In the spirit of self-mythology, I can trace the trajectory of my life back to the moment I got my first mixtape. I didn’t ask for it, it appeared because someone had something they wanted to share. The only thing that beats someone giving you a mixtape is someone else asking you to make one for them. I used to love doing this in high school, but somehow between then and now, I lost the spirit. One of the fortunate byproducts of this quarantine was a friend reaching out and asking me for some music. Like I said, it’s a great feeling.
The mixtape feels like an ancient, lost nerdy art. It’s one of the many fads that saw its prime before the digital age,and lost something in translation. I treasured my $49.99 Discman and the terrible headband earbuds that came with them, and every 80 minutes I didn’t really mind the effort it took to find the next disc. A finite amount of time on a CD-R meant you had to get down to business.
What separates a playlist from a mixtape is intention. The classic homemade mixtapes are well-planned procedures, like surgery. Think of the cliche of making a mixtape to confess your feelings to someone. You got to strategize and really plan that biz out! I feel like the whole point of mixtapes are to use songs as shortcuts to the feelings and deep thoughts seeded in our mind-hearts, and summarize them in four minutes or less, preferably with a Sam Cooke-type, or maybe Brittany Howard (exceptions notwithstanding).
A playlist is like a collection. I am one of many people I know that uses a playlist to just collect new songs that I like. This is a great feature, and one of the many boons to come from the digital age. I love my Spotify! But, having a bucket of songs to shuffle through is not the same as hearing a mixtape organized with intention, a crafted message from one person to whoever is listening. So, in the wake of the coronavirus and the potential onslaught of monster killer wasps threatening Washington, I’m searching for shortcuts to mind-hearts. Make me a fuckin’ mixtape!
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.
I, probably like many casual comic book fans, was compelled to read Batman: Damned #1 for one reason: the Bat-dong. News surrounding Batman’s bare, ink-rendered member kept my group chat buzzing through the day of its release. Sadly, when I finally got around to reading the story, the X-rated panel was censored, and I had to rely on Google images to fill in the blanks. However, what’s really sad is how this dong-reveal, and the following redaction of said dong by DC comics, seems like a publishing gimmick to boost sales (albeit a more fun one than just restarting a series and slapping a “#1” on the cover). What is actually awesome about this book is: it’s good. It’s great to look at and fun to read, and adds up to more than one money shot panel.
One of the reasons Batman can continue to have imaginative and entertaining adventures is partly due to the timeless quality of the character, but also because of creative teams that tell interesting stories. Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo expand the niche Gotham mythos they started a decade ago with their Joker graphic novel. Notable for delving into the Joker’s psyche, like The Killing Joke before it, Azzarello and Bermejo’s Joker ends in a cliffhanger: the fate of Batman, Joker, and Joker’s chauffeur is left unresolved. In Damned, the authors pick up where they left off, only this time it’s Bruce’s psyche that they explore. Comparisons to Alan Moore and even Gaiman’s Sandman work are easy to make, and it’s not just the presence of John Constantine and the supernatural.
Azzarello mostly speaks through Constantine in cryptic, short passages. The words float in unusual parts of the panel and are dwarfed by the visuals. The character obviously knows more than I do, but because I don’t speak the language of prophets, all I can do is turn the page and hope for answers. There aren’t a lot of those (duh, it’s part one), but there is beautiful, intense art. Bermejo’s characters look realistic, but sometimes border the grotesque. The art not only provides the action in the book, but sets a tone and tension that the writing supports more than carries. It’s the kind of comic book you’d expect to come out during fall when the sun sets faster and the nights get cold.
I really enjoyed the first issues of both Astonishing X-Men and X-Men Gold, but these last few months I’ve seen a consistency in the quality of writing and art in Blue that sets it apart from the other solid X-Men books. While each one has its own roster of celebrity X-Men, Blue’s team hits at something elemental in the franchise, focusing on the original five-person roster from the seminal Kirby/Lee stories. Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel were all sucked from their original timeline in 2012 as part of the All-New X-Men title, and in Blue, writer Cullen Bunn skillfully juggles the relationship dynamics and Civil Rights commentary that are a signature aspect of good X-men stories, while also dealing with the challenges that arise when time travel and alternate universes are involved. The way all these separate facets of the current X-men universe are combined into something narratively cohesive, as well as the great artwork by Jorge Molina, makes Blue one of the most rewarding capes ‘n’ tights books I’ve read in awhile.
What makes this book stand out from the other X-titles is how the subsequent storylines reinforce the character arcs and themes introduced in the first issue. Magneto’s role as the X-Men’s benefactor is a device that’s been used before to subvert the familiar in X-books, but by pairing the historied Magneto with the team of inexperienced original X-men, Bunn has the opportunity to look at covered ground from a different perspective. Not only is the issue of trust a factor between the former foes, but whether or not people have the power to change and shape their own destiny is a huge question for all of these X-Men. While they struggle with their decision to trust the reformed Magneto, they encounter the future Sentinel, Bastion, who has also changed cosmetically, but is later revealed to have more sinisterly convoluted plans than ever before.
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.
I’m not the wisest in the ways of love, but I know one cornerstone of a good relationship is stability. Relationships require people to rely upon each other, a healthy level of dependence that not only nurtures and sustains feelings, but ultimately transforms two lives into some sort of super-functioning unit.
Unfortunately, the super-hero world isn’t known for stability.
Characters are killed off and resurrected annually. Enemies become comrades and good guys go bad. Heroes change their costumes and monikers faster than a speeding bullet, with some going as far as taking on the roles of other heroes entirely. One day you’re Dr. Doom, the next you’re Iron Man, amirite?
Yet throughout Marvel history, one thing has remained (for the most part, 98%) unchanged: Reed Richards loves Sue Storm, and vice-versa.
The Justice league makeover in the aftermath of their latest mini-event continues as more B-list characters who have rarely been in the spotlight get prologue stories. DC fans may be familiar with the villain Killer Frost, having seen her go up against Firestorm and other members of the Justice League, but current JLA architect Steve Orlando and Jody Houser aim to reinvent and reintroduce Frost, as they did with Vixen.
Frost’s reinvention has stretched over several books. She first reappeared in Suicide Squad, then she became a power player when writer Joshua Williamson reevaluated Frost’s vampiric need to feed. During a pivotal moment of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, Frost absorbs and utilizes the powers of the JLA to battle the demonic Eclipso, demonstrating the utility of her power, but also making her character more sympathetic. Frost nearly kills herself in the fight, but her willingness to sacrifice herself is part of a tidy redemption plot that carries her into the new Justice League.
Killer Frost Rebirth finds Dr. Caitlin Snow in her final days at Belle Reve before being released into Batman’s custody. Amanda Waller doesn’t want Snow released and aggressively tries to manipulate Snow into acting like Killer Frost, tempting her to suck the life out of fellow inmates, thus proving that she is unfit for release. Orlando and Houser rely on Frost’s inner monologue to move the story, but for a character that’s just undergone a reinvention, her POV helps build a connection to the character. The “prison drama” tropes, like confrontations in the yard and late-night ambushes, are handled really well, though nothing ends too unexpectedly. The writing team builds a great sense of tension when Frost is most tempted to lash out, and the prisoners she encounters are cool to look at.
Part of DC’s Rebirth has been dedicated to expanding and reintroducing second-tier characters from DC’s extended universe. Sometimes, like with the Blue Beetle and Harley Quinn Rebirth books, the results are less than exciting, but there are successes where an obscure (and seemingly excessive) character has a good story fashioned around that’s them worth following for a few issues.
After one Rebirth issue, I’d say Vixenis somewhere in between.
Steve Orlando and Jody Houser’s prologue to Vixen’s introduction within the new Justice League of America, rehashes old super hero tropes, particularly the origin of Mari McCabe, the alter-ego of the titular hero, whose mission of justice stems once again from childhood trauma and loss. Her not-so-secret identity as a celebrity model and activist distinguishes her only slightly from other millionaire heroes, but unlike Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen, Mari McCabe is obviously a woman, and a woman of color to boot. Orlando and Houser spin a kidnapping yarn around the central premise that as a female of color in the world of super heroics, Vixen has not had much of a presence. This opening issue doesn’t have a lot of meat, but it does a good job of reintroducing Vixen to new and old fans of the DC universe. The writing team is obviously trying to contribute to the increase of representation within comics, but whether or not Vixen can stand out in a JLA team book is another story.
What’s definitely helping the cause is the fantastic art work of Jamal Campbell. The character designs in this book feel modern, and the tropical color palette adds a lot of personality. My favorite thing about this book is how Campbell draws the manifestation of Vixen’s powers. Animal spirits that look like they’re made of a ghostly liquid wrap themselves around Vixen, emerging from her form. There are a lot of cool panels with Vixen posing, and even one juxtaposing her powers to The Red, the source of Animal Man’s power, which is a cool reference. So, though I wouldn’t call this book amazing, there is plenty to like about it, and I think the potential art definitely justifies putting Vixen within one of DC’s biggest titles. Continue reading DC Rebirth – Week 34→
Fueled by bourbon and nog, last night Playlist By Committee slipped into the spirit of the holiday and formulated a playlist encompassing not just the favorite Christmas songs by the usual committee, but the entire Idle Time family.
Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on Aquaman. Before starting this Rebirth project, most of my knowledge of the character came from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, the DC animated “Timm-verse,” and our own HolyBeeofEphesus’s reminiscences over his Aquaman Underoos. I used to see the character as someone who embodies the frivolous excesses of superhero comics: goofy costumes, ludicrous powers, and a two-dimensional view of good and evil. Sure, Aquaman is helpful if your boogie board is carried off by the current and he’s no doubt great at giving informative lectures about recycling plastic six-pack rings, but in the middle of an invasion of Earth by Apokalips or a serial-killing spree, give me Batman or Superman, please. To me, Aquaman was a lot like a Speedo–there’s a time and a place that it’s useful, but in everyday life, I’m probably not going to need it.
Yet from the very first Rebirth issue, I found myself drawn to Dan Abnett’s interpretation of Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman: the King of Atlantis. The preconceptions I had of the character as a simple, orange-clad, fish-speaker, who at best is a B-lister on the Justice League, were replaced by an exciting and surprisingly complex character. Abnett draws extra attention to Aquaman’s Otherness. He is both human and not, the son of Atlantean royalty and a simple lighthouse keeper. In this context, Aquaman makes a fascinating outsider, someone who wants to belong and has dedicated his life to helping others, yet is rejected by those he’s chosen to protect. In an age when issues related to social identity make headlines weekly, it makes sense to see comic books, which have historically reflected social concerns, exploring these themes. Marvel has definitely been leading the charge on this front, and though DC is trying to highlight periphery heroes like Cyborg and Blue Beetle, it’s actually Aquaman with his blonde hair, blue eyes, and perfectly square jaw that tackles issues like xenophobia, classism, and the massive polarization that’s corroding the global community. Continue reading The Best of DC Rebirth #5: Aquaman→