Category Archives: Four Color Forum

All things comics, from the Golden Age to the Hollywood Superhero Renaissance

SDCC 2019: Top 5 Comic Book Exclusives

Once again, I’m foregoing the weekly new release column to focus on a different kind of release: the 2019 San Diego Comic Con variant. With the convention officially kicking off tomorrow, here’s a list of five special releases that are on my radar. These aren’t necessarily the most rare exclusives or even overly valuable variants. These just happen to be five that have piqued my interest.

Avengers #21 – Mondo Variant (Marvel)
I’m running out of wall space, which is why I’m probably going to pass on Rich Kelly’s “Golden Age of Marvel Comics” print from Mondo. Luckily, however, Marvel has taken that fantastic design and used it as a variant cover for the latest issue of Avengers. This particular issue of Aaron and McGuinness’s series has some War of the Realms fallout and features the latest iteration of Phil Coulson’s Squadron Supreme.

Blade Runner 2019 #1 – Artgerm Exclusive Virgin Variant (Titan Entertainment)
Stanley “Artgerm” Lau pretty much does one thing, and he does it really well. His half-body digital paintings are regularly featured as variants for the big two publishers, but I’m excited to see this cover exclusive being offered for Titan’s new Blade Runner series. The book is co-scripted by Mike Johnson, who has done a nice job on another licensed sci-fi property, IDW’s Star Trek, and, along with Michael Green, he’ll be telling new stories in neo-noir Los Angeles.

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War of the Realms: Week Twelve

This book shouldn’t be this good. It also shouldn’t only be three issues. Every year Marvel does one of these anthology tie-ins for its summer event and they’re usually a hodgepodge of tangential short stories by aspiring writers and artists that add very little to the overall storyline… and are largely forgettable to boot.

But War of the Realms: War Scrolls #3 is the last issue of this excellent mini-series, anchored by Jason Aaron and Andrea Sorrentino’s “The God Without Fear.” Now, Mr. Zdarsky is doing a bang-up job with the new Daredevil series, and I don’t want that wrapping up any time soon… But if Aaron is looking for a solo book to tackle once his Thor opus is done, I really would love to see him take the reins for a lengthy exploration of ol’ Hornhead.

Marvel calls this a must-read companion to War of the Realms, and I tend to agree. Not only do you get more of the Heimdall-Daredevil story, but every story has been very well executed. An essential addition for sure.

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War of the Realms: Week Eleven

What I probably should be doing is talking about the incredible Silver Surfer: Black by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore. Or at the very least, my initial impressions of DC’s Event Leviathan by Bendis and Maleev. But instead I’m rolling ahead with more quick hits on everything remotely related to Marvel’s War of the Realms. After perusing this list of crossovers and tie-ins, however, my hope is that the casual fan will forego all this tangential crap and read one of the two aforementioned books instead. I’m getting ready to bury the hammer, Marvel. Let’s wrap this shit up, yeah?

There are six different books bearing the WotR trade dress this week, and, to be honest, the only one I really think anyone should read is Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #45 by Ryan North & Derek Charm. And that’s not even based on my prior screeds regarding the comprehensibility of superhero event books being dependent on chasing down all the key tie-ins and crossovers either. I’m labeling Squirrel Girl #45 recommended because it’s just funny as hell.

But I’ve got a feeling about Champions, as well. Not that this particular WotR crossover arc is all that compelling, mind you, but I’m recommending issue #6 of this series because I’m pretty impressed with what Jim Zub has been building since taking over the title.

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War of the Realms: Week Ten

When I started this earnest effort at charting Marvel’s big summer event, my goal was to tackle, first and foremost, the readability of War of the Realms and all of its associated crossovers, tie-ins, and supplements. The idea was to see whether or not I could recapture the wonderful anticipation I used to feel with these types of stories (Civil War comes to mind most immediately), or if disjointed and confusing narratives were going to be the new norm. I haven’t always read all the tangential crap, but I’ve felt like, in most cases, I’ve consumed the majority. Despite that, gaps in storytelling from forced compression or publishing delays have really affected that experience (Civil War II, by contrast, stands out in this regard).

So then, this week, I’m reading the latest installment in the main book, War of Realms #5, the penultimate chapter in Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s epic fantasy/superhero explosion. And I’m thinking… when the hell did we get to South America and what the fuck is the Enchantress doing with an army of the dead… But instead of complaining about linearity, I am treated to Doctor Strange leaning out the window of Ghost Rider’s Hell Charger, piloted by Balder the Brave, while the Sorcerer Supreme plays mailbox baseball with Asgardian zombies. Cool. I’ll buckle in. I don’t know where we’re going, but this is definitely all about the ride.

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War of the Realms: Week Nine

Originally, my thinking regarding these weekly War of the Realms updates was to focus in on the crossovers and tie-ins that were important to properly enjoying the overall event. I (almost) always enjoy a good Marvel summer shebang, but in recent years I’ve been frustrated with the confusing continuity of some of these mini-series. Despite reading — or trying to read — every comic remotely related to a given story, I invariably feel that I’ve missed something, resulting in an event experience that feels fragmented and unsatisfying. But given how invested I’ve been in Jason Aaron’s fantastic Thor saga, and how much I love his partnership with Russell Dauterman, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I was going to properly enjoy this g-d event, even if it meant buying and reading every one-shot (e.g., Strikeforce), amusing albeit tangential diversion (like Squirrel-Girl), or half-assed shitrag of a limited series (the gawdawful Journey into Mystery).

Hence the nine weeks of labeling all the comics with the WotR trade dress as either essential, recommended, or skippable.

On this particular off-week, however, despite two “essential” reads (see below), I feel like highlighting a book that is fairly inconsequential to the main storyline: Fantastic Four #10 by Dan Slott, Paco Medina, and Kevin Libranda. It’s a one-shot story detailing the early stage of the invasion when Malekith’s forces find their way to Yancy Street. And for those of you who haven’t been reading Slott’s recent FF series, Ben Grimm’s hood is the new operating base for Marvel’s first family.

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War of the Realms: Week Eight

An impressive stack of books on the new releases rack with that War of the Realms trade dress: eight books in all for week eight of Marvel’s summer event. Thus far, Malekith’s epic invasion of Midgard, the last holdout against his ten-realm conquest, has been a fun and colorful culmination of Jason Aaron’s Thor opus. Some hits and misses this week. Let’s navigate.

The best of the lot is probably the latest in one of those strike team one-shots. War of the Realms Strikeforce: The Land of Giants #1 by Tom Taylor and Jorge Molina zeroes in on the between-the-panels action of the main series to follow Captain America’s squad as they infiltrate Jotunheim in an effort to “rescue” Thor. We’ve already seen the outcome, and the river of giant blood that led the team to their thunderous teammate, but an opportunity to see Molina flex his pencils for page after page of classic bombast and furious melee is not to be missed.

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War of the Realms: Week Seven

We’re less than two months in to Marvel’s big summer event, and the main title just passed its halfway point. This is usually the time when things start to go off the rails, in terms of chronology and flow, or when we start earnestly anticipating each new chapter, tie-in, and side story that develops. Or sometimes both. Secret Empire, Marvel’s wonderfully controversial event of two summers back, suffered from conflated plot events, often making the reader feel as though he or she had missed something, but still managed to push things forward in an exciting fashion. I’m still a little confused by the periphery crapola that surrounded last summer’s Infinity Countdown/Wars, but the main book was a fun, good-looking read.

So where are we with War of the Realms? Issue #4 hits stands this week and, I’m incredibly pleased to say that, for the most part, the linearity of the plot in the main title is on par with Jason Aaron’s always excellent writing and Russell Dauterman’s ever-fantastic art. With the strike teams assembled to carry out their various tasks, the action zigzags across Midgard and across the Realms as Malekith’s forces continue to lay claim to all of the continents on planet Earth. It’s a bit difficult to communicate the expansive nature of a story like this within one six-issue mini series (which is why good tie-ins and crossover are so valuable), but Aaron & Co. are doing a helluva job.

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War of the Realms: Week Six

I was never that big into variant covers. I fell in love with comics in the 80’s, and was then heartbroken during the 90’s when gimmicks, speculators, and reckless rockstar artists ruined the comics retail biz. (I’m okay now; me and comics are back together now for the long haul.) So in recent years, when incentive covers and con exclusives became highly sought after, with prices commensurate with quality art and small print runs, I didn’t really pay attention.

Until my brother got back into comics.

Growing up, my little bro loved him some Iron Man. And I encouraged his four-color fanaticism as bet as I could, but from high school on, his interest waned. I fed him trades on the regular — superhero stuff for birthdays, maybe Vertigo collections on Christmas — but despite minor upticks in engagement around the Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction eras, nothing stuck.

When Marvel kicked off its “Fresh Start” with a boatload of open-order variants for Tony Stark: Iron Man, I emailed my brother with a “collect them all” taunt, fully expecting to be calmly rebuffed. Much to my surprise, he told me to order him one of each. Later that year at SDCC he discovered incentive variants by the likes of David Aja and Alex Ross and, well… he was hooked. (Not just on variants either; little bro is reading comics again. So proud.)

So what does this have to do with my check-in on week six of Marvel’s War of the Realms event?

Well, when my brother started seeking out interesting variants, it spurred me to do the same. There is an infectious nature to enthusiasm (one of our guiding principles) that I am happy to foster. Also, part of me hated that he had some super-rare exclusives and I didn’t. So for the better part of a year now, I’ve been dutifully building my own collection of variant covers and, given my commitment to go all-in on War of the Realms, it made sense to add as many of those to my shortboxes as well. And since Marvel knows me (and kindred obsessives), they’ve been releasing a number of “connecting” variants: you can’t have just one variant in a series of connected variants, obviously. War has been no exception. Who wouldn’t want to collect all ten of those Yggdrasil-mapping covers?!

Anyway… so I called around for this week’s connecting variant for Greg Pak and Gang Hyuk Lim’s New Agents of Atlas #1 and discovered, to my mild surprise, that is was selling for quite a bit more than previous variants in the series. Upon further review, and a tour around eBay, it so happens that all the incentive covers for this book are in high demand, with the virgin Mico Suayan variant going for upwards of $500!

Character first appearances usually play a factor when prices escalate like this, and the first issue of Pak’s new all-Asian Atlas team has a few, including the first appearance of Filipino superhero Wave.

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War of the Realms: Week Five

As promised, before running down the three War of the Realms reads for week five, here’s a continuation of my tribute to the dearly departed Brunnhilde — Odin’s favorite, first among the Valkyries, and first in my heart… 😢

Last week we looked at my five favorite Val covers from the seventies through the present, singling out only standard cover designs (or, as we called them before the variant era, “covers”). When Brunnhilde was restored in the pages of Busiek and Larsen’s wonderful 2001 Defenders series, she received what is, in all likelihood, her first variant showcase courtesy of Arthur Adams. It’s a good one. But it didn’t quite make the cut of top 5 variants. Surprisingly, we had a lot to choose from. In chronological order:

Secret Avengers #4 (2010)
Variant cover by Chris Bachalo

I’m never a fan of those line-wide trade dress frames, even when they’re composed of nothing but the beautiful Women of Marvel. They invariably take away from the art, as this one threatens to do to Chris Bachalo’s dope ass Valkyrie swinging a giant ass Dragonfang. Love this. And the Secret Avengers book, like the aforementioned Defenders vol. 2, is a sorely underrated, kooky gem.

Secret Avengers #6 (2010)
Variant cover by Marko Djurdjević

Case in point. Check out how much cleaner another Women of Marvel variant is, two issues later, this time by Djurdjević. By the 2010’s, Val’s costume had undergone a few minor changes here and there, which of course is totally common for superheroes and their ilk. But bless you, Marko, for reminding us of the best part of that original John Buscema character design — those sweet straps criss-crossing Val’s calves above those totally impractical black ballet slippers. Sure, the fur-lined Viking boots make more sense, but when is logic ever welcome in fantasy costume creation?

Fear Itself: The Fearless #7 (2011)
Variant cover by Frank Cho

Frank Cho has a special knack for certain characters. While his gorgeous pin-up style was more often employed with the Ultimate universe’s version of Valkyrie, he did show off that certain set of skills on the 616’s Brunnhilde for this variant of The Fearless. The series itself, like much of the Fear Itself event, is forgettable. But hard to forget a pose like that.

Fearless Defenders #1 (2013)
Variant cover by Milo Manara

Following a sexy X-Women collaboration with Chris Claremont, Italian erotic comics legend Milo Manara did a number of variant covers for Marvel in 2013. Following a touch of controversy surrounding his (in)famous Spider-Woman cover, Marvel discontinued plans for future work. Luckily, he knocked out this fantastic cover for the otherwise shitty Fearless Defenders series first.

War of the Realms #2 (2019)
Variant cover by Javier Garrón‏

Garrón, a Spanish artist and 2019 “Young Gun,” got my attention on Matt Rosenberg’s Secret Warriors, but he really blew me away on Mark Waid’s Ant-Man & Wasp mini. Now he’s killing it on Saladin Ahmed’s Miles Morales book and he got tabbed to design one of the variant covers for last month’s War of the Realms #2, that fateful issue in which Brunnhilde was so rudely removed from the playing field. It’s a great tribute to Marvel’s valkyrior in general, with a vibrant focus on our favorite Val. Check out his Blogspot for some sketch studies that went into the cover art.

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War of the Realms: Week Four

Continuing our weekly survey of everything War of the Realms with some quick reactions on the three event tie-in books that came out this Wednesday. But first, a moment of silence for last week’s dearly departed, the O.G. Valkyrie. The Asgardian shield-maiden’s name and role will live on, of course, thanks to Tessa Thompson and Jane Foster, but, for the time-being at least, the Marvel Universe will have to do without their original Scandinavian warrior woman with the killer blonde braids. And because I’ve become particularly fond of this character in recent years (especially after digging in to her bonkers origin stories), I’m going to offer up, as tribute, my top 5 Brunnhilde the Valkyrie covers over the decades.

She hasn’t been on a lot of covers, of course (but more than your average B-lister, to be sure), but I still had a hard time narrowing it down. So instead of one top 5 list, I’ll share two: this week a list of standard covers, followed up by favorite variants next week. We live in the Golden Age of collectible alternate covers, of course. We’ve come a looong way since 1989’s Legends of the Dark Knight #1 and its multiple cover colors (save that little nugget, trivia fans) and Val has been featured on more than her share of retailer incentives. But the classics come first, in chronological order:

The Incredible Hulk #142 (1971)
Cover by Herb Trimpe

This is Valkyrie’s second appearance, and the first time Brunnhilde’s spirit is housed in a human host. It wasn’t the mentally unstable and long-time Defender Barbara Norriss, however, but Manhattan socialite and feminist activist Samantha Parrington getting the mystical whammy from Enchantress. The iconic cover by the wonderful Herb Trimpe was actually given the homage treatment in a recent “Hasbro Toy” variant cover on a 2014 issue of Hulk.

Defenders #4 (1973)
Cover by John Buscema and Jim Starlin

The classic issue in which crazy-ass Barbara gets Brunnhilde zapped into her body and takes over Aragorn from the turned-to-stone Black Knight. Norriss was the longest-running host for Valkyrie, and her best and craziest adventures happened in the pages of The Defenders, beginning with this Steve Englehart run before getting passed along to Steve Gerber and J.M. Dematteis.

Marvel Two-in-One #7 (1975)
Cover by John Romita, Sr.

This one is special for a few reasons. Besides being a great Romita cover, it’s also the beginning of Gerber’s seminal Defenders work. The totally bonkers Celestial Harmonica story, and its connection to Valkyrie, begins in this comic. On a personal level, this brings back special memories because it was part of that battered batch of comics that made up my collection long, long ago before I discovered comic book shops, bags & boards, and all the rest. To this day, when I think of my earliest impressions of this character, they take me back to this issue. I don’t know where that beat-to-hell copy is today (scant few remain from those early years, save for some odd G.I. Joes, Peter Porkers and Spider-Mans), but I have since added a more pristine copy to my grown-up collection.

Defenders #130 (1984)
Cover by Frank Cirocco

In the last years of its life, as the original Defenders title limped off to eventual cancellation, gutted by the X-Factor genesis, the book took on the “New” moniker in an effort to make it somehow more appealing. It also featured some incredible eye-popping cover artwork from folks like Mike Mignola, Kevin Nowlan, and Bill Sienkiewicz. But easily one of the best — and my personal favorite — is this Valkyrie cover by the great Frank Cirocco. Frank was one-half of the creative team behind Alien Legion, still one of the classic works of sci-fi in the comics medium. I can’t remember what happens in this particular Defenders issue (and I don’t care enough to Google it), but I remember the era well, and love this cover.

Fear Itself: The Fearless #12 (2012)
Cover by Art Adams

Flash forward several decades into the modern capes n’ tights era (or the “Diamond Age” if you’re a fan of our trivia nights) to the point in which Valkyrie has been restored to her original, beautiful, Brunnhilde self (but just prior to the silly Annabelle Riggs body-timeshare ploy). The great Arthur Adams did a number of great Valkyrie covers during the Fear Itself event and he also featured her on a gorgeous variant cover for Busiek and Larsen’s underappreciated 2001 Defenders relaunch. This capper to the The Fearless spinoff series is classic.

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