Written by Joel T. Lewis
As a consumer of media there has been one genre in particular I have been woefully late to the party on. That genre is Horror. This is largely due to the fact that I scare easily. To give you a sense of the level of scaredy cat that I have been, back in the 90’s the popular PBS series Wishbone did an episode on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Yes, Wishbone. That lovable Jack Russell Terrier whose love of books and adventure fueled a generation’s taste for literature. After seeing that episode I had nightmares and avoided both horror and Wishbone from that day forward. Fast-forward to a few years ago and I slowly began to rediscover a genre loved by many.
On my journey of rediscovery I’ve found that comics are one of the most accessible delivery methods of horror. Man and Swamp Thing were my introduction to comic horror and I found that reading about figures so fascinating and grotesque that I could keep safely wedged between the pages of a comic book helped me feed my hunger for horror without losing sleep. The designation of Horror Comic is what led me to Gabriel Hardman’s The Belfry. That and the requisite kick-ass cover art that I’m eternally susceptible to.
The Belfry was a title I wasn’t able to pick up on the day of release and I was unlucky enough to make my way to the comic shop too late to obtain a copy in the weeks that followed. This is a common occurrence, especially with One-Shot titles, as comic book vendors will either sell out of them, or file them in long-box limbo never to be found by the diligent seeker, so I had resigned myself to ordering the issue online sometime down the road. Imagine my happy surprise to discover Gabriel himself minding his own booth at Denver Comic Con! Honestly, I must have passed his booth half a dozen times walking the floor but I’m so glad that on this pass the stack of Belfry copies caught my eye!
Hardman was working on some commissioned sketches during a lull in foot traffic, and when I trotted up to his booth he seemed a bit surprised by the giddy 6 foot 4 fan nerding hard over the much sought after one-shot. While describing my unsuccessful search for the issue to Hardman his surprise at my appearance relaxed into the inward smile of creator happy to discover his work had been so desperately sought after by someone other than himself. My signed copy of the Belfry is one of my most prized possessions and luckily the contents of the issue are just as cool as the silver-inked signature that now adorns the cover.
I wouldn’t want to spoil this twisted, wonderfully horrific one-shot for you but suffice it to say that Hardman’s visual storytelling is outstanding and the variation he plays on bat-themed horror is wildly entertaining and terrifying. Hardman’s gritty, shadowed art-style is perfect for horror and his nightmarish tale leaps off the page as tooth meets flesh and wing stretches toward sky. As horror is not his genre of choice, Hardman used The Belfry to experiment with a new genre with outstanding results and luckily for us he is currently working on another horror one-shot for Image Comics. Hardman was very kind to me and has been one of the most responsive comic creators on twitter so if you do end up checking out his work (and you totally should) be sure to give him a follow. Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
The world thought it had seen the last of the Creator-Owned Ominous Press when it failed to garner support from a large comic book audience in the early 90’s. But at this year’s Denver Comic Con, Chief Creative Officer and originator Bart Sears and Editor-in-Chief Ron Marz unveiled their new partnership with IDW for the relaunch of the Ominous Press brand.
Attending the ill-timed Sunday morning grand relaunch panel, I was lucky enough to receive complimentary copies of issues 1-4 of Ominous’ Legendary reprint series which features original content from 1994 and 6 pages per issue of new framing content and Ominous’ World Premier preview issue. The 4-part Legendary series with its newly printed connective tissue narrative bears the telltale signs of an ambitious if unfocused vision for a comic book universe in the early 90’s. While Legendary is by no means as visually indecipherable as Image’s 1993 title Trencher (which I’ve written about previously) it’s 90’s art content bears a similarly challenging color and visual scheme which renders the text difficult to read and the action difficult to follow. However, the artwork by Andy Smith, Ray Kryssing, T.J. Tobolski, and Mark Pennington (in issue 3: Mael’s Rage), is rich and fascinating despite being visually challenging. The characters are rich and colorful, powerful and mysterious, and though sometimes it is difficult to assess what is going on from panel to panel, I can’t stop looking at them. Story-wise you encounter a similar sense of confusion reading the Legendary title as the vague gravity of the vintage material is intersected by the added framing material, and rather than firmly establishing the scope of the Ominous narrative the transitions between these stories further muddy the waters.
That being said, I am encouraged by what the content of the 4th issue of the Legendary title and the World Premier Preview issue indicate about the future of the Ominous Press storyline. Previously unreleased, Legendary 4: Death of Pheros marks the most polished and modern of the mini-series as the artwork is tasked exclusively to Andy Smith and creator Bart Sears. This issue’s framing material is better integrated and doesn’t seem to be battling the aesthetic of the 90’s source material as much simply because there is less of it to reconcile. The visuals in this issue are no less breathtaking for only having two contributing artists as the characters leap off the page, bold and imposing as ever. Also, the Preview issue was invaluable for understanding the grand ambitious narrative that Sears and Co. were attempting back in ‘94. The Preview clearly lays out the Ominous narrative of seven worlds, embodying separate popular sci-fi and fantasy genre tropes, in various stages of siege by order of a tyrannical god, the Dread Lord Omin, a prophecy involving world defenders called the Chosen with appointed allies called Champions, and the one true Chosen Auoro who is destined to defeat Omin and secure the fate of the seven worlds. Explained as it is by the Preview issue, the Ominous narrative is far-reaching and intricate, but nowhere near as confusing and vague as it is made out to be by the Legendary series.
The Preview issue also showcases the 3 flagship titles that Ominous will be relaunching with: Giantkillers, Prometheus, and Demi-God. Giantkillers, in my opinion the most interesting of the three, follows Arkon the Champion assigned to Auoro, the mythical Chosen One destined to defeat Omin. Arkon is cursed to be flung randomly across the 7 worlds and is separated from his charge for 7 years. Defeated and without purpose, Arkon re-embarks on his search for Auoro and his quest to defend her across the 7 worlds. As the narrative most central to the larger narrative of Ominous Press, Giantkillers is most likely the title which will determine the success or failure of the relaunch, and if the brief preview featuring excellent artwork and a tight internal monologue narrative is any indication, Ominous is on the right track. Written and illustrated by Bart Sears, Giantkillers is a title I’ll be watching out for in the coming months.
What do you get when you mix Greek mythology, the Matrix, and Gladiator? Chances are it’d look a lot like Prometheus. Written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Tom Raney, Prometheus is centered on a group of god-like heroes whose adventures and acts of might inspire a whole world. Unfortunately, this is all a facade aimed at subjugating and enslaving the population. This series follows the journey of the Prometheans after discovering their high fantasy lives were fabrications and their quest to free the people of their world from the grips of slavery. This playful variation on the Greek Gods promises to be a tangled weave of adventure and discovery and it will be fascinating to see how this world’s narrative ties into the larger conflict with Omin.
Finally, the Preview issue introduced the Demi-God series. Meet the self-styled Hercules, a hero equal parts Deadpool, Booster Gold, and Wonder Man whose ego and preoccupation with monetizing his newfound powers outweigh (at least initially) his desire to protect and defend the citizens of his world. Arrogant, obsessed with hawking merchandise, and touting his ‘Hero Brand’ Demi-God could very well be an interesting commentary on the selfie generation’s preoccupation with branding and celebrity punctuated with some epic fist fights with classic Herculean foes. The teaser we get in the preview features a great reimagining of Cerberus the three headed dog brought to life by artist Andy Smith. Demi-God is also written by Ron Marz and will be hitting stands soon.
Ominous Press seems to have learned from the mistakes of the past and are poised to make a promising 2nd attempt at popularity. I was lucky enough to speak to both Ron Marz and Bart Sears in person as the crowd thinned out towards the end of their panel and it was really cool to see the excitement and passion that these two veteran comic creators exhibited talking about a press all their own. Be sure to look out for Ominous Press titles coming soon distributed by IDC! I can tell you I will be eagerly awaiting Giantkiller no. 1!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
Amanda McLeod was the very first comic book artist that I ever got to talk to face to face. Walking the floor of Artist Valley at Denver Comic Con in 2015 I kept circling back to a particular booth with a sketch that I couldn’t get out of my head. It was an eerie, reed-like, and skeletal robot creature like nothing I’d ever seen before. Watching my bank account trend all too quickly toward zero throughout the weekend, I finally drummed up the courage to step up to her booth and ask about the character.
I was nervous. New to the 3-day experience at Denver Comic Con and having never talked directly to a comic book artist before, I wasn’t sure whether I would get a sales pitch or a moody creative who would brush off my inquiry. I got neither. McLeod was an excited and earnest creator who was so happy to have somebody to talk to about her work! This experience, this instant link through excitement and creativity was the perfect snapshot of what Comic Con is about. Nerds excited to meet Nerds who create Nerd things and Nerds who’re excited to share the Nerd things they’ve made.
I got my very first commissioned sketch and my first self-published comic book ever from Amanda. The following year I scoured the booths in Artist’s Alley searching for issue 2 of Blue Skies and White Clouds but to my sorrow it hadn’t been produced yet. Having given up hope for issue 2 in 2017, imagine my surprise as I caught sight of the same fascinating character that stuck in my mind two years ago. I stopped dead, whirled towards the booth, and got to catch up with Amanda. Having taken a year off to complete her Master’s Thesis, Amanda was back with issue 2 hot off the presses and was as earnest and excited by my fan-boying as she was the first time. I was far less tentative as I spoke to her this year, as my surprise and excitement bubbled up by the sight of the 2nd issue.
Amanda is an exceptional artist and an ambitious writer whose first two issues set up a narrative filled with mystery, technology, and magic. We follow the misadventures of Amy, Mariano, and the Azure Thief (the skeletal robot) in a tale of curiosity, identity, and secrecy. Amy and Mariano bring to life the junkyard robot they’ve been fiddling with and adventure ensues as the Thief tries to reconcile memories with reality while avoiding discovery and capture. I don’t want to give away anymore of the plot than that because both issues of Blue Skies and White Clouds are available online and I’d love you to be able to discover for yourself the talent of an artist who made Denver Comic Con special for me.
The first two issues of Blue Skies and White Clouds are available online at http://blueskiesandwhiteclouds.smackjeeves.com/
Written by Zeke Perez Jr.
What would it be like to live in a world with superheroes? When we watch superhero movies or read comic books, we’re transported into such a world. But what if you woke up tomorrow and that world came to you? What if you looked out your window only to see a man in a blue spandex suit stretch his limbs or a flaming human figure flying through the sky? What if superhumans, mutants, monsters, and other creatures were all a part of everyday life, battling it out in your hometown?
Plenty of recent movies and shows from both Marvel and DC focus in on the impact that heroes would have on the average people around them. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the central villain is directly motivated by the destruction that heroes were responsible for in the Battle of New York. Students at the Midtown School of Science and Technology learn about the Sokovia Accords in history class and gossip about the Avengers. In Luke Cage, a street side bootlegger sells videos of ‘The Incident’. In Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the latter is brought to court to account for the destruction of Metropolis brought about by his battle with General Zod. He becomes a controversial figure as people are torn between supporting him and heroes like him for the good they do or condemning them for their unchecked powers and the havoc they wreak.
The theme of the conflicted citizen is a very valid one. Superhero movies or comics have often overlooked the impact that superheroes have on the cities they fight to save. The plot implications of buildings being leveled and lives ruined are ignored for the sake of big special effects budgets. But in Captain America: Civil War and the movies mentioned earlier, citizens living amongst superheroes has become a key plot point. That makes for a perfect time to read or re-read Marvel’s Marvels: Eye of the Camera.
Marvels: Eye of the Camera is a sequel to the original Marvels, a four-issue comic series written by Kurt Busiek and released in 1994. Marvels examined the Marvel Universe through the eyes of everyman photographer Phil Sheldon. Marvels: Eye of the Camera followed up 15 years later with a six-issue series reprising the characters and the format. Sheldon struggles with his legacy and worries that the public views heroes as ‘sideshow freaks’ because of how his work was framed. He rejects his publisher’s idea of releasing a book about super villains, hoping to avoid increasing fear in the community.
Citizens are coming to terms with their feelings about mutants, taking positive and negative stances on the matter, often revealed through ‘man on the street’ style interviews. The language used in Eye of the Camera fosters the sense of mystery that comes with being an onlooker in a superheroic world. Rumors of ‘a monster in the southwest’ send photographers ‘to New Mexico to try to get pictures of this hulk out there’. Other characters are revealed in a similar fashion.
In the Eye of the Camera universe, reports on heroes or mutants are everyday news. They even become so frequent that viewers lose interest and the reports eventually turn into mundane celebrity gossip (along the lines of, ‘who is Invisible Girl dating now?!’). Heroes are almost a nationwide spectacle, with The Thing appearing at Muscle Beach to promote a Fantastic Four movie or with the Avengers hosting open tryouts at Yankee Stadium. Sheldon is conflicted about this and the role of the media, asking ‘Did we corrupt them, drag them down to our level?’
The series should excite any Marvel fan, as it boasts an unbelievably long roster of Marvel heroes either making an appearance or being referenced. Another truly outstanding aspect of the series is that it almost acts as a historical fiction book. Every picture or storyline of a superhero in the comics is taken from its original comic appearance, complete with a reference table in the back of the trade paperback identifying which series and issue they came from.
We have long imagined what being in a world with superheroes would be like. This series shifts the thought to what would it be like if they were in ours? With a lot of comic media tackling this theme, now is the perfect time to revisit the masterpiece that is Marvels: Eye of the Camera.
Written by Joel T. Lewis
In issue 11 of All-Star Batman Scott Snyder takes us through an accelerated character history of Alfred Pennyworth that focuses on the impact of his absentee father. Unlike his adopted son, Alfred’s father was never around because of his dedication to serving the Wayne family an ocean apart from Alfred and his mother. In recounting his history, Alfred reveals that his origin, much like Bruce’s, began with anger and rebellion which was not curbed by the influence of a father figure. Leading off where the graffiti chase ended in the last issue, Snyder continues his characterization of young Alfred as a punk rock youth struggling to define himself in a fatherless home and ultimately coping with the death of his mother alone. This cruel negligence is lightened a bit by Rafael Albuquerque’s rendition of Alfred as a mohawked youth with multiple ear piercings. This punk origin gives us the vaguest sense of why Alfred has gone along with Bruce’s vigilante crusade for so long: it's a righteous inversion of the status quo and that is so punk rock. Batman operates outside the established order, with an admittedly rigid loyalty to American justice, but nonetheless the boldness of Batman’s stand against the corruption of the establishment speaks to a youthful rebellion that lives in Alfred still.
After narrowly escaping an alligator-induced death thanks to a last-minute assist from the Black and Whites (Penguin, Black Mask, and Great White Shark) Batman discovers that the Genesis Engine he’s been tracking down is a device that can rewrite cellular biology, giving anyone with access to it the ability to create genetically designed monsters. Surprisingly, the Black and Whites are interested in the device because they want it destroyed and they saved Batman to help them.
Batman's search for the Genesis Engine and Thatch’s mysterious murderer leads him to the massive Submarine Casino known as the Flying Dutchman operated by the Gangster, Tiger Shark. Finding himself once again a step behind, Batman arrives on the Dutchmen to discover the dual-bladed murderer of Thatch has killed the thugs onboard the submarine and already has the Genesis Engine. Batman himself is quickly dispatched as the villain, whose outfit closely resembles a medieval knight’s armor, slashes at both Batman and the glass interior of the sub, crippling both as Batman fights for consciousness and the sub begins to sink. The caped crusader’s peril is punctuated by flashbacks showing Alfred’s dissatisfaction with his decorated career in the SAS and his recruitment by a mysterious MI-5 operative named Briar. As the issue concludes it appears that Briar, who we discover to be the architect of the trap laid for Batman, threatened Alfred’s life in the past and it appears that both Pennyworth and Batman were unable to escape the violent machinations of this operative.
One of the strengths of the All-Star Batman series has been how confidently and cleverly Snyder separates Batman from Gotham City, and this most recent arc has been no exception. Batman in Miami and Batman under the sea seem like very uncharacteristic combinations for the street-level vigilante however, the flair with which Snyder weaves in pirate lore into these settings suits the Bat really well. This fish-out-of-water setting (pun-intended) is reminiscent of the 90’s era of Batman action figures whose suits and gadgets corresponded to countless settings and scenarios. Snyder’s interpretation of Deep-Sea Batman is pure fun and manages to tell a compelling present and past story without getting too dark and gruesome.
Artist Rafael Albuquerque returns and skillfully executes Batman and Alfred in both sunshine and shade amidst explosions and crocodiles. A particular favorite panel of mine depicts Alfred soaring over the open sea in a bat-shaped glider as Bruce is seconds away from an underwater oblivion. With only 3 issues remaining as All-Star Batman will be the first casualty among the Rebirth titles, Snyder’s 'First Ally' arc continues to fascinate and deliver the fun and dexterity of the caped crusader and one of his most talented chroniclers. Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
As Batman continues to examine his life and vigilante crusade after his father’s dying plea to find happiness, Tom King’s issue 24 focuses on an extended discussion between the caped crusader and Gotham Girl (Claire Clover). As Gotham Girl debates whether to remain a hero Bruce provides a new intimate perspective on his own fight against crime. Instead of just dictating what Claire ought to do, Bruce confides in her about how Alfred’s protests early on in his career as Batman had no effect on his plan to reshape the Gotham underworld. Batman’s measured compassion with Claire speaks to the impact that Thomas Wayne’s final words have had on the Dark Knight. The control and cold manipulation Batman has employed over the men and women he’s mentored has always created barriers, but this intimate honest discussion shows a dramatic shift in Batman’s mentoring philosophy.
Batman is very candid about the nature of the mantle he created, 'I do this. But I’m not...happy...I do this to be happy. I try and I fail.' Claire responds in earnest, 'Why do you fail? Why can’t you be happy?' Batman replies, 'I fail because I’m scared. What I’ve seen. Gotham. Him. If you’re not scared...if all that doesn’t scare me...then I’m insane. And I’m not…I don’t want to be insane. So I’m scared.' Bruce’s vulnerability and self-awareness throughout this issue is poignant and powerful. Interlaced throughout this issue the brilliant David Finch depicts a late night game of Cat and Bat as Batman chases Catwoman over the rooftops of Gotham city. When Batman catches up to her one of the most important moments in Bat history takes place: Bruce Wayne proposes to Selina Kyle.
Now this is not truly new territory as Bruce and Selina have been married way back in the Golden Age continuity but this has potential to be a development that sticks. In a sense, the bond between Batman and Catwoman is one fans have championed for nearly as long as Peter Parker’s been with Mary Jane or Clark Kent with Lois Lane, and rather than feeling hackneyed or cheap, Bruce’s proposal at the end of issue 24 feels completely earned. Though their relationship has run the gamut from intimate and tender to estranged and tumultuous, the playful connection between Catwoman and Batman has always felt weighted and genuine which is why this proposal doesn’t seem forced. Their dual lives, their unspoken respect for each other’s skills, and their complementarily damaged psyches have always led them back to each other and now they could be getting married.
What does a married Bruce Wayne look like? How do a cat burglar and a superhero build a functional partnership? Where does Batman figure into this attempt at traditional domestic bliss? What does the wedding party look like? Though issue 24 doesn’t move mountains of plot, the questions it raises are fascinating and David Finch’s artwork is breathtaking. The stark contrast between Gotham Girl and Batman’s daylight discussion of heroes and their motivations and the late night scenes of Batman chasing the woman he loves are brought to brilliant life. These images weave their own narrative and were it not for Tom King’s brilliant deconstruction of Batman’s shifting motivations I would have said Finch’s work could have been published without words and the impact of that final page proposal would have been just as poignant.
Though the next 8 issues of Batman are set a little over a year after Batman began his one-man war on crime I can’t help hoping that when we return to the present, Tom King treats us to a little more catharsis. I would love to see this vulnerable Bruce talk to Dick Grayson, confide in Alfred, maybe even Commissioner Gordon. It would be such a shame for this drastic re-examination of the purpose of Batman to only impact Gotham Girl and Bruce’s relationship when the most intimate and important members of the Bat-Family, those most affected by the ripples of Batman’s influence, could really grow and benefit from seeing Bruce transition. Tom King is doing a bang-up job with Batman and it is always a pleasure to see David Finch’s work and I cannot wait to see how the rest of the Selina Kyle/Bruce Wayne relationship unfolds and I’m really excited for King’s upcoming arc 'The War of Jokes and Riddles'. Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
I am rapidly discovering that I should have been following Tom King’s run on Batman a lot earlier. There are 3 things that I love that compelled me to continue reading the Batman series after the conclusion of ‘The Button’, first the name of the issue was ‘The Brave and the Mold’, second the throwback subtitle ‘The Strangest Team-Up in History’ on the cover which harkened back to the playful silliness of older comics, and the fact that Swamp Thing guest stars in this issue. Swampy, puns, and nostalgia are already worth the price of admission, but what I found between the covers of this issue was spectacular.
The Batman and Swamp Thing team-up to discover who killed Lloyd Bernard McGinn, the biological father of Alec Holland who became the Swamp Thing. This issue was just a delight, especially for a Swamp Thing fan like me. The first page depicts McGinn’s murder and the man bears more than a passing resemblance to Comic Creator and patron saint of Swamp Thing, Alan Moore. This may be in reference to Moore’s recent retirement from comic bookery which was announced last year, or perhaps it was just meant as a tribute to the man who made Swamp Thing the iconic character he is today, but an easter egg of that magnitude from the very first panel was enough to make me instantly fall in love with this comic. But the hits kept coming as Batman and Swampy have a conversation in the library of Wayne Manor with Alfred rushing around to clean up after the Swamp Creature, they good-cop/bad-cop the villain Kite-Man (which is a level of silly I never expected from modern DC), and trade comedic pauses in the Batcave and Batmobile. For some reason the brilliance of pairing Batman and Swamp Thing up had never occurred to me before, but for two characters defined by such unique stoic philosophies to work together makes for some unexpected humor and camaraderie that was really entertaining.
But this issue really shines through its artwork and its exploration of fatherhood and loss. Coming off the poignant conclusion of ‘The Button’ storyline Batman’s determination to uncover who murdered Alec Holland’s father carries a greater weight as he admires Swamp Thing’s projected acceptance of the circular nature of life and death. Reliving the grief that made him Batman Bruce is almost relieved to see that Swamp Thing (a mysterious stoic much like himself) is handling the loss so well. Batman seems grateful and encouraged by the distraction of a new case and Swamp Thing’s philosophical explanation of life’s transition from state to state comforts him more than he lets on. That is until the final pages where Batman and Swamp Thing confront McGinn’s murderer, a mohawked villain called Headhunter. Swamp Thing’s measured posture melts away in this final confrontation and he consumes Headhunter in a mournful rage born out of regret and pain that he had kept well-hidden underneath his mossy exterior. Batman is devastated and calls out in confusion as Swamp Thing sends root, branch, and bloom through Headhunter’s insides. Batman’s sense of betrayal is twofold here: first Swamp Thing used him to get close to his father’s killer and second, Swamp Thing’s inability to cope with the grief means that the circular philosophy of life and death that he spoke of before wasn't true. Bruce was holding onto that green world logic to protect him from the pain of losing his father a second time and without that he collapses under his grief and anger.
This poignant issue is brought to dazzling life by artist Mitch Gerads whose take on Swamp Thing is one of my favorites. The intricate detail and beauty through mulch that Gerads achieves is sensational. One of my favorite touches is that while Bruce and Swamp Thing talk in the library of Wayne Manor, Swamp Thing sprouts a delicate vegetable tea cup out of his hand and sips from tea he produces out of thin air. This and the gruesome beauty of his killing of Headhunter make this issue a must have for fans of Swamp Thing artwork.
As Bruce continues to cope with the last words of Thomas Wayne after seeing the pain Swamp Thing goes through one can't help but wonder if the caped crusader can continue his one-man war on crime as before. Batman has come to a crossroads and I cannot wait to see what Tom King has in store for him next! Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
Unlikely allies coming together to escape wrongful imprisonment is hardly a new storyline. Tango and Cash, Guardians of the Galaxy, Planet Hulk, and now Black Bolt use this narrative convention to quickly build upon character development by placing central characters in a state of perpetual stress and to unite disparate characters with diverse backgrounds with the common cause of escape. The condensed version of this story that we see in Black Bolt #2 takes a lot of inspiration from the Civil War Era Hulk Story-Arc Planet Hulk (1999 Incredible Hulk 92-105) at least in terms of wrongful exile/imprisonment and Gladiatorial combat.
I found that though this issue of Black Bolt retreads an all too common narrative arc, compressing all those familiar elements into a single issue made the retread almost refreshing. Instead of drawing out the ‘hero in prison’ storyline and the former enemies become allies of necessity trope over the course of a 4-5 issue arc, Saladin Ahmed’s decision to end the 2nd issue with the beginning of the escape attempt worked really well. The prison break storyline is by no means one that I’ve grown tired of but the specific similarities between Black Bolt’s story and the Planet Hulk event made me weary of a drawn out prison/gladiator narrative.
With issue 2 Ahmed introduces us to several quirky inmates who plan to help Black Bolt escape. Metal Master and the female Skrull Raava join Blinky and the Crusher (known on earth as the Absorbing Man) and the group dynamic is entertaining though not particularly original. Blinky’s youthful innocence is contrasted by the wisdom of age presented by Metal Master and Raava is every bit as brusque and predictable as Star Trek’s Worf or Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. But the character dynamic that is most fascinating and entertaining is that between Black Bolt and the Crusher. The irreverent working-class sensibilities of the B-list villain grate harshly against the decorum, silence, and tension that characterize the former King of the Inhumans.
Though Black Bolt rescues and shows restraint towards his fellow inmates out of compassion and a desire to not be manipulated by the strange prison he’s trapped in, his royal arrogance and prejudice prevent him from considering himself one of the gang. The Crusher is the perfect character to call Black Bolt out on this elitist sensibility and this confrontation causes Bolt to question the violent acts he’s committed in the past. The other thing I love about pairing Bolt and Crusher up (which would be an awesome mini-series team-up) is that Crusher calls the former King ‘Wishbone’ and doubles over laughing upon hearing his full name. The rigid royal decorum that Bolt is accustomed to is shattered and called out by a very relatable Crusher. It’s also great to see a character we are meant to relate to comment on the ridiculousness of a character called Blackagar Boltagon with a tuning fork on his head who takes himself so seriously. I think the groundwork Ahmed has laid here through Black Bolt and Crusher’s alliance could potentially humanize (and the irony of humanizing an Inhuman is not lost on me) the Inhuman King in a way that comics never have before.
Once again artist Christian Ward delivers a cosmic color pallet that leaps off every page and shines from the subtle shifts in facial expression to the gorgeous mayhem of Black Bolt and Raama’s sword fight. One panel in particular which showcases Ward’s exceptional flexibility is one where Crusher recounts his brawls with Thor Odinson and Jane Foster Thor. A shadowy Crusher is depicted between two brilliant sketches of both Thors. The contrast and skill Ward demonstrates is really fun to see. Though much of this issue’s plot was unoriginal Black Bolt continues to impress as artwork and story create a unique atmosphere around a conventional story. I’m fascinated by the notion that this ragtag team will be unleashed on an unknowing galaxy in issue 3 and I can’t wait! Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
Boy am I glad I did not drop this series after last month’s disappointing issue! Honestly, this issue does all the things I criticized last month’s for getting wrong. It's almost spooky how completely Cullen Bunn’s issue 4 addressed all my concerns and made Darth Maul compelling and fun again. We get to see Darth Maul and Padawan Eldra Kaitis pop sabers and fight back to back against a horde of criminals and Bunn’s Bounty Hunter co-stars set up a great wild west ambush. Maul always burns brightest in battle, when the focused rage of his internal monologue informs the cold efficiency of his saber strikes, and this issue completely nails that construct. After Maul reluctantly frees Eldra from her bonds and returns the Jedi’s lightsaber, they proceed to cut through a dozen hunters aided briefly by Maul’s probe droids. These dazzling action panels are peppered with Maul and Eldra trading jabs about their fundamentally opposed interpretations of the Force and the history of their two orders. Though both attempt to convince each other of the merits of either side of the Force, they quickly abandon persuasion for swordplay and decide to dispatch each other once they’ve dealt with the legion of criminals that have come to hunt them.
Cad Bane and company finally shine in this issue after their unexpected introduction in Darth Maul’s second installment. Pursued by a pack of hunting Trandoshans, Cad and company set up a classic western scenario where Bane challenges the leader of the pack to a blaster duel. But Bane’s duel isn’t the honorable contest of skill it appears to be as Vorheilo and Auura Sing ambush the Trandoshans and Bane never even touches his pistol. The use of Bane as the mysterious gunslinger from a space spaghetti western is so perfect and well executed that it almost makes up for the clumsy inclusion of these characters in the last two issues. This sequence is particularly well illustrated (though every panel in this issue is beautiful) perfectly capturing the aesthetic of the spaghetti western. Artist Luke Ross’s depiction of Cad Bane for instance, leaning against a rocking outcropping with his hat pulled low is instantly iconic and just dripping with spaghetti western attitude.
It occurred to me while reading this issue that a big part of what made this month’s installment work for me was the separation and space between Maul and Eldra and Bane and his bounty hunters. Issue 3 was full of problems but something I didn’t pick up on until I read this issue was the claustrophobia of shoving so many characters together in small enclosed spaces. The issue seemed cacophonous and characters seemed superfluous because there was physically no room for anybody to breathe. Issue 3 begins with imprisonment and concludes with a brawl in a very small spacecraft. With so many characters confined by their proximity to each other, no wonder Bane, Sing, and Vorheilo feel tacked on for no reason. Whereas the Moon of Drazkel‘s open air and Bane and Maul splitting up gave both groups a lot of space and allowed their separate plots to develop more fully.
Artist Luke Ross, like Darth Maul himself, shines in his illustrations of battles. As I mentioned earlier, his western inspired bounty hunter ambush is exceptional but seeing his dynamic lightsaber battle sketches leap off the page is really compelling and turning every page is exciting. Also, colorist Nolan Woodard really informs the atmosphere of the Moon of Drazkel through his work with shadow and especially with how he colors the sky. The perpetual twilight Woodard creates with a cool magenta skyline gives a great other-worldly glow to every panel.
If this issue hasn’t necessarily restored my faith in Cullen Bunn’s Darth Maul, it definitely has treated my wounds enough to make me excited for the fifth and final chapter of the series coming out next month. Let’s hope that Darth Maul and Eldra Kaitis’s final battle will stick the landing for a mini-series that has yo-yoed between middling and exceptional. Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
How do you take a community that takes so much pride in its members knowledge of obscure and universe spanning trivia and make it more alienating to newcomers? A strong argument could be made that large Comic Book Events do just that. Typically, the implications of massive multi-series story arcs like Flashpoint, Infinite Crisis, Civil War, or the more recent Secret Empire are major universe/continuity shake-ups. By definition, shaking up a narrative as multifaceted as a comic book universe doesn’t encourage newcomers to jump on board, especially when the shake-up can span anywhere from 10-20 comic book titles. The problems that arise, even for veteran comic book readers are several and varied. The cost of keeping up with every issue of a comic book event alone is enough to discourage even hard core fans from following along. For example, the last Marvel event, Civil War II spanned just over 40 titles across the Marvel Universe with each series contributing 2-5 issues a piece. At $3.99 a pop (and usually large event specific titles like the 7 issues of Civil War II jump to $4.99) the financial burden of following every aspect of that storyline is staggering!
Even if you can swing the cover price for all those series for the duration of the event, keeping track of the timeline of events in a massive event can be tedious and frustrating. Even within the Marvel Unlimited Subscription App I’ve had multiple suggested reading orders for the same comic book event, which is infinitely frustrating because you constantly feel like you’re back tracking.
Also, as the comic book industry has discovered how profitable these large events can be they are happening more and more frequently. So it doesn’t matter if you’ve finally gotten a grasp on the new baseline for a universe following Civil War II for example, because Secret Empire has started and shook up the continuity again. The looming possibility of another cataclysmic event doesn’t inspire any confidence in the integrity of a character or team’s make up because there’s no guarantee that they’ll be given the space to grow given the developments of the previous event.
So imagine trying to pick up comics for the first time in the midst of a major event. Suddenly you can’t just buy the latest issue of Captain Marvel and pick up the story, you have to buy the 8 issues before that, plus all the Marvel titles that tie in and hope you pull enough of the threads together to fill in the gaps of the issues you missed. Now you’re broke, lost, and what was supposed to be fun has now become a chore. So, as I have faced down the daunting notion of the Comic Book Event myself I thought I would write up a guide for how to navigate what has become a big part of modern comic bookery.
Reading an Event that has Already Occurred
Make a list, shop for trades, and don’t be afraid to be selective about what you read.
Approaching an event that has already been released in full puts you in the best possible position to track down every aspect of the storyline, or pick and choose from trade paperbacks. The first step is finding a complete reading list for the event you want to read. Unfortunately, the DC and Marvel Websites are not as comprehensive or accessible as is necessary to compile a suggested reading list. If you have a Marvel Unlimited Subscription, the lists and suggested reading orders that you have access to through the browse feature of your app or online, while a bit nebulous, are very comprehensive. I research different comic events through ComicVine.com’s search function. Be sure when using this search that you click on the 'Story Arc' results in order to see all the issues included in the event. Also, to avoid spoilers, when you reach the story arc page, scroll all the way to the bottom to the Issues section. This will give you a pretty thorough list of all the titles that tie-in to the event in chronological order and show you every issue’s cover art so that they’re easy to track down individually. Now, when deciding where to spend your time within a given story arc there are a couple of different options: The quickest and cheapest way to get the general idea of a big story arc is to read the title series. There are 110 individual tie-in issues that make up the Marvel Civil War Event, but there are only 7 issues of the Civil War title series that give you the basic plot points without a huge investment of time or money. These are pretty easy to track down in Trade format and are a great way to absorb the bullet points of an event without going blind from reading.
Another option is to trace characters you’re already invested in throughout the event. Picking up all of the Wolverine: Civil War issues either individually or in trade for example, gives you a focused and self-contained storyline that occurs within the scope of the larger event but without the noise or confusion inherent in following so many storylines all at once. Also, don’t let the stress of a universe spanning event keep you from continuing a series you like. I discovered recently that the Marvel titles I was already following (Power Man and Iron Fist, Totally Awesome Hulk, and Mighty Thor) which all tied in with the Civil War II event (which, to be honest, I wasn’t that interested in) were self-contained and interesting enough that their involvement in the larger narrative didn't ruin or upset what I enjoyed about those titles. In fact, the issues of those titles that tied-in with the Civil War II event were really interesting and I was glad to have read them.
Unless you have the funds, time, and interest, don’t feel like you must read everything! There is no shame in skipping a stretch of the arc if you have no interest in the characters that star in that section of the story. If you have no interest in Suicide Squad, Heroes for Hire, or Ghost Rider, skipping those threads isn’t going to cripple the impact of the larger narrative, and if there happens to be a reference to the events of those arcs that you skipped, you can always back-track to fill in the gaps with an issue or two.
Reading an Event as it Comes Out
Budget early and strictly, branch out from the Main Event title slowly, and don't be afraid to drop a title that stops interesting you.
If you are dead set on following a Large Comic Event as it comes out your budget is key. Again, don't feel obligated to buy every tie-in title. Focus on the main series title first and build out slowly in the direction of characters you are already invested in. Look for creative teams you are familiar with from previous series or cover art that grabs you. Also, at the end of most modern tie-in comics there will be suggestions for what series to pick up next. Use these ads to determine how far down the rabbit hole you'd like to tumble. Also, don't be afraid to abandon a tie-in series if you don't like where it's going! Too often I find myself limping along with a series I'm not that invested in just for the sake of completing the event. Don't do that to yourself.
With Denver Comic Con rapidly approaching and comic book events like DC’s Rebirth and Marvel’s Secret Empire going right now, it’s a great time to look into starting a Comic Book Event. I hope this article made the process seem a bit less daunting and I would love to hear if you have any strategies that might help me the next time I dive into a new one! Until next time, Geek On!