Category Archives: Four Color Forum

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

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.

Continue reading War of the Realms: Week Six

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.

Continue reading War of the Realms: Week Five

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.

Continue reading War of the Realms: Week Four

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…

Continue reading War of the Realms: Week Three

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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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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