SCDPT Podcast!

Apr-27-15

The latest episode of the Super Comic Disco Party Time! podcast is now available here or on iTunes.

On this episode, John and I discuss Daredevil and his new Netflix series. SPOLIERS ABOUND!

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Speaking of reviews….

Feb-04-09

So, the quiet time here at Meanwhile…Comics continues, certainly longer than either Jason or I intended.  Both of us have been a tad overwhelmed lately by work, and since work pays the bills, it always has to come first.  Jason is going to be offline for the rest of this week as well, but I couldn’t let the entire blog sit quiet for another seven days, hence this entry.  There may even be more rambling from me later in the week, and how exciting would that be? I know.  It is pretty exhilarating.

I have been communicating with Jason, very briefly, and he does have some exciting news for the blog, but I won’t talk about it too much.  It’s his news and he can share.  However, his news touches on the concept of reviewing items, a topic that Jason and I discussed quite some time ago.  We listed some of the reasons we don’t do a lot (ok, any) reviews, but at the time we said that we hoped to do more of them soon.  Since that entry, we have done exactly zero real reviews, which continues our perfect record!  Yay us!

One of the reasons that we don’t do reviews was brought home to me again this past weekend, when I was reading Peter David’s IDW series Fallen Angel.  Fallen Angel began life as a series set in the DC Universe, but just before two years had passed, DC cancelled the title.  Luckily, it was picked up by IDW (which is, seriously, one of the best of the non-big two publishers out there today.  They publish some great series, and have given homes to a lot of deserving works) and it continues to be published there to this day.  It chronicles the story of…well, a fallen angel, and the lives, loves and adventures of her and the other inhabitants of the very interesting city of Bete Noire.

It’s certainly not a secret to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis that I am a huge fan of Peter David.  He wrote one of my all time favorite series, Young Justice.  Beyond that, I’ve enjoyed almost everything else he’s written.  He made me care about the Hulk, who was a character I had zero interest in until David’s tenure on the title.  I never read any of the X-Books on a regular basis, until David took over X-Factor, where he managed to make a rather unusual and motley crew of misfits into a really fascinating group (well, except for Wolfsbane…sorry, but she’s a character that still leaves me cold).  He took Madrox, for years considered a ridiculously silly and underpowered character, and made him one of the most interesting characters out there.  David has written numerous novels as well.  I started by reading his Star Trek novels, and soon branched out into his original novels, such as the Sir Apropos series.  Heck, I’m even a big fan of his column, “But I Digress”, which appears each month in Comic Buyers Guide.

Based upon how much I enjoy his work, it should come as no surprise that I picked up Fallen Angel when it was originally released by DC.  I have to admit, I wasn’t horribly impressed.  Some might say that this is because Fallen Angel is written in such a different style than a normal Peter David work, and that it’s not as amusing, but I would dispute that statement.  I don’t see David as simply a comedy writer.  I’m not sure how anyone who’s read the Hulk issue where Jim Wilson dies of AIDS, or the Young Justice issue where the Red Tornado’s adopted daughter is the victim of a hate crime, could consider David simply a comedy writer.  While he certainly can do comedy, and he can do it well, I’ve never pigeonholed him in that manner.  So, I wasn’t expecting Fallen Angel to be a laugh a minute.  It certainly was more serious than many of his titles, but I have no problem with that.  In the end, it wasn’t keeping my interest, and I was having problems remembering what had happened in the previous issue when I’d pick up a new one.  However, I continued to buy the series, both from DC and IDW.  Some people may consider that silly or counterproductive (why support something you’re not fond of), but I wanted to support David, and I should reiterate that I didn’t hate the series; I just wasn’t being drawn into it.

Had we been doing reviews of comics at that time, and had we reviewed Fallen Angel, I would not have been able to recommend it.  However, this weekend I sat down and read the entire series, from one end to the other.  Wow.  What a difference.  Read in its entirety, the series came alive for me in ways that it never had before.  The characters seemed more interesting, and their personalities were consistently engaging.  Plots and sub-plots sprang from the page and I realized that everthing fit together beautifully.  There was an obvious plan here, and the city of Bete Noire became a character in a way that is so extremely exciting when it happens, yet happens all too seldom.  It’s a shame that DC didn’t give the series more time, as Bete Noire would fit in quite well with their other cities (although, it’s also kind of nice to have the series in its own little universe.  I think it’s stronger without the idea that Superman or Batman could stop by for a visit).  After reading all these comics (over the space of a few days), I couldn’t wait for new ones to come out (which is sad, since the next issue for the title won’t be available until they relaunch the series again in December).

So, in the end, what is my point, beyond realizing that I had never fully appreciated Fallen Angel in the past?  My point is that, one of my problems with reviews is that my viewpoint on material will sometimes change.  Either the distance of time, or the circumstances under which I first encountered something will often color my thoughts on a story, and I may change my opinion.  I’m not saying that this means reviews are useless or that they’re a waste of time for those who either read or write them.  Often, my opinion doesn’t change, and as you force yourself to critically approach something you’ve read or watched, you can also carve your opinion more solidly.  That being said, one of my review concerns is that I will either applaud or condemn someone’s work, only to realize after time has passed, that I was wrong.  This is something that I’ll be taking into consideration as Jason and I move into doing reviews on the site.

Pfft…I’m NEVER wrong.


2009 Superhero Resolutions

Dec-17-08

When we’re not trying to save a forgotten character or rehabilitate one that seems to have fallen off-track, we (or at least I) always seem to end up taking the industry to task for one reason or another. I guess blogs wouldn’t exist if people didn’t have anything to complain about! As the clock winds down on 2008, it’s easy to look back and point fingers. At the same time, this joyous and comforting season provides the perfect opportunity to look ahead and resolve to make changes. While I promise to try to be funnier without being so caustic (except when it comes to Bendis), I figure some of our favorite Marvel and DC heroes and villains are also hoping to make some positive changes in their lives too.

With that in mind, here are our thoughts on what some of those New Year’s resolutions may look like:

Spider-Man: I resolve to find true love. I really think it’s time that I settle down, find a wife, and get into a solid domestic relationship. That’s the one thing in my life that seems to be missing. Seriously. Like, it was there and then it wasn’t. Weird, huh?

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Hulk: I resolve to be a better father. Kids learn from example. I can’t be leaping all over creation smashing stuff and speaking in broken English. What kind of precedent does that set for my little Skaar? Less mindless violence and more dedication to the arts, that’s my goal. Maybe I’ll even take up yoga.

Aquaman: I resolve to…hello? Is anyone listening to me? HELLO?!? Stupid fish aren’t even paying attention anymore.

Punisher: I resolve to only kill people who deserve it. And by “deserve it,” I mean “does something that falls within my broad and ever-changing definition of evil…from kiddie porn to jaywalking, on any given day.” Honestly, that guy driving that Miata the other day? He was just asking to be blown up into tiny pieces with a bazooka and about a half-dozen other high-explosive armaments. Should whack his family too. What kind of person drives a Miata?

Luke Cage: I resolve to never join a group called the Dark Avengers. Kinda sends the wrong message, ya know? Sweet Christmas!

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Iron Man: I resolve to start drinking again. Can you blame me?

Blue Beetle: I resolve to stay relevant regardless of losing my solo series and becoming a quasi-legacy to a character who was never all that fabulous to begin with. But hey, as long as I keep making appearances on a keen new Batman cartoon, everyone will love me! I mean, look at the headliners I’m appearing with…Plastic Man, Red Tornado, uh…Aquaman? Damn it. I’m screwed.

Madrox: I resolve to stop sending doubles in to deal with the crying baby. It’s not fair to them and it doesn’t really teach me anything. Although, on the bright side, at least I’m not the one who has to put up with all the screaming and crying. Considering half the kid’s genes are from Siryn, that’s probably a safe thing.

All-Star Batman: I resolve to stop talking like a goddamn retard.

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too…ah, crap.

Dr. Strange: I resolve to be the central character in a Bendis crossover this year, meaning I also resolve to act horribly out of character as long as that advances the plot, no matter how nonsensical that may be.

Cyclops: Now that my current honey, Emma Frost, looks to be going evil again, I resolve to find another skank to bring home to my bedroom. I wonder what Selene, the Black Queen, is up to. Jean would be so proud.

Wolverine: I resolve to only appear in fifteen books a month. Wouldn’t want to become overexposed.

Thor: Verily, I doth resolveth to speaketh in English most plain, so as not to confuseth those who doth find themselves arrayed around me.

Hercules: Verily, I doth resolveth….hey Odinson! Getith thine own resolution. Fine. I doth resolve to ne’er move from the fine publication in which I currently reside. It is mine now Hulk, you poor excuse for a hero! You shall ne’er move me from it!

She-Hulk: I doth resolve…sorry. It’s contagious. I resolve to get my own title again. I wonder who can relaunch me this time? Maybe I’ll give Byrne a call….it’s not like he’s doing anything important right now.

Sub-Mariner: I resolve to enter rehab this year. I mean, have you seen me lately? I look worse than Tony Stark did after a three month bender!

Dr. Light (female): I resolve to turn back the clock on my personality and act like I did in 1986 again. It may not make sense to anyone else, but there’s a reason I’m ignoring the last 20 years of my life and acting in this manner. Honest.

Obsidian: I resolve to go back to the JSA and fade into the woodwork again, since the only title to explore my character is now, <sigh>, cancelled.

Scarlet Witch: I resolve to return to comics to say what I should have said in 2005: “No more Bendis.”


Comic Book Predictions for 2009

Dec-15-08

Here at “Meanwhile…Comics!”, we’ve spent the past year talking about what we would do differently with the characters and titles found in the Marvel and DC universes. It’s been fun to play editor-after-the-fact. However, if we want to be true editors of a comic book world, we need to learn to plan ahead as well. So, John and I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek into the future and see what 2009 may hold for our favorite Marvel and DC characters. I’ll kick off the festivities and then John can comment on my thoughts and add some of his own (you guys know the drill). In 2009, I predict…

1. MODOK will make a comeback. Granted, this freak has been the butt of many jokes in the past year or two, but he used to be leader (many times over) of AIM and one of Captain America’s most visually interesting foes. The way Ed Brubaker is scrolling through the early Cap bad guys…Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola…he’s bound to get to MODOK sooner than later. And then, we can expect dramatic comebacks from the likes of The Stranger, Solarr, Monster Ape, Yellow Claw, The Tumbler and The Alchemoid. Classics all.

2. DC will go through yet another crisis. And the Internet will weep. And no one will understand what’s going on. And the whole thing will center around an epic battle between Bat-Mite and Streaky the Super Cat. The plot will get leaked to someone’s blog and then Dan DiDio will spend four months rejiggering the whole thing so that Bat-Mite ends up either torn in half or stuffed in a refrigerator (or, in his case, a little Coleman cooler). Tears will fall. Heroes will rise up. No one will notice.

3. Wasp will come back from the dead. And so will Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne and Martian Manhunter and Orion and everyone else who went down this year. Are you shocked yet? I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that Mockingbird will die again, just so Bendis can mess with Hawkeye a little bit more. Jerk.

4. Some second tier characters will get their own titles. And then get them cancelled. I’m looking at you, Dakota North! Oh, what’s that? You already had a title that no one bothered to read? Never mind then. Now I’m looking at you, Nth Man! What? Really?? Oh. Well, maybe She-Hulk will get her own title again. Fingers crossed.

5. Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld will collaborate. In the crossover, Batman and Shatterstar will carry really big guns, swear a lot, and constantly look like they’re in pain (either through their expressions or the fact that they have teeny, tiny ankles and ginormously huge upper body structure). Oh, and the whole thing will be presented in vivid black & white…because, you know, that never gets old.

That’s five things off the top of my head. I predict that John will inspire more sarcasm in me. What do you predict?

Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with the prediction that the dead in comics will rise again. I’d also go ahead and add Shadowcat to your list, as I’m sure she’ll return from her Joss Whedon-penned demise in short order (at least I’d hope so, as she’s one of the few truly interesting members of the X-Men). It’s also certainly hard to argue with DC having another Crisis. I know this one is called Final Crisis, but who really believes that?

Here are some other predictions:

1. Brian Michael Bendis will suffer fatigue from writing 75% of the titles Marvel produces and his scripts will show it: Oh, I’m sorry, that happened in 2006. I’m supposed to be looking to the future. I do, however, feel that he will continue to be one of the guiding lights behind the Marvel Universe, that his writing will continue to avoid hitting the heights it did back when he wrote only a few fringe books, and that I will continue to avoid purchasing most Marvel titles for this very reason.

2. Mark Millar will unveil his latest brainstorm: Ultimate Midnighter and Ultimate Apollo!: In an attempt to breathe life back into the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar will introduce Ultimate Midnighter and Apollo into that world. Once there, they will become members of the Ultimates, leading that team to new heights of debauchery and pathetic attempts to incite readers with cheap sensationalistic antics. Ultimate Captain America will prove to be a giant homophobe and will fight with them both, eventually ending when Apollo sodomizes him at which point Cap will see the error of his ways and shack up with Ultimate Colossus.

3. Spider-Girl will be relaunched and then re-cancelled. Twice. Which is a pretty safe bet any year.

4. Dan Didio will make internet fandom arise against him in anger when he decides that the DC Universe needs to kill off Captain Marvel. “He’s really just another Superman, right? I’ve never seen the point of him. He’s redundant.”

5. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction will launch a new title, “Raging Razorback”, will will become a huge critical darling. “We can make any previously unimportant D list hero relevant and exciting,” Brubaker will say in an interview on Newsarama. The book will indeed, launch to much critical and commercial success, which will last for eight months, when both creators will then leave the book to work on a relaunch of El Aguila. Some poor relative unknown will be tapped to replace them, and Razorback’s title will quickly fade from view. However, I declare 2010 to be the year of El Aguila!

Oh, snap! Those are some good ones. The Bendis point is so true it’s ridiculous. Everyone seems to hint that Bendis will be Quesada’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief eventually. What a horrible day that will be in the Marvel U. Everyone…will…yeah, but…well, you know…we can…we can all start, y’know, start…talking like…um…like, y’know, this? Or…yeah. Yes.

I’m not sure DiDio will get to Captain Marvel in 2009 though. He still has to do long division on the rest of the former Robins, a couple Green Arrows, three Flashes, at least two Atoms and a generous handful of Green Lanterns. Captain Marvel might get pushed to 2010.

I absolutely LOVE the Brubaker/Fraction reference. So true. And, so help me, I’d happily buy every issue of Raging Razorback. Y’know…until the scrub creative team takes over.

That reminds me of a few more things I can predict for 2009…

1. Someone will finally sell an Aquaman pitch. And that lucky devil will be Grant Morrison. The book will be described as “Lovecraft with sex pirates,” the art will be provided by Frank Quitely, and the first issue will come out 22 months after the book is announced. Critics will rejoice. Fans will scurry for their dictionaries. And, somehow, Morrison will win a Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll accept the award in a shiny suit and then disappear from the stage in a puff of smoke.

2. The TV-to-comics writer trend will continue. 2009 will see the debut of three titles that take place in a hospital, four that deal with scientist cops, one that features a law firm and one that has some sort of weird sci-fi vibe but just gets more convoluted and confusing as it progresses. Pretty soon, readers will give up on it all and start turning to the serialized versions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. The Comic Writers Strike of 2009 will come to a head with Deal or No Deal: The Comic Book (which will immediately be optioned by Sony for a three-picture deal).

3. All the superhero tropes will make an appearance. Someone will be resurrected. Someone will lose their memory. A plot will turn out to be a vividly bad dream. Another plot will turn out to have taken place in a different dimension. Time travel will solve someone’s problems. A bad guy will have his “lifeforce’ transferred to another body a split second before his current body is destroyed. Certain characters will die in one title, only to pop up in another as if nothing ever happened and nothing is explained. One hero will secretly wear the costume of another hero. There will be an evil twin…with a goatee and, preferably, an eyepatch. An older sister will turn out to be someone’s mother instead. Someone will cheat on someone else with their brother…and get pregnant! Wow…those last few went into soap opera territory, didn’t they?

4. Wolverine will get three more titles. And, right before his movie debuts, he’ll show up in crossovers with Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Thunderbolts, Captain Britain, Anita Blake, Dark Tower and even the Marvel Illustrated version of The Man in the Iron Mask.

5. DC will slip to #3 in sales. This will happen when Dark Horse signs a licensing deal for a Harry Potter vs. Twilight series. Geeks worldwide will suddenly realize that Dark Horse publishes books featuring Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Serenity and pretty much every other popular genre-based character and Eliza Dushku role outside the superhero realm. The mainstream media will try to make a story out of the fact that comics exist that aren’t based around male power fantasies. A few people will take note, but aging fanboys will rally against the minimally perked popular interest, decrying these new books as “dumb” and the people who read them as “idiots.” The world will realize what socially repressed assholes the core comic readership is comprised of, the potential excitement will die away and superhero comics will continue to shrink in both quality and reach. Everyone will be happy. Hooray!

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading comics? Just wanted to reinforce that.

I would so read that Aquaman book.

I can’t wait to read more Wolverine titles. With his three monthlies, plus his appearances in multiple X-Men titles and Avengers affairs, I simply don’t feel that we’re seeing enough of him. With a major motion picture coming out next year, I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t capitalize on this underused character. Perhaps the launch of Spectacular Wolverine, Wolverine: The Best There Is At What He Does and Superfluous Wolverine, will help to fill the gap and will help draw non-comics readers into comics shops after the movie is a hit. Oh wait. No, that won’t work, since all of those books will be cynical, angry books, mired in years of confusing continuity that would take ten years to understand. My bad.

My crystal ball is clouding over, but I do have a few more predictions for next year:

1. Usagi Yojimbo will continue to be an amazing comic, with spectacular writing, good art, and it will appear on a regular monthly schedule. It’s creator, writer and artist, Stan Sakai, with perform this feat, amazing in and of itself, while still finding time to do another few odd projects, such as lettering a Groo miniseries for Dark Horse. Comic book scientists will still be unable to distill and bottle this amazing man, and other comics creators will still be unable to duplicate his feats.

2. The third issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman book will not ship. Look for it in 2011. It will still suck.

3. Peter David will launch a new series starring Hawkeye, a popular character who has had his own series in the past, but never seems to be able to keep one long term. The series will be smartly written. It will have humor, but will also handle serious subjects. It will be popular with critics and get good reviews. It will have strong art, with clean storytelling and a sense of fun. It will be cancelled within the first two years.

4. Judd Winick will start writing another three titles in the DCU. Characters in those titles will note that instances of rape, general violence and needless slaughter increase by 150%.

5. The comics industry will continue to hemorrage readers, while the leaders in the industry refuse to consider alternate business strategies that would keep the artform alive in the longterm. Oh, how I wish I had a punchline for this one.

And, I’m spent.

Hey! Don’t throw Hawkeye under the bus like that! X-Factor hasn’t been cancelled (again) yet, has it? It’s funny that we assign certain traits to certain writers. If the characters were actually living and breathing members of a contained universe, do you think they’d be having water cooler conversations about who’s handling their writing duties?

Fade in on Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel talking in the break room of a nondescript office building. Iron Man approaches with a casual saunter.

IRON MAN: What’s up, homeslices?

HULK: Have you seen Spidey?

IRON MAN: Nah. Kid’s a square. Too angsty for me.

MOON KNIGHT: Pfft. Not anymore. Bendis got a hold of him for some event comic. Poor Petey is talking like a fry cook with a head injury. Takes ten minutes to say hello.

MS. MARVEL: That’s so sad. Did you hear that Peter David is taking over my book?

IRON MAN: Well, it was nice knowing you!

Everyone laughs.

HULK: You’re lucky. I’ve got two titles right now. One with Slott and one with Claremont. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bashing stuff and throwing out clever quips or if I’m just supposed to be standing around delivering panel-cramping monologues about my feelings and every relationship I’ve ever had.

The group nods their heads in agreement. Just then, Green Arrow walks into the room. He’s looking around confusedly.

GREEN ARROW: Anyone seen Batman?

HULK: Last I saw him, Kevin Smith had called him into his office. But that was six months ago.

MOON KNIGHT: Anyone know what Smith’s doing with that whole Daredevil/Bullseye thing? I swear he’s got bodies buried under the floorboards.

Hercules storms into the room. He whips his coffee mug across the room and imbeds it in the wall.

HERCULES: Goddamn, Millar! Even I don’t have enough muscles to keep up with these redundant fight scenes!

GREEN ARROW: Hey, just be glad you’re not part of the Legion! I hear Winick took over that book and now they only have four members left. Freakin’ bloodbath. Families. Friends. Pets. Raped and dismembered. I hear they only found chunks of some of the Substitute Heroes. I don’t know what refrigerators look like in the 31st century, but they must hold a lot.

Ms. Marvel starts crying. Moon Knight moves over to comfort her.

IRON MAN: I miss the good ol’ days. Stan Lee couldn’t write for crap, but at least we all got home in one piece.

HULK: And almost everyone’s name rhymed too. Big help.

HERCULES: Yeah. So…what do you guys think about Grant Morrison?

IRON MAN: I hear he turned Wonder Woman into a dude. And an astronaut. S/he can see into the future now.

MOON KNIGHT: Hmph. Lucky break. Sales ought to go through the roof on that one.

Fade out.

Sigh…I’d take one meticulous, thoughtful Stan Sakai over a hundred Judd Winicks any day.


Comics Reviews: Who, What, Where, How and Why

Oct-22-08

Since Jason and I began talking about comics, lo those many months ago, we haven’t really done any comics reviews. There are a couple of reasons for it, and he and I have discussed the issue at length. One of the reasons we’ve been shying away from doing actual comics reviews is that they are difficult to do properly. It’s very easy to pick a comic and discuss it, but so often what happens is that someone says, “Yeah, man, that was awesome!” or “Yo, dude, that sucked!” and there’s not much more to the conversation. You’re getting people who are simply skimming the surface of the comic, and picking out the most obvious successes or flaws in the work, but they’re not giving a reader anything of substance. I’m not really sure how much substance we have around here, but if we’re going to take the time to examine a comic in detail, I’d like to think that we’ll be able to explore that work in depth, for good or ill.

Another reason we’ve been reluctant to dive into reviewing comics is that neither one of us considers ourselves experts. We’ve been reading comics for years, and we’re both bright fellows, but I do not, by any means, have formal training in criticism. I am also not much of an art critic. I can normally delve into the other aspects of a comic (plot, pacing, characterization and the like) with at least a modicum of intelligent discourse, but when it comes to art, I fall more into the “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. I certainly have artists whom I prefer and a few whom I avoid, and I can articulate a few reasons why that is, but I’m not an expert. I know a lot about the field of comics (and some other fields), but I’m never sure if I’m exactly qualified to comment on the work of others in a public forum.

Finally, Jason and I have been concerned about insulting creators. Whether or not I like the art of Ron Lim has nothing to do with whether or not I like the man himself; how could I say whether or not I like him, since I don’t know him. When commenting on a creative endeavor like a comic, sometimes the work and the creator behind the work both become subjects of derision during the discussion. Jason and I have both made some negative (some may say snarky) comments about the work of certain creators in passing on the blog, but we try to focus on the work and not the person. Hopefully our readers will keep us honest in the future, as we begin to start doing some actual comics reviews.

The reason that I’ve written this overly long introduction to the idea of bringing reviews to this site on occasion is because I was one of the many people watching the recent blogosphere discussion that resulted when Noah Berlatsky at “The Hooded Utilitarian” blog reviewed 100 Bullets. Berlatsky was not a fan of the issues of 100 Bullets that he read, which is, of course, his right. What started the brou-ha-ha is that, during the course of his review, he complained about the art of Eduardo Risso, using one particular cover as an example; a cover that Risso did not draw (Dave Johnson did).

Whoops! This mistake quickly attracted the attention of others. Heidi MacDonald of “The Beat” was probably the first to notice and comment on the error. She rightly points out that he used a different artist’s work to complain about one artist, but then she spends most of the post defending Eduardo Risso, which seems to detract from her main focus; Berlatsky made a mistake. From there, things snowballed, with others joining in to condemn Berlatsky, comics writer Mark Waid getting involved, and generally unpleasant comments being thrown back and forth.

Why do I find this interesting? Well, this hits on some of the concerns that Jason and I had about doing reviews in the first place. Berlatsky made an error that I hope we wouldn’t make, but it’s not something that can be ruled out (although certainly this has made me more determined to check my facts before I post something in the future). Second, Berlatsky got negative comments from the blogosphere (although he did have his defenders), and many of those comments seemed to stem from his dislike of 100 Bullets. His review of the series was snarky, and that seems to have been what ultimately ran him into trouble; by confusing the artwork, he left an opening where fans of the series could defend it. Could his review have been less snarky? Sure, but let’s be honest, snarky reviews are more fun to read and to write. Heck, our entire website is built on snark (ok, maybe not built on, but certainly snark is one of our basic four food groups).

The Berlatsky situation made me think it was important to preface any actual reviews with a few comments and answering the most crucial questions available to us: Who, What, When, Where, How and Why.

Who: Jason and I. We’ll be doing the reviews, and that’s important, because different people perceive things in different ways. Reviews are subjective; I can give you every reason why you should love a certain piece of work, and in the end, it may just not appeal to you. I loaned Jeff Smith’s wonderful series Bone to a friend of mine, thinking she would love it. She was completely underwhelmed by it, and couldn’t finish the series. It simply didn’t appeal to her. Sometimes, this sort of thing will happen, so it’s important to make it clear that, no matter how eloquently you praise or attack a series, some people will have the opposite view. Don’t let it shake you up too much. Let us know if you agree or disagree with what we’re saying.

What: Sometimes we’ll be choosing things that are associated with a current media adaptation, since people are more likely to be searching such works out. Sometimes it may be things we particularly like or dislike, in the hopes of drawing readers to them, or warning people away. In the end, we hope to be choosing works that will be of interest to our readers.

When: As with everything else here, there will be no set schedule. I can’t see us doing reviews more than once every few weeks however. In the end, we are not a review site. There are plenty of those, and I’m not sure the blogosphere really needs one more, although I’d like to think that our dual viewpoint allows us to bring something different to the table.

Where: We’ll be picking works from all over the comics universe. Yes, superheroes will have more than their fair share of space, but this will be a good place for us to draw focus to other works, some of them out of the mainstream and some of them dancing at the edges of mainstream.

How: Oh, with snark. I’m not sure we have another way we can write, and again, it’s more fun for both us and you. However, like I said earlier, we’ll try to comment on the work and not the creator.

Why: We’ll be reviewing things because we hope to provide readers with information on whether or not a comic is worth their time and money.

In the end, we rely on all of you to let us know what you think. More reviews? Less reviews? Specific things you’d like to see reviewed? Agree with our comments? Disagree? As always, let us know.

Let me chime in first by saying that I agree wholeheartedly with everything that John has put forward so far in this post. I would like to confess that one of the major reasons we don’t do more reviews, beyond the fact that there is already an overwhelming abundance of comic review sites (for both good and bad), is that neither John nor I read many monthly comics anymore. I know that probably instantly places us in some sort of lower tier in the eyes of many fans out there, but the simple truth is that…and I don’t want to get off on some sort of scolding of the industry here…most books that interest us, whether for plot or characters, seem to be written solely for the trade consumption.

The comics medium has changed drastically in the last 10 years or so (to a greater degree in the last 3 or 4 years actually) and the pacing, both in the exposition and the action, has brought everything to the point where I usually only buy things once a month now instead of every Wednesday. And the number of titles I’m interested in (at least on the superhero side of things, which seems to be our bread-and-butter here) has dwindled from a few dozen to…just a few. Amazon gets more of my business these days than any neighborhood store, because of increased availability, lack of urgency and simplicity of shopping.

And don’t even get me started on how much the online community has ruined, or nearly removed, the anticipation and suspense of the monthly comic cycle. But that is neither here nor there for this discussion, so let’s get back on topic, shall we?

The recent revelation by JG Jones concerning his output on the Final Crisis miniseries at DC is another example of how online criticism can really go beyond the pale. Brian Wood pointed me to a CBR thread that facilitated the figurative drawing-and-quartering of Mr. Jones in the eyes of the fanboys. There’s no need for that kind of vitriol in any realm. I’d be tempted to go off on a political rant here about how our country is increasingly divided and angry, but that would bore everyone. Suffice it to say that personally attacking someone for drawing (or, in this case, NOT drawing) pictures on paper is both uncalled for and downright idiotic. If you aren’t happy with the finished product, don’t buy it.

NOTE: Hell, if I were you I’d be more concerned with the confusing, meandering, languidly-developing, inside-speaking, continuity-muddled plot of the series more than how it’s graphically represented. No amount of Picasso or DaVinci can polish that mess.

It’s completely inappropriate to praise someone for their work as long as it arrives to your liking and then immediately lash out at them once that work stops arriving. JG’s style didn’t change. His dedication to his craft isn’t lacking. He merely doesn’t have the time…and has, at the least, realized that and confessed as such. I’ve met JG Jones. I’ve talked to him. He’s not some horrible creature hiding in the dark and plotting ways to screw up your Wednesday buying habits. He’s an amazing artist who deserves some appreciation for the work he has produced. Admire it or don’t, but never cast stones at him for admitting a weakness or a mistake.

Now John Byrne? That’s another story altogether. ZING!

Since Jason mentioned it, I’ll confess that I don’t read ANY monthly comics pamphlets at this time, and haven’t for about two or three years. I buy five to seven trade paperbacks a month, some of them current, and that more than keeps me spending enough money on comics (I still support my local comics shop when I buy them; yes, I could get them cheaper elsewhere, but I always prefer to support locally owned small businesses, and Ralph – my local comic store proprietor – is a heckuva guy!). I also spend a lot of time online, and thanks to the fact that no surprises are allowed in comics anymore and must instead be announced in various internet sites months before publication, I can follow the plots of any series I wish (and often large chunks of issues are posted to read; I do NOT pirate comics and don’t recommend pirating anything online. Yes, it may make me seem old and fuddly-duddly, but I can live with that). I’d like to think I’m quite caught up with the goings-on in the superhero universes, and then I read most of these comics a few months in the trades after the pamphlet reading public.

As for the JG Jones news, I can’t say I’m surprised. I absolutely love his artwork; I think he may be one of the best pencillers out there. However, he’s not someone who works quickly, so why oh why would DC have hired him to do this miniseries in the first place? I have something of a gripe against so many comics being released late; I think it hurts the industry when it happens, and it can certainly hurt a lot of comics. Often, it’s the pencillers who get the bad rap for working slowly, although that’s not always the case (Kevin Smith, my peepers are squarely trained at you!), but really, what is management thinking? I’m not saying not to hire JG Jones; that would be crazy! The guy is good! But don’t hire him to do the pivotal miniseries on which your entire superhero line rests. There are plenty of excellent pencillers to do that series. Let him do an ancillary miniseries, if he wants to be part of Final Crisis; a miniseries that isn’t central to the plot or can stand on its own.

What surprised me even more was who DC chose to replace him: Doug Mahnke. Doug Mahnke may have one of the strongest individual drawing styles I’ve ever seen but that style is very much removed from Jones’ more realistic style. I love Mahnke when he’s doing things a little off target from the mainstream: Major Bummer and the Frankenstein issues of Seven Soldiers are brilliant. However, I’ve never enjoyed the issues he did of JLA. I simply don’t think he works on the big team titles and I think his artwork on the last issue of Final Crisis will seem grossly out of place. However, to quote Peter David, “But I digress…”

So, yes, attacking someone like JG Jones is silly. The man’s doing his job to the best of his ability and he’s not trying to ruin anyone’s life. That’s the sort of thing we won’t be engaging in. But, how did I know you’d have a John Byrne comment before we finished? Of course, Byrne is an example of how some creators put themselves out there in a public forum, and at times almost beg people to dislike them. I still try to tread carefully in those cases, but I’m sure that we’ll run into those situations, particularly in the case of an outspoken creator like Byrne (although he seems to have been somewhat quiet lately).

Yes, I will never attack John Byrne unless he asks me to…or I feel that his online musings are just begging to be mocked. And even then, it’s more like this:

Granted, that image works just as well for nearly every naysaying fool posting on the web. That’s most likely the problem with the majority of poorly executed comic reviews: they’re set forth by nameless, faceless people who are only seeking the hive-minded approval of other nameless, faceless people. The anonymity and temporary status afforded by message boards and blogs allows people to say stupid things with nearly zero accountability or retribution. Spit out whatever mean-spirited thing you’d like and I guarantee someone will read it and laugh, or worse, try to one-up your horrendous attitude and insults.

We shall tread carefully. We are under no illusion that anyone out there should agree with us. Heck, we often don’t agree with each other. But at least we aim to provide lucid grounding for that disagreement, with examples that back up those opinions and a willingness to concede the smaller differences. There shall be no name-calling or references to each other’s mothers and farm animals. We will never threaten to hunt each other down or punch each other in our respective faces because of words exchanged on an imaginary playground in a digital land. Besides, we still meet for dinner at least once a month and that would just make things awkward.

That was digression #1…

I think it’s also important to point out that our focus is unabashedly on the superhero genre. Sure, we read other things and those things influence the way we view and read comics in general. But, and I’m not sure John illuminated this point enough, we will always write with an eye towards the whole hero/villain scene. If you don’t like that, or wish to bemoan the societal downfall of the genre, do it elsewhere. Sure, superhero comics can be immature and stunted and obtuse and mired in the various cliques and coteries of the industry (and I’m sure we’ll call for their heads once or twice), but they helped form our childhoods. I, for one, will never fully turn my back on the colorful exploits of these powerful characters.

And digression #2…

Of course, by the time this post is disseminated to the general public, I’m sure that someone else will say something stupidly critical that we can call out as the “wrong way” of doing things. If you think the plotlines in certain comics are predictable, take a look at some of the “fan” reactions when you have a spare week and some self-loathing to spare.

I shan’t continue to belabor these points, but instead I shall take this opportunity to disagree with Jason, at least a little.  I agree that, yes, superheroes are our main focus, and no, I don’t feel like I need to apologize for them.  There’s certainly a ton of absolute rubbish in the genre, but there’s some great stuff too, and it doesn’t take too much searching to find it.  That being said, I do plan on branching out a little, if in reviews only, to touch on some of the non-superpowered comics out there.  Now, Jason left the door open for that, at least somewhat, by saying we’d focus on the hero/villain thing, and if that’s our focus, it allows us to still do all sorts of non-superhero comics.  While I’ll always love superheroes, there’s some other amazing stuff out there that I’d like to discuss with our readers, from the almost mainstream Usagi Yojimbo or Queen and Country, to perhaps the slightly more obscure Action Philosophers, Scott Pilgrim or Barry Ween

But otherwise, I’m in total agreement with Jason.  I’m not sure when the first reviews will show up here (perhaps next week), but at least the groundwork is laid.


John and Jason’s Agreed Upon 20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-15-08

We promise to stop milking this idea and move on after this post, but now that we’ve both given our picks for the 20 things every superhero comic collection needs (which are both quite good, and any items on there are worth your time) we thought we’d bring it all together for one final post, with things we both agree on. Here you go:

1. Starman: I won’t continue to belabor this. It’s great. DC is releasing it in new omnibus editions, collecting the entire run and a few of the miniseries that James Robinson wrote which tied into the main story. The first volume is available now and the second is coming in early 2009. Or, if you prefer, track down the original issues; for the first few years James Robinson answered the letters pages personally, and encouraged people to discuss issues beyond the comics, particularly collecting. Some letters pages didn’t deal with comics at all, yet they were all interesting, and it gave a reader the sense of community that is lacking in many comics today. One more reason these comics were so unique.

2. Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League: Again, all I’ll do is encourage you to check out the new hardcover collections DC is printing of this series, starting at the first issue. The first two volumes are available now, and more are sure to come.

3. The Authority: These are also available in trade paperbacks. I highly recommend just the first 12 issues by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, which were at one time collected into one giant hardcover, although I don’t know if it’s still in print.

4. Invincible by Robert Kirkman: Possibly the best young hero comic being published today, and one of the best superhero comics being published overall. If you’ve never read it, dive in without reading about them on the internet, as there are surprises in store. Image collects these in trades regularly, and you can also snag an annual hardcover Ultimate collection, which contains a full 12 issues. Great stuff.

5. Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald: Perhaps his greatest written work, and certainly a series that paved the way for a lot of future investigations into what people with the powers of demigods might do with those powers, like the Authority. This has been collected into a trade paperback (the first printing even had some of Gruenwald’s ashes mixed into the ink) and seems to still be in print. DC is a lot better about keeping their collected editions in print than Marvel is, so if you’re interested in anything Marvel published on our list, grab it in trade now rather than later.

6. “Under Siege” in The Avengers by Roger Stern and John Buscema: This is an example of something that was collected in a trade, but I believe that trade is now out of print. However, the back issues aren’t expensive (look for #270, 271, 273-277) and you should be able to track them down without much trouble.

7. Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Marvel has quite a few of these issues collected in trade, and you should have no trouble finding them either.

8. Mark Waid’s Flash: This one hasn’t been collected, except for a few trades which appear to be out of print (so much for DC being better at keeping things in print than Marvel, although honestly, in general, they are). Waid had a very long run on this book (including some beautiful issues pencilled by Mike Wieringo), which lasted on and off from #80 of the 2nd series through #129.

9. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: I believe that the trades for his issues are out of print, but a little quick internet searching showed some available second hand, and pretty cheap. Actual back issues can be hard to find and tend to be more expensive, so securing old trades may be your best bet. They’re worth the trouble.

10. Damage Control: Sadly, this has never been collected in trade paperback, one of life’s great injustices. I’d recommend searching for back issues though, which shouldn’t be expensive. The first 4-issue miniseries from 1989 is better than the later “Acts of Vengeance” tie-in mini or the final 1991 mini.

11. Thunderbolts: The first few issues have been collected in a trade, but most trades focus on the later issues. Those aren’t bad, but they don’t break ground the way the early issues did, where you never knew where the series was going from issue to issue.

12. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man: There are three trades available which collect his entire run on the series, well worth their price.

13. The Claremont/Byrne issues of Uncanny X-Men: Marvel has published these in their beautiful Masterworks line, although those may be out of print. Original issues may be pricey, but I’m sure there are trades collecting, at the very least, their Dark Phoenix Saga.

14. Madrox Limited Series by Peter David: We decided to include this, rather than X-Factor because it clearly shows the potential that Peter David found in the Madrox character, potential which seems to have eluded every other writer to handle the character for decades before this series was printed.

15. Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange: This could be the hardest thing on the list to snag. His issues were printed in Strange Tales and have only been collected, to the best of my knowledge, in the Marvel Masterworks line. Still, they are gorgeous and worth having.

16. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman work: DC has all of these issues collected in some beautiful trades.

17. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels: Wait a minute! This wasn’t on the list before! Yes, it wasn’t, but Jason preferred this to Astro City and I was more than willing to concede. In many ways, the series are similar, with this also approaching the superhero through the eyes of ordinary humans. This was Alex Ross’ first mainstream work, and for those who think him overexposed now, I ask you to try and imagine what it was like when this series was first released. I remember seeing his art for the first time, and being completely blown away; if the Marvel superheroes existed in the real world, this must be what they would look like, I thought! It’s a great story too; it was collected in a trade, which looks like it may still be available certain places.

18. Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe/DC’s Who’s Who: I don’t believe DC has kept their handbook in print, but you can almost always find some version of Marvel’s available for purchase. The new hardcover editions have changed the format quite a bit, but they’re still the best way to educate yourself on newer and less-known characters. Marvel has also released the original series in their Essential format…but the black & white presentation steals a little of the glory from the pages.

19. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: Jason still doesn’t agree, but I’m adding it. Sadly, DC refuses to reprint most of this series, but the back issues are cheap. Find them. You won’t regret it.

20. Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier: John can’t see the simple sophistication of this tale, but I still hold it high as an example of celebrating comics’ past while adding a modern touch. If you can afford the Absolute Edition, definitely pick it up. The added sketches and commentary are enlightening.

There you have it! Those 20 things should keep you busy reading for some time, and when you’re through, you should either appreciate superhero comics in a new light. Stop back here and tell us how right we were or start flaming us for stupid picks. We welcome either response (but prefer the former).


It starts here! Marvel’s Secret Wars!

Jul-29-08

Ah, summer. For comics fans, summer is often known as the season of the big event. Just as the movie studios release most of their large blockbusters during the summer months, the big comics publishers also tend to pack the summer months with huge mini-series which promise to fundamentally alter their universes and after which “…nothing will ever be the same”! It’s an exciting time for some fans, and a frustrating time for others, but this has been the status quo at Marvel and DC since the mid-1980s. It was in 1984 that Marvel began releasing what many people consider to be the first of the huge mega-events, Secret Wars, or more accurately, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars.

By today’s standards, Secret Wars bears little resemblance to most mega-events. First of all, it was twelve issues long, which is much longer than any event has been since (with the exception of Crisis on Infinite Earthsat DC, which would be another post). Today, these events tend to somewhat derail the storylines of most titles, and the companies don’t want that going on for an entire year (well, except for DC the last few years, which mega-events haven’t really ended since Identity Crisis, but that’s unusual). The other difference is that Secret Wars didn’t really crossover into any other comics. While there were issues of various books which showed heroes reacting to a strange structure that suddenly appeared in Central Park, which whisked the heroes away after they entered it, these scenes were very short and not very important. Otherwise, books didn’t crossover with Secret Wars. Again, today, when a mega-event is happening there are bound to be many regular series which break into their ongoing storylines to feature tales that relate to the crossover, and there are usually special mini-series that also relate directly to the main story. Of course, when Marvel decided to do a sequel called Secret Wars 2 the following year, they addressed both of these problems; the sequel ran only nine issues (which is still somewhat long by the standards of today) and there were crossovers galore.

Secret Wars was written by Jim Shooter, who was then also Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, and it was pencilled by Mike Zeck. The plot couldn’t have been simpler: a powerful extradimensional entity called the Beyonder teleports Marvel’s most famous heroes and villains across the universe to a planet that he created just for them. He then tells them that they must fight, and whichever group wins will be granted anything they desire. There’s your premise. It’s basically every comic reading child’s fantasy, forcing team-ups (both heroic and villainous) and fights galore.

Secret Wars did well, sales-wise. Very well. It also spawned a line of action figures. After Marvel saw how profitable it was, they decided to do the follow-up series, Secret Wars 2. Jim Shooter again wrote the main series, this time aided by Al Milgrom on pencils. The plot this time was that the Beyonder had come to Earth and wanted to understand….well, everything. He wanted to understand humanity, his place in the universe, good versus evil…he was insatiably curious.

There is so much to discuss here, and I’m not sure where to start. These two series couldn’t be further apart in tone, style or appeal. They also bring to mind discussions on how they relate to the event series of today, what could have (and perhaps should have) been done differently in them, and what the heck was up with the Beyonder in the first place. Where should we start?

Let’s start with a list of all the great things that came out of Secret Wars:

  1. Spider-Man’s black costume
  2. Denver’s comeuppance
  3. White guys dressing like Michael Jackson
  4. Action figures (all with the same body) packaged with lenticular shields.

That’s about it. And, really, #4 is a stretch. How many times have you seen Wolverine going into battle carrying a bulky shield with his face on it? But, dammit, Denver deserved what it got!

I think there’s a lot we could say about both of these series. The completely divergent storylines are the first headache that come to mind for me…especially the unnecessary ridiculousness of the sequel. After that’s covered, I think we should explore how the Secret Wars phenomenon translated into a mess of big company crossover event books (like all the ones Marvel pumped out during Annual Season every year).

You make a good point with DC’s continuing crisis. I can’t recall a time when so much effort was invested into condensing a comic universe into a singular (in)coherent event. It screams of insincerity to me. Obviously, there are other things going on in the lives of these heroes and villains that would garner their attention. For that matter, there are other heroes in other countries who could care less about how Batman is handling the arrival of Darkseid. Honestly, forcing the issue into some sort of line-wide gospel is extremely short-sighted and only works towards hurting readership on those titles whose readers don’t want to get involved.

You can point to dozens of instances where a certain family of books is drawn into a crossover event, and that makes infinitely more sense to me. If Spider-Man is being bothered by the ghosts of his parents in Amazing Spider-Man, then it stands to reason that that annoyance would continue across Sensational Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Pretty Cool Spider-Man, Kinda Hungry Spider-Man, and all the other 73 Spider-Man titles that Marvel publishes. See also, the X books.

But first, Secret Wars: What’s up with that?

Well, I have to admit….I like Secret Wars. Is it high art? Um, not even close. Was it a cynical marketing ploy designed to sell toys. Well, yes. Was it good, straight-forward superheroey fun? I say yes. Now, the sequel? That was a train wreck from the word go. Let’s examine how these two series couldn’t be further apart in terms of quality and execution.

The original Secret Wars miniseries, as we mentioned above, had no real crossover issues to speak of. It was twelve issues, self-contained. This is a good thing, as it allowed the entire story to be told by one creative team, and it also kept the story focused. Secret Wars had a definite plot, and it moved along that plot without veering too far afield. Every reader knew what the final goal was, and yet there are still some twists and turns here. It would have been easy to simply have the heroes and the villains fight it out, but Shooter kept most of our cast in character, and so we saw the heroes splinter, when the X-Men left their group, and we saw problems with the villains, starting in the first issue when Kang tried to assassinate Dr. Doom. Yes, the last few issues bog down a little when Doom steals the Beyonder’s power, but mostly the series is good clean fun.

Moreover, Secret Wars did something that all of these event series promise, and precious few deliver; it made changes to the Marvel Universe. You laugh at the changes it wrought, but it actually did make some long lasting changes. Besides introducing Venom (or the costume which would become Venom) it also introduced Volcana, Titania and the new Spider-Woman (now known as Arachne). This series is where She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four (which caused huge changes in that title), and it’s where the Molecule Man went from being a villain to being…well, whatever he is now. It started Magneto on his way to being a hero (although he’s changed back to a villain now, so perhaps we shouldn’t count that). Some of these are important to the Marvel Universe even now, but at the time, the Marvel Universe really was different after Secret Wars.

Now look at the sequel. This sequel had tons of crossovers, with just about every title that Marvel published crossing over at some time. Interestingly, Marvel seemed proud of this, and they even boasted that this was crossing over with all of their titles. It was so crazy that Circuit Breaker, a character from their Transformers comic, which was a comic that didn’t even share a continuity with the Marvel Universe, appeared in an issue of the series. It’s tempting to say that it was the huge amount of crossovers with the main miniseries that caused the story for Secret Wars 2 to become diluted and hard to follow. In actuality, that’s probably because the storyline for this series was so nebulous and hard to define as it was. While the original miniseries had a straightforward premise, the one for this series was harder to pin down. The Beyonder wants to learn about….humanity? Himself? Life, the universe and everything? Why the hell was he here anyway? No one seemed to know, and since his personality went all over the place during the miniseries, I never knew either. Some issues he was curious, sometimes he was angry, sometimes he was helpful….it was like the writers had a personality dartboard, and that’s how they determined what was going on with him.

Meanwhile, everyone learned something that should have been obvious from the start, but apparently wasn’t: cosmic beings are dull and boring. Seriously, who wants to read about the omnipotent? If the heroes have no chance of beating your antagonist, the story has no drama. Slugfests against those who can shatter universes, especially when some of the people involved in the slugfest can’t even lift a Buick, makes for a dull slugfest. The Beyonder could do anything, so what was the point? Ugh. The entire affair was horrible, just horrible.

At least, that was my take. Yours?

Well, you know, I’m not a fan of the cosmic storylines or the omnipotent villain types (even if they’re just “misunderstood”). But one thing that the first Secret Wars had going for it was the fact that they created an entire world just for the storyline. You didn’t have to worry about forcing a character into a setting that it wouldn’t work in…you merely plucked them from their own existence and put them on a pseudo-Earth. That way, the story could take place in its own sort of continuity, free from outside interference.

I can’t recall off the top of my head…how was it explained that these particular heroes and villains were missing in action for a year? Weren’t they only missing from their own books for a single issue or so? I seem to remember Spider-Man disappearing and then coming back with the black costume (and wasn’t it a chicken-and-egg type situation where people were saying it appeared first in Secret Wars and others said it appeared first in Amazing Spider-Man?).

My memory is obviously hazy, having only read the series when it first came out waaaaaay back in 1984 when I was going on 13. However, I do recall being slightly annoyed by the Beyonder. It seemed like they were just making up powers for him as they went along…until I realized he was able to do pretty much anything. Then I really got annoyed. How are you supposed to have an intriguing storyline pitting the good guys against a common threat, when there’s absolutely no plausible way for the heroes to win? They had to make up an excuse for beating him, like one of them tapped him on the shoulder and, while he was distracted, they used a space vacuum to suck the lifeforce out of him…or something like that.

I will commend them for keeping the action contained in its own series. There’s definitely something to be said for that these days, especially looking at the latest Previews and the ridiculous amount of spin-off miniseries that DC’s Final Crisis has inspired. At the same time, you have to question the intelligence behind a 12-issue maxiseries. The storyline wasn’t that strong to begin with, and then they wanted to drag it out for an entire year? Wow. Like you mention, the only other 12-issue series I can remember are Crisis on Infinite Earths (which encompassed the entire DC Universe) and both Squadron Supreme and Watchmen (which were their own self-contained adventures). Attention spans just don’t seem to be what they were anymore, huh?

At the same time, Secret Wars II was a unique miniseries too. By putting the Beyonder on a sort of “quest” to find himself or the source of humanity, they gave the plot a flexibility that enabled it to crossover into such wildly divergent titles as Rom, Dazzler, Power Pack, Alpha Flight, Cloak & Dagger, Doctor Strange, Power Man & Iron Fist and New Mutants. Too bad the story itself sucked.

The Beyonder started dating Dazzler, became the head of a crime syndicate, killed Death, turned the Heroes for Hire building into gold, inspired a cult, killed the New Mutants, then changed his mind a undid everything before Molecule Man “killed” him and his energy returned to the pocket dimension it originated from. We learn later that Beyonder was just some sort of immature Cosmic Cube. And THEN, Bendis rewrites history during his Illuminati miniseries and says the Beyonder was just some sort of mutated Inhuman with delusions of grandeur. Ridiculous.

People lambast Secret Wars II for being such a load of crap, which it is, but as far as convoluted crossover miniseries go, I don’t find it to be that offensive. Since the story didn’t make much sense to begin with, you weren’t required to catch every single affected title to understand what was going on. Compare that to the headache-inducing Atlantis Attacks event that ran through all of Marvel’s titles’ annuals (and interludes in two regular issues as well) which assumed that every Marvel reader read every title and collected every annual. That story made no sense if you didn’t read every part…and Marvel was notorious for doing junk like that every year…Evolutionary War, Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, Operation: Galactic Storm, Infinity War, Infinity Crusade, Maximum Carnage, Age of Apocalypse (which confused the hell out of me), Maximum Security, blah blah blah. Out of those, only The Evolutionary War took place solely in annuals, but you get the point anyway. Seems like Secret Wars broke open the floodgates.

So, here’s an idea. Since our blog is all about reimagining things to make them better, do you think we should talk about how we would’ve made Secret Wars better (*cough*DON’T PUBLISH IT*cough*) or do you think we should tackle how to make long-form comic book events better? Hmm?

First, let me correct a few points of confusion for you. Yes, the mini-series was 12 issues long and took a year from start to finish, but that didn’t mean the heroes were gone from the Marvel Universe for a year. Remember, this is Marvel time. The entire Secret War lasted about two weeks, if I recall, so the heroes weren’t gone long at all. Still, their absence was noticed in the Marvel Universe at large, and it was quite a big deal. As for how they dealt with the fact that heroes returned one month after they left (real world time), but we wouldn’t find out about their adventures for an entire year, well, all the heroes had agreed not to discuss the events of their little Secret War, on the advice of Reed Richards. Reed had decided that, if regular humanity had any idea of the cosmic events the heroes had witnessed, or knew of the existence of someone whose power was on the scale of the Beyonder’s….well, old Reed thought that normal people couldn’t handle that sort of knowledge. So, everyone agreed to keep the war a secret. In my opinion, what’s the difference to a normal guy between the power level of Galactus and the power level of the Beyonder? They’re still omnipotent to any one of us.

Also, while the Beyonder was somewhat annoying in the original miniseries, he wasn’t important. He shouldn’t have annoyed you, because he served simply as a plot device. He needed to exist to bring the heroes and villains together and to create the patchwork planet on which they would fight. He’s in the first issue, and then isn’t seen again until #10, and then he returns for the finale in issue #12. All told, he probably has about 20 lines of dialogue in the entire series. I’m not sure why Little Jason would have been bothered by the Beyonder when he read the original series, because the heroes weren’t supposed to fight him. Nobody was supposed to, and the only one who did was Doom. The Beyonder was like the Grandmaster, but even more of a Maltese Falcon; he existed solely to set up the plot and move it forward. Yes, he was contrived and he was a blank slate, but he was a simple way to get things moving, and he served his purpose well. The mistake was to bring him back for the sequel and try and craft a story around someone of his power level.

In response to your question, I’d rather tackle the problem with these two series alone, and we can hit other events if we feel like it. I’m sure we’ll discuss how to do events better as we go along, but for now, I’ll just focus on these two series.

First of all, let me say that, on the surface, I have no problem with these huge crossovers. I think that most superhero fans enjoy this sort of thing, where heroes and villains team-up, and these crossovers help remind readers that these events all occur in the same universe. The largest problem with crossovers (in my eyes) is when they derail a lot of strong titles in a comic universe with crossovers, and when they meander along with no real plot. The first Secret Wars didn’t commit either of these crimes, and the sequel was guilty of only the latter (most of the crossovers for this miniseries that I read seemed to fit into the ongoing storylines pretty well). I certainly would have published the first Secret Wars. I think it’s fun. It’s not Watchmen, Maus or Fun Home, but it’s a good summer blockbuster. You buy your popcorn, you sit down, and for twelve issues you watch colorfully clad characters cavort. I think the miniseries stalled and almost dies in the last three issues (when Doom challenges the Beyonder for his power and the aftermath of that; certainly that was in character for Doom, but the story stops dead at that point and never really picks up again. It’s easy to see why, since I’ve been praising the book for keeping the omnipotent Beyonder off the stage and once Doom becomes omnipotent, we’re stuck with him as a main character for the last three issues. Yawn). I think it was a huge mistake to have Doom actually steal the power of the Beyonder, and were I writing it, I would not have gone that route.

If it had been my series, I would have had the heroes realize what Doom was planning (and really, would that have been so difficult? It’s classic Doom behavior….of course he’s going to try and steal omnipotence!). The last few issues would have dealt with the heroes attempting to halt Doom, and they would have succeeded. In the long run, that’s a heck of a lot more heroic than watching your deadliest enemy succeed at his plans, which is what happens in the story. Once the heroes had won, the Beyonder could have made his second (and last) appearance in the series (after introducing the plot in issue 1) and sent everyone home. Anticlimactic? I think not, since basically the series did end with the heroes just sending themselves home. Perhaps they could have made it more interesting by having the heroes actually capture Doom and plan to put him on trial when they returned to Earth. Doom has never been tried for his crimes, and if his usual defense is diplomatic immunity, well, this time he was caught in an area where he has no diplomatic immunity. Now he’s been apprehended, and he is going to be tried before a World Court for crimes against humanity (like Magneto was).

As for a sequel…..I’m not sure if a sequel would have been necessary. If there was one, I would have never shown the Beyonder, or allowed him much time in the spotlight. The Beyonder could have actually had a long life in the Marvel Universe, showing up as a cosmic deus ex machina or as a plot device when needed. Would people have wanted to know more about him? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean you give them more. The Beyonder should never be explained. He should be a voice and nothing more, except perhaps for a light from the sky or something equally mysterious. I understand why they didn’t want to have him grab more heroes and villains for another Secret War (that would have been redundant), but there has to be a better way to go than trying to define the undefinable. I think I would have left the series after the original and not done a sequel.

You’re right. Little Jason was recalling an amalgamation of both Secret Wars series. However, that does not mean that the Beyonder shouldn’t annoy me. Just look at the guy. You know I have an inherent aversion to all things cosmic and the Beyonder manifests all of the phenomenon’s worst attributes in one jheri-curled mess. I refuse to believe that the Beyonder should have ever been created…and his was a ridiculous origin (and an even more bizarre series of retcons) from the beginning. And, even though you seem to be advocating his return on some level, I can’t even fathom his existence as a “spirit voice” or plot device in the least. What’s the point? I mean, he’s already dated Dazzler…the Paris Hilton of the mutant world.

Taking it one step further, what was the point of the first Secret Wars itself? To pit heroes against villains? Doesn’t that happen organically anyway? Marvel seemed to be instituting just another version of their Contest of Champions from a year or two prior.

Y’know, now that I have a chance to reconsider my opinion, I may not be so enamored with the idea of a 12-issue maxiseries in this format. If you look at the entire product, Watchmen and Squadron Supreme are much stronger stories than Secret Wars. The standalone aspect of these books lends itself better to an extended storytelling format where characters can develop without having to worry about affecting overall continuity. Secret Wars was kind of awkward.

It’s not that I necessarily disagree with anything you’re saying, except that I think you’re taking Secret Wars too seriously. Do I think the Beyonder should come back? Good grief no. I don’t at all mean to advocate his return. What I was saying was, if Marvel felt they had to use him again after the first series, they never should have tried to make him a character. The Beyonder is not a character; he’s a plot device. He’s a clunky, awkward plot device. He existed to make Secret Wars work. Was he needed? I’d say probably not, since the Grandmaster could have basically done the exact same thing, and he was already established. Still, the Beyonder was created to fulfill a role, not to establish a character. It was when Marvel brought him back for the sequel that they tried to make him a character, and that was there mistake. What I was saying was that, if the Beyonder had to be brought back, he should have been brought back as an enigmatic cipher, as he was in the first Secret Wars, and he should never have been developed. No physical form, no attempt at a personality….nothing. That was a bad idea.

In the end, we seem to agree on one thing: cosmic characters ruin storylines, particularly when they’re placed in the center. We also seem to agree that crossovers started as an excuse to sell toys and comics, and not as a story that really needed to be told. I think that, once you get past the contrivances, the first ten issues of the original Secret Wars was good solid fun, like a good summer popcorn movie. You seem to disagree. And we both agree that the second series had no redeemable qualities whatsoever. These were not exactly the perfect models from which to build future crossovers. Unfortunately, many of the negatives we’ve mentioned would continue in the future.