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 Linney 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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Comic Book Trivia: The Cap, Cats, & Bats Edition

As part of the July 3rd celebration and midnight release for Captain America #1, Catwoman #1, and Batman #50, featuring the purported nuptials of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, we hosted a special trivia night at Mission: Comics and Art.

Congratulations to the Anagraminals for becoming the first repeat champions, taking home a full set of the nine variant covers to Captain America #1 along with $50 in store merchandise. And special recognition to Hsiangrila for finishing second as a solo player!

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 questions on Captain America and Batman, of course.

Question #1
Batman #50 isn’t the only super-wedding issue this summer. Which two characters got married in last month’s X-Men Gold #30?

Question #2
3 Dev Adam, also known as “the Turkish Captain America,” was a completely unauthorized 1973 Turkish movie. Who is Cap’s nemesis is this film? [Hint: think popular Marvel superhero, reimagined as a villainous gang leader.]

Question #3
Since 1997, the Ignatz Awards have been conferred at the Small Press Expo. The name is derived from a character from what seminal comic stip by George Herriman?

Question #4
What political movement is mocked in a protest scene from Captain America #602 (2010), causing a page to be edited before publication in the trade paperback collection?

Question #5
In which comic series did Judge Dredd make his first appearance?

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Captain America #1 by Coates & Yu

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 this first chapter of “Winter in America” does not disappoint.

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Multiple Man #1

I’ve become a big fan of Matthew Rosenberg in recent years, and was thrilled when he started doing work for Marvel. In the process I have also become appreciative of the publisher’s technique for breaking in new writers; a number of entertaining and well-received mini series (including New Mutants: Dead Souls and Phoenix Resurrection) followed by a toes-in-the-water mixed bag of runs on some fringe monthlies (like Punisher and Secret Warriors) before he gets to cut loose on a high profile series. Later this month, Rosenberg joins veteran artist Greg Land as the creative team for a new era of Astonishing X-Men. And anyone who’s read the aforementioned mutant books can see that the guy is an adept student of X-history; I’m expecting to break out the Marvel Universe Guide To… with his very first issue.

But before that drops, we’re treated to an unexpected “Fresh Start” mini-series. Similar to the Quicksilver: No Surrender mini, which didn’t seem like it needed to exist (and hasn’t changed my mind over the course of two issues), Multiple Man #1, by Rosenberg and Andy MacDonald, has taken a character very few of us expected to hear from again so soon (or maybe even had forgotten had been killed off), and made him the focus of a thoroughly entertaining Madrox mystery. Continue reading Multiple Man #1

Amazing Spider-Man #801

It’s been a helluva run, Dan Slott. Amazing Spider-Man #801 marks the end of the Spider-scribe’s more than ten-year run on Marvel’s flagship title. This issue’s heartfelt farewell, beautifully illustrated by Marcos Martín, is at once a stirring self-contained story, rich with the character elements that have made Spider-Man so beloved for generations; as well as a sly bookend to an epic tenure that began with the first “Brand New Day” issue back in 2008.

Simply by virtue of his time on the title, Slott deserves to be counted among a handful of great writers who have taken ol’ Webhead on his share of some of the more memorable storylines in comic book history. Personally, I grew up during the DeFalco/Michelinie era. So between following conflicts with Hobgoblins, Gang Wars, and symbiotes, I caught up on the original Stan Lee, Ditko, and Romita issues, themselves some of the single most influential superhero comics ever created. And it is, of course, with a certain reverence that we look back on those formative experiences; to this day, I count David Michelinie among the top five Amazing Spider-Man writers of all time. So what of the generation that has grown up with Dan Slott’s ASM? A lot has happened to Peter over the last decade, from Doc Ock to Parker Industries, and this run will undoubtedly be special for a great number of young comic book fans. I think, however, that as we gain a little distance and perspective, we’ll all truly appreciate where Slott’s oeuvre fits in with some of these all-time great runs. Continue reading Amazing Spider-Man #801

Thor #1

If it feels like every new Thor launch is scripted by Jason Aaron, that’s because this is the sixth time the prolific writer has had his name attached to one thundering #1 or another. And while the Jane Foster/Thor arc (itself witness to two premiere issues) with Russell Dauterman will forever hold a special place in my heart, there’s reason to believe that for this week’s “Fresh Start” Thor #1, Aaron has saved the best for last.

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“Likely the last,” Jason? Tough to hear, and as much as we’d like for you to be to Thor what Dan Slott was to Spider-Man (or maybe you already are?), we know about all good things and such. But if your final act is going to kick off with art by the fantastic Mike del Mundo and feature back-up tales by the equally incomparable Christian Ward, you won’t hear anyone complaining. Continue reading Thor #1

The Immortal Hulk #1

The Hulk has always been a character that I’ve been iffy on. While I’ve enjoyed the acclaimed runs from Peter David and Greg Pak, they never fully got me onboard with the character. The truly horrifying nature of being turned into a rage-filled monster never hit home with me with in those runs.

Enter Al Ewing. I don’t know why I’ve never seen Hulk tackled from a horror perspective. It seems like the most obvious connection in the world, and that is exactly what Ewing manages to do with his debut issue on The Immortal Hulk. The sense of looming dread that hangs over this book feels more in line with an EC Comic than a traditional Marvel book. The Hulk truly feels like a scary otherworldly force that is here to judge humankind. He’s not just a dumb big brute but rather the best authority on the evils of the everyday person.

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