Archive for December, 2012

By Alex Headley

Both Marvel and DC relaunched their brand in big ways in 2012. Mostly that involved heroes flying/running at you.

There is no denying that 2012 has been a big year for comics. The New 52 ( yes it started in 2011 but the meat of it was this year) hit its stride, giving DC its biggest numbers in years. Marvel NOW! Is just getting started but we’ve already seen an impact from it. November was a huge month for the comics. But more than finances, the last year has been good for creators. Marvel and DC seem, to me at least, to be far friendlier to writers and artists than in a long while. Marvel NOW! seems to be all about the creative side of things. Think of the way it was marketed: Mark Waid and Leniel Yu, Rick Remender and John Cassady, Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena. The creators are just as important to those books as the characters involved. It was the same with DC. Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, Grant Morrison and Rags Morales. All these guys got to leave their mark on some of the biggest names in comics.
It’s a model that seems to be working for both publishers and one that spins directly out of Image’s recent success with new iPs from specific creators like Hickman, Robert Kirkman and Brian K. Vaughn. The New 52 has thrived off of series that let the creators run wild. Look at Demon Knights, Animal Man, and Wonder Woman. Those books brought new ideas to those characters, taking the titles in new directions and exploring new sides of the core cast or where almost entirely new. Marvel NOW! is taking big risks too, bringing back the original X-Men, combining mutants and Avengers and taking Peter Parker out of the mask.
There finally seems to be a real effort on both companies’ part to expand the diversity of their line as well. Both companies offer more genres in their books as well as a more landscape in the titles that better reflect the diversity of the real world. DC has 9 ongoing titles starring female characters in the lead role. Marvel has only 4 but there are several ladies on each team book, Marvel’s hallmark. It’s a big leap forward. Minorities are better represented as well, even if some of the books that could have best reflected that change were canned for one reason or another (I’m looking at you Static Shock and Mr. Terrific) and some obviously deserving characters still don’t have their own series ( Cyborg!). The industry is still dominated mostly by white guys writing white guys but progress is being made, however slowly.

This is now the most popular superhero team in the world. Crazy, huh?
Property of Marvel Comics (Also Disney)

On top of the Marvel and DC comics, the publisher’s have done well in other media. DC continues to put out high quality animation in the form of DVDs and television series. Cartoon Network’s DC Nation, though its had a rough patch as of late, is a big deal. Likewise, Marvel has seen success with Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes( yeah it was cancelled but only so that Marvel could move forward with a Avengers toon of their own). That’s not to mention the two wildly successful films The Dark Knight Rises and Marvel’s The Avengers. The Avengers is the third highest grossing movie of all time. Not bad for a team of formerly B-list heroes directed by a guy with more failed TV series than fingers. Sony released The Amazing Spider-Man and while it wasn’t as big as the other two, it did give us Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, so it was worth it. All three films were undisputed hits this year and 2013 only seems like it will continue the trend of comic book films dominating the box office. Man of Steel, Thor:The Dark World and Iron Man 3 all promise to be big hits. We can also look forward to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers 2 and a potential Justice League film in 2014. Joss Whedon is also working on a SHIELD live action series. Whedon back on TV working Marvel properties can only be a good thing. For DC, Arrow has been well-received and there seems to be a Wonder Woman series titled Amazon in the works.
Outside of the big two, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead has truly become a powerhouse property. The long running series has always receive critical praise and been a fan favorite series but AMC’s television adaptation has turned it into a blockbuster franchise. Telltale Game’s adaptation of the zombie epic recently won game of the year at Spike Video Game awards. And a FPS title is coming from Activision in 2013 starring the AMC original characters Darryl and Merle. The series is one of Image’s top selling titles right alongside Kirkman’s other project, Invincible both of which hit the landmark 100 issues in 2012.
I think that non-superhero stuff is the best it’s ever been in comics. The Walking Dead is part of that. As is the excellent Manhattan Projects, BKV’s Saga and the eminent return of Sandman.

One of the most popular comic book franchises. Not a superhero in sight.

In addition to the overall higher quality of work being put out at the moment, there are more ways than ever to get what we want. Digital distribution has been embraced by all the big names in the industry, meaning that we don’t even have to leave the house to get our fix. While I still prefer to get my comics from my local comic shop, the digital option is nice to have. Comixology offers weekly sales and that let’s readers pick up books they might otherwise ignore or miss. Trades are still a big part of the industry as well, giving readers a way to catch up or enjoy a series without having to wait a month to get our fix.

Despite all the good stuff going on, there are still issues. Most recently, the retirement of Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger is troubling for the line and maybe says some negative things about how that imprint has been treated since the New 52. Berger was responsible for bringing us pretty much every one of the awesome Vertigo series we have loves over the years, like Sandman. Gail Simone was recently fired in a very public way that sours some of my praise on DC’s diversity in their creative teams. On the Marvel side of things, its hard not to notice that comics are more expensive than ever. Marvel is the brunt of the problem here for me. Lots of books are bi-weekly now and even more have a $4 price point. Couple that with the reduction in page counts throughout the industry and you have an increasingly expensive hobby. At least the 3.99 DC books give you a second story to enjoy, sometimes putting the spotlight on interesting characters or new creators. Double shipping is a big problem. Another worrying trend is the return of variant covers. DC is releasing 52 for the first issue of JLA, one for each state, Washington DC and Puerto Rico. Marvel isn’t better about it. They have been been absolutely in love with variants this year. Variants can be fun but upwards of $12 is a lot to ask for a picture of Deadpool dancing to Gangnam style on the cover of Avengers 1. Its just overkill. On the bright side all those baby variants are giving Skottie Young a lot of work.



Amazing Spider-Man #700Property of Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #700
Property of Marvel Comics

I rarely have crazy fanboy reactions to things that happen in comics. As discussed in our podcast, I generally don’t like it when people get negative about events or developments just to get negative.

That said, when I found out that Dan Slott was killing Peter Parker, and further, replacing Peter with Doc Ock in Peter’s body while poor Peter died in Doc Ocks rotting corpse, I got angry. It just didn’t feel right to me that a character who has suffered constantly as a hero, all the while continuing to do the right thing, should go out in such tragic fashion. There was no justice to it in my head. Sure, Slott was saying that we should read the actual issue before making a decision, but I was convinced that there was no way any amount of context could actually change my mind.

Then I actually read issue #700… I was pleasantly surprised. It is still terrible that “Peter” died like he did, but Slott is doing some very interesting things to set up Superior Spider-Man, and it might just be interesting enough to satiate my fanboy rage.

My impression was that the new “Peter Parker with Doc Ock’s mind” is really a brand new character. Throughout the issue we see that the mind swap wasn’t all that clean, as aspects of both personalities show up in both bodies. To me, it was a lot like Alia Atreides’ situation in Children of Dune – she possessed genetic memories of her ancestors, who would constantly compete to be the dominant personality in her consciousness. Likewise, the new Peter-Ock possesses pieces of both character’s personalities, and the full life experiences of both as well. This is really important, because it calls into question what makes a person who they are. If we believe a person is the product of their life experiences and their memories, then the new Peter is most certainly still Peter. However, if we believe there is more to a person, that they have a “soul”, for lack of a better term, then Peter is dead and departed, as Slott insinuates with the heaven sequence.

Another question is this – does Doc Ock still exist? With his new memories and sensibilities, has his core personality changed enough that we can say that the old Otto Octavius is gone as well? I’d like to think that Peter “won” in the end by figuring out a way to deprive Otto of his selfish goals, instead dooming the evil personality to oblivion and replacing it with the best parts of both personalities. This new Peter-Ock may possess Otto’s intelligence and ambition, but he has Peter’s unwavering sense of right and wrong, which has always been the part of Peter that made him who he was.

Dan Slott has made a lot of fans angry, but he has also given himself a brand new character with tons of potential for character development. I think that was his goal to begin with. Spider-Man has struggled to deal adequately with a grown up Peter who doesn’t have the same problems he had as a teenager, and my feeling is that Slott came to the conclusion that Peter’s story has been at a natural end for some time now. Was his ride into the sunset handled as well as I think it should have been? Not really, but it was far better than I thought it would be. I would have liked to see Peter die while saving the whole world, which could have been done in AvX, but Slott chose to make things much murkier, and in the end, his vision for Spider-Man going forward may be more interesting than the demands of my fanboy sensibilities.

Comic Gaming: DC Deckbuilding

Posted: December 26, 2012 in DC, Games, Reviews
Tags: , ,

By Alex Headley

A look at the contents of the box. Property of Cryptozoic.

Having played about a dozen games over the holidays, I have to say that while Cryptozoic’s DC Deck-building game is a little too simple it’s still great fun. It supports 2 to 6 players, each of whom control one of the current members of the Justice League: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash and Cyborg. Each hero has an ability built in that helps them synergise with certain types of card.

Cyborg, who draws cards from equipment and gets +1 power for super powers is probably my favorite to play because of the versatility he brings to the table. Superman get +1 power for each different super power played in a turn, letting him really snowball if he gets a lot of kicks. Batman does the same, only with equipment which makes it much harder to get out of hand because equipment is much more rare. Aquaman can put cards he purchases on top of his deck so he can draw them next turn, a very powerful affect. Green Lantern gets +3 power if you play three cards with different names during your turn, making him a great hero to start with as it encourages you to buy lots of different stuff and experiment a bit. The Flash gets to go first and draws an extra card whenever a game effect makes him draw. It’s a good power but if you can’t buy card draw stuff it can be underwhelming. Wonder Woman keys off of villains, using her lasso to arrest them and draw extra cards for her next turn.
The goal of the game is to build a deck of cards that will help build power and defeat Super Villains. Each card is worth victory points, once all the super villains are defeated, the players total up their points and a winner is chosen. It’s a simple concept used to great affect in other games like Dominion or Ascension. The kicker here is the aforementioned synergies heroes have with certain cards.

For example, Superman gets an additional power point each time he plays a super power card. Batman does the same with equipment and the Flash gets to draw extra cards. Each one has a unique feel and adds a lot of replay value to the game. The Super Villains are interesting as well, each one gets to attack on their first appearance, harming each player if they can’t defend with a card in their hand. Players can choose to buy super powers, equipment, heroes and villains. Each card type interacts with others in various ways and some villains even let you attack other players by handing out weakness cards that reduce the player’s victory points, unless you have Bizarro, then your weakness becomes strength. There’s just enough nuance to keep each game interesting but learning the game and even getting good at it is quite simple. I had a lot of fun playing it with the family. That said, its far from perfect and I think he final product could have and should have been just a little bit better. More interaction between the players would have sealed the deal for me. I want to feel like a part of the Justice League, working together to take on Darksied. Instead, I feel like I’m racing the other players to be top hero, stealing cards that would be beneficial for my opponents to keep them from winning, or stacking weaknesses to push them down. It’s fun but its just not very heroic. Even just mimicking Munchkin in that regard would have been nice.

You’ll be seeing this guy a lot. He is always the first villain in play. Property of Cryptozoic.

“I’ll split the victory points with you if you help me take down the Anti-Monitor.” Trading between players would have made for a good time as well. Bartering adds a lot to a game like this, making it more than shuffling cards and hoarding points. It adds a social element that makes the game a unique experience, something you want to tell stories about for years to come. DC is just missing that wow factor for me. Still, the art is beautiful and the cards are bursting with flavor and charisma. Of course Arkham lets you draw extra cards for playing villains. Robin helps you fetch equipment and Flash gets to go first. It’s those little touches that give the game it’s value and make it a great experience for comic fans. Despite its flaws, its still a fun game that is easy to pick up, play well and enjoy with friends. I recommend it to anyone wanting to punch, kick and throw Gorilla Grodd at Lex Luthor.

by Phil Gibson

Merry Christmas Eve!

Both Alex and I were at a wedding last week, so reviews are running a few days behind. I had plenty on my pull list, and for the most part, I was really thrilled with what I read.

All-New X-men #3-4

We’ll start with the series I am feeling the most conflicted about at the moment. Bendis was at his best in issue #3, as he made me feel sorry for Cyclops, even after he refused to take responsibility for everything he did as the Phoenix, including murder Professor X. As I said in Episode 2 of our podcast, Cyclops is a guy who thinks like a hero but is in no position to actually be a hero at the moment. Bendis does a good job of capturing this dilemma. Scott Summers is leading his revolution and “saving” new mutants from the humans, but I’m not sure if he has any idea what his actual purpose is. The revolution people keep talking about in this series just seems like Cyclops gathering up all the new mutants and protecting them from the humans. It would be easy to say that Bendis is forgetting to define Cyclops’ purpose here, but I am interpreting the events in issue #3 as a sign that Scott really has no clue what to do with his new status as an “X-ile” (ok, that was bad) other than try to keep playing the good guy.

While issue #3 does a good job of focusing on the shortcomings of Cyclops, issue #4 is a mess. Bendis spends way too much time with dialogue here. Without action to keep things moving, the issue gets bogged down explaining how everyone is feeling about the current situation. I hope this is a fluke, because Bendis is at his worst when he gets verbose. I’m still optimistic about the series as a whole, but issue #4 made me just a little nervous.

Incredible Hulk #2

This series is just plain fun. Waid has managed to take what Mark Ruffalo started in The Avengers and use it to redefine the relationship between Bruce Banner and the Hulk. Instead of treating him as a tragic figure trying to keep his demons in check, Waid has Bruce using the Hulk to make Tony Stark finally take him seriously. The results are a few pages of fisticuffs between Hulk and Iron Man resulting in a much more equitable relationship between Tony and Bruce.

Waid does a great job of making Bruce’s approach to science novel from Tony Stark’s here. Whereas Stark uses what he know to build new things, Banner is dreaming big and then inventing the knowledge to get there. Stark lives in the world of science fact, whereas Banner lives in the world of science fiction. This makes sense, as Banner’s condition is an accident of unexplainable science, whereas Stark’s development of Iron Man was totally deliberate.

I’m really excited to see where this series is going, and I hope Waid keeps experimenting with the relationship between this new Bruce Banner and the other big shots in the Marvel Universe.

Thor: God of Thunder #3

Jason Aaron is on fire with this series. It is looking very possible that this could end up being my favorite Marvel NOW! title, and the reason is simple: Aaron isn’t afraid to write a fantasy story. As I’ve said before, this is a much more mythical Thor than we’ve seen before. Aaron reinforces this with an Iron Man appearance. Thor diminishes Stark’s ability to understand what is going on in the world of the gods, showing again that his affairs as an eternal entity are much larger than the temporal concerns of the Avengers.

We also learn just a bit more about Thor’s history with Gorr, the God Butcher. While we have no idea how, this issue tells the reader that Gorr’s rampage is somehow a direct outcome of his first encounter with Thor. Once again, Aaron isn’t giving us all the information. There is very little exposition here (Bendis should take note), just bits and pieces of history as the main plot moves on.

I can’t wait for issue #4 of this series.

Uncanny X-Force #35

My favorite series of the year is over, although it is getting a relaunch in January. I was really sad to see this lineup go after falling in love with the characters during Remender’s run. Issue #35 doesn’t give us much story, it’s more of a love letter to the readers to remind us why we enjoyed this team so much. In particular, I’m really sad this is the last time we’ll see Remender write Deadpool for a while. He underwent some serious development in this series, showing us that, beneath all the wise-cracking, there is a deeply conflicted soul trying to be a hero. Wade and Evan have a great moment in this issue, and I sincerely hope we haven’t seen the last of their very brotherly relationship.

Speaking of development, Remender makes it clear that, while this is Wolverine’s team, it is Psylocke’s book. The story, from issue one, has absolutely tortured Betsy Braddock, causing her to deal with loss, guilt, and self-loathing due to the killer she has become. Remender has done a great job of reconciling her character history with her personality, and brought her to a new place. Her reward for giving up the assassin – she finally gets a partner without a dark side (you’ll see what I mean in the book).

Wolverine is also in a very different place than he was 35 issues ago. The killing finally gets to him in a big way, leaving Logan in an unsure state about his place in the world, which sets up perfectly for his spot in Remender’s Uncanny Avengers. My only concern is that the multitude of people who are writing Wolverine will fail to adjust their approach to the character to incorporate this shift (I’m thinking especially of Savage Wolverine).

Overall, the strength of this book is that it wraps up the series nicely while transitioning perfectly into Marvel NOW! We’ll see if Sam Humphries can follow up Remender with an Uncanny X-Force that is worthy of the title.

Sorry for the late post everyone but here it is. This was a great week in comics, I really enjoyed everything I picked up.
By Alex Headley

Mole Man attacks! Property of Marvel Comics.

FF 2
FF 2 hits the ground running right where Fantastic Four 2 left off. The Fantastic Four are missing and time and the new FF are left to makes sense of it all. The hallmark of this series has been the small character moments. That continues here; I particularly like Medusa here. Fraction is mostly using her for comedy a the moment but be transitions nicely into hero mode when Mole Man comes knocking. Mole Man’s appearance here is a perfect throwback to Fantastic Four # 1. The action in this issue is fun and frantic. Mike Allred just knocks it out of the park. The books feel so classic and while Fraction’s charm is a big part of that, I just don’t think the book would be as good without Mike and Laura working on it. This book continues to be the most charming and fun book ive read in a long while, even beating out Fraction’s own Defenders (which you guys know I loved). It’s good to know that comics can still be fun and a bit lighthearted in a way that is still true to the characters and universe involved. This is shaping up to be a great team book and a great vehicle underused characters like Scott Lang, who may be my favorite Ant-Man these days. I still can’t recommend this book highly enough if you are a looking for a fun, stylish romp in the Marvel U.

Avengers 2
Hickman continues to impress with his Avengers. This issue takes some time to let us meet the new cast members and gives us some great Robert Downey Jr. inspired Tony Stark moments. The interplay between Tony and Steve here is a pleasure to watch as they assemble the expanded Avengers roster. I particularly liked the scene with Sunspot and Cannonball. It really helps to drive home just how important the Avengers are and how the world reacts to them. Bringing mutants into the fold is a great move for the Avengers and those two will be the top representatives of that. We get to learn a great deal about the new villains in the boom as well. Hickman fleshes out The Garden a bit while establishing some pretty heavy cosmos stuff in the Marvel U. This is Elders of the Universe/New Gods stuff and so far I like it. Ex Nihilo’s conversation with Thor is fascinating. Hickman could be shaking things up with this arc in a big big way with rumors swirling of an alternate world/continuity spinning out the title. Jerome Opena and Dean White don’t impress quite as much on this issue as the first one but its still just a great fit for the story and the scenes on Mars are just as beautiful as issue one. It’s the Earth stuff that doesn’t quite hit the mark this time around. Particularly when it comes to unmasked faces, with Captain Marvel suffering the most from wonky face syndrome. Seems like Opena doesn’t know what to do with her hair and he drew her with far too much makeup. But its a small gripe when the rest of the book looks so good. Next issue will see the newly expanded Avengers travel to Mars to do battle with the Garden. I’m excited to see the outcome. I expect the battle will deliver the goods in a big way.

Batwoman 15
This was my favorite issue of the week. It doesn’t focus on the titular Batwoman or the high profile Wonder Woman. It doesn’t focus on the villains either. Instead it takes the time to get into Batwoman’s girlfriend, Detective Maggie Sawyer’s head as Medusa’s invasion of Gotham begins. I love it when a series takes the time to explore the repercussions of big events. It gives it a lot more weight. Big events happen all the time in comics, superheroes get into these kinds situations everyday but when everyday people find themselves fighting dragons, its a special occasion. Maggie Sawyer’s disjointed memories of the big event are full of personal musings and the stream of consciousness style employed here feels very human. The situation in the church helps push the story forward in a big way and reminds us about the impact this arc has had on the downtrodden Gotham citizens. This series has really escalated things for Batwoman and everyone around her. The new cast of villains are a very cool blend of magic, mad science and a good dose of Gotham crazy. J.H Williams III and Haden Blackman have really done an outstanding job on this series, managing to not only live up to the high bar set by Greg Rucka’s story in Detective Comics two years ago but surpasses it. Kate’s supporting cast is so strong that the lack of superheroes in this issue is not a problem in the least.

The cover to Wonder Woman 15 Property of DC Comics.

Wonder Woman 15
Wonder Woman has been a favorite of mine since the reboot. Azarello gives Diana a lot of wit to go with her might. This is adventure on a grand scale that places ancient history and mythology smack-dab in the middle of modern life and superheroic affairs. Wonder Woman has never been better. Azzarello embraces the magic and myth in a way that finally makes Wonder Woman larger than life in an appropriate way and despite the changes to her origin and cast she still feels like the classic Wonder Woman. She stands for equality and compassion but is also a fierce warrior. It’s in this way that she is finally on par with her Marvel counterpart, Thor. Even though she came first(predating the God of Thunder by more than 20 years) she’s never quite fit into the fold like Thor has with the Avengers. She’s part of the DC Trinity but always feels like a third wheel to Batman and Superman. I suspect that’s because not every guy can write women effectively and comics are written largely my men. But Azzarello’s take on the character has made her one of the best characters in DC’s line and that is a very, very good thing. She’s been fine over in Geoff John’s Justice League but she there she still feels a like a part of the team and not the heavy hitter she should be. Azzarello has upped her power level and involvement in the world and I can’t wait to see that reflected in other books. In fact, that’s the biggest gripe and fear I have with the character at the moment. Her series and her other appearances don’t quite match up yet but I suspect that’s largely due to the mess of a timeline in the New 52.  Cliff Chiang’s work is spectacular here.  I like his designs for Orion and I’ve really enjoyed seeing him get to design the various children of Zeus week in and week out. His designs for the various gods have been fascinating and his Wonder Woman is both fierce and beautiful without being eye candy. The tone of the book is pretty dark at the moment, there is a war brewing of mythic proportions and godly blood is about to be spilled, not to mention all the adultery and kidnapped babies. The interplay between Hera and Zola lends this issue some much needed levity and I’m sure they will be stealing much of the spotlight in issue 16 with their night out on the town.

Nightwing 15
Nightwing has had a lot of ups and downs  so far. This issue is an up for me, although its far from perfect. This is a Death of the Family tie in story and its one of the better stories to come out of the even so far. The Joker knows Dick almost as well as he know Bruce and the Joker’s attack on Haly’s Circus feels very much like a classic tale in the making. A killer clown in a circus? Good stuff. The pacing is a bit off here but Higgins has focused on making Grayson’s life hectic. A lot has happened in the series, each issue is packed with plot points. It makes the individual issues a little hard to judge on plot. But the overall story threads are intriguing and fun. I just feel like the most interesting ones, Haly’s and Sonia Zucco, keep getting glossed over for action set pieces. That was particularly true in the Lady Shiva arc and while its not as bad here, its still a concern. Eddy Barrows has been consistent throughout the series, delivering some small moments to accompany the acrobatic action and the red costume has really started to grow on me. I think Barrows makes it look better than any other artist has so far.

The Cover to Green Lantern 15 Property of DC Comics.

Green Lantern 15
Simon Baz’s story continues in this issue and I still think its a great origin story. We also get to see a little bit more of Hal and Sinestro’s journey into the Dead Zone and learn the First Lantern’s real name. A lot of things happen here before the First Army’s invasion pushes things into high gear action. Baz’s conflict with the man he stole from is full of tension and, while a little predictable, is fun to read. The addition of Agent Fed has given Baz a cool supporting cast member that redeems the portrayal of the FBI in a big way. Seeing how the FBI operated in a world with superheroes and alien invasions is fun and teaming Fed up with Baz in a horror movie survival scenario was cool, even if the ring malfunction seemed a little too convenient for the plot. Yeah, the ring hasn’t been stable at all so far but Baz was finally getting a handle on it last issue an that seems to have stopped in this one. Still, the appearance of B’dg is awesome. His return is definitely a positive for the New 52 and a highlight for the month for me. Geoff Johns hasn’t steered us wrong with Green Lantern and its pretty much the definitive take on he concept at this point. It seems like all that is about to get shaken up in a big way. There’s no way things can go back to the status quo at this point. The Guardians attempt to spread peace through assimilation is kind of a deal breaker for the Corps. This is definitely a must read books for Lantern fans. Doug Mahnke continues to deliver big action and great visuals in this series. The First Army is a genuinely terrifying visual. It’s got a great invasion of the body snatchers feel to it.

At least the cover is awesome. A great way to celebrate a milestone. Property of Marvel Comics.

By Alex Headley
So, Amazing Spider-Man #700 has been leaked online. Presumably by someone involved in the printing process. Marvel and writer Dan Slott are understandably upset about the whole thing. Though I don’t care about Marvel’s feelings as much when they plaster spoilers all over any news outlet that will let them; it hasn’t happened in a while but it seemed like, for a time, we were getting big news from USA Today instead of the comic shop. I do feel for Slott though, as a creator this is his lifeblood and while I don’t particularly like Spider-Man or the direction he is taking the story anyway, the leak puts a negative spin on the whole thing from the beginning. Now instead of waiting for feedback on a story he obviously cares a great deal about, he’s receiving death threats (WARNING: there are numerous spoilers in that article) before its even been published. That’s a real downer for a guy that makes his living off of pleasing fans; not to mention its freaking crazy. I know fans are passionate but death threats are just ridiculous. Not exactly good PR for comics nerds like me.

I’ll keep this spoiler free, mentioning only what we know from solicits and interviews. This story sets up the new ongoing title Superior Spider-Man which sets an edgier tone for Spidey and takes Peter Parker out of the mask (which seems like odd timing what with the new movie franchise). We’ve known this before but the question has only been of who might take up the mantle, 700 sets that up. The idea of a new guy taking over for a classic hero has been done so many times it’s a trope. And using that in an attempt to make the character edgier and unpredictable is a particularly tired trend in comics.  Jean Paul Valley, Bucky Barnes, Guy Gardner (or any of the Earth GLs), Eradicator, Scarlet Spider, etc; the list goes on but the status quo always bounces back. It’s the nature of comics. Plenty of heroes have been replaced with edgier versions over the years, Spider-Man included, and like all of those examples, this will blow over. That said, I’m sure some good stories can come out of it. A writer like Slott doesn’t just decide on something like this overnight. He’s been planning and he has a story that he wants to tell and Marvel has decided it is worth telling. It seems like this was Slott’s plan all along, which is interesting and makes it a little more fun. Why did he want to do this, why in this particular fashion? Since its, supposedly, an editorial mandate by the head honchos at Marvel I think we might be in for an enjoyable ride with Superior Spider-Man. It’s not on my pull list anyway, as I said I’ve never been a Spidey fan, but I hope fans are willing to give it a shot and find it enjoyable.

The cover to Superior Spider-Man #1. Notice how edgy it is. Property of Marvel Comics.

But the real issue, to me, is how people learn about big changes like this. The Internet has changed the way entertainment operates and not always for the better. This has affected movies in an obvious way, rumors and set leaks are a dime a dozen these days. Cracks, hacks, torrents and other illegal downloads have plagued video games for years now. What makes it particularly rough for comics though is that it’s mostly in suspense of what’s to come that people but the books every week. The serialized format is full of cliffhangers and what-if moments that keep people coming back. Take away that suspense and your weekly pull is much less exciting. Now, I’m sure some people download comics just to scratch that itch and then still pay for the book at their local store but many more read their books completely free of charge and ahead of schedule. Thanks to Disney, Marvel isn’t exactly hurting these days and Warner Bros. can support DC but where leaks and scans really hurt is at the smaller publishers. Image can’t fall back on a multi-million dollar movie if no one buys their stuff. Neither can IDW or Boom! or Valiant. But I think most of the damage is to the retailers. Comic shops are a rare breed. They typically sell one thing and cater to one type if customer. Most are independent, especially in the rural parts of the country. And in a recession, even chains can be hurting. Now say what you will about the future of the industry as a whole but I still believe that brick and mortar stores are important if for no other reason than for the water cooler affect. The interwebs just don’t provide the same sense of community or the real chance to get out of the house and meet other people with the same hobbies. Many shops embrace games like Heroclix and Magic as well, giving gamers a valuable gathering point. Without the local comic store, the hobby becomes much less interesting and fun. So, while I’m not going to state that torrents and downloads are unequivocally wrong I will say that it spoils the fun a bit. It kills that buzz we get off of not knowing, takes away that anticipation each week. The Internet gave us the information age, but when it comes to storytelling sometimes it’s better to let yourself be surprised.

Web Comics will be a regular feature on Comic Critique. I’ll be taking a look at the various comics available for free on the web and letting you know what I think. Web Comics are a big thing these days and there a lot to sort through. I’ll let you know which ones are worth your time.

By Alex Headley
Mark Waid has seen a lot of acclaim lately with his Daredevil series and Indestructible Hulk #1 but his most impressive feat is his digital comics hub Thrillbent. In 2010 Waid sold his comic collection to fund his experiment and endorse the digital comics format. Thrillbent plays host to all kinds of interesting concepts from Waid and others for completely free. There are a couple of ongoing series currently hosted on the site but Waid’s own series, Insufferable, is my favorite. It follows the lives of former father and son superhero duo Nocturnus and Galahad. It has a bit of a classic Batman and Robin feel except that Robin has grown up to be an annoying, money hungry douchebag. The two have been separated for years but a mystery involving the death of Galahad’s mother brings them back together. Neither are very happy about it. The story has a lot of heart and charm to it. The best part is that it feels just as big and interconnected as the Marvel or DC universes. World building is fascinating to me and Waid has created something special here. The comic updates weekly and features some excellent art by Peter Krauss that really takes advantage of the format. Images transition and change to tell the story. Instead of flipping a page, the scene just changes. It creates some cool effects throughout the series. It doesn’t always impress but it does create some unique storytelling options. I highly recommend you go check it out here. Waid’s making-of blog is a fun read in and of itself and well worth checking out too.

Each issue of Pax Arena is available in French too.

The site features several other stories worthy of your time. Give Pax Arena a shot if you enjoy sci-fi. Again, it’s the worldbuilding that draws me in on this one, it feels like it existed long before I started reading it; that lived-in quality is hard to nail down but is so important for a new property or original story. New properties can suffer from many things but feeling like a rip-off or re-tread is the worst. Despite telling a fairly standard Rogue Cop procedural story, Pax really has a unique feel to it. Creator Mast and Geoffo give the book a lot of style. It’s mostly in black and white but color pops in a t key moments. The aliens are fun to look at and the main character, Zoe, oozes baddassery on every panel. The story has some good action and puts the digital format to good use, though it’s not quite as impressive as Insufferable.

Recommended Reading: You Decide!

Posted: December 15, 2012 in Editorial Not

Alright guys, here’s the deal. I have $25 of iTunes credit to spend on comics as a graduation present from the folks. So I’m leaving the fate of that credit to the Comic Critique readers. Tell me what to buy and ill review it here on the site.
Here are some titles I’m considering but feel free to suggest something else.
1. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction
2. Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue Deconnick
3. Saucer Country by Paul Cornell
4. A run of Hellblazer
5. 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello

Share your thoughts here in the comments, on Facebook @ComicCritiqueBlog or you can e-mail us at Cast your votes for any of the above or make your own suggestions for consideration. Keep in mind I want to get a complete story if at all possible. Collections are ideal but single issues could work too.
Thanks guys!

By Alex Headley

The cover to Demon Knights 15 Property of DC Comics

Demon Knights 15

Paul Cornell’s run has been nothing short of brilliantly imaginative and fun. Dungeons & Dragons inspired bar brawls, fire breathing dinosaurs, rhyming demons and Avalon all make for big, fun adventure. Unfortunately, issue 15 falters a bit in its pacing and storytelling. Things just happen too fast and I get the sense that it’s entirely because this is Cornell’s last issue. The big fight in Avalon, the return of Merlin, the aftermath of all the stories so far, and the set up for the future are all here and it just doesn’t quite mesh. The dialogue is still fun and witty, the betrayals are both inevitable and enjoyable and the core group all get some good lines. That’s great, but this also has ties to the origin of a lot of things about the DCU. Namely, the creation of Stormwatch and the importance of magic. Merlin says some intriguing things in his short time on screen but none of it carries the weight that it should. Likewise, Lucifer’s threats and musings aren’t nearly as interesting here as they have been in previous issues. There isn’t too much else to say other than the issue is mainly disappointing because it’s Cornell’s last and we all know he is capable of so much more. At least we have the rest of his run to look back upon fondly.

Fantastic Four 2

The cover to Fantastic Four #2 has a classic Jack Kirby feel to it. Property of Marvel Comics

Issue 2 is still largely setting up for things to come, but damn is it a charming look at Marvel’s first family. Everyone in this issue just has so much personality on display. Matt Fraction doesn’t waste a single panel or line of dialogue. Short scenes are all he needs to establish these characters, build relationship, tension and plot. Again, Reed Richards and Scott Lang take center stage here as the two discuss the unstable cancer that is infecting the Fantastic Four and the nature of the group’s trip into the space and time. It’s a plot point that grounds the levity and playfulness on display in a good way.   But the opening pages, where Ben threatens the Yancy Street gangs before leaving, are the most touching. The Thing is a loud expressive character known best for his silly catchphrases. But Fraction gives him a lot of heart behind all of that bluster and noise. Bagley seems to have really gotten a handle on drawing the big ol’ rock too, making some of my gripes with last issue irrelevant here. Medusa meeting the FF kids may be the best moment in the book. It’s quite funny and cuts to the core of both Medusa and Susan Storm quite well.  Johnny Storm and his girlfriend Darla have some humorous interactions here but we still know very little about the character. We still haven’t seen the suit that she will supposedly be wearing in the FF series.  The only downside to this issue at all in my opinion is that it still isn’t moving the plot forward very quickly and you kind of need to be reading FF to appreciate all the interactions here. It’s a fun story but ultimately one that doesn’t do too much.  The two books are practically different chapters of the same tale at the moment and while I’m sure that will change as things go along I still get the feeling that it’s a big intentional. Much like the X-men and Avengers have their big family of titles, it feels like Fraction is up to the same thing here. I’m still enjoying the series, but I’m eager for things to get started in earnest. I guess that means Fraction is doing something right.

All-New X-Men, All-New Bendis? Property of Marvel Comics

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