Venom #1

Week two of Marvel’s fanfare-minimized “Fresh Start” continues with the release of Venom #1, by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman. Everyone’s favorite symbiote has been riding a tidal wave of media buzz in recent months, primarily centered on the character’s 30th anniversary and the forthcoming movie. And while it’s a little difficult for me to understand Venom’s massive appeal (I admit I am equally dumbfounded as to why Deadpool is so popular), I can fully appreciate that an attention-grabbing title like this allows the publisher to attach first-rate talent to its series reboot. Case in point, rising star Cates, and the immensely talented Stegman.

For an absent reader like myself, I’m even more appreciative of the fact that this creative team is circling back to a few Venom fundamentals while still moving forward with their own unique addition to the symbiote mythos. After sojourns with Mac Gargan and Flash Thompson (and who knows who the hell else during that Venom, Inc. event), the original alien is back with Eddie Brock, and he has that “Lethal Protector” mindset that seems to align directly with Tom Hardy’s portrayal later this year. But what I really dig is the idea that Cates & Stegman have seemingly readdressed the enigma of the symbiote, and its connection to some sort of ancient evil, lurking for centuries. Everything about the recent Klyntar background revelations, whether from Guardians of the Galaxy or Venom: Space Knight just felt wholly uninspired and, frankly, seemed to detract from the mysterious nature of this character’s alien origins.

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Avengers #1

Marvel’s Fresh Start initiative kicks off this week with a book seemingly “one million years in the making.” Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness debut Avengers #1, and, for the first time since last fall’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, we are re-introduced to Earth’s Mightiest of one million B.C. We’ve been clamoring for more of these guys — a Mjolnir-wielding Odin, Agamotto, Ghost Rider atop a mastodon, and predecessors to the Iron Fist, Black Panther, Phoenix, and Starbrand — since that teaser by Aaron and Esad Ribić soooo many months ago. And although, at the time, I had promised that I’d catch myself up on Kirby’s Celestials, I apparently was too busy being distracted by behind-the-curtain Marvel drama to read any of The King’s Eternals saga. And I’m guessing Marvel was too busy screwing shit up to worry about it either; we still don’t have a decent collected edition, other than a long out-of-print omnibus that is scarce even among the price-gouging eBay resellers.

But one way or another, I’m going to make it happen. Because along with rumors of the Eternals joining the MCU, Aaron and McGuinness seem boldly intent on adding significantly to a carefully curated Marvel mythology that, after Kirby, has pretty much only been trusted to the likes of Roy Thomas and Neil Gaiman. And this first issue of Avengers definitely feels significant.

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The Hunt for Wolverine

Right around the end of Civil War II a number of us in the Institute’s comic book studies department wagered on which character Marvel would bring back to print first: The Hulk, Iron Man, Professor X, Logan, or Mr. Fantastic. Right away there was debate as to whether Tony Stark ever really left comics, what with his A.I. ghost still haunting the pages of Riri’s monthly; whether or not the Hulk samurai zombie in Uncanny Avengers constituted a return; and whether or not Reed & Sue’s disappearance at the end of the recent Secret Wars was anything more than an acknowledgement that they were written off because of the evil machinations of 20th Century Fox, and not a Beyonder-level Doctor Doom.

Less than two years later, four of the five are back (in one form or another), with the Fantastic Four set to re-emerge as part of Marvel’s fresh start later this summer. The point is, superheroes and supervillains never stay dead, and while the significance surrounding their extended sabbaticals from comics becomes less and less newsworthy, we’re increasingly more interested in how the storytellers choose to resurrect them. Honestly, these are the stories that seem far more compelling.

Case in point, Logan, the original Wolverine, is back in the Marvel U. And writer Charles Soule follows up his Death of Wolverine mini-series from 2014 with this week’s Hunt for Wolverine #1, part of a multi-series event that will occupy far more rack real estate in the coming months than his demise ever did.

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Action Comics #1000

I had a copy of this comic on a side table in my living room this weekend and, when my brother took notice, he stopped in his tracks and scooped it up. “One thousand? Seriously? One thousand?”

We grew up in an era in which “landmark” designations still made an impression. I’ll never forget how excited I was to get my hands on Uncanny X-Men #200. I pinned and re-pinned that comic to my wall I don’t know how many times. Or the big 50th anniversary celebration of Batman that culminated in Detective Comics #600. That might have been the first time in my mercifully brief middle-school comics speculation career that I purchased a duplicate copy of a book. But nowadays, big round numbers mean very little, especially with rebirths and fresh starts and new number 1’s every fall.

But #1000… we all take notice of that. That number is on another level. My son once explained matter-of-factly that he could eat one thousand shelled edamame, to which his uncle retorted, “It’s impossible to eat one thousand of anything.”

The Romans never bothered coming up with a number greater than “M.”

My girlfriend, who, perhaps due to having grown up in Mexico, had been criminally inexperienced with baseball terminology (and thus at something of a disadvantage when we started communicating), recently learned what it means to “bat a thousand.” It’s unattainable perfection.

It’s hard to imagine a thousand of anything.

So it’s with proper reverence that I approach DC’s truly landmark 1000th issue of Action Comics, the comic that started it all. It’s a marvelous 80-page anthology with vignettes from an all-star lineup of superhero creative teams both past and present.

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Captain America #700

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s celebrated run on Captain America concludes this week with the title’s milestone 700th issue. The journey began during the Legacy launch, setting forth under the daunting mandate of restoring Captain America – both in the fictional comics world and in real-world readers’ perceptions – as a bastion of hope, justice, and perseverance. In this book’s main story, the final chapter of “Out of Time,” Waid & Samnee punctuate their little Steve Rogers futuristic fable with as much “What Captain America Means To Me” mojo as they can muster.

The whole storyline may have felt a little rushed, from the introduction of the criminal organization Rampart through the near-future apocalyptic America, but in this conclusion you really do get the sense that the pair had every intention of crafting what amounts to a superheroic fairy tale more than anything else. On the first day, Cap was undeterred. On the second day, Cap was resolute. But on the third day…

This whole epic could have just as easily worked as one of Marvel’s new Original Graphic Novels: somewhat in continuity, but maybe not entirely… (Except, of course, that no one seems to read those.) Whether or not future creative teams, including the highly anticipated “Fresh Start” launch from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Yu, recognize any trace elements from this tale remains to be seen. But in the sense that Waid & Samnee beautifully capture their core Cap beliefs in this succinct, albeit era-spanning story, this run can be viewed as a success.

Continue reading Captain America #700

Thanos: The Infinity Siblings

Like Chris Claremont returning to script a Nightcrawler series, or Frank Miller giving life to a third chapter of The Dark Knight, there’s something special about fellow Hall of Famer Jim Starlin making a new contribution to Marvel’s cosmic canon. This week Starlin and artist Alan Davis showcase the central nemesis of the next Hollywood blockbuster in the latest in a series of original graphic novels, Thanos: The Infinity Siblings. These books are particularly special for the author, as he clearly relishes the opportunity to return to a character he created in the pages of Iron Man in 1973 and brought to prominence in a series of Infinity events in the 80’s and 90’s.

This book is advertised as the first in a new trilogy of original Thanos graphic novels. Whereas the first trilogy focused on an alliance between the Mad Titan and another Starlin all-star, Adam Warlock, this new series of books partners up Thanos with his brother Eros, the former Avenger known as Starfox. More exciting, however (granted, it’s not terribly difficult to be more exciting than Starfox), is the partnership with Davis. The two recently wrapped up a Guardians of the Galaxy mini-series, Mother Entropy, and on this book, the veteran artist looks better than ever. No offense to the serviceable Ron Lim, who provided the art for the last graphic novel in the prior trilogy, but there’s something about this format that demands a higher caliber presentation. And in the absence of Starlin’s own art (he wrote and illustrated the first two books), Alan Davis might be the next best thing.

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Moon Knight – Crazy Runs in the Family

Moon Knight comics, particularly in the last decade, have distanced themselves from early Batman comparisons by focusing on the one clearly established difference between the two characters (beyond a polar opposite preference in wardrobe color). While Bruce Wayne’s obsessive nature would test the limits of any human’s sanity, he remains a steadfast bastion of cognitive precision, the World’s Greatest Detective. Marc Spector, on the other hand, has a genuine psychological disorder, that, in the hands of writers such as Warren Ellis, Brian Wood, and Jeff Lemire, adds an engaging level of complexity to every mystery and every storyline.

The first arc of Moon Knight under the Legacy banner, “Crazy Runs in the Family,” concludes with this week’s issue, and, in keeping with recent tradition, and as the title would indicate, it’s been a marvelously offbeat showcase of Spector’s multiple personalities. Despite the expected level of weird, this story by Max Bemis, Jacen Burrows, and Guillermo Ortego has been unexpectedly unique, and maybe the most underrated title in Marvel’s line right now.

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Comic Book Trivia: Test Your Knowledge Part II

Our second trivia night at San Francisco’s Mission: Comics and Art took place on March 13. Congratulations to the Guardians of the Avenues who edged Anagraminals via the tie-breaker to take home the first place title!

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. Before you start Googling all the answers, see how many you can nail down on your own.

Question #1
We all know that the Hulk’s alter ego is Bruce Banner. But Bruce is actually his middle name. What is Dr. Banner’s first name?

Question #2
What was Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro’s first feature film based on a comic book character?

Question #3
In Watchmen, what symbol does Doctor Manhattan inscribe on his forehead?

Question #4
In Chris Claremont’s first three instances featuring the X-Men playing baseball – X-Men #110,
Uncanny X-Men Annual #7, and Uncanny X-Men #201 – which member of the team is at bat?

Question #5
In which comic book series did John Constantine make his first appearance?

Continue reading Comic Book Trivia: Test Your Knowledge Part II

It’s the Night-Crawler!

Incredible Hulk #126 (1970)

Not Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, but the Night-Crawler, interdimensional guardian who protects the doorway to the realm of the Undying Ones. And he’s the answer to the question, who’s the other guy on Grandmaster’s tower in Thor: Ragnarok?

In a movie characteristically replete with fun Easter eggs, it surprised me to see such an obscure Marvel reference figured prominently in the bottom left of this towering tribute to Sakaar’s grand champions. Not surprisingly, the Internet has had a very hard time identifying this guy. I only recognized him because I had just finished an exhausting research project on Valkyrie in anticipation of this very movie. The Night-Crawler makes his first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #126 (April, 1970) by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe. In this same issue Barbara Norriss, who will later go on to inhabit the body of Brunnhilde the Valkyrie (Defenders #4), sacrifices herself to release Doctor Strange from a mystical prison. Catch up on the whole twisted tale here. Continue reading It’s the Night-Crawler!

Abbott

The influx of quality crime comics over the last two decades has helped keep alive the storied pulp tradition of the early twentieth century, when hardboiled detective yarns and creepy horror rags ruled the spin racks. And as great as it is to read a modern by-the-numbers crime epic, like Kane or Goldfish, the beauty of this medium is the ability to blur lines between genres; shadows hide more than cigarette smoke and bullet casings. Brubaker and Phillips get it, in stuff like Kill or Be Killed; David Lapham in Stray Bullets. I’d like to nominate Abbott, by Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä, for inclusion on that list of engaging supernatural crime chillers.

Elena Abbott is a badass chain-smoking reporter investigating a series of grisly murders set against the powderkeg backdrop of early-70’s Detroit. Abbott’s husband had been murdered, years earlier, under an ominous cloud of dark, ancient magic. Now, the “claws of the shadow world” have reappeared, leaving their calling card on these slayings, and Abbott realizes that she might be the only person who can crack the case.

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