Jason on the Camino

Jason’s latest graphic novel, unambiguously titled Jason on the Camino, is without a doubt the most personal and, consequently, touching book in the Norwegian cartoonist’s body of work. It’s an autobiographical account of a pilgrimage hike he embarked upon from the French side of the Pyrenees, across northern Spain, to the holy site of Santiago de Compostela. Jason walked the Camino a few years ago, to mark his fiftieth birthday, and the 32-day trek is chronicled here with the master storyteller’s signature mix of deadpan humor, understated emotion, and anthropomorphic characters.

Jason (“John from Norway”) acknowledges that, while every person has his or her own reasons for walking the Camino, other than marking a significant chapter of his life, he’s not entirely sure what his own motivation is. But in those first few pages we get a clear picture of a man who, despite a certain modicum of social anxiety, is prepared to fully immerse himself in an experience rich in all the quiet subtleties of life and, more importantly, one that promises to be enhanced by interacting with other people. One may walk the Camino alone, but the true nature of any pilgrimage is the fact that one person becomes part of many, across time and space, a connection among people from around the globe and throughout the centuries.

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Generation X

Marvel’s mutant refresh, the ResurrXion initiative, hits the eight-week mark and, with it, our first look at a younger batch of X-Men hopefuls. Surprisingly, however, we’re not getting another New Mutants book, but a new volume of that other teenage mutant title. Christina Strain and Amilcar Pinna debut Generation X #1 this week, and it’s more angst-riddled than ever. Jubilee is back, this time as a mentor, for a team of wonderfully goofy mutants, none of whom seem to have the slightest concern about one day saving the world, much less upholding Professor Xavier’s dream of mutant-human harmony.

Strain started her comic book career as a colorist, most notably on another Marvel book of young, powered misfits, Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways. She has since been honing her writing chops on a SyFy television series, and makes her return to comics by walking us into the new Xavier Institute, in classic welcome-hope-you-survive fashion.

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The Best of Marvel NOW! #1 – The Avengers

A little over five years ago, few people outside the comic book fan community knew who or what The Avengers were. Since then, the team has starred in one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, and the property is far and away the most profitable superhero film franchise going. I’ve got Black Widow on a Kleenex box. Hawkeye Nerf bows fly off Target shelves. Iron Man and Captain America bobbleheads are given out at Giants games. So when it came time to relaunch the flagship series for Marvel’s latest NOW! initiative, Mark Waid obviously assembled a team that no casual fan would recognize: the sole member with a recognizable movie counterpart is The Vision.

Before even reading a single page of Avengers #1, I applauded the direction. Too many editorial mandates – from both DC and Marvel – have muddied the waters in our monthly titles. I’ve always felt that the comics, the source material, should be informing the greater media output, and not the other way around. Movies and television shows should absolutely develop plots and characters as they see fit; I loved the humanoid Ego in Guardians 2, and I’m onboard for a revised origin story for Adam Warlock. But when an intrigued moviegoer wanders into a comic shop to gaze upon the four-color finery, let him or her marvel at a vast and varied superhero foundation, a tapestry of wonderment that stretches back decades, and not just to the most recent season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Mark Waid gets it. This team, even moreso than the all-new all-different assemblage he debuted over a year ago, offers comic book fans both new and old something unique, while simultaneously resonating with historical familiarity. The result is one of the best superhero books on the shelf.


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The Best of Marvel NOW! #2 – The Ultimates²

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The Ultimates² is an incredible book. From writing, to art, ink, and colors, every single aspect of the book is working to tell an inventive, surprising, and gratifying superhero story. To really delve into what makes this new incarnation of Ultimates so great some words should be said about the several previous series with the same title. The original Ultimates was a fresh, edgy, and highly successful spin on a classic Avengers story. Its sequel was also quite good, and while the third series was a dud, the name Ultimates still carries weight. It implies a certain amount of shiny newness, a rejiggering of the status quo. While the original comic helped shift the Ultimate Marvel landscape into dark and gritty territory, this new book seems to be attempting something similar with the cosmic side of Marvel. While such an idea will likely turn some readers off, to those who are excited by the idea it feels like a return to the glory days of cosmic Marvel, when Annihilus invaded the Negative Zone, the Guardians of the Galaxy were just a plucky reboot, and Quasar still appeared in comic books.

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Secret Warriors

We’re in week 7 of Marvel’s ResurreXion initiative, the mutant and Inhuman refresh that rose from the ashes of the IvX clash. And while the X-books are enjoying some well-deserved attention, they still are basically left to operate in their own arena, while the Inhumans, as the latest property darling of Marvel Studios, continue to be shoehorned into every event and cross-title storyline they can. Case in point: the new Secret Warriors book by Matthew Rosenberg and Javier Garrón. Directly connected to the Secret Empire event, Daisy Johnson, AKA Quake, rallies a team of fellow Inhumans to oppose the Hydra takeover and occupation.

As Rosenberg will admit in his afterword to issue #1, he’s a relative newcomer to comic book writing, with even less experience working in the superhero genre. But he, like many of us, grew up with Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Captain America, and all the rest of those wonderful larger-than-life members of the Mighty Marvel pantheon. His reverence shows; his enthusiasm is obvious. And fresh off the Rocket Raccoon and Kingpin series in Marvel’s recent NOW! relaunch, not to mention the outstanding 4 Kids Walk into a Bank for Black Mask, Rosenberg has pulled together a very intriguing roster for his first full-on foray into capes-n-tights team books.

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The Best of Marvel NOW! #3 – Champions

RCO001_1475672841.jpgChampions is one of the most exciting new books to come out of the current crop of Marvel NOW! releases. Writer Mark Waid assembles a team featuring many of the most promising young new heroes in comics. Ms. Marvel, Nova, Spider-Man, Cyclops, Vision, and Hulk in their original incarnations would be exactly the sort of temporary superhero team that would last a year and fizzle out. Luckily for readers, Marvel, and Waid, have put serious effort into developing these new young heroes, finally giving them a team of their own. Miles Morales has become a worthy successor to Peter Parker. Nova, in much the same way, functions as a softer version of Richard Ryder. Ms. Marvel, hot off a top spot in Civil War II and featured in far too many team-ups lately, actually feels like a crucial member of the Champions team. Hulk, in this case the “Totally Awesome” Amadeus Cho, is quite different from the original, serving as both brains and brawn. Lastly is Viv Vision, an excellent character whose presence also manages to save the amazing Vision family from total comic book extinction, is a welcome addition, acting as the team’s Jarvis and Kitty Pride combined. Each of these heroes brings something new to the table, each one representing a new direction for Marvel, while also being reminders of heroes past. Champions is a book filled with legacy, a reaction to the superhero teams of old. It aims to be to the youth of today what X-Men was to the youth of the 80’s.

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The Best of Marvel NOW! #4 – Silver Surfer

Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer has been arguably Marvel’s most consistently excellent comic over the last four-plus years. Before Secret Wars, through the All-New All-Different relaunch, and into the Marvel NOW! era, the adventures of Norrin Radd and Dawn Greenwood, from the salty coast of New England to unexplored new regions of the galaxy, have reminded us how fun comics can be. Issue #9, one of the last books to carry the NOW! label, appropriately establishes the book’s characters and tone for a new audience, while tantalizing long-time readers with a much-anticipated new chapter in these starfarers’ journey. We were promised “everywhere and anywhere,” and from one corner of the cosmos to another, the quest to uncover the human soul of the Surfer has been even more rewarding than we could have hoped.

Silver Surfer debuted in the pages of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four in 1966, the same year Star Trek premiered on NBC. The connection hasn’t been lost on me, as these recent volumes of Surfer have captured so much of what I love about that original Trek series. It’s campy and colorful, but nonetheless full of mystery and wonder. And this character lends himself so perfectly to that type of story: he’s admittedly a goofy concept, all plated in chrome and riding a surfboard across space, but there might not be another superhero in comics who takes himself, or his purpose, so seriously. In the first NOW! issue, a standalone tale of cosmic intrigue, Surfer and Dawn encounter a planet of people who don’t poo. Freaking silly, but fun! And it’s a bonafide mystery, tucked inside the ongoing quest to kindle the light of humanity within the once lonely last son of Zenn-La.

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The Best of Marvel NOW! #5 – The Mighty Thor

I’ve often thought Thor is the most out of place character in The Avengers. Bringing Norse mythology into the Marvel U always seemed like a commercial ploy – a way to get another Marvel book on the shelves without the creative pressure of having to write an original character. Of course, that’s not the whole truth, since myths and legends are kind of the original superhero stories. Jason Aaron has a firm grasp of that idea, and in the latest Marvel NOW season of The Mighty Thor, he and artist Russell Dauterman use the classic “trial of the gods” trope to further develop the Jane Foster-Thor, while creating some amazing visual opportunities.

Jason Aaron may be one of the best fundamental comic book writers in the game. This arc of Thor has a feel of a classic silver age conflict, but with more finesse. His dialogue doesn’t over-explain, the story’s acts are evenly paced, and he lets Dauterman’s drawings do plenty of exposition.

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Ranking Marvel NOW! 15 – 6

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Iron Fist

Ed Brisson and Mike Perkins

Iron Fist #1 begins the way every Iron Fist story should, with Danny Rand recklessly throwing his fists in his search for something deeper. The book also uses first person narration in a similar way to the original incarnation of the series, which featured second person narration as a means of placing the reader in Danny Rand’s shoes. While “heroes without their powers” stories are not always spectacular, especially since they often lack the action of a traditional story, this book feels like the beginning of a promising journey for Danny. The colorful and gritty art also helps sell a martial arts world that, while somewhat dark, is also full of strange characters. Lastly, any Iron Fist book that uses the narration to accurately call each of Danny Rand’s expert techniques is fine by me. Iron Fist #1 Upward Cannon Punches and Tiger Tail Sweeps its way to success, even if it isn’t the most exciting book on the Marvel NOW roster. – IP

Better than the PM&IF book. Formulaic, but fun. I’m in for now. Brisson’s writing has potential, and Perkins’s grittiness gives this kung-fu epic the appropriate 70’s vibe. – MMDG

First collection: Iron Fist, Vol. 1: The Gauntlet (October)

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14
Moon Knight

Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood
beginning with #10

First off, Greg Smallwood’s layouts and Jordie Bellaire’s colors make this one trippy book. Delving into a character’s broken mind is something that comic books are very good at depicting. I already feel very into learning more about Marc’s fractured psyche and his quest to find out what is real and what isn’t. Lemire makes me want to read the next issue. – MeanOldPig

Collection: Moon Knight, Vol. 3: Birth and Death (October)

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Continue reading Ranking Marvel NOW! 15 – 6

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