Browsing in Comics

The biggest news story about comics last week was that Disney would be moving the license to produce Star Wars comic books from Dark Horse, the license holder for over 22 years, to Marvel Comics, which is part of the Disney Empire. This was certainly big news but it was something we had all expected since Disney bought Lucasfilm.

What was more surprising and for me more exciting was that Jim Starlin will be producing new Marvel comics featuring his creations. Jim Starlin is one of my favorite creators, his work isn’t always perfect but it’s interesting and usually inventive. He’s a creator that Marvel owes a debt they can/will never be able to repay (with Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Steve Ditko, Chris Claremont, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Bill Mantlo…).

What was particularly fun about this story was that it kept developing throughout the week.

On Monday, Marvel Comics selected Newsarama to announce that in 2014 they would be releasing a new 100 page original graphic novel writen and drawn by Jim Starlin featuring his creations Thanos and Drax and a character, my favorite, who he redefined Adam Warlock.

Later that day, Newsarama published an interview with Starlin where he mentioned that “Thanos: The Infinity Revelation” was just one of three interconnected projects he was doing for Marvel.

On Friday, Comic Book Resources published its own interview with Starlin and he specified that the three projects would all star Thanos.

That same day, Heidi MacDonald published Starlin’s response to her Annual Year End Survey where Starlin named the remaining projects. The two remaining projects, yet to be officially announced, are a four-issue story arc on “Savage Hulk” (no such title currently exists) that he will write and pencil and a 30-page story for a “Thanos Annual” that he will write.

There’s still no announcement as to when we can expect to see these comic books but the Guardians of the Galaxy movie (featuring many of Starlin’s characters and concepts) opens August 1st, so I expect these to come out before then. I also expect that Marvel will announce it’s April solicitations next week, so I expect the Infinity Revelation will be included in those and available in April.

The Savage Hulk, if that title is correct, is probably a new series like the Avenging Spider-Man and Savage Wolverine. Two titles with rotating creators telling stories that may or may not be in continuity. Starlin is a great creator to launch the title with since I’m already excited for it.

70 minutes into Iron Man Three I looked at my watch and thought, “Oh god, there’s another hour of this.”

I hated this movie. I was hoping for fun adventure like the preceding movies but this one was different, it had far too many problems that made it impossible to like. These problems fall into three main categories: 1) problems adapting the Iron Man mythos into film, 2) problems fitting into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and 3) problems as a movie.

Problems of the first type don’t bother me as much as you might think. I’m not an Iron Man fan and don’t know the finer details of the source material very well. I wasn’t even able to get a copy of Extremis from the SFPL until this week. So I’m willing to accept changes and adaptations additions and subtractions provided it’s an improvement.

The second set of problems are far worse though. Because while none of the preceding movies have required us to have a base knowledge of the comics, they reward and rely on our knowledge of the previous films. A key aspect of The Avengers was that the characters had all been established in previous films, we only needed to see them interact. Iron Man the first was able to stand alone but ended with a hint of “a bigger universe.” Iron Man 2 went out of its way to set up stuff for Thor and Captain America and make references to Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk but this movie tries to stand alone to it’s detriment.

And the third set of problems are what kill it for me. There are too many inconsistencies, plot holes, ill conceived conversations, and more to keep me engaged in what I should be engaged in. I am very willing to suspend disbelief for a movie but it has to be earned. A Suspension of disbelief means “you get the small stuff right, I won’t ask the big questions.” That means I have no problem with Iron Man armor or any other superscience as long as you’re consistent with how it works. turn off your brain and enjoy the action. I’m fine with that, I saw GI Joe 2 and I’ll be seeing Fast & Furious 6 in a few weeks, but I didn’t need to do that for the last Iron Man movies, I shouldn’t have to do it for this one.

Here are the problems (and detailed spoilers) that have stuck with me long after the movie ended:
continue reading "The Awful Iron Man 3"

Brian Michael Bendis is one of the biggest comic book writers there is. I first started reading his comics in 2000 when he started doing work for Marvel Comics. I read his Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil and Powers. He’d been making comics on his own and through Image for years but when I found his David Mamet-inspired work it was exciting. Eventually I grew tired of breezy comics populated with indistinct characters talking around tables and engaging in little or vague action. While I wasn’t picking up his comics they continued to top the sales charts thanks to his dedicated fan base. Bendis is now leaving the Avengers franchise he’s helmed for eight years to launch a third volume of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Bendis’ iteration will follow up on the critically acclaimed second volume made of Marvel’s formerly abandoned cosmic heroes which is due for a summer blockbuster in theaters 2014. As a kid I read the odd issue of the original title and was a loyal reader of the second volume. I like the characters and think there is a lot of potential for great storytelling but sadly I don’t expect Bendis to capitalize on that.

A few weeks ago he did a promotional interview with his employer in order to sell their product where he said,

“My thought as a writer is that space in between planets is where the good stuff happens; this is where they have time to interact with each other. Think about Star Wars; the best scene in Star Wars is when they’re going from one planet to the other and Obi Wan is trying to teach Luke about the Force. And the Wookie is playing chess with the robots. That’s the good stuff, that’s where you get to know everybody. That’s what space means to me.”

The first problem with that statement is the fallacy of stating his opinion as a fact. I doubt many people would consider that the best scene in the movie. I would say the Death Star battle, or the rescue of Princess Leia, or the Cantina scene, or entering Mos Eisley, or “that’s no moon,” or the opening scene. The movie is full of memorable moments and the scene he’s mentioning is one of those, but it’s hardly the one people turn the movie on to see.

The real problem with his statement is that his reasoning doesn’t hold up because, that isn’t when we got to know the characters. The scene he’s describing is the fortieth scene in the movie. By that point we’ve spent time with characters and they’ve distinguished themselves in our minds through their actions. We’ve seen that Luke is an adventurous kid willing to try new things despite anyone trying to discourage him when he set out after R2-D2. We’ve seen that R2-D2 takes risks and that C-3PO will be trying to hold him back when they escaped the Rebel ship and stumbled around in the desert. We’ve seen that Obi-Wan is in tune with something larger than the others when he scared off Sand People and tricked Stormtroopers. We’ve seen that Han is a man who survives by his wits and willingness to fight when he killed the assassin that came to collect him.

No matter how many jokes Han cracks around a chessboard, we’ll never learn more about him than we did when he shot Greedo in the middle of their conversation. But Bendis thinks the best way to illuminate character is to have them sit around a table. He’s been given a character that allows him to send his characters anywhere in the vast Marvel Comics Universe but he’s most excited about having his cast sit around a table and talk. That self imposed limitation is why I stopped reading Brian Michael Bendis’ comics years ago and why I won’t be revising that decision anytime soon.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their world were created by Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman in May 1984. They were 30 & 22 years old respectively when their empire began. Eventually age and creative difference settled in and they had a falling out. Eastman sold his half to Laird beginning in 2000 (with the deal completed in 2008). Laird continued to run the businesses until 2009 when he sold 100% control to Nickelodeon. This was 25 years since the first comic came out and at that point the comics stopped production, the latest cartoon had already run its course and ended in 2009, the last movie was in 2007 and outside of anniversary figures the toy line was ended.

Until last year there was a dry period with no new Turtles content as Nickelodeon developed their plans. Those began with a line of new comics from IDW beginning last August (with Eastman involved), a rollercoaster at the Mall of America opened on March 17, a new cartoon and toy line will start in the fall, and there will be a movie for Christmas 2013.

It’s nice to see new content but I’m not sure if it’s content I want. I know they don’t need to cater to me but I also know I don’t need to buy what they’re selling. I have the comics, movies, toys and video games from my childhood and still enjoy them. It’s on Nickelodeon to produce something worth my present attention.

The comics are nice but aren’t telling new stories, they’re more focused on redoing what’s come before. I completely understand the need to market to the child who replaced me rather than retain the man I’ve become. I admire their attempt to combine the best aspects of the past continuity into one thread. As they braid these histories together they have introduced new characters (Old Hob) and complications (reincarnation, Young Casey Jones) that I find cheapen the story rather than build on it. I’ll give the book a few more issues to develop into something I want.

The Turtles are a very simple concept with distinct but broad characters who can be easily explained and adapted so it is unnecessary to spend time discussing their origins when there are new adventures waiting. I’ve written before that these characters taught me about continuity at a young age. No matter how I was following Raphael he would be rushing into a fight before thinking it through but the stakes would be different if he was in a black and white comic, a movie, a children’s cartoon or an Archie comic.

This will be true even as Nickelodeon resumes the empire. From its inception the branches will be different: this fall’s cartoon will be less “adult” than the comics and the movie from Michael Bay’s company with aliens will be different than all the others.

The movie is the most controversial and has generated waves of outcry but I can’t find it in me to care. At this point I know that I don’t ever want to see a Michael Bay directed or produced movie again because I won’t enjoy it. And I don’t need to see the movie because it has the Turtles in it. I have the original movies on my shelf right now.

In fact I have enough old movies that I want to watch for a first, second or twelfth time that I don’t need to see everything that is shoved into movie theaters week in and week out. I know that there are classic comics I haven’t read that I’d find more rewarding than 99% of the stuff on each week’s new releases rack. I’m going to keep focusing on the stuff I want rather than what’s put in front of me.

Buying comics for 21 years has taken me to lots of stores in lots of cities but I got my start back home in Quincy, California.

continue reading "21 Years of Buying Comics: Where I’ve gone"

No one remembers what made me pick up my first comic from the rack and ask someone to buy it for me. But my collection might have a clue: the first comics I got had everything I already loved as a seven year old.

Someone had given me a copy of “Batman & Other DC Classics” after the previous summer’s movie and I read it between repeat viewings of the film and VHS. I liked the sampler but the first comic I picked up on my own was Robocop #2 from Marvel in February of 1990.

Two months later I came back and got #4, but in May I changed up and got other things I liked such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Ghostbusters and somewhere I picked up a free Spider-Man about reading (probably the county fair or the library). In June I got another Turtles and Transformers, but July was only a Turtles, I was hooked at this point. August came and I got both Turtles and Transformers. I missed September and then October 1990 when I turned eight then in November got comics again and haven’t stopped.

continue reading "21 Years of Buying Comics: My First Year"

October 1990 was the last month I didn’t buy a comic book.

I turned eight years old that month and celebrated by having a picnic in Pioneer Park with my parents and the friends in our small town of Quincy, CA.

This weekend I turned 29 and celebrated with my wife, friends and hundreds of thousands of strangers during a free music festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

And today I bought comics for my 252nd consecutive month. In these 21 years my life, the world, and comics have changed in innumerable ways but I keep coming back. This milestone seems like a good opportunity to look back at what comics I bought in my first and twenty-first years, why I bought them, and how and were I get them.

Next week I’ll look at the comics that came home with me between November 1990 and October 1991. The week after I’ll run through as many comic shops as I can remember going to. To wrap up the month I’ll look at what came out this year that I had to own. Then before it’s all over, I’ll see what sense I can make of my relationship with comics.

  1. Adam Warlock – aka “Him”
  2. Dick Grayson – aka “Robin,” “Nightwing,” “Batman”
  3. Warren Worthington III – aka “Angel,” “Death,” “Archangel”
  4. Peter Parker – aka “Spider-Man”
  5. Bruce Wayne – aka “Batman”
  1. The Velvet Underground
  2. Swingers
  3. Mad Men
  4. XKCD
  5. Better Off Ted
  1. Bip
  2. Billy the Bunny
  3. Atlantis
  4. A Hit for Bobby
  5. Grammar Wizard
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