Is it that time of year already? For those of us no longer in school or working in education (and, living in San Francisco, perennially devoid of any true seasonal awareness), summer doesn’t start until Marvel officially rolls out its big annual event series. In 2018, unsurprisingly, the focus is on the company’s cosmic canon, with the Guardians, Avengers, and this new breed of Infinity Stones taking center stage. We have borne witness, in recent years, to the way Marvel Studios has dictated the central cast and plot points of these crossovers. Whether by editorial mandate, or merely a concerted effort to boost sales with cross-media awareness, the hyped-up books on the shelves vary depending on whichever Hollywood blockbuster is currently stuffing the company’s coffers.
That may be a cynical stance on the inception of these events, but it doesn’t necessarily take away from the quality of the stories themselves. Marvel crossover events in recent years have run the gamut between convoluted, uninspired slogs (Civil War II) and engaging surprise-filled epics (Infinity). How these stories will pan out is not always apparent going in, which is why we examine, with particular interest, the first volume of any given core title. And this week we get the first official chapter of Infinity Wars, courtesy of Gerry Duggan and Mike Deodato.
While most of the news out of Marvel HQ this week has been in regards to yet another fresh start for the publisher’s entire comic book line, the oversized one-shot introduction to its spring mini-event may be generating the most excitement. Infinity Countdown Prime, by Gerry Duggan and Mike Deodato, Jr., takes the obligatory company mandate to generate rack awareness for the next big Marvel film, namely, Avengers: Infinity War, and sets up a cosmic yarn with some genuinely surprising twists and a refreshing cast of characters.
Unexpected, that is, except for the Guardians of the Galaxy, of course. The Infinity Countdown series will supplant a regular Guardians title for the time being, and it makes perfect sense to focus in on this endearing collective of cosmic defenders. And in a refreshing switch from Bendis’s tired run, Gerry Duggan’s “All-new” crew has exhibited an effective balance of humor and pathos, reminding us of the team we were drawn to during the Abnett & Lanning era.
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.
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?
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.
No surprise this week, folks, as Marvel rolls out a high-profile relaunch of one of the most surprisingly successful properties in comics, just a few days before the box office premiere of the new movie. All New Guardians of the Galaxy #1, by Gerry Duggan and Aaron Kuder, couldn’t have come at a better time, either. Not because folks need some shelf eye-candy when they peruse the new release racks after leaving the theater, or during Free Comic Book Day this Saturday, but because the last few months of Guardians has been insufferably bad. Bendis is still one of the best funnybook scribes in the business, but it’s been pretty clear where his energies have been devoted. The way he phoned in Civil War II and, especially, the last year of Guardians, makes me hope he never gets assigned to another team book or major event again. Say no, once in a while, BMB. Leave the insane capes n’ tights output to the younger set; Jeff Lemire is still hungry.
But I digress. The new book is tantalizing eye candy for both casual readers as well as longtime fans hungry for a return to form. The fact that Kuder is providing the art is almost good enough, by itself, for me to sign on for a full arc. Marvel fans may not be too familiar with his work, but his Frank Quitely-inspired artistry had been on display on various DC projects over the last few years. He’s found a welcome home on a major Marvel book, especially among those of us who wished Arthur Adams could have been doing more than just Guardians covers. There’s a mix of startling intricacy in his linework, but it’s combined with a fluid dynamism that not only complements the humor of Guardians, but also fits wonderfully with Marvel’s trippy cosmic legacy, from Steve Ditko through Jim Starlin. Also, thank you for restoring Drax and Gamora to their pre-movie designs.
So much fun! This book has everything I want from a Spider-story, slice-of-life Peter Parker mayhem, wisecracking Spider-Man, dinosaurs! Oh yeah, it also has this excellent new Spider-team consisting of the Webhead, Mary Jane, and their daughter Annie. Great writing, great art, great all-around. I loved this book, and will absolutely be reading more. – IP
I’m glad they have the Earth-2 stuff still going (been around longer than the Ultimate U!) but I’ve never been into it, and this book isn’t changing my mind. – MMDG
First collection: Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows Vol. 1: Brawl in the Family (June)
Matthew Rosenberg and Ben Torres
Good, not great. Still a big fan of Rosenberg’s work, so, even though I’m not partial to the “other side of villainy” tales, I trust that this writer – especially with the titular character – can make it work. – MMDG
First collection: KingpinVol. 1: Born Against (September)
One of the most exciting things about this year’s Marvel NOW! initiative has been the rejuvenation of Marvel’s cosmic universe. Since the days of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, through the ascent of Jim Starlin and Chris Claremont, and even in recent work by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, there has been something uniquely special about the characters, exploits, and themes explored in the company’s spacefaring titles. The All-New All-Different relaunch last year dropped the ball in that regards. Most of the books were mediocre (Venom: Space Knight, Rocket & Groot), phoned-in (Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord), or downright lousy (Drax, Guardians of Infinity). The few saving graces were Slott & Allred’s Silver Surfer (which was a carryover from the pre-ANAD era) and Ewing & Rocafort’s Ultimates, whose NOW reinvention is spearheading the current resurgence.
Week 12 of Marvel NOW! adds two more books to a stellar recharge that already includes the aforementioned Ultimates², the fantastic Nova, and promising Thanos. While these other books offer tours of the Marvel cosmos, however, the first of this week’s space books features a Peter Quill who has been forced to leave the intergalactic escapades on pause. In Chip Zdarsky and Kris Anka’s Star-Lord #1, the Guardians’ leader, along with the rest of his team, is “Grounded,” following the events of Civil War II. And life on Earth, he soon discovers, is quickly complicated by evasive ex-girlfriends, unsympathetic ducks, and feisty dimensionally displaced Wolverines.
Charles Soule & James Asmus
I’m definitely disappointed that the Inhumans are basically the new X-Men. At least the Inhumans have pretty much the same back story now, which is still compelling, but I don’t know how much I’ll attach to the characters. Crystal seems to be heading in a different direction than she’s been before, and I like Gorgon’s complicated existence, but I hope the don’t run the wheelchair thing into the ground. Hopefully that Xavier comment punctuates it and he can have stories where people aren’t constantly pointing out that he’s semi-paralyzed. It’s a pretty-looking book; the elemental stuff in the riot scene is particularly cool. I will read more to see if the new direction these characters are going is as endearing as the X-books. – RF
First collection: All New Inhumans, Vol. 1: Global Outreach (May)
Gerry Duggan & Mike Hawthorne
I haven’t read much Deadpool; he always seemed very gimmicky, but I really enjoyed this book. It does seem weird that in order for current super heroes to be successful, they have to embrace capitalism and some form of bureaucracy, making them somewhat less super. But the concept of using Deadpool – a powered, ultraviolent gunman – to finance super-heroic operations is tasty irony. I’m a sucker for a good mystery plot, so I’ll definitely finish this first arc. – RF
First collection: Deadpool, Vol. 1: Millionaire with a Mouth (May)
Only three series debuting this week. Silk is the latest entry into Marvel’s Spider-verse. Venom: Space Knight showcases a very different Venom learning about his role as a cosmic agent in the third solo Guardians book. And one of Jack “King” Kirby’s wacky 70’s creations, Devil Dinosaur, gets re-inserted into the ANAD Marvel U in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
All New All Different premieres Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur #1 Silk #1 Venom: Space Knight #1
Six more All New All Different books hit shelves this week, bringing the total number of new series launches up to ten. Week 2 features two more books from the Spider-verse, and our first official full-length look at two of the Avengers teams.
Not only is today Jim Starlin’s 66th birthday, but this month also marks the 40th anniversary of the release of his game-changing Warlock #9, one of the books that cemented his legacy among some of comics’ all-time greatest creators, and made his name synonymous with Marvel’s cosmic universe.
“The Infinity Effect” became more than just a starting point for Adam Warlock’s adventures with his evil future self; it set the groundwork for arguably the grandest four-color space opera of all time. The saga of the Infinity Gems and the characters linked to those stones – including Thanos, Gamora, and, of course, Warlock – has spun into numerous universe-shattering events and limited series over the last few decades. And, more significantly for even the casual superhero fan, it has become a slowly building central plot point for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Seeing Thanos slide the Gauntlet onto his purple mitt in the final scene of Age of Ultron might have been the coolest big-screen teaser since seeing Thor’s hammer chilling in the desert.
So to celebrate Starlin’s birthday, and help prep the uninitiated for the coming Infinity blitz, here’s a Top 5 primer on his Marvel cosmic canon. Rather than rank these, they’re being presented chronologically, from the early 70’s right through the present day. Continue reading Jim Starlin and Marvel’s Cosmic Infinite→