War of the Realms: Week Three

Be careful what you wish for, kid. After two somewhat unspectacular weeks of Marvel’s major 2019 event, week three of War of the Realms gives me everything I could have wanted from a universe-wide fiesta. But at such a cost. Oh my, what a cost… [One little spoiler ahead.]

Key among the WotR offerings this week is the second issue of the main title. Jason Aaron is forgiven for not knowing how to write Spider-Man (issue #1) because he reminds us how well he knows so many other key players in the Marvel U. The team-up between Logan and Frank Castle is one of the early highlights of this stage of Battleground Manhattan, and Doctor Strange’s Sanctum, along with his Aaron-assisted supporting cast, becomes a gateway to evacuating much of the populace to Avengers mountain (another wonderful Aaron brainchild).

But more than anything, the ever-reliable Marvel scribe and architect of everything Ten Realms-related knows his way around an event book. This second issue has all that glorious plan-staging and sub-team organizing that makes you anxious for Wednesday to roll around each week. In this era of binged television and massive all-at-once content dumps, it’s fun to be reminded of appointment viewing/reading. War of the Realms is the Game of Thrones of the comic book medium.

But, speaking of GoT, this issue really gets to me with its Barristan Selmy treatment of one of my new favorite B-list Marvel characters. Valkyrie — Brunnhilde the Valkyrie, to be specific — gets her little spotlight with Jane Foster right before she decides to make a charge at Malekith alone. No surprises how this turns out…

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War of the Realms: Week Two

Mayhem, slaughter, and a planet-wide conquest by legions of slavering bloodthirsty trolls, giants, and fire fiends. Funny stuff, right?

I’m always down for a Marvel summer mega-event. And War of the Realms, like a select few rack-hogging crossover blitzes before it, gets all of my attention (and money). Partly because I love what Jason Aaron has been building for years, partly because I’ve always been a fan of Marvel’s four-color spin on Norse mythology, and partly because I’m a sucker for glorious, colorful, 616-spanning bonanzas. So that means my friendly neighborhood LCS (thanks, Leef) has been instructed to pull any and all War of the Realms crossovers and tie-ins. This week, only one week removed from the official opening war trumpet, and, apparently, it’s get-ready-to-laugh time!

The two tie-ins this week are both putting the funny back in funnybooks. Or, I should say, they’re both intended to be funny. I guess. And this pair of books perfectly illustrates an unsettling trend I’m seeing in capes-n-tights titles of late. Superhero books peppered with humor are great. Gerry Duggan and Kelly Thompson are two of the first Marvel writers who come to mind when I think of a good mix of action and comedy, mixing intrigue with witty dialogue. Hell, superhero movies peppered with humor are great. The MCU has proven that. Superhero books that are, however, first and foremost humor books are a different breed. When they’re successful, they are fantastic. But when they fail… oof. I can go from eyeroll to frustration to outright rage very quickly. And too many fledgling writers are being invited to fuck up my monthly comics because, apparently, they think writing comedy is easy?

So, back to our week two War of the Realms offering. We have one tie-in series premiere that is downright embarrassing, and one crossover comic that not only does everything a humor comic should do, but it forces me to ask myself why am I not reading Squirrel-Girl on the regular?

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Astro Hustle

I’ll admit. I bought this book for the cover. I’m a sucker for 70’s-style space operas, and anything that reminded me of Captain Harlock and early Heavy Metal was worth a look.

Edit (4/5): I met this book’s artist,Tom Reilly, at C2E2 this year, where he was holding down a table for two conspicuously missing Hustle writer Jai Nitz for much of the weekend. Reilly was amiable, but nervous, and told me he channeled a lot of Jetsons while working on this comic. He sketched me a Vision sipping an espresso for my coffee gallery.

Later that week, Nitz was publicly accused of sexual misconduct, dating back to an incident at the University of Kansas in 2017. Other women have come forward with accusations since then. The series has been canceled and existing issues removed from digital libraries.

I feel terrible for Reilly. This was his big break and, despite being his first major work, Hustle was already a promising showcase for his style and creativity. 

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Amazing Spider-Man: Hunted

I don’t always know what to think of Nick Spencer. As a storyteller, his concepts and ideas attract my attention, especially given the fact that so much of his work seems to be informed by an acutely attuned social consciousness. His run on Captain America and the subsequent Secret Empire is testament to that. But then there are times when his writing grates on me, a muddied mess of puerile humor and under-developed characters that seem to be little more that two-dimensional mouthpieces for political viewpoints. His recent run on Ant-Man gave me that impression.

Mixed reactions aside, I was excited for Spencer’s return to the wallcrawler when his new volume of Amazing Spider-Man debuted last year. Something, however, wasn’t really working out initially. After the challenging and ambitious dark fairy tale of Empire, this new Spidey arc felt like something that belonged in the Marvel Universe line of YA books. Eye-rolling quips, a reversion to the “Parker Luck” status quo, and art that, while effective, wasn’t altogether interesting.

But I stuck with it because, well, it’s not like I’m not going to read Amazing Spider-Man. And the patience has paid off.

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Comic Book Trivia: Episode VII

The first Idle Time comic book trivia night of 2019, and our seventh since falling down this rabbit hole of tangential science questions and Golden Age oddities, took place last night at Mission: Comics and Art in San Francisco. Congratulations to Bronze Tigers for taking home first place! This assembled-on-the-fly superteam featured all first-time champions with the exception of captain Otto, who took home the gold as part of Team Immortal last October. Look out Dan and Ben — Otto has his sights set on being the first three-time champ.

Now for a chance to test your knowledge. Here’s the quiz in its entirety. Do it without Google, true believer!

Question #1 – Easy Opener
In 2015, in order to be closer to its parent company Warner Bros., DC moved its corporate headquarters from New York City to what city in Los Angeles county, also known as “the Media Capital of the World”?

Question #2 – Outside the Big Two
The only time in the modern era in which a publisher claimed more of the market share than either Marvel or DC was in 1992 when this publisher moved ahead of DC (thanks in large part to the fact that they were the first publishers of Image comics). Name the publisher.

Question #3 – Secret Identities
Carol Danvers is the secret identity of which comic book character?

Question #4 – Manga
In 1976, this story of a boy living through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima became the first full-length translation of a manga from Japanese into English to be published in the West. Name the work.

Question #5 – First Appearances
In which comic series did The Martian Manhunter make his first appearance?

Question #6 – Geography
Marvel’s fictional island nation of Madripoor is situated in Southeast Asia, between Singapore and which of Indonesia’s major islands?

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Avengers: No Road Home

The War of the Realms, Jason Aaron’s epic Thor-rooted conflict encompassing every corner of Norse cosmology, has been building for years, and is now mere months away. All the banners atop my comics tell me so.

But in another mythological corner of the Marvel Universe, conflict has already come and gone. The hallowed spires of Olympus lie in ruins and the Greek-inspired gods and demigods who inhabited that otherworldly paradise have been slaughtered. Time to assemble the Avengers B-team!

Towards the end of Marvel’s problematic Legacy initiative, Mark Waid, Al Ewing, and Jim Zub bravely embarked on the highly ambitious Avengers: No Surrender project, a weekly Avengers story that hearkened back to some of the greatest adventures of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. There was cosmic gamesmanship courtesy of the Grandmaster; a journey through the team’s storied past via the introduction of Voyager; and classic character team-ups, combining long-time fan-favorites and new blood alike. It was solicited with minimal fanfare (especially as preparations were in place for the “Fresh Start”), and ended up being a rousing success.

One of the reasons No Surrender seemed to worked so well is because these writers were each able to bring to the party a special affinity for certain B-list heroes. So, as an encore, while Jason Aaron is busy putting together the single most powerful iteration of the Avengers ever conceived (granted, with his own curious collection of fun also-rans — I see you, Agents of Wakanda), Waid, Ewing, and Zub embark on another self-contained epic involving an oddball assemblage of some clearly personal faves. The weekly Avengers: No Road Home premieres this week.

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The Holy Bee Recommends, #20B: The Byrds (Mark II) Discography

Holy Bee of Ephesus

Prologue: West Saugerties, NY. Summer 1967

The instruments and recording equipment are set up in the basement of the big pink rental house on a rural woodsy road, just as they had been for several weeks. The intention is to make demo tapes, and the recording rig is simple — a Nagra tape recorder, an Ampex mixer, and three microphones (although many decades later this set-up will be hotly disputed by audiophiles on internet forums.) One by one, the band wanders in. Garth Hudson settles in behind his Lowrey organ, Richard Manuel parks himself on the piano bench, or maybe the drum stool. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson strap on a bass and electric guitar, respectively. At the center of the group of informally arranged musicians, with a short haircut and a 12-string acoustic, is Bob Dylan. Dylan has not recorded or toured since the previous spring. A motorcycle accident…

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The Holy Bee Recommends, #20A: The Byrds (Mark I) Discography

Holy Bee of Ephesus

My wife loves to cook, and she loves to have music on while she cooks. She usually doesn’t pick any specific album or artist, but uses a Pandora channel curated to her tastes (R.E.M., Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge, etc.) During her pot- and pan-rattling and music listening, I relax in the next room sipping my pre-dinner cocktail. (Don’t judge — my job is to do all the post-dinner washing and scrubbing.) Every so often, something incredibly random that Pandora, in its infinite AI wisdom, has decided fits on that channel will grab my ear from her countertop speaker. Maybe something featuring guitar with a touch of “jangle,” some vocal harmony, and a little light on the bass end. I hold up my SoundHound app and the song is invariably something from Matchbox Twenty or Mumford & Sons or some other generic Wonder Bread radio-rock band. I grimace and briefly wrestle…

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Daredevil by Zdarksy & Checchetto

I guess I have become Idle Time’s Chip Zdarksy mouthpiece as I’ve written about my love for his work a lot. That hasn’t changed with his debut issue on Daredevil with Marco Checchetto on art and Sunny Gho as the inker.

Daredevil has always been a comic character close to my heart. When I got really into reading comics in high school, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s Daredevil was my entry point and I fell in love with the character. From there I went back to read the Frank Miller and Bendis runs which cemented the character in my mind as a favorite. I’ve always stuck with the title since then through its ups and downs (that time Matt was possessed by a demon of the Hand and became evil was rough).

The thing that has always fascinated me about the character is inner conflict. Unlike some of the other heroes who suffer from this, like Batman, Matt’s whole deal is that he is a lapsed Catholic boy, something I identify with far too well. As someone raised in that environment, and who then left without looking back, I still find myself dwelling on what I learned for eighteen years.

That being said, Chip does what he does best and distills what makes Daredevil great into a perfect entry point. Sure a lot of this stuff is pretty by-the-book for ol’ Hornhead, but Matt’s personality is in full force with Zdarsky at the helm.

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Sara by Ennis & Epting

Every day I am hit with news that another comic book property has been licensed to a film studio, or that a television network has been developing a graphic novel adaptation, or that Netflix has turned a relatively obscure webcomic into a streamable big-budget feature starring Mads Mikkelsen. So forgive me, TKO Studios, for being a tad cynical about your motivations. I’ve railed in recent months about the output from numerous independent publishers: books and mini-series that appear to be nothing more than snazzy storyboards at best and, at worst, poorly executed treatments tailor-made for pitching a TV deal. I don’t want to read your script, I’m not going to greenlight a pilot, and I’m tired of folks treating comics like a shortcut to Hollywood. I want to read good comics that know they’re comics by top-notch creators who know the medium.

With the release of their first four books, TKO Studios may have silenced my fears and given me exactly what I wanted.

TKO Studios seeks to redefine the comic book industry creatively and commercially.

TKO Studios was founded by award-winning comic book, entertainment, business and tech professionals. We create unique takes on established genres, promoting diverse and exciting voices that reflect the modern audience.

Our aim is to publish high quality books and expand the comic book audience using modern methods of marketing, distribution, and audience engagement. We proudly offer the premier issue of each new miniseries available for free digital download.

Those are bold claims, but, judging by this initial release, and the efforts made to disrupt the traditional comics publishing and distribution system, TKO seems poised to deliver. The first four titles are all six-issue mini-series, simultaneously offered digitally, in collected trade, or in a collector’s boxset of individual issues. If word made it to your Local Comics Shop (as it should have; TKO has a tenacious marketing department), then copies of said books should be on shelves this week despite not being solicited by or sold through Diamond. You’ll know if they are — these comics stand out. And not just because of the oversized format.

Sara, by Garth Ennis and Steve Epting, with colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser, from its arresting cover through its stunning layouts to its compelling story, is everything you’d expect from creators of this caliber. The book takes place in the Soviet Union during the Nazi occupation of 1942-1943, and centers on the deployment of a team of women snipers on their homeland’s eastern front, repelling the invaders with steely precision and iron resolve.

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