Marvel Comics
 

ICYMI–Quarterbin 33: Goodwin, Infantino, and Star Wars, Oh My

Image2In Case You Missed It, as anyone who knows me can attest, I am a huge fan of old things—old music, old stories, old whiskey.

AHEM.

Imagine my glee in finding a classic Star Wars Marvel comic from 1979 made by two giants—Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino! Follow me to Gaming Rebellion as I ask the question “Whatever Happened to Jabba the Hutt?”

Hello, Internet! To any of you who may have followed my column over at Ideal Comics, it is no surprise that I have a lot of comics. A lot. Now, I wouldn’t say I have an excessive amount or anything, but I do own several file cabinets whose only purpose is to hold comics–five of them, in fact.

Time was that I had all my books bagged and boarded and sorted by title and publication date; and all the good stuff Gen-X-nerds were supposed to do. In my mid-20’s I got just a little bit prosperous, and signed up for a comic subscription service, then I got busy and then I got poor again; and before you could say “limited edition, foil-embossed cover” I had a problem.

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Quarterbin Follies #31: Spider-Man says “Happy St Andrew’s Day!”

Image1Hello and welcome to a special St Andrew’s Day edition of Quarterbin Follies! What is St. Andrew’s Day, you ask? Well, it is the feast day in honor of St Andrew, patron saint of the nation of Scotland, and so, I thought I would take this opportunity to look into Charles Vess‘s Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth. But what does this have to do with St Andrew? Not much, but read on!

Charles Vess, you might recognize, is an artist and painter, and frequent collaborator with Neil Gaiman. In fact, it was Vess‘s gorgeous paintings that adorn the graphic version of Stardust (sadly, I only have the picture-less mass-market paperback that was released the year before the film hit theaters, but I digress).

As recounted by Vess himself in the Afterword, Vess suffered a very similar affliction as many of us Yankees—a fascination with the mysterious Highlands of Scotland. Yes, there are many of us under Old Glory’s stripes and starry field that harbor a romance and longing for those foggy and forbidding slopes, and it was in 1983 that Vess took his first trip across the pond. Years went on and Vess found a way to combine his love of the land and people of Scotland with his job as a comics and fantasy illustrator.

In 1990, Vess released Spirits, having written, painted, and even lettered it, and it was a labor of love. The book was published by Marvel as a full glossy, hardcover book, complete with a fancy dust jacket and a $18.95 price tag. Now you might be asking why I am reviewing a $20 comic in a column called “Quarterbin Follies.” Well, I just have to say, “Thanks, Goodwill!” The other more pressing question is what is Spider-Man doing in Scotland?

Image4This is in fact the question posited by the fancy dust jacket. After all, there may not be a comic character more in tune with and tied into New York City than Spider-Man. The book even begins with a beautiful full page in inks and watercolors showcasing ol’ Spidey enraptured with his home-turf. But before long we see our hero and his bride flying across the sea. Mary Jane (and, yes, I am going to ignore “One More Day,” thanks for asking) is the sole inheritor of a bit of farmland in the Highland town of Lochalsh. Mrs. Mary MacLeod left the cottage and bit of acreage to MJ in hopes that is would not be sold off, a fate she had lamented in the letter that accompanied the will.

Before long, Pete and MJ arrive in the scenic and peaceful village; and it isn’t more than two pages before Peter begins complaining that the Highlands are just not New York. I mean, peace and quiet are nice, but what about the noise and danger?! The couple spend a couple of days puttering about the village and in the MacLeod cottage before an evening at the Pub turns very interesting. In over-hearing the town gossip, Peter is surprised to hear tales of fairies and specters across the moors that have more and more folks talking about selling out to a faceless real estate company intent on buying all the land round about the loch and the recently abandoned castle of Duncraig.

You see, this whole village and territory has been presided over for six generations by the scions and Lairds Munro, but of late, disease and misfortune have claimed all but three of the once great house: the Laird Hugh, his nephew Angus Munro and the Hugh’s heir and grandson young Hugh. Several of the townsfolk and the Laird himself attest to seeing the young one snatched away by fairies, just like in some old legend. Not long after, ghosts and faeries sent old Hugh packing to a flat in town, and now he is a sad, broken shell of his former self.

All this sends Peter’s skeptic and curious mind a-whirling, and after his own personal encounter with the spectral nasties, Spider-Man is enlisted by a local weird hag (and I mean that in a literary sense) called Dark Mairi of the Shore to save the land from this threat, which she is adamant has nothing to do with ghost or the Fair Folk below the hills.

Image5In the end, city-boy Parker finds himself at the crossroads of pseudo-science and magic far-far away from his beloved bright lights; and in a modern legend as at home next door to Scottish tales of the Kelpie or of Tam Lin as it is in the middle of Marvel‘s 616 Universe. I previously made mention of Peter’s obvious discomfort in the setting of Highland Scotland, away from his city and from his scientific reasoning. Nevertheless, on the pages of Spirits this complaining does not set the tone for the piece. Rather, the graphic novel as a whole serves as Vess‘s love letter to the Highlands—Peter’s discontent juxtaposing the surrounding and enthralling mystery of timeless places. It was also a treat to see MJ given a role in the victory in a way that honors her own fighter’s spirit and the supportive love she holds for her husband.

These feats Vess completes with a nuanced grace, with the ease of a studied storyteller, and with stunning visuals to make the heart weep. My one complaint with the story is that the denouement is certainly too brief, and too tidily wraps up the handful of loose ends left behind in the climax. Nevertheless, this was a joy to read and to review; and well worth checking out at (almost) any opportunity.

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The Savagery of Red Wolf

anadm (1)I want to talk about representation. I know what you’re saying: Chris, you’ve already written two columns on representation. Isn’t that enough? Why do you hate this horse so much that you gotta just keep beating it? Well, because it’s not enough, that’s why. And when you are fighting nearly a century of comic books that have featured one group primarily (white males), followed by the diminishing othering of marginalized groups through gross stereotypes, two columns isn’t even the bare minimum. It’s not even enough to scratch the surface. So, I want to talk about representation, but I want to talk specifically about how not to do it.

Continue reading

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The Importance of Bobby Drake

xmen40

I don’t normally start out my column with a spoiler alert, but since the nature of today’s column is from this week’s issue of New X-Men, I thought I would state one here, especially if you’ve lived under a rock and haven’t been on like Facebook or anything. Of course, now, I’m just typing enough text so that I know the little textual preview on Facebook won’t spoil the first official line of the column, which is coming…

Now.

Continue reading

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Down the Wire (Volume 1)

The-WireWhen I sat down to do my column this week, I was a bit torn. See, normally, I spend the better part of two or three days just trying to find something to write about. This week, though, I was struck with a bunch of different topics, all of which I thought would be super fun to discuss, and about each of which I thought I would have more than enough to say. How do you choose? I briefly considered going to the race track and randomly assigning each column topic to a separate horse and just let the racing gods decide my fate. Ultimately, though, I determined that was a less than ideal road, since horses scare me, as do people who frequent race tracks in the middle of the week, or on the weekends for that matter.

Instead, I decided I would combine my topics into one giant, super, Voltron-like column, in which I would simply move from one topic to another, laying out some brief and quick responses on a variety of issues. So, without further ado, let’s begin our journey down the wire in the magical land of television, a vast wasteland, as Newton Minnow once called it. Continue reading

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Quarterbin Follies #18: The Red, White, and the Deep Blue Sea!

Cap75-1Now, I don’t want to get to maudlin or sappy, but if there are two things I love, they are history and America. And my wife. And food. And – well, let’s just say I have a lot of love and leave it at that. But, yeah, I love history and America – the good, bad, and ugly of both. And when those two come together with comics, Hootnanny, yer speaking my language! And when it comes to writing speculative history, there is nobody – and i mean nobody – better than the original fanboy himself, Roy Thomas.

Born in 1940, the title “original” might be a bit of hyperbole, but Thomas, an avid comic reader in his childhood, grew from the fandom of the Alter Ego fanzine to a staff editor position at Marvel Comics after a dinner with Stan “the Man” Lee! Excelsior!

Ahem. Continue reading

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Digital Comics: Revisiting the "Future"

first-internetI love digital comics. Anyone who knows me knows that’s no secret. Truthfully, I am the perfect customer for digital comics. Unlike my partner-in-crime, I am not a comic book collector. I don’t buy comics and bag them and store them in boxes, in dark closets, never to read again. I don’t keep a spreadsheet of issues I own, cross-referenced by title, characters, and creators. I don’t have a pull list, and I don’t anxiously await Wednesdays. I read comics solely for the stories, and when I’m done with the stories, the comics often go into a stack in my closet, where I sometimes pull them out again months down the road and reread them, gaining new perspectives on the stories within. While I have great memories of brick and mortar stores, right now, in my life, at the moment, I am a horrible comic shop customer.

But, digital comics. Digital comics are made for me. They always have been. Four years ago, I wrote an entire essay on a different site arguing in favor of what I perceived to be the future of comic books: digital comics. In that piece, I wrote about the access that digital comics could offer, and the potential for savings for the consumer. I painted digital comics as a perfect utopia, the wonderful and glorious future we are destined for. You can read the whole piece over here. I’m not super pleased with it. I was young and shortsighted and not very good. Continue reading

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Quarterbin Follies #16: Wildstorm-Tossed (Part 1)

Gen13-1In the beginning there was MARVEL. Well, to be more accurate, there were these guys that worked for Marvel. These guys were rock stars with pencil and pen. And as rock stars are prone, they wanted to play by their own rules. And, with vigor, and with flourish worthy of Steve Martin at his ‘Jerk’iest, these fellows struck off to start their own, better universe. Or should I say “Universes.”

Well, let’s be honest here, people; this is exactly where my expertise stops. You see, while Liefeld, Silvestri, Lee and all were inventing Image, I didn’t care. You couldn’t have paid me to care. My pubescent self was a DC devotee all the way, being a huge Batman fan and all. At first, I couldn’t even be bothered by Marvel. I mean, what were the chances that Batman was going to run into Spider-Man, I mean, really? Eventually, I came around on Marvel, being introduced to Daredevil by one, Joel Deitz (thanks, wherever you are, man), but still, I never got into Image.

So, a few weeks ago, I sat down with Barry Tetz and a bottle of Scotch to discuss Image and all that it meant to him. You see, in addition to being my buddy and business associate, Barry was a devout Image Comics fan, cutting his comic teeth on their grim-n-gritty fodder. And, it was into that memory and experience I looked, to filter out many of the questions that had sprung from my own reading of the three books I will be addressing in this series.

When Image got its start, you see, there was not a single guiding force – no sole creative impulse to direct the animus that the founders brought together. Rather, there were several lampposts, each beaming from the mind of one of the rock stars, and each prepared to illuminate a separate if parallel path. Around and about these lights were formed the various Image studios: Silvestri’s Top Cow, Todd McFarlane Productions, or Jim Lee’s Wildstorm among them (yeah, there were six studios in the beginning, but just how long do you want this to be?).

Image has had nothing, if not a bizarre and bent path, continuity-wise. Having six North Star’s will do that. This was, of course, exasperated by the various splittings and pairings that inevitably accompanied comings and goings of creators and studios. And, it is this factor that plays into the reason I am looking at three books over the next few weeks, as I meander upon my point to focus upon WildStorm and upon Gen13.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not not take a paragraph to explain a little about what, and who, I have learned Gen13 was. Between the intrepid Mr. Tetz and Wikipedia, I learned that the super teens were the children of the historic Cold War era super-spy-group, Team 7. Now, that is an interesting tidbit for me, because “legacy” is one of my favourite themes in literature and comics. It is a part of why I love Roy Thomas and the Justice Society of America. Anyroad, the Gen13 kids lived in a world where super-humans had been extant for centuries, and where the culture and religion of all people had been influenced by various interferences by various warring aliens. To manage all this meta-human and trans-planetary action, the US began IO, an intelligence agency focused on keeping track of the metas. It is from these threats that the kids of Gen13 find themselves trained by John Lynch, a friend of all their fathers, and a former member of Team 7. But, I knew none of that in 1997.

Gen13-2By that time, I’d developed an interest in Marvel and had discovered Generation X, which I would casually follow on the spinner-rack, though I was still using my money to follow Batman and Nightwing. I’d seen the Gen13 kids in Wizard Magazine, and seeing the Gen13*Generation X: Generation Gap on the shelves of our local collectibles shop, I figured $1.95 was worth the risk. Maybe I’d get a great introduction to this new world of WildStorm and Image. I was wrong.

Written by Brandon Choi with art by Art Adams and Alex Gardner, Generation Gap is full of ham-fisted dialogue and fraught with the frustrating assumption that the reader already knows the characters – what they can do, and who they are. This is especially true of the Gen13 kids. Choi does spend some time introducing the Marvel half, the first part of the tale beginning while Banshee is a rookie INTERPOL agent hiding his mutant powers, and while Lynch is a operative for International Operations (more on them later). Nevertheless, the characters mainly come through as cyphers. The art is spot-on in that late-’90’s-glossy-paper sort of way, and Choi was able to use villains from both universes, but the story also suffers from “over-villainy,” much like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. Over all, it kind of left me with a “What just happened?” sort of feeling.

This comic was my only real exposure to Image and WildStorm for years, and it failed to leave any positive impact on me. Over the course of time, WildStorm was bought by DC Comics, and remained there for a spell. We will talk more about that next week, I suppose, but for now, like Choi, I must end this with perhaps too much abruptness.

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Quarterbin Follies #15: Wildstorm-Tossed (Part 1)

Gen13-1In the beginning there was MARVEL. Well, to be more accurate, there were these guys that worked for Marvel. These guys were rock stars with pencil and pen. And as rock stars are prone, they wanted to play by their own rules. And, with vigor, and with flourish worthy of Steve Martin at his ‘Jerk’iest, these fellows struck off to start their own, better universe. Or should I say “Universes.”

Well, let’s be honest here, people; this is exactly where my expertise stops. You see, while Liefeld, Silvestri, Lee and all were inventing Image, I didn’t care. You couldn’t have paid me to care. My pubescent self was a DC devotee all the way, being a huge Batman fan and all. At first, I couldn’t be bothered by Marvel. I mean, what were the chances that Batman was going to run into Spider-Man, I mean, really? Eventually, I came around on Marvel, being introduced to Daredevil by one, Joel Deitz (thanks, wherever you are, man), but still, I never got into Image.

So, a few weeks ago, I sat down with Barry Tetz and a bottle of Scotch to discuss Image and all that it meant to him. You see, in addition to being my buddy and business associate, Barry was a devout Image Comics fan, cutting his comic teeth on their grim-n-gritty fodder. And, it was into that memory and experience I looked, to filter out many of the questions that had sprung from my own reading of the three books I will be addressing in this series.

When Image got its start, you see, there was not a single guiding force – no sole creative impulse to direct the animus that the founders brought together. Rather, there were several lampposts, each beaming from the mind of one of the rock stars, and each prepared to illuminate a separate if parallel path. Around and about these lights were formed the various Image studios: Silvestri’s Top Cow, Todd McFarlane Productions, or Jim Lee’s Wildstorm among them (yeah, there were six studios in the beginning, but just how long do you want this to be?).

Image has had nothing, if not a bizarre and bent path, continuity-wise. Having six North Star’s will do that. This was, of course, exasperated by the various splittings and pairings that inevitably accompanied comings and goings of creators and studios. And, it is this factor that plays into the reason I am looking at three books over the next few weeks, as I meander upon my point to focus upon WildStorm and upon Gen13.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not not take a paragraph to explain a little about what, and who, I have learned Gen13 was. Between the intrepid Mr. Tetz and Wikipedia, I learned that the super teens were the children of the historic Cold War era super-spy-group, Team 7. Now, that is an interesting tidbit for me, because “legacy” is one of my favourite themes in literature and comics. It is a part of why I love Roy Thomas and the Justice Society of America. Anyroad, the Gen13 kids lived in a world where super-humans had been extant for centuries, and where the culture and religion of all people had been influenced by various interferences by various warring aliens. To manage all this meta-human and trans-planetary action, the US began IO, an intelligence agency focused on keeping track of the metas. It is from these threats that the kids of Gen13 find themselves trained by John Lynch, a friend of all their fathers, and a former member of Team 7. But, I knew none of that in 1997.

Gen13-2By that time, I’d developed an interest in Marvel and had discovered Generation X, which I would casually follow on the spinner-rack, though I was still using my money to follow Batman and Nightwing. I’d seen the Gen13 kids in Wizard Magazine, and seeing the Gen13*Generation X: Generation Gap on the shelves of our local collectibles shop, I figured $1.95 was worth the risk. Maybe I’d get a great introduction to this new world of WildStorm and Image. I was wrong.

Written by Brandon Choi with art by Art Adams and Alex Gardner, Generation Gap is full of ham-fisted dialogue and fraught with the frustrating assumption that the reader already knows the characters – what they can do, and who they are. This is especially true of the Gen13 kids. Choi does spend some time introducing the Marvel half, the first part of the tale beginning while Banshee is a rookie INTERPOL agent hiding his mutant powers, and while Lynch is a operative for International Operations (more on them later). Nevertheless, the characters mainly come through as cyphers. The art is really spot on, and Choi was able to use villains from both universes, but the story also suffers from “over-villainy,” much like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. Over all, it kind of left me with a “What just happened?” sort of feeling.

This comic was my only real exposure to Image and WildStorm for years, and it failed to leave any positive impact on me. Over the course of time, WildStorm was bought by DC Comics, and remained there for a spell. We will talk more about that next week, I suppose, but for now, like Choi, I must end this with perhaps too much abruptness.

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Quarterbin Follies #15: The View from the Cheap Seats

The_Marvel_UniverseWell, I suppose it was only a matter of time. Inevitable, really.

616 is no more. El finito. Deep Six’d. Garroted.

Really, this is sort of a big deal, I suppose. So big, that Chris asked me to put my normal Quarterbin Follies column on hold (tune in next week for some thoughts on Gen13!) and give some thoughts on the END from the perspective of a continuity obsessed uber-nerd. Sure, it seems like the kind of thing to rankle the crochetey hackles of a middle-aged and loud-mouthed comic-book wash-out, right? Sounds like some “good TV.”

And to be honest, when Chris first mentioned it, I was a little miffed. It is no secret that I HATE the New 52 and all it stands for. As a general rule I hate “the relaunch,” and all that it implies: the new ideas are better than the old ones, or that there is something wrong with how things were done. There’s an inherent disrespect in that type of thinking. So, you’d expect that I would have some pointed opinions about what Marvel should do, or how it should or should not proceed, but I don’t think I can care.

I could go on about how the 616 began: about how Roy Thomas, the original Super Fan, saved the Marvel Golden Age, and how Marvel had formerly been one of the more reboot proof universes. I could do that, but I won’t. As I said in the beginning, this move was inevitable. Hear that, Fan-Boys? If you didn’t see it coming, you are fools (for the record, I didn’t see it coming, either, damn it). It really has only been a matter of time, and no greater evidence should have been needed than Disney’s sundry decrees over in the Lucas-Verse.

The Star Wars Extended Universe was one of the most closely guarded and edited fictional universes in history, but it still was not safe from the mighty swing of the Great Axe of the Mouse. With a single swing, decades of side stories and timelines were undone. Now, I get the reasons, and I am even excited for the new Star Wars products (Star Wars: Rebels has been a ton of fun!), but there is a lot there for a nerd to lose sleep over. Nevertheless, why should that have an impact on Marvel?

With Marvel’s recent success as a movie studio, and recent acquisition by the Disney “conglom-co,” it is suddenly true that there is a reason for a single, interlocked product that can be MARVEL, under the umbrella of “House of Mouse.” However, the late 90’s and the 00’s were not kind to this kind of uniformity. Marvel began struggling for ‘relevance’ in the face of a shrinking comics industry, and so they tried to re-invent themselves with the Ultimate line. (Gah—how I hated the Ultimate line, but now is not the time for that).

But even if they had not, this reboot was the doom required by the intrinsic assumption of Marvel. You see, Marvel – like many of their other mainstream counterparts – built a universe with a rotating timeline, where everything that happens in their comics is happening “now.” This constant present tense does make for easily engaging stories, but at the same time it ties the legs of the narrative. Comics take a while to come out, and because modern comics are telling complex, nuanced stories, this practice stretches days into months and years to the point that the whole hot mess eventually falls into itself. I am not going to bore you with the math here, but I trust you can see what I am talking about. Just how long can Peter Parker stay a teenager?

Anyway, because comics refuse to tie their stories to any kind of realistic time frame, and yet refuse to leave themselves untouched by real-world events, the reboot becomes needful and, despite my impulse to hate it, well, that just doesn’t matter.

So this merger, which, as I understand it, will not be an entire reboot, will still leave few things unscathed. Only these things I hope:

  1. Captain America stays hopeful in spirit and believes in all the best of what America was meant to be. It worked in the movies, guys.
  2. Wolverine stays really short and really damned old. And that he is not a statutory rapist
  3. Nick Fury has his beginnings in the Golden Age. He is so much more interesting as a point-to-counter-point to Cap, and you miss a lot of that if they don’t have the same roots.
  4. Bruce Banner is more Dr Jekyll and less Mr Hyde.
  5. Miles Morales finds a place and Peter finds MJ. The former deserves a chance, and the latter, a break.

Well, I suppose that’s what I have to say. I don’t know if it’s because I really don’t have an opinion, not being a die-hard Marvel fan, or I am just argued out, but, damn people, let Marvel do what they want. They were gonna do that anyway.

Me, I am going to sit back and watch. From a respectful distance.

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