Crypt of Shadows (2019)

One of the more interesting ways in which Marvel is celebrating their 80th anniversary this year is with a number of thematic one-shot anthologies, hearkening back to an era in which superheroes did not dominate the spinner racks. This week we get a new issue of War Is Hell, last published in 1975, featuring stories by the inimitable Howard Chaykin. More exciting (for me, anyway), is the release of a new Crypt of Shadows, written by the new king of four-color horror, Al Ewing, and featuring visceral art by a talented trio of terrifying illustrators.

For Marvel’s 80th Anniversary we’ve gone into the vaults to bring back some classic titles from the Marvel of yesteryear…but maybe some vaults should stay closed! Something terrifying has broken free and crawled forth from one of the most terrifying corners of Marvel-dom, the CRYPT OF SHADOWS! Prepare for terror! The shadows are deeper than you think, and horrors lurk within…

The original Crypt of Shadows was a 70’s-era Marvel book, released during the time when the relaxation of certain Comics Code Authority restrictions opened the floodgates for monsters and mystery. This is the same creepy renaissance that gave us such titles as Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, Son of Satan, and Ghost Rider. Despite its release among those character-focused books, many of whom are integral figures in the Marvel universe even today, Crypt owed more to the anthology titles of horror’s heyday, the pre-code 1950’s. Trendsetting EC paved the way with classic books like Weird Science, Tales from the Crypt, and The Vault of Horror while Marvel’s predecessor, Atlas Comics, tried to keep up by putting out titles like Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, and Journey into Mystery (these examples morphed into superhero titles in the 1960’s).

Ewing is without a question an aficionado of those glorious old anthology series, and his EC horror-inspired work on The Immortal Hulk has turned that book into one of the best comics on the stand, in any genre (it was also our pick for the best release in Marvel’s recent “Fresh Start”). This new Crypt one-shot is a framed narrative featuring a “John Somebody” whose tales of terror are woven into a twisted psychoanalysis session.

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Marvel Comics Presents (2019)

As part of the 80th anniversary celebration commemorating the release of 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, the House of Ideas has a number of interesting little one-shots and series premieres over the next few weeks, including the return of Marvel Comics Presents. The first volume of this biweekly anthology series had a fairly successful run through the 80’s and 90’s, combining serialized narratives with one-shot short stories. There was a brief attempt at reviving the format in 2007, but this run only lasted twelve issues. Perhaps Marvel lost sight of the marquee value of a certain ornery Canadian mutant. Returning to the formula that helped that first MCP run reach 175 issues, 2019’s version once again leads with a multi-part Wolverine tale.

Charles Soule and Paolo Siqueira give us the first part of a WWII-era Logan story involving Nazi occultists, sinister summonings, and the tried-and-true Wolverine-as-reluctant-mentor motif. “The Vigil” allows Soule to explore the character he’s run through the wringer in recent years, focusing on a lost story from Wolverine’s earlier years. It’s creepy and atmospheric, and could have easily been confused for a Hellboy story, but it’s worth reading because Siqueira’s art is ridiculously good.

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Captain Marvel by Thompson & Carnero

I want to love Captain Marvel.

Marvel wants me — and you, and your cousins, and your coworkers and your baristas and your unborn children — to love Captain Marvel. And we all probably will as soon as Brie Larson touches down in March. But I want to love Captain Marvel, the comic book. I want to be as excited about this series as I was when Kelly Sue DeConnick kicked down the “no gurls” clubhouse door and revolutionized not just the character, but the creative face of mainstream comics as well, almost five years ago. But somewhere between then and now (ironically coinciding with an editorial push to get more Carol on the shelves), I have had lukewarm reactions to her portrayal in the monthly books. Series arcs by Fazekas & Butters were okay; Margaret Stohl tried to make a mark, while Bendis missed his. Even her role on Al Ewing’s otherwise excellent Ultimates title made Carol seem distant and unsympathetic.

Thank god for Kelly Thompson.

In what is undoubtedly the most important series relaunch for Captain Marvel in years, timed as it is with her imminent big-screen debut, Thompson returns to the character she co-wrote during the DeConnick era, this time solely responsible for guiding Carol’s forthcoming adventures. In the afterword of this week’s Captain Marvel #1, Thompson discusses what this kind of pressure can do to a person.

I never imagined I’d get to return to her at a time when she’s poised to become more important than ever to more people than ever. In the midst of that dream, however, was the impending doom of what a huge responsibility it was. To get it right, to do Carol justice, to do her readers justice… well, it’s the kind of thing that can keep you up nights.

Sleepless nights aside, I can’t be happier with this relaunch. Besides, maybe she’ll need to embrace a little insomnia to keep up with all her books? Along with Thompson’s work as part of the X-Men writing team, which has given us the best batch of mutant stories in years, she has reminded me how much I love Rogue & Gambit in the pages of Mr. and Mrs. X, and revived a favorite concept in one of the best books of Marvel’s Fresh Start, the new run of West Coast Avengers.

With great power, Kelly…

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Champions by Zub & Cummings

The world still needs heroes! But… does it need so many of them? In the first issue of the new volume of Champions, writer Jim Zub and artist Steven Cummings double down on the expanded roster of teenage superheroes, immediately showcasing the breadth of characters in Marvel’s junior varsity ranks. The book opens with team leader Ms. Marvel coordinating the efforts of three different squads, each working to tackle a different crisis in a different part of the world. In addition to members of the original lineup, as envisioned by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos when the second volume of Champions debuted in 2016 (minus Kid Cyclops), Kamala’s charges include other next-gen heroes introduced to the team in recent months, like Ironheart and the new Wasp, as well as brand-new or nigh forgotten kid crime-fighters like Pinpoint and Bombshell.

That’s a lot of heroes.

I’m not complaining, although I can understand how an already marginally recognizable team might suffer further complication by including ever more unrecognizable faces. In fact, I’m glad Champions exists. The success of the X-Men in the 80’s and 90’s birthed a glut of mutants and as many team books as a spinner rack could hold. In the 00’s and 10’s the same was true for the Avengers brand; those guys even needed their own planet to base operations. But Champions, both in the fictional world and in the retail environment, exists because the world needs heroes. And good superhero teams. Sure, there might be a little bit of cashing in happening in the immediate future thanks to the presence of Miles Morales, but Marvel hadn’t been banking on Sony’s fantastic Into the Spider-Verse achievement when they first put this book out. This book was engendered because some very talented creators gave life to some very compelling characters, and a few other very talented creators decided they could pull these kids together for some very compelling stories. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for almost thirty issues now.

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X-Force by Brisson & Burnett

My tipping point as a comic book fan happened in 1986, when I was in middle school. As Reed Tucker puts it in Slugfest, his history of the fifty-year Marvel-DC competition, I am part of a wonderfully unique era, a generation who “didn’t need to age out of superheroes.” Kids like me lived through the Frank Miller and Alan Moore earthquake; the epicenter of a cultural maturation dramatically coincided with our own emotional maturation, like separate universes phasing together in an ideal harmonic convergence. I like to think of myself as manifesting my mutant power of cataloging and chronicling four-color fantasy on that fateful day when Brian led me to the back room of Best of Two Worlds and pulled out longboxes of Silver Surfer, Daredevil, and Warlock. He told me to read Love & Rockets “when I got to high school.”

Where am I going with this? By the early 90’s, despite still reading the shit out of just about every superhero book to hit the stands (my mutant power compelled me), I had very little interest in this antihero era of big guns, no feet, and everyone being, somehow, part ninja (I came around to the Psylocke reboot; her I liked). To this day, I am lukewarm towards Deadpool, Venom, Cable, and all of those similarly steroidal creations that immediately preceded, and helped “spawn,” Image Comics.

But, then there’s my brother. Seven years my junior, he grew up during that 90’s comics glut of cover gimmicks, clones, and continuity conundrums. And he admittedly has a fondness for some of those characters in a way that, maybe, I look back lovingly on goofball books like West Coast Avengers and Power Pack. There are books and characters that benefit from boosts of nostalgia; reinterpretations that we welcome openly, no matter the absurdity of their pre-enlightenment origins. Which brings us to X-Force.

I would have guessed that writer Ed Brisson falls into my brother’s camp (but reading this article on Marvel.com actually makes me think he slots somewhere between the two of us), as his work in comics over the last few years has trended towards the darker, edgier, and more antihero side of the superhero spectrum. I’ve enjoyed much of his work for Marvel, and wholeheartedly appreciate what he, alongside Kelly Thompson and Matthew Rosenberg, is doing to revive Uncanny X-Men. But I wasn’t that jazzed for a new X-Force book, particularly one that reassembles the original team (minus Feral, plus Deathlok).

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Comic Book Trivia: The Stan Lee Edition

It was standing room only last night at Mission: Comics as our humble little evening of trivia and frivolity paid tribute to Stan Lee. It was nice having license to embrace my Marvel bias; forcing in DC questions to create the appearance of an impartial quizmaster becomes wearisome.

Congratulations to Newer New New Mutants: The Holiday Edition for winning first place, reclaiming the title first earned back in February (and redeeming themselves after March’s infamous John Romita flop). The repeat champions narrowly edged rivals The Anagraminals and now those two powerhouse teams close the 2018 trivia season with two titles apiece.

super loot from Super7

But last last night everyone was a winner! Every team went home with prizes, from almost $150 in store merchandise, black-banded Stan Lee tribute comics (not distributed until midnight; we know the rules), and toys from our friends at Super7, including the new Planet of the Apes playset, figures, Mega Man M.U.S.C.L.E. blister packs, and a gift certificate to their 16th Street store.

Now for a chance to test your knowledge. Here’s the quiz in its entirety. Do it without Google, true believer! ‘Nuff said!

Question #1 – Easy Opener
Stan Lee served in the U.S. military as a member of the Army’s Signal Corps during which global conflict?

Question #2 – At the Movies
In which 1995 action movie does Denzel Washington dismiss an argument with the line, “Everyone who reads comic books knows that the Kirby Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer”?

Question #3 – On Stage
The music & lyrics for the broadway bomb Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark were composed by members of which Hall of Fame rock band?

Question #4 – Matching
Match the comic book character to the artist who co-created the character with Stan.

Question #5 – First Appearances
In which comic series did Iron Man make his first appearance?

Question #6 – Geography
Name two of the three real nations bordering the fictional country of Latveria. Continue reading Comic Book Trivia: The Stan Lee Edition

Miles Morales: Spider-Man

That’s a pretty bold proclamation, Marvel. And those are some awful big shoes to fill. Days before the release of the highly anticipated Sony/Marvel animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a new era of Miles hits the stands. This first issue of Miles Morales: Spider-Man, by Saladin Ahmed and Javier Garrón, serves as a pretty good landing spot for new fans won over by the movie. But following up the work of Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, who first created the character for Marvel’s Ultimate universe and have seen him through several volumes of titles since 2011, is no easy task.

Ahmed first turned heads in the comic book industry with his Black Bolt series. Partnered with Christian Ward, it was one of the single best superhero books on the stands in 2017. His workload has ramped up, both in independent projects like Abbott and on other Marvel titles like the Exiles relaunch. Over the course of several different books, Ahmed has showcased an ability to humanize overtly inhuman characters, while weaving a sharp sense of humor into engaging plotlines. Garrón garnered attention with wonderfully vibrant character design and a fluid art style, most recently in Mark Waid’s Ant-Man & The Wasp mini-series.

Yeah, but is it Bendis & Pichelli?

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LaGuardia

Stories of extraterrestrial emigration to our beautiful blue planet are nothing new, particularly in recent years when the question of alien identity has become such a hot-button issue. Comics like Port of Earth and Border Town address the varying degrees of xenophobia that continue to simmer forth, putting our preservation and admiration of diversity ever more on the defensive.

The first issue of LaGuardia, by Nnedi Okorafor with art by Tana Ford and James Devlinimmediately sets itself apart from any sci-fi allegories of immigration. In this near-future world, Nigeria was the site of extraterrestrial first contact, and Lagos now operates the most important interstellar airport on the planet. The country, furthermore, has benefited greatly from its early communion with otherworldly species, and advancements in science and technology are ever-present.

But controversy is inescapable, and secessionists recalling the Nigerian Civil War amass, violently opposed to the influx of alien races and influence. Nigerian-American physician Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka arrives in New York City via LaGuardia, now the only interplanetary port in North America, pregnant and intent on smuggling in a mysterious little plant-based alien lifeform who adopts the rather loaded appellation of Letme Live.

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Stan Lee Tribute Night

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, we hope you’ll be able to join us on Tuesday, December 18th for a special Stan Lee Tribute and Trivia Night. Idle Time will be hosting another evening of funnybook quiz questions (many of which are barely comic book-adjacent; don’t be intimidated) at Mission: Comics and Art in the City.

Entry is free, and there will be lots of prizes, including store gift certificates, Stan Lee memorial comics, and surprises from our friends at Super7!

Grab some pals, a mustache & aviator shades, a six-pack of whatever we’re drinking, and let’s hang out. Continue reading Stan Lee Tribute Night

Stan Lee and the Silver Surfer

Last week I wrote about the affect that one of Stan Lee’s most iconic co-creations had on me as a young comic book fan.

This week I wanted to focus instead on a character that impacted me greatly in my teenage years and into adulthood. Although not technically a Stan Lee creation (and in fact the character’s provenance was the source of some controversy), the story of the Silver Surfer is undeniably associated with Stan and is an important part of the writer’s legacy. In tribute, here’s a look at the comic book that brought me closer to Stan Lee’s worldview as seen through the eyes of the lonely sentinel of the spaceways, and gave me a better appreciation of the man who helped make Marvel Comics what it is today.

Silver Surfer

The Silver Surfer #1 (1988)
By eighth grade, I was well and truly entrenched in the Marvel universe, but apart from random issues of 70’s Defenders and summarized tales in Marvel Saga, I didn’t know much about the Silver Surfer until the debut of Steve Englehart’s series  and the release of Joe Satriani’s Surfing with the Alien. Both of those artifacts were gateway drugs into the immersive world of Marvel’s galactic space opera, and I spent many of my high school years moving backwards and forwards into the Jim Starlin and Ron Lim eras, digging on Warlock, Eternity, and all the trippy Infinity Watching and cosmic handholding.

But in 1988, another Silver Surfer hit the stands under Marvel’s Epic imprint, and it felt important enough that, despite its incongruities and lack of adherence to all-important continuity, I was compelled to add it to my weekly pull. It was the first of the two-part “Parable” story by Stan Lee and French artist Moebius.

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