Category Archives: Four Color Forum

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

The Punisher #218

The popularity of The Punisher seemed to have peaked during the gritty anti-hero 90’s, in a forgettable era of comic book vigilantes that lost the plot, turning Golden Age ideology on its head and forcing us to examine what heroism really means. The Punisher began his comic book career as a villain, plan and simple, a foil for Spider-Man intended to underscore the fact that revenge and justice are not the same thing. But the character took on a life of his own, and for good reason — it’s a helluva concept and a brilliantly iconic design — and this week’s issue, the first under the Legacy imprint, hits shelves a few days before The Punisher stars in his own thirteen-episode series on Netflix.

The Punisher #218, by Matthew Rosenberg, Guiu Vilanova, and Lee Loughridge, has lofty aims. On the one hand, there’s the appeal of a Garth Ennis run, more at home in this Call of Duty era among espionage or crime comics like Queen & Country or Criminal. On the other hand, there’s this notion of Legacy, and, in Week 7 of the initiative, we’d still like to think that Marvel’s storied legacy is populated with more light than shadow.

Rosenberg, an up-and-coming writer who has already tackled Marvel’s underworld with his Kingpin series, looks poised to make good on both goals. There are lots of gangsters’ heads getting blowed up, and several sadistic grins from a Frank Castle who, of course, looks a lot like Jon Bernthal. He’s the same ruthless badass that he’s always been, and we are never asked for a minute to consider the humanity of his victims. But there’s also the matter of a certain piece of ordinance that Frank steals in the opening to this arc, and a wider scope to the story than we’d come to expect.

We gave him the War Machine armor, but he’s not becoming War Machine. He could never. War Machine is James Rhodes, a hero, an Avenger, something to aspire to. Frank is simply The Punisher, nothing more and nothing less. These characters we all love aren’t their suits or their weapons, they are the people inside that we care about. Hopefully, by having Frank steal the iconic armor, we can shine a light on not just Frank’s legacy, but Rhodey’s as well. – Matthew Rosenberg

Continue reading The Punisher #218

Port of Earth

In the great tradition of thought-provoking first contact science-fiction like District 9 and Arrival, comes Zack Kaplan and Andrea Mutti’s Port of Earth, out this week from Image and Top Cow.

Kaplan, whose Eclipse is one of the better sci-fi comics to come out in recent years, sets up a near-future Earth that is visited by aliens not motivated by conquest or exploration, but by business. In exchange for permission to establish a galactic port fifty miles off the coast of San Francisco, a consortium of alien industrialists shares planet-saving technology with our world: the ability to transform water into power.

The series doesn’t seem to be about the ramifications of averting an energy crisis (which is a good thing, because there is no explanation as to how consuming a non-renewable energy source like water can be of “no consequence”), but rather the allegorical implications of setting up business in someone else’s backyard. Indeed, right off the bat, outbreaks of violence lead to the creation of an Earth Security Alliance, tasked with keeping the peace and protecting both humans, as well as the alien investment.

The premise is interesting enough, but what will really keep me reading is the mystery that unfolds with the latest incident. An ESA buddy cop duo report to a crime scene where an unemployed mechanic is found murdered, a softball-sized hole ventilating his torso. And the clues on the scene point to a red threat level alien. I dig on some cosmos building, and this first issue’s appendix features a fun sourcebook on some of the extra-terrestrials Kaplan and Mutti have cooked up for this series, separated into known consortium members and hostile species.

Continue reading Port of Earth

Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 4

Taika Waititi’s highly anticipated Thor: Ragnarok opens in theaters this weekend, and the hype engine has been revving ever louder for the indie filmmaker’s first Hollywood blockbuster. Among interview bon mots like Waititi’s stance that he’d love another chance at an MCU film, so long as it’s Thor, because he doesn’t “really like any of the other characters,” is buzz regarding Marvel’s first openly LGBTQ character, Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson.

boom! – nice to meet you

We’ve been detailing Valkyrie’s comic book backstory and, if you’ve been following along since the first installment, know that this unnecessarily in-depth primer is finally getting wrapped up. Thanks for sticking it out. If you’re here for the first time, welcome as well! And if Valkyrie’s bisexual orientation is what steered you here, then you’ve arrived at an opportune time. This four-part series on the Nordic shield-maiden is, ostensibly, a guided reading list of key storylines. In the process, however, we’ve shed some light on how the visions of various creative teams, over several decades, can shape and define a character. Her sexual orientation, for example, really came into focus within the last few years.

When last we left Brunnhilde of the Valkyrior, she had finally been restored to her true form, body and mind in the same place for the first time in centuries. Her memories were no longer muddied with those of mortal hosts like Samantha Parrington or Barbara Norriss (may she rest in peace); her powers of enhanced strength and combat skill had become more pronounced; and she was leading (at least in her own mind), the “New” Defenders. And then she died. Again.

Back Issue! #65, the B-Team edition

This was an editorial mandate to free up all those former X-Men for the launch of X-Factor. Without Beast, Iceman, and Angel, there was very little rack appeal for The Defenders, and the series was ticketed for cancellation. Despite her lengthy tenure on the team, Valkyrie really didn’t have a life outside of that title, so she was sadly sacrificed along with super-nobodies Interloper, Andromeda, Gargoyle, and Manslaughter. In an interview for Back Issue, Peter B. Gillis bemoans the premature demise of the team he had been building.

My long-term plan was to populate the Defenders with my own crew of characters… characters who nonetheless had ties to interesting parts of the Marvel Universe. Andromeda, while not the Sub-Mariner, gave me a connection to Atlantis. – Peter Gillis

Even though he didn’t get his chance to develop that crew, including some remarkably stupid characters (“I fell in love with Manslaughter as much as Don [Perlin] did. He was definitely going to stay a member”), Gillis found a way to bring back Valkyrie et al, in the pages of another book he was writing, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Continue reading Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 4

Captain America #695

Marvel probably couldn’t have picked a better creative team to follow Nick Spencer’s subversive Captain America epic than Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. As great as the Hydra-Cap saga was (and despite mixed feelings regarding the conclusion of Secret Empire, it was great; don’t let the naysayers fool you), it was time for a fresh start. And in Captain America #695, his first issue under this season’s imprint, this new creative team perfectly captures everything that we’ve ever loved about the character, celebrating his past and paving the way for the future. These guys take their Legacy directives seriously.

The stellar team behind brilliant runs on Daredevil and, most recently, Black Widow, bring that same gorgeous storytelling to this Cap relaunch. Samnee’s elegant lines and fluid layouts are matched up with a vibrant color palette that manages to capture some genuine Golden Age nostalgia. And Waid’s first storyline doesn’t completely abandon the topical political bent of Spencer’s work. Cap goes undercover, returning to a town he had first helped when fresh out of the ice years ago, to intercept the plans of a supremacist organization. There’s some of that signature Marvel chronology compression that the continuity junkies will complain about, but just give us something to get excited about, is what I always say.

Waid and Samnee do just that. This issue is all about the core values of heroism and protecting those who can’t protect themselves. And just reading Waid’s afterward, a love letter from a talented writer to an iconic character, generates a good deal of excitement on its own. Waid has already made Avengers a monthly must-read, and his new take on Champions is almost as good. But with this title, returning to a character he explored in the late 90’s, he might be inspired to put together his best work to date.

I don’t recommend, as an adult, drawing all of your morality and ethics from super heroes. They are fortunate enough to live in a wonderful world where might always makes right, one sometimes absent the gray areas we struggle with as we mature. Nonetheless, I will share Steve Rogers’ core belief until the day I die. If you have the ability to help, then you have the responsibility, because everybody ultimately benefits. Life isn’t fair, but people can strive to be, and we are all better for it when we do. – Mark Waid

Continue reading Captain America #695

Captain Marvel #125

Before Laura Linney started calling herself Wolverine, before Jane Foster picked up Mjolnir and became The Mighty Thor, and way before Kate Bishop fronted her own Hawkeye title, Carol Danvers was protecting the cosmos as the heir to one of Marvel’s Silver Age stalwarts. Granted, she had to go by Ms. Marvel for decades, but as the cover of her new book proudly affirms, complete with Legacy-laden title design, she is Captain Marvel. We’ve finally entered an era in which gender qualifications for our superheroes no longer exist; that’s Jean Grey, thank you, not Marvel Girl. We’ll grandfather in folks like Wonder Woman and Spider-Woman, but it’s nice to be reminded that women can do the job too. (Besides, it’s not like Spider-Man is gender neutral). More significant, I think, is the fact that many comic book fans are unaware that there even was an original Captain Marvel, much less that he was a dude. And if Week 4 of the Legacy initiative is doing its job, we get a chance to celebrate the fact that a badass Air Force officer named Carol has taken up the mantle of the late Mar-Vell and elevated the character to the forefront of the Marvel Universe.

This week’s issue #125 restores the series numbering from the original title (which has gone through multiple volumes and restarts since the late 60’s), but it has very little in common with the pre-2012 issues. Instead, writer Margaret Stohl, along with artist Michele Bandini, seem eager to return to the story and direction that had been initiated at the start of last season’s NOW! era (before things got ridiculous with Captain Hydra’s Secret Empire, the planetary defense shield, and a video-game style infinite onslaught of Chitauri). Carol’s Alpha Flight may be out one multi-billion dollar space station, but the team has no time to rest on its laurels, as Dr. Eve and her shapeshifting assassin Mim are back on the scene.

And if you’ve been falling along since the conclusion of Stohl’s Mighty Captain Marvel series, you’ll know that the villains’ presence has a lot to do with the reappearance of Bean, the Kree energy kid that Captain Marvel saved a few months ago.
Continue reading Captain Marvel #125

The Mighty Thor #700

Every once in a while a book comes out that reminds us not only how much we love the glorious spark and bombast of superhero comics, but also how much we’ve loved them over the years, and how much these characters, creators, and concepts have meant to us through various stages of our lives. One of the principal aims of Marvel’s Legacy initiative is to pay tribute to Marvel’s storied past while paving the way for an exciting future. No one has taken that more to heart, or done a better job embodying those ideals, than Jason Aaron. In Week 3 of Marvel Legacy, Aaron and a host of incredible artists drop the “god-sized” Thor #700 on the shelves, and, verily, the earth doth shake with its majesty.

The War of the Ten Realms is still raging, and now things really escalate as Malekith and his armies move against the stronghold of the Norns at the base of the World Tree, Yggdrasil. The sisters who weave strands of fate are besieged, and in the process, the very fabric of storytelling itself comes under attack. It’s the perfect milieu for this launch, and the gorgeous two-page interior spread by Thor artist extraordinaire Russell Dauterman portends enough future storylines, each of them with threads connecting back to that legacy tapestry, to make your head spin. There’s Loki with the Infinity Gauntlet and Odinson with what looks like a golden hammer. Both Namor and Brunnhilde look primed for battle. Jane Foster might really (snif…) succumb to cancer and, in the background, the Mangog looms!

You want more Legacy? You’ve got more Legacy. What’s more Marvel than a classic Hulk vs. Thor battle? Except in the modern era, that means Thor, Goddess of Thunder, taking on Jennifer Walters, the hero formerly known as She-Hulk.

Continue reading The Mighty Thor #700

Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 3

Tessa Thompson joins Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Cate Blanchett as the sword-wielding Valkyrie in this November’s Thor: Ragnarok. There are many wonderfully succinct character bios available on the Internet that can illuminate her powers and backstory, but this isn’t one of them. This is part three in another ridiculously verbose Idle Time primer on Valkyrie, and if you’d like to get caught up, start with part one. If you are up to speed, and still reading these posts, thank you. I had no idea this little journey through oddball Marvel comics from the 70’s and 80’s would result in more than 10,000 words on an admittedly minor character. I’ve grown quite fond of Brunnhilde of the Valkyrior, to be honest. Regardless, I need to think about wrapping it up. But not before an in-depth look at the next writer responsible for putting his stamp on the character.

the Six-Fingered Hand saga begins in Defenders #94

Over the course of a decade, beginning in 1970, a handful of writers and artists took this concept and design, which began as nothing more than a villainous blind for Amora the Enchantress, and began to flesh out a complex and compelling character. She is Brunnhilde, leader of Odin’s nine valkyries, immortalized in popular culture by Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. For reasons as yet unclear, she was held captive by Amora, with her persona and powers bent to the sorceress’s will. Eventually that persona was permanently embedded in the body of a human woman, Barbara Norriss. In turn, Barbara’s psyche was trapped in Brunnhilde’s body, still held captive by the Enchantress. Brunnhilde fought nobly for years, while inhabiting Barbara’s body, as a member of the Defenders. During a war in Valhalla, the immortal body of Brunnhilde animated by Barbara’s psyche was damned to Niffleheim, and Valkyrie, as she was now known, went back to the hero business seemingly devoid of the psychic feedback and confusion that had been linked to Barbara Norriss (although she still happily made use of Barbara’s body).

She was still a member of the Defenders, and this famous “non-team” title had been a wonderful below-the-radar outlet for trippy forays into non-traditional stories, social commentary, and general experiments in superhero team dynamics. The next major creator to play around in the Defender sandbox was J.M. DeMatteis and he, much like Gerber before him, used this series to explore themes that may not have gone over as easily in a mainstream book.

Valkyrie is shot from behind and killed in Defenders #107 (May, 1982)

Gods & Goddesses, Death & Rebirth

DeMatteis’s later work, particularly on books like the Moonshadow graphic novel and DC’s Spectre, clearly showcases the author’s interest in spirituality and humanity’s place in the universe. But a look back at his earlier books, including a Defenders run that began with issue #92, reveals a related fascination with religious iconography, the psychology of faith, and the concept of an immortal soul. What better instrument of exploration than Valkyrie, a character herself inspired from human religious beliefs, right?

Wrong. As DeMatteis launches into his first lengthy storyline, “The Six-Fingered Hand,” Val takes a backseat to recent Defenders recruits Hellcat, Devil-Slayer, and Daimon Hellstrom, as well as Gargoyle, a character first introduced in Defenders #94. The Hand in question is an alliance of demons, captained by Mephisto, looking to unleash literal hell on earth. Hellcat, our dear Golden-Age Patsy Walker, reveals that she might be the daughter of the devil, and that she was sold into demonic servitude… by her mother! What a great opportunity for Valkyrie to sympathize. After all, the human body that she’s running around in belonged to Barbara Norriss, who was sold off to a cult of demon worshipers by her mother.

this all sounds really familiar…

But no. Throughout this storyline, replete with demonic possessions and satanic pacts, Valkyrie is a minor supporting character, operating almost exclusively in the background. You begin to get the impression that, had he been able, DeMatteis would have written her off the team. Even in the climactic battle, in Defenders #100, Mephisto separates her along with Clea and Silver Surfer, disregarding their worth as “children of other worlds” to be “consigned to an eternity as nothings — in a realm of nothing!”

Continue reading Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 3

Falcon

Despite Marc Guggenheim’s comical abuse of the term “legacy” in recent issues of X-Men: Gold, there are two other corners of the Marvel Universe that I fully expected the publisher to focus on in this new initiative. And, appropriately, in Week 2 of Marvel Legacy, the camera pans wide to take in the scarred landscape of Captain America and The Fantastic Four. There may be no character dealing with more trauma from Secret Empire than Sam Wilson, and Falcon #1, by Rodney Barnes and Joshua Cassara, is an especially poignant opener to a series that refuses to stand up for the anthem, as it were.

Sam has given up the shield and mantle of Captain America, and he’s back in costume as the Falcon, patrolling the streets of Chicago with the new Patriot, Rayshaun Lucas. Their first order of business is an attempt at dealing with a simmering gang war, but their real mission statement seems much broader, and far more daunting. Nick Spencer did a fine job reflecting the sociopolitical turmoil in this country in the pages of his two Cap books, and deserves commendation for persevering despite backlash from racist retailers and closed-minded readers (I mean, fer crissakes, this just happened last weekend). But now he passes the torch to Barnes, and he’s not holding back, or sweeping anything under the rug. “Legacy” may be the operative term, but Marvel’s recent editorial shifts to diversify its character base and shake up generations of white male super-icons is not only admirable, it’s imperative.

Steve Rogers has his own shit to figure out; that’s not Sam’s problem any longer. He does, however, have to deal with the fact that the most trusted human being on the planet just committed the biggest act of betrayal, and, right now, disillusionment with the superpowered set is at an all-time high. Especially when you’re dodging bullets in the South Side.

Continue reading Falcon

Avengers #672

Last week’s opening shot into Marvel’s Legacy initiative was a surprise-laden tour de force featuring a main story peppered with enough coming attractions trailers to put a Hall H Saturday to shame. And while we’re eagerly awaiting developments in Thor’s story (well, not eager to see Jane Foster edge ever closer to death, but the Mangog business is exciting) and wondering what the hell is going on with this Black Panther planet, Legacy Week 1 begins with a gem from another segment of the Marvel Universe. Avengers #672, by Mark Waid and Jesus Saiz, kicks off “Worlds Collide,” the highly anticipated crossover between two of the best team books going. With the fates of multiple earths on the line, the Champions attempt to make nice with their former mentors, The Avengers.

The issue opens with simultaneous debates in both camps regarding the same impossible claim: a “counter-earth,” run by the High Evolutionary, exists on the opposite side of the sun, completely invisible to detection by anyone here on normal earth. Of course, those of us familiar with decades of Marvel legacy, know this to be true, and we’ve enjoyed numerous storylines involving the home of that unhinged scientist and his hordes of crazy animalmen. And in wonderfully adept adherence to the premise of this publishing initiative, Mark Waid uses the new generation of Marvel heroes as a sounding board for a modern understanding of physics and comic book plots anchored in a proper respect for scientific fact.

But then you’d be missing the point, Amadeus and Nadia! You operate in a universe of impossibility, and the last thing any one of us Marvel fans wants is to retcon away the marvelously campy and cosmically inaccurate tales from those halcyon days of 70’s four color fantasy! Give us counter-earth! And save Kentucky, while you’re at it, because a meteor just belched into the atmosphere and is rocketing towards the planet.

Continue reading Avengers #672

Marvel Legacy

We’ve been building up to this for months, in the pages of various one-shot Generations books: a new publishing initiative that honors the tradition of decades of Marvel characters, stories, concepts, and creators with a mind towards the future and a host of recent additions to the superhero family. Legacy is a loaded term, and not one that you’d expect the House of Ideas – or its fans – to take lightly. For this latest trade dress, a return to sequential numbering for the various series is only part of the appeal. Of the two major comics publishers, DC has been the one traditionally most hesitant to restart volume numbering on its titles, respecting a much more rigid and carefully curated continuity. Which is fine. Part of Marvel’s appeal has always been its loose adherence to storyline sequence and chronology. Maybe Tony Stark created the Iron Man armor during the Cold War… or maybe it was during the war in Afghanistan… it doesn’t matter; the spirit of the story and the character is more important.

Avengers #672 lenticular variant

But, at some point, all of these new number one issues and “All-New” restarts and “NOW” jumping-on points start to disrespect the ancestry. How excited are we, really, for a new Avengers series every fall? Oh, this one isn’t just all-new, but all-different as well? It’s lousy marketing, and it takes away from the fact that Marvel Comics continues to lead the field with the best stories, characters, and creative teams in the superhero genre. Having said that, it sure is nice when you can pull in some new fans, and nothing seems like an easier gateway book than a first issue.

So this season they’re trying something a little different (trying something different again – Marvel did a return to series numbering for some of its books in the early 2000’s as well). Following this week’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, by Jason Aaron and a host of incredible artists, a number of new titles will be debuting, but the majority of their books will be renumbered to align across previous volumes. Next week’s Avengers #672, for example, follows 406 issues of the initial run; the thirteen issues of that abominable Liefeld volume two from ’96; eighty-four issues during the Busiek-era volume three, sixty-four issues from Bendis’s first New Avengers title; the thirty-four issues from volume four that kicked off the “Heroic Age” publishing initiative; forty-four issues of 2013’s volume five, Hickman’s follow-up to Avengers vs. X-Men; the fifteen issues of Waid’s All-New All-Different Avengers; aaaand the eleven issues of the most recent “NOW” Avengers restart. Whew. Confusing, right?

the legacy sequence of Avengers titles

Not only will Avengers #672 revive the original numbering, but it will also be merged with two other offshoot titles – U.S.Avengers and Uncanny Avengers – before the end of the year. But more on those developments next week. Meanwhile, on the topic of Avengers, and an intense spin on the promise of legacy, let’s turn our attention back to Aaron’s one-shot, and the main storyline, with sensational art by Esad Ribić.

Those are the Avengers, if you will, of one million B.C. That’s Odin wielding Mjolnir, and the legendary Agamotto himself operating under the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme. Prior incarnations of Black Panther, Iron Fist, and Ghost Rider round out the team, along with Phoenix, whose past relationship with the Asgardian allfather was revealed recently in the Thor Generations book.

Continue reading Marvel Legacy