The Best of Marvel’s Fresh Start #1 – The Immortal Hulk

Still in shock that I like a Hulk book this much. I wrote a little about this comic when it debuted and how I was impressed by Ewing & Bennett’s initial issue, but now that we’re six months into Marvel’s Fresh Start, I can say that this is by far my favorite thing the company is putting out.

Al Ewing really won me over to his storytelling sensibilities with The Ultimates but for some reason I thought that would be more of a one-time thing. He just seemed more attuned to that cosmic grand scale story. But Ewing proved me wrong with The Immortal Hulk.

This Hulk story reminds me of old EC horror comics. Morality tales of humans and being judged by some sort of supernatural being. They never have happy endings and always leave you with a bit of incoming dread. That’s exactly what Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett accomplish with their first arc in The Immortal Hulk.

Ewing weaves together different morality tales with each issue and somehow moves the ongoing story of the Green Door onward. Is the Hulk an avenging devil? A gamma detective dispensing justice?

I really like Ewing’s strategy of making Banner and Hulk secondary characters in their story. You hear more about them and their impact through other characters. Everyone treats them as larger than life figures so when they make an appearance, they really pop.

Continue reading The Best of Marvel’s Fresh Start #1 – The Immortal Hulk

The Best of Marvel’s Fresh Start #4 – Fantastic Four

I knew they’d be back. We all knew they’d be back. I have to say, even though I’m no die-hard fan, watching Disney/Marvel put 21st Century Fox in a chokehold by cancelling The Fantastic Four comic was a little hard to watch. Disney really tried to regain the FF and X-Men properties , but Fox really wanted to keep pushing out mediocre movies, so Marvel decided to replace mutants with Inhumans, and the FF got canned.  

The Fantastic Four are a flagship franchise. They’re Marvel’s first family! Shutting that book down was symbolic of how ruthlessly protective the Marvel Movie Empire is of its agenda. Whenever the Internet explodes over a celebrated director being removed from the helm of a Marvel movie, I just think, “they shut down The Fantastic Four, of course they’d tell Edgar Wright to shove it.” If there was any illusion that Marvel would remain the same ol’ ever lovin’ comic company that it had been before being bought out, it ends when they shut down an institution to avoid inadvertently promoting a Miles Teller movie.

Fortunately for readers, endings aren’t so permanent in the comic book world. Even if we act like it’s over, we expect a comeback. Disney’s recent purchase of 21st Century Fox paves the way for Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Thing, and The Human Torch to enter the Marvel Movie Universe. So naturally the comic has to come back with them.

For those of you who don’t know, Reed Richards and Sue Storm, “Mr. and Mrs. F,” didn’t die when their book got cancelled. Reed, Sue and their two children, Valeria and Franklin Richards, rode off into the figurative sunset when they walked off into the edge of the universe to explore who knows what after the end of Marvel’s Secret Wars event. There was an ambiguous ending built into their finale so that when it was time for the FF to come back, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch (sorry).  Nevertheless, resurrections are big events in the comic book world, and when something as monumental as the FF is dismantled, you need to have a helluva team to honor its tradition and restore its prestige. This Dan Slott-Sara Pichelli led creative team is doing just that.

Continue reading The Best of Marvel’s Fresh Start #4 – Fantastic Four

In Memoriam: Stan Lee 1922-2018

We all know how much Stan Lee meant to the world. There are few figures in the twentieth century that have had as significant an impact on popular culture as had the Forever Face of Marvel Comics. While he modestly downplayed his contributions to society, Stan’s indelible mark on history has given, without question, joy and inspiration to several generations of fans and followers. And will continue to do so for generations to come.

I can’t properly enumerate all the ways in which his enthusiasm, his vision, and his words have influenced me. Without his contributions to the industry, I may never have become the avid devotee of the medium that I am today, and my lifelong Marvel fandom owes everything to his prolific output and creative genius. Stan’s larger-than-life personality is matched by a portfolio of characters that transcend comics, themselves becoming a vital part of our social fabric, and many of whom have meant a great deal to me personally.

So as a small means of tribute, here is the first in a series of reflections on some  of my favorite Stan Lee co-creations, and the related comic book issues that recollect childhood excitement and have earned lasting admiration.

Spider-Man

Amazing Spider-Man #50
It really began for me with Peter Parker. I can’t remember how old I was when I thumbed through my first Spider-Man comic — no more than five for sure — but I do have vivid memories of watching that old syndicated cartoon on a tiny tube television from the floor of my family living room. I had committed the “does whatever a spider can” theme song to memory, and convinced two kindergarten classmates to perform it with me at a school-wide talent show. The only things I remember from that performance is that my two friends didn’t sing a word (boy did they look stupid standing next me, closed-lipped) and my folks didn’t try to talk me out of wearing my Spider-Man Underoos over my corduroys (damn, I must’ve looked cool). Continue reading In Memoriam: Stan Lee 1922-2018

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.


Continue reading The Whispering Dark