belushi as an SNL cast member, but can remember Julia Louis-Dreyfus as an SNL cast member. Young enough to have grown up mostly with cable TV and the plethora of options it offers, but old enough to (barely) remember when the family TV in its polished wooden cabinet was still wired to an antenna on the roof, and the smaller TV in the den had rabbit ears. Too young to remember TV sitcoms of the 1960s and early 70s during their original run, but old enough to have seen them when…

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X-Men: Extermination

Oh, baby X-Men, we hardly knew ye. Since the time-displaced original five debuted in 2012 as part of Brian Michael Bendis’s mutant master plan, many of us have been more or less waiting for the eventual reversal — whatever method of time-traveling chicanery would be necessary to send them back to their proper when and clear the decks once again. The plot development that brought the young X-Men into the present-day Marvel universe seemed, from the outset, to be very temporary. Have kid Cyclops show crazy old Cyclops that he was acting a right dick, and move on. Send the younguns home. Instead, these “All-New X-Men” settled in for a spell and opened new doors (closet doors among them) all over the mansion.

Angel got fire wings, and Beast took up dark magic. Iceman came out as gay, and Jean Grey came into a heretofore unappreciated personality. Cyclops rejected his destined psychosis, kicking it with the Champions and the Starjammers when he wasn’t neurotically whining all over Westchester. Along the way, this new “Blue” team picked up a few more strays and even started training under one-time arch-nemesis Magneto.

So, are these kids really sticking around?

Nope. Doesn’t look like it.

X-Men: Extinction #1, by Ed Brisson and Pepe Larraz, is this year’s mini mutant event and, as Brisson mentions in his afterword, this event is “largely about cleaning house.” But he goes on to assure us dear readers that, even once they resolve the young X-Men storyline, the last few years of continuity will still matter.

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Fantastic Four #1

There may have been no release in Marvel’s Fresh Start initiative more anticipated than the return of Reed, Sue, Ben, & Johnny. After three years without a title, the book that started a superhero revolution and kicked off Marvel’s ascendancy way back in 1961, is back on the stands. Fantastic Four #1, by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli, is decades removed from the book that was proudly emblazoned with the headline “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” but the publisher, by all accounts, is finally ready to give the title a fair shot at reclaiming some its former glory.

The truth behind the FF’s lengthy hiatus may never fully be revealed. Declining sales probably factored in, and the culmination of Hickman’s Secret Wars event provided an opportunity to shelve half of the core group at the onset of the All-New All-Different era. It’s also been rumored that the terrible failure of the three 20th Century Fox feature films, one more terrible than the next, contributed to Marvel’s decision to distance itself from a series bearing that title. Considering the degree to which Marvel Studios dictates editorial decisions for the comic book lines, this wouldn’t at all be surprising. The comics play nice when the non-Disney licensees do well (Deadpool, for example), but with no opportunity at the time to correct the FF’s big-screen portrayals, Marvel may have felt like keeping this book off the stands would devalue the license for Fox, preventing them from attempting yet another brand-defaming motion picture.

All that could change, of course, if the proposed Disney-Fox merger goes through. With a few more assets to untangle, and sports-related networks to extricate, the path seems clear for Marvel’s parent company to reclaim the movie rights for what is, after Spider-Man, arguably the comic book publisher’s most important property.

The seeds were sown during last fall’s Legacy initiative. The one-shot special hinted at the group’s return, and the new Marvel Two-in-One series, by Chip Zdarsky and Jim Cheung, rehabilitated Human Torch and The Thing after lost years with various Inhuman teams or Guardians of the Galaxy respectively, and helped to remind us how much Marvel’s First Family means to all of us superhero devotees.

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Infinity Wars #1

Is it that time of year already? For those of us no longer in school or working in education (and, living in San Francisco, perennially devoid of any true seasonal awareness), summer doesn’t start until Marvel officially rolls out its big annual event series. In 2018, unsurprisingly, the focus is on the company’s cosmic canon, with the Guardians, Avengers, and this new breed of Infinity Stones taking center stage. We have borne witness, in recent years, to the way Marvel Studios has dictated the central cast and plot points of these crossovers. Whether by editorial mandate, or merely a concerted effort to boost sales with cross-media awareness, the hyped-up books on the shelves vary depending on whichever Hollywood blockbuster is currently stuffing the company’s coffers.

That may be a cynical stance on the inception of these events, but it doesn’t necessarily take away from the quality of the stories themselves. Marvel crossover events in recent years have run the gamut between convoluted, uninspired slogs (Civil War II) and engaging surprise-filled epics (Infinity).  How these stories will pan out is not always apparent going in, which is why we examine, with particular interest, the first volume of any given core title. And this week we get the first official chapter of Infinity Wars, courtesy of Gerry Duggan and Mike Deodato.

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Mr. and Mrs. X

Marvel’s X-family of titles experienced their own fresh start of sorts, in last year’s ResurrXion event. The publishing initiative, coming on the heels of the Inhumans vs. X-Men throwdown, seemed like a concerted effort to realign Marvel’s media focus on the mutants, and away from the Inhumans. In light of Marvel Studios’ spectacular failure at making the Inhumans live-action relevant, ResurrXion feels more like a precursor to the thorough housecleaning we’re now experiencing. I’ll read Death of the Inhumans for Cates & Olivetti, but I can’t help but cringe when I consider the editorial tantrum that seems to have started the fire.

Even when the “resurrXted” books segued into Marvel’s Legacy season, the titles felt diluted and stale. The art on some of the later X-Men: Gold and Blue books in particular was atrocious and spoke to a general apathy towards the mutant corner of the Marvel universe, something that the initiative was specifically trying to dispel.

In other words, Marvel’s current line-wide Fresh Start, now in its thirteenth week, couldn’t have come at a better time for the X-books. And the architects of a genuinely fresh approach to these titles are themselves rather new to the scene. After flexing his muscles on Phoenix Resurrection, Matthew Rosenberg continues to build his mutant cred with an excellent New Mutants series and the new Multiple Man mini. He’s poised to make a bigger dent, partnered with Greg Land, as the regular writer on Astonishing X-Men.

Mariko Tamaki, who penned an excellent She-Hulk-fronted Hulk title, is leading the charge with the new X-23 book, the first issue of which has immediately endeared me to Laura Kinney and her sister Gabby.

And then there’s Kelly Thompson. Fresh off an Eisner best-series nomination for Hawkeye, Thompson brought her brand of sharp, witty dialogue woven through a fun fast-paced caper to the Rogue & Gambit: Ring of Fire five-issue series. When a creator cares about certain characters as much as Thompson does these two off-again, on-again lovers, it shows. The follow-up is an X-book I had no idea I wanted to see, until I held that goofy cover in my hands. Mr. and Mrs. X #1, out this week, by Thompson and artist Oscar Bazaldua, is a welcome addition to the revitalized stable of mutant titles.

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SDCC 2018: Top 5 Comic Book Exclusives

I’m foregoing the weekly new release column to focus on a different kind of release: the 2018 San Diego Comic Con variant. With the convention officially kicking off tomorrow (and knowing full well that I have no willpower when it comes to resisting limited editions and event exclusives), here’s a list of five special releases that are on my radar.

Cosmic Ghost Rider #1 – J. Scott Campbell Glow-in-the-Dark Variant (Marvel)
A surprisingly entertaining addition to Marvel’s recent “Fresh Start” initiative, Cosmic Ghost Rider by Donny Cates and Dylan Burnett is an offbeat far-flung future jaunt taking the new Ghost Rider, Frank Castle, on a version of the back-in-time-to-kill-Hitler plot. This time, however, the Punishing nutjob journeys back to ancient Titan to fuck with a certain purple Eternal in his crib. The book itself is entertaining, and funny in a way that Deadpool wishes it could be, and this limited variant has a cover that glows in the dark. So. I want it.

Black Hammer #1 – Fábio Moon Convention Exclusive (Dark Horse)
Jeff Lemire’s Eisner-winning love letter to Golden Age superheroes has been one of my favorite books over the last few years, and Dark Horse has three different variant covers to celebrate the reprinting of this first issue. Of the three, this cover by Moon, paying tribute to the first issue of Giffen & Maguire’s Justice League, is easily my favorite. Limited print run of 1,400 copies.

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SDCC 2018: Top 10 Toy Exclusives

The 49th San Diego Comic Con starts in a few days, so I felt that it was a good time for my first column. Here are my Top 10 picks for toy exclusives offered as part of this year’s con. I used a number of factors in determining my rankings: resale value and opportunity; scarcity; and, simply, just how cool the toy looks.

#10
Funko Pop Movie Bruce Lee Gold and White Pants (BAIT)
Both of these Funko Pops are from the movie Enter the Dragon and retail for $30. They are currently reselling on eBay between $60 and $75 each. These are not SDCC exclusives, however; in fact, the Gold Bruce Lee was sold two weeks ago at Anime Expo. These make the list because it’s Bruce Lee. The only Lee that would be more valuable, at Comic Con, would be Stan.

#9
1990 Movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figure Set (NECA)

Once again NECA is delivering your favorite heroes in a half shell. The boxed set retails at $125, or $250 if you want the Movie Street Diorama. This seems unnecessary though — I mean an extra $125 for a piece of cardboard? Blah. This set is currently reselling on eBay for $220 – $240.

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