All posts by MMDG

Misty Morning Disco Goblin and Idler-in-Chief. (BB Karo is my secret identity. Shh.)

Cursed Comics Cavalcade

I’ll admit it. I have something against superhero annuals. One-shots, FCBD special editions, back-up features that aren’t meant to be humorous, digital exclusives… All by and large crap, and I typically disregard them as such. Could be because I grew up in the 80’s and my formative years of four-color superheroics were filled with gawdawful annuals that usually had nothing to do with contemporaneous storylines; featured shitty art and even shittier writing (and attempted to make up for that fact with a gimmick, like a “first appearance” trading card of some hero or villain that never had a chance at making a second appearance); or worst yet, were part of some annual-only arc that forced me to buy overpriced issues of series I’d never cared about (“Citizen Kang” comes to mind).

But I love capes-and-tights comics and I do like short stories. Self-contained issues are fantastic when done well! And I really do want to see more sterling efforts from talented creators, especially if allowed to tackle premier characters and properties.

So I flipped through DC’s special 80-page Halloween anthology, Cursed Comics Cavalcade before adding it to my weekly stack. Ten eight-page stories by first-rate writers and exciting artists. No reprints, and nothing that felt like a Wal-Mart special. Swamp Thing looking extra ominous. Professor Pyg behaving appropriately dreadful. Ghosts, space zombies, demons, and possessed kids. Hell yes, Halloween, let’s go home and read this by candlelight.


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Bastard

This month Fantagraphics is publishing the collected English edition of Belgian cartoonist Max de Radiguès’s Bastard. Originally serialized in a zine format, Bastard tells the story of May and her young son Eugene, accomplices in a series of recent robberies, who are desperately traveling across the U.S. while avoiding both the law as well as their double-crossing cohorts.

Crime drama has enjoyed a lasting popularity in entertainment media for decades. The comics industry’s biggest boom, one could argue, was mid-twentieth century detective rags. Seedy subcultures of organized crime make for riveting television. Everyone loves a good heist flick.

One of the things I have found most interesting in much of the crime television that has my attention of late, is the exploration of how criminality affects the family, children’s formative years in particular. On shows like Bloodline, Ozark, and Sneaky Pete, the machinations of the central protagonists often take a back seat to the effect those schemes have on the family members caught up in the act. There’s this notion of confronting our societal desensitization to crime; we love these stories of transgression, these characters who operate outside the law, the thin line that seemingly separates upstanding citizens from fugitives. But how often are we really confronted with what those anxieties do to a family? To children? The Sopranos pokes fun at it; The Wire paints a brutal reality. But neither ever really zeroed in on the kids.


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Heroes in Crisis

Uh oh. DC is getting grim again. Tom King and Clay Mann’s Heroes in Crisis #1, out this week, is a powerful opener to an intense murder mystery. The scene of the crime is a secluded rural safehouse, Sanctuary, that had been set up as a kind of therapeutic retreat for superheroes dealing with the kind of trauma that, well, comes with the job. The crime scene is a grisly litter of bodies, with several heroes — some of note, even — victims of a mass murder. And the two suspects appear to be, at least at the onset, Harley Quinn and Booster Gold.

Cut between the interactions of Booster and Harley, neither of whom seems particularly clear on the details of what had transpired on the farm, is the preliminary investigation by DC’s Holy Trinity. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman take in the scene with all the weight and seriousness that the event deserves, devoid of the typical technicolor melodrama that often serves as an appropriate separation between the superheroic fictional world and our own sobering reality. It’s the same kind of dark, arresting narrative that we saw from Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales in 2004’s Identity Crisis, and, as such, one can’t help but look back on how that singular event affected the DC Universe that we know — both in print and on the screen — today.


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Upgrade Soul

This month Lion Forge is releasing the first printed edition of Ezra Claytan Daniels’s Upgrade Soul, a startling work of science fiction that had been originally developed as an semi-immersive digital experience. The work, begun in 2012, was built using Eric Loyer’s Opertoon engine, resulting in a digital comic with many of the transition features that we’ve seen in comics like Marvel’s Infinite comics line, but with the addition of an original musical score coordinated with the viewer’s interaction. Sounds cool. Unfortunately, I speak not from experience, but solely from what I’ve gleaned online; the digital app version of Upgrade Soul is no longer compatible with the current iOS and has since been unavailable for download.

The very fact, however, that Daniels’s work had been originally developed and published in this manner made me a little leery regarding the print version, despite the accolades (which include a 2017 Dwayne McDuffie Award For Diversity In Comics). The comics medium, when fully realized, considers the delivery method and presentation as vital partners to story and art. If this was intended to be consumed a certain way… would a different package offer a sub-optimal view of the cartoonist’s vision? I’ve seen what happens when the aforementioned Infinite Comics (which, granted, aren’t any good to begin with) or even certain webcomics get translated to the page: awkward extra panels, skewed layouts, and just a general lack of continuity. They often feel like something not meant to see a printed page.

Luckily I ignored those reservations and dove in. Daniels’s book is one of the best comics I’ve read in 2018, and one of the best works of science-fiction — in any medium — that I’ve experienced in years.

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Asgardians of the Galaxy

At the onset of Marvel’s current Fresh Start, the publisher made a predictably uniform push to give its marquee characters renewed rack appeal. The whole initiative kicked off with Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness’s new volume of The Avengers and, in short order we had new #1 issues for fan-favorites like Deadpool, Venom, and Thor. From those first solicitations, there seemed to be very little “freshness” in the back-to-basics approach promised by new EIC C.B. Cebulski. Thor was a boy again; Peter Parker was a broke shmuck again. Tony Stark wasn’t dead, or in a coma, or whatever… and The Avengers looked more or less like the casual fan expected. I braced myself for a disappointing regression from the diversity, creativity, and artistic experimentation that had made Marvel stand apart from the major publishers in recent years.

Instead, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that Fresh Start, while pandering slightly to the fans who couldn’t deal with a Black Captain America or teenage girl in Iron Man armor, has been replete with some genuine excitement. Creativity preempts the same old: Mike del Mundo and Christian Ward, whose fantastic art is outside the capes ‘n tights norm, get the nod to kick off Jason Aaron’s final Thor volume. Al Ewing and Joe Bennett re-imagine Hulk as a chilling EC-inspired horror book.

Women writers take the reins on noteworthy titles: Kelly Thompson is tapped to bring back West Coast Avengers. Mariko Tamaki unveils the best Laura Kinney to date in the new X-23. And Margaret Stohl continues to orchestrate the comic book face of the MCU’s proudest new property, Captain Marvel.

Most interestingly, however, peppered among the predictable #1 issues, is a host of oddball books and unexpected revivals. Jeff Lemire is writing a great Sentry. Matthew Rosenberg is allowed to bring Multiple Man back from the dead. Cosmic Ghost Rider — maybe as odd as it gets — graduates from the pages of Donny Cates’s Thanos into his own mini. And my favorite Marvel B-lister of them all, Valkyrie, leads a marvelously unusual crew of cosmic godlings in this week’s Asgardians of the Galaxy #1.

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Comics of the Revolution

The revolution may not be televised, but nothing has stopped it from being splashed and sequenced, stapled and folded, colored and squarebound. It’s marvelous credit to the medium that comics of a revolutionary bent have evolved from the field of underground pamphlets and zines into thoughtful, well-written, mass-produced monthlies and graphic novels. It’s also a little frightening to realize how much our contemporary social consciousness has fueled this surge of four-color rebellion. Superheroes, who, like it or not, have become synonymous with the medium, achieved their Golden Age ascension at the height of World War II, when the enemy was without (interestingly, subsequent to the War, those selfsame heroes dwindled in popularity, losing ground to crime, romance, and western rags). But the enemy within, particularly in the last decade, has never felt more menacing. For a mainstream publisher like Marvel to unveil a summer-long event like Secret Empire, in which our own country is beset by a subversive fascist force literally wearing the American flag seems like a testament to how wide the fires of resistance have spread.

Scarlet #1, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, is the latest incendiary response to societal unrest. The book continues the creator-owned saga begun under Marvel’s Icon Imprint, with a new number one to kick-off the arrival of Bendis’s Jinxworld line at DC. This first issue of the new volume does a decent job catching new readers up to speed… but it may do a better job at selling the uninitiated on the merits of those first two volumes (DC is also publishing new editions of those collections).

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West Coast Avengers

I’m honestly surprised it took this long. With the whirlwind international acclaim that Marvel’s film universe has brought to this brand, making The Avengers the kind of household name a teenage me hadn’t ever even imagined, why have we waited until 2018 for the return of the title’s first spinoff? We’ve had Initiative, Academy, YoungSolo, and Spotlight. World and Secret, New and MightyAssemble and A.I. And most of that was just in the last decade. Hell, even the Great Lakes Avengers have had their own title in the interim! Finally, almost thirty-four years after Clint Barton first put out the call to assemble a California-based branch of Earth’s Mightiest, West Coast Avengers is back on the stands, courtesy of Kelly Thompson and Stefano Caselli.

Refreshingly, this reboot of the Hawkeye-led best-coasters seemingly has nothing to do with editorial mandates or higher-ranking media imperatives. There wasn’t an earth-shattering crossover event that necessitated a tie-in title. In fact, the impetus behind Kate Bishop’s “heroes wanted” rally is a Santa Monica infestation of a random horde of mindless landsharks. Apart from Clint Barton, AKA the original Hawkeye (who’s really more of an adorable mascot), this goofy ragtag lineup doesn’t feature a single character with an MCU counterpart. Quentin Quire, in fact, after somehow avoiding being drafted into one of the seventeen X-teams falling off the racks, gets to shackle his irascible punk apathy to the meta-fictitious fangirl enthusiasm of Gwenpool. Wonderful. You can get away with anything in the Golden State.

It might also help when you’re Kelly Thompson, and your fan-favorite Hawkeye series recently leaped over the radar and onto the Eisner list of best series nominees. I’d like to imagine the conversation went something like…

“Kelly, the world wants more Hawkeye! How do you feel about bringing back the West Coast Avengers?”

“I feel great about it! Can I pick the team?”

“Of course! So long as it has Deadpool.”

“Fuck that. Never mind.”

“No no no it’s fine. Any team you want. (But you’re going to have to put him in your Rogue & Gambit book…)”

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X-Men: Extermination

Oh, baby X-Men, we hardly knew ye. Since the time-displaced original five debuted in 2012 as part of Brian Michael Bendis’s mutant master plan, many of us have been more or less waiting for the eventual reversal — whatever method of time-traveling chicanery would be necessary to send them back to their proper when and clear the decks once again. The plot development that brought the young X-Men into the present-day Marvel universe seemed, from the outset, to be very temporary. Have kid Cyclops show crazy old Cyclops that he was acting a right dick, and move on. Send the younguns home. Instead, these “All-New X-Men” settled in for a spell and opened new doors (closet doors among them) all over the mansion.

Angel got fire wings, and Beast took up dark magic. Iceman came out as gay, and Jean Grey came into a heretofore unappreciated personality. Cyclops rejected his destined psychosis, kicking it with the Champions and the Starjammers when he wasn’t neurotically whining all over Westchester. Along the way, this new “Blue” team picked up a few more strays and even started training under one-time arch-nemesis Magneto.

So, are these kids really sticking around?

Nope. Doesn’t look like it.

X-Men: Extinction #1, by Ed Brisson and Pepe Larraz, is this year’s mini mutant event and, as Brisson mentions in his afterword, this event is “largely about cleaning house.” But he goes on to assure us dear readers that, even once they resolve the young X-Men storyline, the last few years of continuity will still matter.

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Fantastic Four #1

There may have been no release in Marvel’s Fresh Start initiative more anticipated than the return of Reed, Sue, Ben, & Johnny. After three years without a title, the book that started a superhero revolution and kicked off Marvel’s ascendancy way back in 1961, is back on the stands. Fantastic Four #1, by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli, is decades removed from the book that was proudly emblazoned with the headline “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” but the publisher, by all accounts, is finally ready to give the title a fair shot at reclaiming some its former glory.

The truth behind the FF’s lengthy hiatus may never fully be revealed. Declining sales probably factored in, and the culmination of Hickman’s Secret Wars event provided an opportunity to shelve half of the core group at the onset of the All-New All-Different era. It’s also been rumored that the terrible failure of the three 20th Century Fox feature films, one more terrible than the next, contributed to Marvel’s decision to distance itself from a series bearing that title. Considering the degree to which Marvel Studios dictates editorial decisions for the comic book lines, this wouldn’t at all be surprising. The comics play nice when the non-Disney licensees do well (Deadpool, for example), but with no opportunity at the time to correct the FF’s big-screen portrayals, Marvel may have felt like keeping this book off the stands would devalue the license for Fox, preventing them from attempting yet another brand-defaming motion picture.

All that could change, of course, if the proposed Disney-Fox merger goes through. With a few more assets to untangle, and sports-related networks to extricate, the path seems clear for Marvel’s parent company to reclaim the movie rights for what is, after Spider-Man, arguably the comic book publisher’s most important property.

The seeds were sown during last fall’s Legacy initiative. The one-shot special hinted at the group’s return, and the new Marvel Two-in-One series, by Chip Zdarsky and Jim Cheung, rehabilitated Human Torch and The Thing after lost years with various Inhuman teams or Guardians of the Galaxy respectively, and helped to remind us how much Marvel’s First Family means to all of us superhero devotees.

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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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