Yeah, I get it. Former Marvel Golden Boy jumps ship for the competition and his first major contribution is a limited series on the industry’s most iconic figure.
John Byrne rose to prominence at Marvel during the 80’s, first as part of the Uncanny X-Men revival alongside Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum (as well as a run on Avengers that made me a lifelong fan), and then writing and illustrating a seminal run on flagship title The Fantastic Four. His high-profile departure for DC began with a post-Crisis reboot of Superman in 1986’s Man of Steel limited series. Three decades later, and another major contributor to Marvel’s pantheon, Brian Michael Bendis, makes his celebrated DC debut (minus a few teaser short stories) in a Superman mini titled, of course, Man of Steel.
I’ll admit to not having paid attention to press leading up to this series and, as a result, this obvious correlation to Byrne’s DC tenure didn’t dawn on me until I had picked up this new book. And I think it’s a bad move.
Is the goal to strike a parallel to prior reboots? Or is DC trying to draw attention to the fact that Bendis, like Byrne, was essentially lured away from the competition to work on a high-profile series, a snarky gloat immortalized in publication history? If it’s the former, then it seems like this series title would have made more sense as part of their recent Rebirth initiative. But if it’s the latter, then it seems like a childish ploy, particularly given the fact that Byrne ended up returning to Marvel after just a few years. It would also undermine the sentiment of virtually every comic book fan, DC and Marvel alike, who applauds Bendis’s move, seeing it as an opportunity for the tapped-out creator to refresh his own psyche and get back to writing compelling comic book stories once again. Maybe that’s the real meaning behind the title! Brian Michael Bendis is getting the reboot — he’s the Man of Steel! But… probably not. It’s more than likely just a wink and a nod.
And maybe it doesn’t fucking matter in the slightest and I should move on to talking about whether or not I liked the book.
Another “Fresh Start” from the House of Ideas this week and, as with Aaron & McGuiness’s Avengers relaunch, the new Black Panther from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Daniel Acuña addresses teasers previewed in last fall’s Marvel Legacy one-shot. In this case, we had all been scratching our heads regarding that glimpse at a futuristic Panther planet somewhen and somewhere. It was just a single page, but it left us with a host of questions. The first issue of this arc, “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda,” answers plenty of them (right away, actually), and it raises quite a few more.
That preview page returns — the first page in this comic — this time with narration explaining that a small group of Wakandans left Earth some two thousand years ago to colonize a planet on the far reaches of the cosmos. Millennia later, these colonists’ warlike tendencies have put them at the center of an empire spanning five galaxies.
So that’s all pretty awesome. And a new mystery immediately comes into focus when T’Challa makes an appearance, with no memory of who he is or how he got there, working as one of the mind-wiped “Nameless” mining slaves. Also… Nakia! And M’Baku! And vague recollections of a certain silver-haired goddess who once shared the king’s bed.
Another thrilling comic book trivia night touched down at San Francisco’s Mission: Comics and Art on May 15. Congratulations to the Anagraminals on their first victory, edging superstars New New Mutants by a mere half-point (Steve Ditko, Ben? Really?)
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. With this year’s Eisner Award nominees announced just a few days prior, we went with a theme…
Question #1 Since 1991, where have the comic book industry’s annual Eisner Awards been conferred?
Question #2 Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is the first actor to portray characters in both MCU and DCEU films. Name those two movies.
Question #3 For decades, the only creator receiving any credit for Batman was Bob Kane. But after a long crusade, this writer finally got his due, beginning with the opening credits of Batman vs. Superman.
Now, all Batman stories — in any medium — carry the credit: “Batman created by Bob Kane with whom ?
Question #4 Action Comics #869, published in 2008, was recalled and reprinted by DC because of an objectionable cover.
The original cover depicts Clark Kent and his father Jonathan doing what?
Question #5 In which comic series did Black Panther make his first appearance?
Week two of Marvel’s fanfare-minimized “Fresh Start” continues with the release of Venom #1, by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman. Everyone’s favorite symbiote has been riding a tidal wave of media buzz in recent months, primarily centered on the character’s 30th anniversary and the forthcoming movie. And while it’s a little difficult for me to understand Venom’s massive appeal (I admit I am equally dumbfounded as to why Deadpool is so popular), I can fully appreciate that an attention-grabbing title like this allows the publisher to attach first-rate talent to its series reboot. Case in point, rising star Cates, and the immensely talented Stegman.
For an absent reader like myself, I’m even more appreciative of the fact that this creative team is circling back to a few Venom fundamentals while still moving forward with their own unique addition to the symbiote mythos. After sojourns with Mac Gargan and Flash Thompson (and who knows who the hell else during that Venom, Inc. event), the original alien is back with Eddie Brock, and he has that “Lethal Protector” mindset that seems to align directly with Tom Hardy’s portrayal later this year. But what I really dig is the idea that Cates & Stegman have seemingly readdressed the enigma of the symbiote, and its connection to some sort of ancient evil, lurking for centuries. Everything about the recent Klyntar background revelations, whether from Guardians of the Galaxy or Venom: Space Knight just felt wholly uninspired and, frankly, seemed to detract from the mysterious nature of this character’s alien origins.
Marvel’s Fresh Start initiative kicks off this week with a book seemingly “one million years in the making.” Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness debut Avengers #1, and, for the first time since last fall’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, we are re-introduced to Earth’s Mightiest of one million B.C. We’ve been clamoring for more of these guys — a Mjolnir-wielding Odin, Agamotto, Ghost Rider atop a mastodon, and predecessors to the Iron Fist, Black Panther, Phoenix, and Starbrand — since that teaser by Aaron and Esad Ribić soooo many months ago. And although, at the time, I had promised that I’d catch myself up on Kirby’s Celestials, I apparently was too busy being distracted by behind-the-curtain Marvel drama to read any of The King’s Eternals saga. And I’m guessing Marvel was too busy screwing shit up to worry about it either; we still don’t have a decent collected edition, other than a long out-of-print omnibus that is scarce even among the price-gouging eBay resellers.
But one way or another, I’m going to make it happen. Because along with rumors of the Eternals joining the MCU, Aaron and McGuinness seem boldly intent on adding significantly to a carefully curated Marvel mythology that, after Kirby, has pretty much only been trusted to the likes of Roy Thomas and Neil Gaiman. And this first issue of Avengers definitely feels significant.
Right around the end of Civil War II a number of us in the Institute’s comic book studies department wagered on which character Marvel would bring back to print first: The Hulk, Iron Man, Professor X, Logan, or Mr. Fantastic. Right away there was debate as to whether Tony Stark ever really left comics, what with his A.I. ghost still haunting the pages of Riri’s monthly; whether or not the Hulk samurai zombie in Uncanny Avengers constituted a return; and whether or not Reed & Sue’s disappearance at the end of the recent Secret Wars was anything more than an acknowledgement that they were written off because of the evil machinations of 20th Century Fox, and not a Beyonder-level Doctor Doom.
Less than two years later, four of the five are back (in one form or another), with the Fantastic Four set to re-emerge as part of Marvel’s fresh start later this summer. The point is, superheroes and supervillains never stay dead, and while the significance surrounding their extended sabbaticals from comics becomes less and less newsworthy, we’re increasingly more interested in how the storytellers choose to resurrect them. Honestly, these are the stories that seem far more compelling.
Case in point, Logan, the original Wolverine, is back in the Marvel U. And writer Charles Soule follows up his Death of Wolverine mini-series from 2014 with this week’s Hunt for Wolverine #1, part of a multi-series event that will occupy far more rack real estate in the coming months than his demise ever did.
I had a copy of this comic on a side table in my living room this weekend and, when my brother took notice, he stopped in his tracks and scooped it up. “One thousand? Seriously? One thousand?”
We grew up in an era in which “landmark” designations still made an impression. I’ll never forget how excited I was to get my hands on Uncanny X-Men #200. I pinned and re-pinned that comic to my wall I don’t know how many times. Or the big 50th anniversary celebration of Batman that culminated in Detective Comics #600. That might have been the first time in my mercifully brief middle-school comics speculation career that I purchased a duplicate copy of a book. But nowadays, big round numbers mean very little, especially with rebirths and fresh starts and new number 1’s every fall.
But #1000… we all take notice of that. That number is on another level. My son once explained matter-of-factly that he could eat one thousand shelled edamame, to which his uncle retorted, “It’s impossible to eat one thousand of anything.”
The Romans never bothered coming up with a number greater than “M.”
My girlfriend, who, perhaps due to having grown up in Mexico, had been criminally inexperienced with baseball terminology (and thus at something of a disadvantage when we started communicating), recently learned what it means to “bat a thousand.” It’s unattainable perfection.
It’s hard to imagine a thousand of anything.
So it’s with proper reverence that I approach DC’s truly landmark 1000th issue of Action Comics, the comic that started it all. It’s a marvelous 80-page anthology with vignettes from an all-star lineup of superhero creative teams both past and present.
Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s celebrated run on Captain America concludes this week with the title’s milestone 700th issue. The journey began during the Legacy launch, setting forth under the daunting mandate of restoring Captain America – both in the fictional comics world and in real-world readers’ perceptions – as a bastion of hope, justice, and perseverance. In this book’s main story, the final chapter of “Out of Time,” Waid & Samnee punctuate their little Steve Rogers futuristic fable with as much “What Captain America Means To Me” mojo as they can muster.
The whole storyline may have felt a little rushed, from the introduction of the criminal organization Rampart through the near-future apocalyptic America, but in this conclusion you really do get the sense that the pair had every intention of crafting what amounts to a superheroic fairy tale more than anything else. On the first day, Cap was undeterred. On the second day, Cap was resolute. But on the third day…
This whole epic could have just as easily worked as one of Marvel’s new Original Graphic Novels: somewhat in continuity, but maybe not entirely… (Except, of course, that no one seems to read those.) Whether or not future creative teams, including the highly anticipated “Fresh Start” launch from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Yu, recognize any trace elements from this tale remains to be seen. But in the sense that Waid & Samnee beautifully capture their core Cap beliefs in this succinct, albeit era-spanning story, this run can be viewed as a success.
Like Chris Claremont returning to script a Nightcrawler series, or Frank Miller giving life to a third chapter of The Dark Knight, there’s something special about fellow Hall of Famer Jim Starlin making a new contribution to Marvel’s cosmic canon. This week Starlin and artist Alan Davis showcase the central nemesis of the next Hollywood blockbuster in the latest in a series of original graphic novels, Thanos: The Infinity Siblings. These books are particularly special for the author, as he clearly relishes the opportunity to return to a character he created in the pages of Iron Man in 1973 and brought to prominence in a series of Infinity events in the 80’s and 90’s.
This book is advertised as the first in a new trilogy of original Thanos graphic novels. Whereas the first trilogy focused on an alliance between the Mad Titan and another Starlin all-star, Adam Warlock, this new series of books partners up Thanos with his brother Eros, the former Avenger known as Starfox. More exciting, however (granted, it’s not terribly difficult to be more exciting than Starfox), is the partnership with Davis. The two recently wrapped up a Guardians of the Galaxy mini-series, Mother Entropy, and on this book, the veteran artist looks better than ever. No offense to the serviceable Ron Lim, who provided the art for the last graphic novel in the prior trilogy, but there’s something about this format that demands a higher caliber presentation. And in the absence of Starlin’s own art (he wrote and illustrated the first two books), Alan Davis might be the next best thing.
Moon Knight comics, particularly in the last decade, have distanced themselves from early Batman comparisons by focusing on the one clearly established difference between the two characters (beyond a polar opposite preference in wardrobe color). While Bruce Wayne’s obsessive nature would test the limits of any human’s sanity, he remains a steadfast bastion of cognitive precision, the World’s Greatest Detective. Marc Spector, on the other hand, has a genuine psychological disorder, that, in the hands of writers such as Warren Ellis, Brian Wood, and Jeff Lemire, adds an engaging level of complexity to every mystery and every storyline.
The first arc of Moon Knight under the Legacy banner, “Crazy Runs in the Family,” concludes with this week’s issue, and, in keeping with recent tradition, and as the title would indicate, it’s been a marvelously offbeat showcase of Spector’s multiple personalities. Despite the expected level of weird, this story by Max Bemis, Jacen Burrows, and Guillermo Ortego has been unexpectedly unique, and maybe the most underrated title in Marvel’s line right now.