Category Archives: Four Color Forum

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

Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 1

This fall’s Thor: Ragnarok may be winning the hype war with a rockin’ 80’s-themed trailer and a Planet Hulk-style interstellar gladiatorial tournament, but it’s those co-stars that really get my head banging. Cate Blanchett as Hela looks fantastic, and, like this guy, makes me want to buy toys again. Jeff Goldblum is inspired as the Grandmaster, and knowing that the director himself, Taika Waititi, gets his mo-cap suit on for a turn as the combatant Korg is delightful. This movie just looks like a great time. And my favorite addition to the party just might be the lovely Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie.

For the fourth in our series of comic book primers on B-list characters making big screen debuts, we’ve mined the archives and dug deep into the vaults. Presented here is a fairly comprehensive history of Valkyrie’s funnybook career, accompanied by reading recommendations for anyone even as remotely obsessive as myself.

Valkyries in Norse tradition are the mythical warrior women who preside over mortal battles, shepherding the chosen slain into the halls of Valhalla, where the noble combatants can revel, drinking mead and sharpening their axes in anticipation of Ragnarok. In a Marvel universe already well populated with mythological characters and lore, it was only a matter of time before Brunnhilde the Valkyrie made an appearance. This Valkyrie, like her kinsman Thor, possesses superhuman strength befitting an immortal Asgardian, but instead of a hammer, swings a big-ass sword as her weapon of choice. She’s also surprisingly less married to that Nordic tradition than is the God of Thunder. For years she flew around on the back of Aragorn, a winged horse handed down from the Arthurian-inspired hero Black Knight. She even picked up his Ebony Blade for a spell, before replacing it with the still-not-very-Viking-sounding Dragonfang. And, at least during the earlier years of her career, she was much more interested in punching men in the face than escorting them to the afterlife.

This Valkyrie is more than just an anachronistic collection of accessories in a hot outfit, and her origin story is as bizarre and non-traditional as any comic book hero that came to life in the gloriously zany 1970’s. Read on, for a backstory that involves demon-worshiping cultists, celestial harmonicas, and Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung.
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Runaways

It comes as absolutely no surprise that, with the upcoming debut of Marvel Television’s Runaways on Hulu, the comics property would see a reboot. What came as a genuine surprise to myself, however, was how much I enjoyed this first issue by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka. We’ve been burned too often by Hollywood-driven rack revivals, and, as long as I’m being honest here… the success rate for YA novelists tackling their first comic series isn’t great. So, I’ll admit, my expectations were maybe a bit low. I was happy to welcome a return of the beloved characters created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, but after wayward detours by the likes of Joss Whedon and Terry Moore, I wasn’t holding my breath. This week’s Runaways #1, however, effectively restores so much of the magic from that first run, by overwriting, in a way, those less successful volumes. It’s also really freaking good.

And if we’re talking about magic, of course we’re kicking off with Nico Minoru.

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Made Men

Paul Tobin clearly had a lot of curse words pent up in his head. The YA novelist and comic book writer, best known for teenage burglar capers in the comic series Bandette, or a variety of all-ages graphic amusements like How To Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees, goes for an unfettered R-rating in Made Men, his new comic with Arjuna Susini and Gonzalo Duarte from Oni Press. Virtually every page is splattered with blood and gore, and there are more eff-bombs in this first issue than in an entire volume of Preacher. The matter-of-fact “It’s raining blood and meat” is an early first-person narrative caption. So, yeah. A  bit different from I Was the Cat.

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Jack Kirby’s 100th

Comic shops around the country have been abuzz celebrating Jack Kirby’s centennial this week. The undisputed King of Comics would have turned 100 this past Monday, August 28th. For a guy as influential as Walt Disney or George Lucas, it’s a shame how few people recognize his name or appreciate his contributions to comics, entertainment, and popular culture. Despite a #doodleforjack campaign, Google didn’t get it together in time to enlighten the masses with some Kirby crackle or dream machinery (we, did however, learn a little bit more about James Wong Howe on the 118th anniversary of the cinematographer’s birth).

But we know how important Kirby is, and each and every Idler, just like every one of you reading this blog, has his or her own favorite Kirby creation or a story about discovering his genius for the first time. And it’s up to us to spread the word. Take a friend to the comic shop this week, and act as a docent through the living museum of Kirby’s 2017 impact. Several one-shot specials are being released this month by DC and, this week from Mark Evanier and Scott Kolins, is the Darkseid Special. Be sure to point out the fact that the Justice League movie coming out in a few months looks to feature one of Jack’s most inventive concepts, as well as the Lord of Apokolips, one of the most insidious villains in comics. This oversized special also has a new OMAC story, and two classic Kirby reprints. And for more Fourth World fun, you could also pass along the new Black Racer and Shilo Norman special, by Reginald Hudlin and Ryan Benjamin, which also contains some great Kirby originals.

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The Best of ResurrXion #1 – X-Men: Gold

X-Men: Gold feels like an X-Men book. That should come as no surprise, but with Marvel’s current emphasis on huge crossovers and Inhuman conflicts, the X-Books have been left on the back burner. As a longtime fan of the most allegorical team in superhero history, it feels amazing to finally have some X-Men comics that feel like the stories of old. From page one, Marc Guggenheim is telling a classic mutant story. The team is in the middle of Manhattan, fighting Terrax, being judged by the crowd of onlookers even after saving their lives, usual X-Men stuff. That’s just it though, usual X-Men stuff has been so thoroughly disregarded that just having an issue begin like one would expect is actually a massive shock. The simplest way to explain why X-Men: Gold is so good is the last page of the first issue. The team is face to face with a mysterious threat, strange beings who reveal themselves with an immortal line, “We’re the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.”

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At least they know they’re evil.

Continue reading The Best of ResurrXion #1 – X-Men: Gold

The Best of ResurrXion #2 – X-Men: Blue

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.

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Secret Empire #9

The penultimate chapter of Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire hits stands this week, and, as one would expect this close to a climactic final confrontation with Captain Hydra, the action ramps up at a frenetic pace. This has been one of Marvel’s most entertaining and original event books since House of M, and, as with the alternate reality of Bendis’s series, when the architecture of Steve Rogers’s empire starts to fail, it doesn’t take long for the structure to come crashing down. Across the board, the heroes have been tallying victories: the Darkforce dome sealing off Manhattan is down, as is the planetary defense shield that had stranded the other heavy hitters in the stratosphere. The Underground has rallied, and New Tian is in open revolt. Corrupted superheroes like Vision and Scarlet Witch are on the verge of restoration, and presumed defeated combatants Winter Soldier and Black Panther make dramatic returns to the battlefield. And, perhaps most importantly, the haze of mead and self-deprecation that had been clouding the mind of Odinson, AKA The Unworthy Thor, finally seems to have cleared. There’s a “BOOM” that translates roughly to, “The Hel was I thinking?!”

Hope you haven’t experienced mega-super-battle fatigue yet. Because this issue has a pretty fun romp. And despite all the momentum gathering on the side of the heroes, Steve has one major play left in his bag of tricks, and it involves Arnim Zola, some Stark technology, and an impressive handful of cosmic cube fragments. It all figures to play out in an even bigger mega-super-crazy series finale.

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The Best of ResurrXion #3 – Astonishing X-Men

Growing up X-men was my favorite. I don’t know what it was about those mutant storylines, but I couldn’t get enough. Maybe it had something to do with the set of X-men trading cards that MMDG planted on my bookshelf before I was even old enough to read. Needless to say, when ResurrXion was announced I was over the moon.

Ranking a few of these was tough. In fact, after reading the second issue of Astonishing X-Men and looking back, I should have rated this higher on my list. Then again, I wanted my rankings to be based solely on my first impression of each first issue.

I’m getting sidetracked— let’s start with saying Astonishing X-Men DELIVERS. This is a classic X-men story and the first issue sets it up for success in my eyes. It has been a while since I have read anything X-men related and this particular story didn’t leave me feeling like I was missing any large pieces of information in order to appreciate it. We have the powerful Psylocke, and every telepath on the planet, being threatened by an outside force which causes her to reach out to the closest X-men she can count on.

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The Best of ResurrXion #4 – Black Bolt

I initially reacted with a little disbelief upon hearing that this Black Bolt series was the Inhuman king’s first solo series. Brought to life by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1965, Blackagar Boltagon and his compatriots have been central figures in a multitude of mighty Marvel storylines for decades. But he’s never fronted his own title? Hell, even his damn dog got to star in Lockjaw and The Pet Avengers back in ’09. Then I quickly realized, well… a protagonist who can level a building with a whisper probably won’t factor well in a dialogue-rich comic book. Or, a comic with any dialogue, really. He’s always relied upon Medusa or another member of the royal family to translate a series of stern gazes and austere gestures. And a book featuring even one of those folks wouldn’t really be a Black Bolt solo title anymore, would it?

The question regarding how much dialogue this series would contain, or how it would be handled, was just one of the mysteries tucked inside that gorgeously ominous cover to issue #1. If this was meant to fold into the current ResurrXion continuity, how might a solo book work? Wasn’t Black Bolt rocketing through the galaxy with his family, searching for ancient Inhuman secrets? Or was this going to be a flashback series a la Gamora? With the upcoming debut of ABC’s Inhumans series, was this just a substance-less ploy to generate rack awareness and promote the television property? And what about this creative team? Saladin Ahmed has good sci-fi and fantasy credentials, but this was going to be the novelist’s first comic. That could go one of two ways (see Ta-Nehisi Coates versus Geoffrey Thorne). Did Christian Ward, with a résumé of beautiful covers and amazing fill-in work on Al Ewing’s Ultimates under his belt, have the chops to fully illustrate a monthly book? And, maybe most importantly, solo series or not, were we going to see Lockjaw?

yep, guest appearance by the robot bounty hunter Death’s Head!

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The Best of ResurrXion #5 – Weapon X

Being a part of these Marvel continuity projects can be both fun and challenging at the same time. Serving as the very part-time comics reader of the group, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the intersecting storylines and character arcs of heroes and villains I don’t know much about. X-Men though? X-Men I can handle.

While I’m pretty familiar with most of the original characters (like the rest of the group, I loved Blue and Gold), I was most excited to read some of these X-books that I was less familiar with, and Weapon X by Greg Pak and Greg Land turned out to be one the best.

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