Category Archives: Four Color Forum

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

AvX Contest: Week 3 Scoring Update

Dented face, courtesy of Cap.

This week gives us three books under the AvX banner: Wolverine and the X-Men 9, Avengers 25, and the second “round” of the main series, Avengers vs. X-Men 2.

Check out those tie-in books, True Believers. Jason Aaron just might be the best there is at what he does. And what he does is write Wolverine. Bendis is united with a real legend on this Avengers book. Welcome back, Walt Simonson. I could make the same “best there is” comment about you and drawing Thor. But what we’re really waiting for is that second issue of the limited series and the expected showdown between Captain America and Cyclops.

The panel of judges has determined that the exchange between these two team captains qualifies as an official “bout” for contest scoring purposes. All that remains, then, is to decide on an outcome. Continue reading AvX Contest: Week 3 Scoring Update

AvX Contest: Week 2 Scoring Update

so close...

Only one book with the AvX banner this week, and New Avengers 24 is mostly flashback setting up the opening bell of last week’s Avengers vs. X-Men 1.

Even so, there’s a tense stretch of four or five pages featuring Luke Cage all riled up and dealing with a crowd of protesters outside Avengers Mansion. Come on, Luke… Say it… Say it…

But no. “In this house” is as close as he gets. Those of you who predicted that “Luke Cage yells “In MY house'” at some point during the event, are going to have to sit tight. No points scored this time around. But don’t worry: there’s a really good chance Cage is going to get pissed off again before this story wraps, and it could very well happen at home.

But for now, the points tally from last week hasn’t changed.

 

Top 5 Comic Book Events of All Time

The current Avengers vs. X-Men event seems like a pretty big deal. In reality, it’s just the latest in a long line of summer superhero spectaculars. These character-heavy, game-changing crossovers have been annual staples for Marvel and DC for decades, and in recent years the Big Two have made promotion of these events a top priority. In 2008, Marvel ran a TV commercial heralding their Secret Invasion, and just last year DC went viral with their promo for the New 52 reboot, even securing space in the advance screenings blocks of major movie auditoriums.

Marketing gimmicks and overused superlatives aside, there have been some genuinely entertaining superhero events that have stood the test of time. The best of these may be important in relation to continuity, or how they change the way comic book stories and characters are handled, but first and foremost they’re meant to be fun, like good Hollywood blockbusters. For this reason you won’t see DC’s seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths on this list. Yes, it was important and ground-breaking, but it was never meant for casual readership. Quite the opposite in fact. Personally, I could give a shit about justifying decades of continuity; just tell a good story and rattle the cages once in a while. These are four-color soap operas, not scrolls of apocrypha.

I’ve also disqualified storylines that were developed specifically within the confines of regular monthly titles. Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse had “event-like” gravity and ramifications, and was a damn good yarn, but it really was just a massive crossover. The events on this list, like this summer’s Avengers vs. X-Men, are built around a central limited series, with story extensions crossing over and tying in with existing books. And hopefully, like the central blocks of each of the events on this list, AvX will be a damn good yarn all by itself.

5. Avengers Disassembled / House of M (Marvel, 2004-2005)

I’m already breaking rule number two. Sort of. The “Disassembled” story was an Avengers family crossover, incorporating the main book’s storyline with plots in Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. The real event took place when series author Brian Michael Bendis connected this story to 2005’s House of M limited series.

Hard to believe now, but there was a time not too very long ago that The Avengers was a struggling, stagnant book. In fact, a decade ago, had you asked the average pop culture enthusiast to name teams of superheroes, you probably wouldn’t get further than The Justice League and The X-Men, maybe Fantastic Four and Teen Titans. What Bendis did for this team, by destroying and rebuilding them, was revelatory. Marvel today features four groups of Avengers, each with its own monthly title, and two monthlies for each of the three aforementioned primary characters (although Journey into Mystery is more Loki’s book than Thor’s). And of course the upcoming movie, and the five Marvel Studios films that have led up to it, have made The Avengers a household word. It started with Bendis.

Bendis displayed a penchant for dialogue, and sharp stories, with a pair of crime series for Caliber in the 90’s. He earned his superhero stripes with Ultimate Spider-Man beginning in 2000. What he hadn’t demonstrated prior to this Avengers stint, was an incredible ability to script team books. It’s not an easy task juggling great dialogue with clever plots all while respecting the ensemble dynamic. Some of the best comic book writers have failed miserably when trying to work with a big cast of big personalities (I’m looking at you, Geoff Johns). The Avengers have had some great stories since Stan Lee first assembled this team back in 1963, but some of the most memorable have come courtesy of Brian Michael Bendis.

This phoenix-esque Avengers burnout sees The Scarlet Witch go crazy and break down her former teammates in every way imaginable. Tony Stark has a drunken meltdown; Vision helps demolish the mansion; and characters like Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Jack of Hearts perish (comic book deaths, which are famously temporary, but still…) Then comes the Scarlet Witchhunt. And House of M.

The Avengers and X-Men may be dueling this summer, but in the summer of 2005 they were united to deal with a common problem: the reality-warping powers of Wanda Maximoff and her less than tenuous grip on reality. Wolverine’s solution: kill the bitch. Cap: now wait a second. But before either has a chance to sway popular opinion, the Witch shows off the full extent of her powers and reshapes the universe into a world in which mutants are dominant, and daddy dearest Magneto rules the roost as the head of the House of M. The epic climax includes the famous last words, “No more mutants,” which has had repercussions in the Marvel universe ever since. Cyclops’s current state of violent mania in Avengers vs. X-Men, actually, has everything to do with mutants’ current position as an endangered species.

The tie-in series and crossovers are fairly worthless, although House of M: Spider-Man focuses on the fun fact that Peter Parker is a celebrity, secretly pretending that he, too, is a mutant and part of the ruling class.

Read: Avengers Disassembled (Bendis and David Finch) and House of M (Bendis and Olivier Coipel) Continue reading Top 5 Comic Book Events of All Time

AvX Contest: Week 1 Scoring Update

Eat it, kid.

It didn’t take long for the scoring opportunities to pop up in our AvX Pick ’em Points Pool. Even before the actual “versus” action unfolds, Cyclops gives that bratty Hope kid an optic blast to the gut.

The following contest entrants, who all successfully predicted that “Cyclops optic-blasts a fellow X-Man,” are up 5 points after just one week and a single issue. Remember: everyone can score an easy two points just by liking The Institute and our partner in this endeavor, Comics & Collectibles, on Facebook. And if you’re heading over to the C&C Facebook page, you can check out pictures from Tuesday’s Avengers vs. X-Men Launch Party. Thanks to Gene, Pam, Rex, and Erik for making it happen!

  • Devin T. 5 pts
  • Brien B. 5 pts
  • Josh D. 5 pts
  • Maricus C. 5 pts
  • Kyle D. 5 pts
  • Rob O. 5 pts
  • Brian H. 5 pts
  • Reg Y. 5 pts
  • Josh M. 5 pts
  • Ricky V. 5 pts
  • Daniel S. 5 pts
  • Tony K. 5 pts
  • Chris B. 5 pts
  • James R. 5 pts

Avengers vs X-Men: The Idle Time Contest!

Marvel’s billing this as the biggest event in comic book history. And here at The Institute, the only thing we love more than superheroes is superhype. We’re pretty excited. In fact, for the next six months, Avengers vs. X-Men figures to dominate a good deal of real estate on this here website in a way the goddam Beatles could only dream of. In fact, that might make for an interesting battle itself: will The Institute house more pictures of mutant mayhem or Liverpudlian pop stars?*

To properly celebrate this auspicious occasion, Idle Time, in collaboration with Sacramento’s Comics & Collectibles, is sponsoring a contest with a degree of complexity and inanity completely commensurate with the average comic book storyline. The faculty here could no sooner decide on an appropriate contest than we could agree on a side to support. Clearly, the smart money is on the Avengers, but there are those among our collective still blindly allied to the misguided mutant agenda. That’s why we created two different contests, with two completely different ways to win!

Bear with me, and I’ll try to make this explanation only slightly less verbose than the typical RPG player’s manual.

First, get your hands on one of these: AvX Ballot. You can download the pdf, or you can pick up a copy in person at Comics & Collectibles. Don’t waste any time, True Believer! After you’ve finished reading Avengers vs. X-Men #0 (out this week!), submit that completed form to the store, or email a copy to mdigino@instituteofidletime.com. The deadline is 6:00 PM on Tuesday, April 3rd. Then, to celebrate the real event kick-off, come back to the shop starting at 8:00 for an AvX Launch Party! Pick up your first issue a day early! Pick up some variant covers! Pick a fight! Continue reading Avengers vs X-Men: The Idle Time Contest!

Saga – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Earlier this week the comics world lost a true legend with the passing of Jean Giraud. The French artist Giraud, better known by his pseudonym Moebius, will be remembered for his comics, artistic designs, and the profound impact he had on a generation of creators across virtually every medium. Personally, it was his Heavy Metal fantasy-infused science fiction that resonated with me. Airtight Garage, for example, defied the current turn-anything-good-into-a-movie-or-video-game trend. It was beautiful and trippy and begged to be held and read.

Today, a few days after news of Giraud’s death, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples debuted the first issue of Saga (Image Comics, 2.99), a science & sorcery space opera that, interestingly enough, begins with a birth.

Vaughan is best known in the comics world for his seminal series Y: The Last Man, which concluded in 2008, as well as Ex Machina, which wrapped in 2010. He may have garnered more fame (and certainly a bigger paycheck) by being one of the writers on TV’s Lost. Artist Fiona Staples is a bit of a newcomer, although her work on Wildstorm’s North 40 has been impressive. Together the two have taken a story that may not seem altogether original — an illicit love affair between members of warring sides in a galactic feud on the run with their newborn child — and spun it through an acid-trip fantasy world worthy of Moebius himself. Robots having sex, feline lie detectors, rocketship forest treasure maps, and heartbreaking firearms… all in the first forty-four pages. I feel like the last time Vaughan attempted anything remotely close to the fantasy or sci-fi genre he made lions talk in the lukewarm Pride of Baghdad. This first chapter to what looks to be a beautiful, expansive story, then, a grand departure from anything Vaughan has done for either Marvel or DC, comes as a wonderful surprise. Continue reading Saga – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Prograaaam! Getyer Program!

The Institute’s comics department spent a lot of time on the latest DC event. Maybe a little too much time, to be honest. Luckily, Marvel’s big blockbuster event is just a few weeks away. Grab your Cap shield or Cyke visor and RSVP for a launch party, True Believer, because Avengers vs. X-Men promises to be the best superhero summer slugfest since Civil War. You already weighed in on the standalone bouts via Ghostmann’s post a few weeks back, but now that we’re ticking closer, and the pieces are starting to fall into place, Marvel has gifted us with this free AvX Program Guide, featuring scorecards, background details, and previews. The physical book is available at any retailer already signed up for a launch party, or you can download the guide for free on digital readers like comiXology.

The last time I got this excited about a Marvel crossover spectacle, we hosted our “Who’s a Skrull” pool to coincide with Secret Invasion. That event was mediocre at best, and the Skrull reveals started losing steam by the third issue. Greg Smith won a pile of wagered nerdloot and Google Groups unceremoniously deleted our Invasion page. But now we’re in a better place, with renewed vigor for superfluous internet content, and we’ve got a much better title bout with which to coordinate a proper contest. Check out the program guide, and then check back here soon for the official Idle Time ballot.

But before that happens, and especially if you’re still shrugging your shoulders over that Skrull nonsense… here are the Top 5 reasons to get excited about AvX. Continue reading Prograaaam! Getyer Program!

Top 5 Worst Superhero Movies

Of all my incredulous “they’re making that into a movie” moments, one of the most confusing occurred in the lobby of 1000 Van Ness a few months ago when I stared, dumbstruck, at a poster for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Was Marvel trying to give the character a second chance on the big screen, a reboot or reinvention? Was this a Punisher-style replacement of a Dolph Lundgren with a (slightly less awful) Thomas Jane? No, Nic Cage is in this movie. It’s a goddam sequel to one of the worst comic book movies ever made.

This isn’t a terrible problem to have, really. There always have been and there always will be lousy movies. Sturgeon’s Law undergoes constant verification at every cineplex: ninety per cent of everything is crap. So it’s actually somewhat satisfying to know that comic book movies have become so popular over the last decade-plus, that the requisite 90% of bad cinema rolling out of Hollywood on an annual basis contains an ever-increasing amount of capes-n-tights crud. The law of averages simply guarantees more Scott Pilgrims and Dark Knights.

This list focuses exclusively on superhero films. Comic books get unfairly equated with the one genre most prevalent on spinner racks and in specialty stores, but let’s not forget all the other crap flicks that have been inspired by other types of funnybooks. The Spirit was more crime than costume, Dylan Dog more spooky than spandex. Jonah Hex is filed under weird western, Judge Dredd with the silly sci-fi. Cowboys and Aliens is… well, whatever the hell it is, it started out shitty, so any film based on it was bound to be shitty. [Reminds me of a Nick Swardson veterinarian joke: “My cat has diarrhea. What have you been feeding him? Diarrhea.”]

Continue reading Top 5 Worst Superhero Movies

The Best of DC’s New 52: #1, Action Comics

1. Action Comics – Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Rick Bryant

Grant Morrison is the Radiohead of comics creators. He reinvents without losing sight of the power of the medium, shaking lose from the expected while celebrating the sanctity of the established. Every time he dons his fiction suit and dives into the mythstream, he creates something worth experiencing. Sometimes challenging, oftentimes multilayered, but always engaging, these are constructs that grant repeat readers/listeners/devotees new rewards with every visit. He loves comics; and the passion for the story, character, and fabric of four-color futures comes through with every project and plotline. I’ll read everything he writes, and I’ll expect everything to be worth my time. The track record speaks for itself: beyond the pre-Vertigo fantasy that first brought Morrison to our attention, he has gone on to craft some of the greatest X-Men, Justice League, and Batman stories ever conceived. Handing over the reins for DC’s most important book, the comic that started it all, makes perfect sense. And the funny thing is, Grant Morrison has already written the great Superman story.

All-Star Superman, created with fellow Scotsman Frank Quitely, debuted in 2005. Over the course of its twelve issues, Superman transcends popular culture iconography and is situated properly in the pantheon of literary deities. The story opens with news that Superman, now more powerful than ever, has one year to live. The very source of his abilities, our solar system’s yellow sun, has over-saturated his cells. His final acts, delineated as twelve Herculean labors, give epic context to everything from his relationship with Lois, to the existence of Bizarro World, to the villainy of Lex Luthor. Free of the constraints of continuity and irrespective of whatever Crisis reset button had been recently pushed, All-Star Superman is the Superman story for all time, complete with loving tribute to the real, prophetic power of Joe Shuster. As Morrison himself explains in 2011’s Supergods, “Stories can break hearts or foment revolutions. Words can put electricity into our hearts or make our blood run cold. And the idea of Superman is every bit as real as the idea of God” (p. 415). Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #1, Action Comics

The Best of DC’s New 52: #2, Batman

#2 Batman – Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion

For a long time,  Saturday morning cartoons were my only inlet into the world of capes, cowls, and spandex.  Growing up, my comic-related knowledge relied on two volumes of colorized Eastman/Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stories, and the entire set of ’95 Fleer Ultra Spider-Man trading cards.* Instead of reading the books, I watched every single super-hero cartoon that made its way to the Saturday morning block. Actual comic books were neglected, their covers providing a simple sense of the kinds of dramas that were supposed to unfold between my action figures. I was a superficial comic fan, liking the content for what it looked like, never really thinking about it as literature.

When I inevitably made the cross-over from television to graphic novels, I was eighteen, a legal adult, and I made mine Marvel. After all, it was Marvel’s cartoon cast of costume-clad characters that first piqued my pubescent fan-boy interest. Every opinion I’ve developed about comics, every urge to spend $3.99 on 24-pages of glossy, illustrated wonder is rooted in those Saturday mornings inside Marvel’s animated universe. And to this day, I see Marvel heroes as old friends–drinking buddies from the juice-box era, here to help me escape from boredom into a world of imagination.

There is, of course, one exception–the one exception I think every Marvel fan concedes to: The Batman. When I think about DC comics, only three (maybe four) characters jump to mind, all of whom grace the top three spots on this list, and Batman is hands down the coolest. Before Marvel got their shit together to produce accurate cartoon versions of their popular book titles, Warner Bros. had Batman: The Animated Series, an extension of the successful launch of Tim Burton’s cinematic Bat-franchise. Batman: TAS was DC’s sole cartoon offering for a long while, but it’s dark tone and excellent animation put it levels above anything Marvel had at the time, including the awesome Jim Lee/Chris Claremont inspired X-Men cartoon. Even after a well-received Justice League show and several (pretty good) Batman incarnations, The Animated Series is still the best super hero cartoon show ever.** So, shortly after pledging to devote myself strictly to the goings-on of the Marvel U, I allowed myself one concession – Batman books – and I opened my world to Gotham City legends by Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Jeph Loeb. As one of DC’s signature characters, and arguably the most visible super hero in the game thanks to those fine Chris Nolan flicks, Batman carries the burden of many fans’ expectations. Die-hard readers critique lame Batman arcs with the same animosity as those against Julie Taymor Beatles musicals and inconsistencies in Star Wars prequels. So when DC relaunched all of their titles, believe when I say that Batman was one of the few that really mattered. Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #2, Batman