He is many things to many people. Hero. Teacher. Friend. X-Man. Avenger. But above all else, he is one – Canadian. Today, Marvel unveils “Canada Variants” for all four issues of the highly-anticipated DEATH OF WOLVERINE series. Charles Soule & Steve McNiven explore the untimely end of the Great White North’s most well-known mutant hero. Each cover features stunning cover art rendered by Steve McNiven that proudly displays the Maple Leaf flag of Logan’s proud home and native land of Canada.
Now that the Big Two are deep into their mandatory summer crossovers – as opposed to their mandatory winter crossovers, their mandatory spring crossovers, and their mandatory fall crossovers – I can’t tell the players without a scorecard.
At the core of both series is the same plot: all or most of the sundry parallel universes are going to collide into one, if, indeed, that many. This does not envelop either series in an aura of originality, particularly when Marv Wolfman and George Pérez did this 29 years ago. You may not think they did it better way back in the early days of the Gilded Age of Comics (and you’d be wrong about that), but at the very least you could understand that story. Original Sin and Future’s End… not so much.
At least Marvel’s Original Sin is built around a clever plot point: somebody offed The Watcher and stole one or both of his eyes… and then, one eye exploded implanting various deep dark secrets held by various characters into the brainpans of those who were within the blast radius of the eyeball.
No, I don’t know how big the blast radius of a Watcher eyeball is. And I’m a bit pissed off at offing the big bald guy anyway, but it’s comic books, where death has no meaning whatsoever. If they ever kill Aunt May off, she’ll be back in a few months with a bionic bustle.
DC’s Future’s End simply makes no sense. Batman Beyond is sent back in time to prevent the end of the world as we know it, but he misses his mark and arrives later than he was supposed to. Well, fine. That’s it. The hero blew it and it’s over, right?
No such luck. All the characters wander around slapping their foreheads and mumbling woe is me a lot. It doesn’t help that this series features the New 52 version of the DC Universe, which really hasn’t been very well-defined or thought out, but has been compromised after-the-fact by bureaucrats who wouldn’t know a good comics story if they bothered to read one.
It was time to retire the mega-event crossover before we started worrying about Y2K. But these puppies make money, so the Big Two are going to keep on hitting the event button like a crack whore with new kneepads.
It’s easy to understand why comics fans like the Marvel movies. They exist in a comparatively small universe with clear roadmaps. DC doesn’t have that goodwill going for them, and Man Of Steel offered little hope.
But we continue to hope. These are great characters. We love them, and we hope that someday the powers at Warners and Disney start to trust those characters as much as we do, before the core audience is all on catheters and people start to view Superman and Wolverine the way we view The Lone Ranger and Buck Rogers.
Before time runs out.
This week it was writer Chuck Dixon and artist Paul Rivoche ruffling feathers. Together they wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “How Liberalism Became Kryptonite for Superman.” The WSJ is a conservative publication and both Chuck and Paul are conservative members of the comics community.
The title of the article sums up the tone of the article pretty well. The article states “Our fear is that today’s young comic-book readers are being ill-served by a medium that often presents heroes as morally compromised or no different from the criminals they battle. With the rise of moral relativism, ‘truth, justice and the American way’ have lost their meaning.” They cite how in a single issue of Action Comics published in 2011 Superman gave up his American citizenship. (Interestingly enough, this story was written by David S. Goyer who would later write the screenplay for Man of Steel and is writing the Batmanv Superman movie and the upcoming Justice League movie. I’ve talked about Mr. Goyer before.) Chuck and Paul bemoan “That issue, published in April 2011, is perhaps the most dramatic example of modern comics’ descent into political correctness, moral ambiguity and leftist ideology.”
I guess that means me. Suicide Squad was nothing if not an exercise in moral ambiguity. I think you could say most of my work lives there. I’m certainly left on the political spectrum. “Political correctness?” I think that depends on how you define it but I could probably be accused of that as well, especially from the right. So I guess my work is dead center with what Chuck and Paul regard as wrong with the comics industry.
I have some problems with their selection of facts and their interpretation of those facts. For instance, they say “Superman, as he first appeared in early comics and later on radio and TV, was not only ‘able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,’ he was also good, just and wonderfully American.” Might I suggest they go back and read those earliest tales. Superman takes on crooked politicians and even the U.S. Army. He was a renegade and an outlaw. The earliest Batman carried a gun. I suppose that makes him wonderfully American, too. The heroes changed with the advent of World War II and became part of the war effort.
Superhero comics nearly died out in the 50s. Chuck and Paul state: “In the 1950s, the great publishers, including DC and what later become Marvel, created the Comics Code Authority, a guild regulator that issued rules such as: ‘Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal.’ The idea behind the CCA, which had a stamp of approval on the cover of all comics, was to protect the industry’s main audience – kids – from story lines that might glorify violent crime, drug use or other illicit behavior.”
The CCA was created to circumvent government censorship that was threatened following Dr. Frederick Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent, which alleged that comics were a corruptive influence on children. He said Superman, who in this era – when he was quintessentially “good, just and wonderfully American” – was both un-American and a fascist. Wertham’s work also was later discredited. There followed hearings by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, first led by New Jersey Republican Senator Robert Hendrickson and later by committee member / anti-crime crusader / presidential candidate Estes Kefauver and that scared the Big Comics publishers and that created the CCA. The publishers didn’t do it out of any moral conviction.
The CCA was a stranglehold on creativity and guaranteed it would infantilize the comics industry for decades. It was disbanded when it became irrelevant. Maus, which Chuck and Paulboth justly praise, would never have passed the Code.
The thing is – Chuck and Paul should know all this. They’re either being disingenuous or dishonest.
However, what bothers me more is the reaction of some ostensibly liberal members of the comics industry, who have announced that they will never again read anything by these two men because of this article. To my mind, the work exists independently of the creator. Chuck and Paul have done fine work over the years and I suspect will do so again. Not all of it will appeal to me, I’m sure, but that’s true for everyone’s work. Are there exceptions to this? I think so – if someone is doing a piece that is primarily propaganda, I would avoid it. If that’s a habitual thing with a creator, I might avoid him or her … like I avoid Rush Limbaugh.
If, however, it’s simply a different point of view then, no, I don’t and I shouldn’t avoid them. Even if I don’t agree with that point of view, I should hear it, find out what I can learn from it. Or – maybe – I’ll be entertained. Even if the creator and I do not agree politically.
I regard this as a far more serious problem than two conservatives speaking their collective minds about the comics industry. It is our increasing national inability to countenance anything that does not fall within our own increasingly shrinking moral view that’s the problem. No outside voices to test or shake our faith –whatever that faith may be. We need not only to talk to (instead of at) each other; we need to listen. They may be wrong … but so may we.
…these movies are all so intertwined from a business/perception perspective that Marvel can no longer afford to roll the dice on a hip, genre-subverting superhero film that might not do Winter Soldier numbers on its opening weekend. Letting Wright walk away makes Marvel look bad to film-geek Twitter, but if the box-office headline after Ant-Man opened were anything but ANT-MAN SQUASHES COMPETITION, it would call into question the viability of the whole Movieverse.
Glazing over the racks this week, a single book sparked a twinkle in my eye. A bold and graphic cover, with a simple acronym placed – C.O.W.L. – and it beckoned to me. A closer inspection… Chicago Organized Workers League. A glance inside: A mashup of Mad Men-esque style, combined with capes and my hometown? Sure, Astro City and other books have played plenty in the space. But none that were specific to Chicago. None that name drops streets like Ogden and Wacker and dumps an actual map in its inside cover. Call me soft (and pull back a stump!), but I couldn’t resist. Glad I took the chance, the book is tip-top.
Kyle Higgens and Alex Siegel certainly know their way around pacing. The book itself starts with a beautiful cold open action sequence. A soviet spy/super villain takes a team of heroes along for a ride as he makes way to escape from a botched assassination of a local Alderman. No better way to show case powers these days then the super villain on the run schtick. We meet Blaze, Radia, Arclight, and Recon of the Tactical Division – the SWAT team, if you will. After that, the rest of the book deals mostly with the Investigation and Patrol Division, which have less fancy code names. Higgens and Siegel crib style heavily from Top Ten; but skew less towards the fantastic and astonishing in lieu of gritty realism. The powers are more or less ordinary, it’s really a substance over style in the final presentation. In lesser terms, the writing duo delivers Law & Order by way of X-Men First Class, kept tightly packaged in a single city. It’s slick – but breathes easier because there’s little push to make the scope to wide-lensed after the initial salvo.
If there’s any bones to pick with the script, then they come solely entrenched in the Bechdel Test. The lone lady between the pages barely registers as more than a Sue Storm stand-in. Funny enough too, that she’s marginalized in her single scene moment with the COWL captain. I’ll note. though, that this is clearly a tongue-in-cheek moment. I’ll safely pray is just a set-up for a bigger and smarter payoff in the future.
Normally I’d have more running commentary about the script and dialogue. Frankly, there’s little else to say. But I can attest that the art chores by Rod Reis are plenty worthy of my prose. The presented style is a schizophrenic post-modern Marvel. Part Rotoscoped photos, part digital painting, part scratchboard scrawl, all daringly idiosyncratic. Reis channels Bill Sienkiewicz, Brett Weldele, and Brent Anderson amidst his own unique flashes. At its best the book is a chic and deconstruction of kinetic form and deciphered emotions. In lesser spots, it’s a slap-dashed race to the next panel. As a digital artist myself, it’s hard not to see the easy roads taken in certain shots, but Reis is clever when he hides his tracks. By integrating characters into a Rotoscoped background, and literally smudging them together, he creates a look we’ve seen before, but smartly never in this era.
It’s interesting to me how much I accept Reis’ styling here, over what might be considered a more technically proficient house style book from Marvel or DC. It sets in motion an opinion that has been evolving in my taste over the last year or so. The current trend at the big two – DC more so than Marvel by a magnitude of ten at least – is proportional, slick, and Photoshopped to a squeaky-clean finish worthy of Oxy-Clean. Reis and C.O.W.L. spit in the faces of Superman and his Pine-Sol brethren. Of course when you look at the comparison of artists in the aforementioned paragraph above, it should come as no surprise. But I digress. The fact is that modern technology can quickly suck the life out of a comic book, as talents artists see their pages merely as means to an end. It’s when boundaries are stylistically pushed that the medium shows why it’s still so unique and viable in the marketplace.
When companies choose to churn out the capes and cowls (no pun needed here), and don’t challenge their art teams, we lose. The biggest gripe that carries itself to art critics of our precious comics being ‘kitsch’ come largely due less to the by-the-numbers stories, and more towards the simple, repeated, and dull art. When one can’t tell a Superman comic from an X-Men book, it’s less because of the tight-knit, overly complicated costuming and more because the big-muscled, pin-up, repeats that coat the pages.
However, with Marvel’s recent efforts like She-Hulk, Rocket Raccoon, and Ghost Rider I can see the tides changing. To bring it back to “C.O.W.L.”, Rod Reis proves that when the art takes a chance to add layers of complexity to the script… the book itself becomes infinitely more interesting. Had this book been phoned in by any number of overseas half-price pencilers, inked by a team of cut-rate work-for-hires, and then colored by a finishing service, I doubt I’d be as chipper as I’ve been. Digression over.
Kyle Higgens, Alex Siegel and Rod Reis have captivated me. Sure, I was an easy sell given the real estate buried in the pulp. But beyond the cheap pop of recognizing my hometown, came a stylistic experiment that built up a simply police procedural into a universe building Mad Men with a set of super powers. It’s why Image continues to stand tall with a catalogue of boundary-pushing sequential fiction. Color me happy kiddos, and do yourself a favor and give a gander to the gams on this hot little number.
The rumors that circle through the comics industry span the sublime to the ridiculous. Some, like the death and/or return of major characters turn out to be spot on, but some make the annual spate of April Fools posts seem tame and rational. (How many times has Dan Didio supposed to have been fired by now?)
The latest hot topic, posited by the gang at Bleeding Cool, claims that Marvel Comics has plans to suspend publication of their Fantastic Four titles, both standard and Ultimate, for an indeterminate period of time. Not due to poor sales, or pursuant to a planned relaunch, but because the comics provide too much publicity for 20th Century Fox’s film adaptations, and by shelving the titles, interest in the characters would plummet to the point that the next film would tank, and Fox would finally relinquish the rights to the characters, opening the door to a true Marvel-led reboot.
The most interesting thing about today’s announcement regarding the home video release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the absence of a Marvel One-Shot. Maybe they’re keeping it a secret or maybe there won’t be one which would be a real disappointment. Here are the rest of the details.
BURBANK, Calif. May 30, 2014— From the studio that brought you the biggest Super Hero movie of all time, Marvel’s The Avengers, comes this year’s #1 live-action adventure, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, available early on Digital 3D and HD August 19th, 2014, and on 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand September 9th, 2014, from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Saluted by critics as “action-packed” (NY Daily News), “thrilling” (Cinema Blend) and “better than The Avengers” (Access Hollywood), this blockbuster second chapter in the Captain America series teams Marvel’s First Avenger, Captain America, with Black Widow and new ally The Falcon as they battle their most mysterious and powerful enemy yet, the Winter Soldier.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and starring Chris Evans as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier, Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrives on 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack and Digital HD armed with explosively entertaining bonus features, including Making-of Featurettes, Audio Commentary, Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes, Bloopers and More…
Bring home the movie that changed everything and expand your Marvel collection in the following formats with bonus features as listed:
Bonus Materials Overview for These Products:
Digital 3D, HD, & SD*
3D Blu-ray Combo Pack (3D BD + Single Disc BD + Digital Copy)
Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes
*Digital bonus offerings will vary per retailer
Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scene
Feature Run Time: Approximately 136 minutes
Rating: Feature Film: “PG-13” in U.S., G in Canada (CE and CF)
Additional Bonus Features Not Rated
Aspect Ratio: 3-D Blu-ray Feature Film = 2.40:1
Blu-ray Feature Film = 2.40:1
DVD Feature Film = 2.40:1
Audio: Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray 2D = English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, French-Canadian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital
DVD = English/Latin Spanish/French Canadian 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital
Languages/Subtitles: English, French & Spanish (Applies To Film Content Only)
Even as they dominate the box office, comic-book movies are approaching a moment fraught with peril. If one definition of a bubble is that everybody with an investment to protect insists that it isn’t a bubble, then we should probably take as a warning the breezy assertion of Marvel’s chief creative officer, Joe Quesada, that “We’re not the Western … The sky’s really the limit for us, as long as we as a collective industry continue to produce great material.” But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and try out a more specific definition: A bubble reaches its maximum pre-pop circumference when the manufacturers of a product double down even as trouble spots begin to appear.
That, I would argue, is what has happened in the last month, in both movies and television.
There’s a reason why we called our category for media versions of comics “Every Comic Eventually Gets Adapted”.
Yeah, you read that right. You see, while spending a rushed weekend at the super-fantastic MCBA Spring Con (Hi Russ!) in Minneapolis, me and my Unshaven cohorts had nearly 14 hours of drive time round trip to gab about literally everything on our minds. And, boy, did we exhaust our brains. We discussed every TV show we’d seen in the last season. We reviewed every comic we’d read in the last month. We reminisced about junior high school, high school, and our college years. After that hour was done, we resorted to actual work.
Ever wanted to know how Unshaven Comics writes and conceptualizes issues of The Samurnauts? Well, even if you don’t, you’re gonna find out, kiddo! It’s during great long drives to conventions that we crack open the laptop and plot out 36 pages of Samurai-Astronaut action at a time. We start literally at page 1 panel 1, and begin to plan. We argue about pacing. We dissect character moments. We plod through action sequences. We get distracted and take an hour to discuss the look of a giant robot. We try hard to remove child-like grins from our bearded maws to no avail. And by the time we need to stop for gas, munchies, and snacks, we’ve built up the finale to Curse of the Dreadnuts.
The second half of our trip allowed us to daydream a bit. Between sips of Mountain Dew, and drags off of various candy bars, we imagined a world where all our hard work would have paid off. You see, no surprise, we plan on launching a major crowd-funded campaign when the final issue of Curse is rounding the bend. We’re going to be seeking funding to get us to the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, in 2015. There, we intend on doing what we do best – pitch fearlessly – in hopes of snagging a deal to take the Samurnauts property to the next level.
No doubt you see how hard we must have been dreaming. For you see, shortly after that jaunt into the surreal, we envision someone optioning our licensable property for a TV show. And shortly after that, we were buying office space in Downtown Homewood Illinois and running our lives on the small fortune we’d amass.
And there we sat, in the still of the night… the engine hum and highway hypnosis setting in. Wisconsin is a boring state to drive though when it’s pitch black out. After a few beats passed, I’d snapped out of our collective haze of profiteering. “But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, boys. We haven’t even finished the colors on issue 3.” A wave of cold, honest truth passed through us. With it came the most wondrous moment of clarity after our long weekend.
Whether we crowdfund our way to Vegas, or not… whether we ever turn Samurnauts into the global phenomenon we know it could be… whether we ever realize any reality beyond our current station – traveling by car, anchored by day jobs, and still floored that we have legitimate fans – truly it’s been the journey that has been the prize all along.
For the last half a decade, I’ve had the opportunity to see my two best friends grow into consummate professionals. Matt Wright produces insanely detailed, beautifully nuanced, forever under-appreciated commission work at every convention that the greats don’t take time to complete. Whereas others I’ve seen in the Alley whip through markered slap-dashery in order to profit, Matt always feels compelled to turn the hard-earned dollars of the fans into frame-able art. And Kyle Gnepper? Beyond his abilities in plotting, writing, and word-smithery, he’s the backbone of Unshaven Comics. Any success we’ve ever enjoyed comes squared solely on his silver-tongue and fearless nature. Kyle has forced himself to stand hours on end, literally hawking wares to every passerby. We’ve equated him to the Predator. Heat signatures walk by, and they are politely pounced on with true passion.
To wreck our reality with needless navel-gazing is truly absurd. Certainly when we launched ourselves as a company, the intent was to break-in to comics at breakneck speed. After five years, we realize that’s a dream no longer worth having. We know the reality – there’s no barrier to entry in the industry. We’ve been faking it until we made it, and no one has been the wiser. DC and Marvel will likely never call, but the fans who pick up our book and declare that it looks like nothing they’ve ever seen (and they love that) prove to us that we need not ever be a part of the big two.
Nor do we feel compelled to land at Boom!, Avatar, Image, or Dark Horse. Much like the Mouse and the Warners… there’s little reason to serve in heaven while we rule in Hell. And as such? We’ve toured the Midwest, shook hands with the East Coast, and are now looking West. We’ve put literally thousands of Samurnauts into the hands of the unsuspecting public. We’ve done it on our own, and now enjoy having a reputation (small as it may be) with a growing fan base. To destroy that reality with pipe-dreams of piles of unknown riches is akin to losing sight of what we’ve been after all along.
The reality is we’re living the dream now, and no amount of money should get in the way of that continuing.*
*But don’t get us wrong. If you want to license the Samurnauts, call me, e-mail me, or wink loudly. We’ll sell out in miliseconds.
There is a bottomless pit and you have fallen into it and you plunge ever downward and you despair of ever seeing the light again…
What we’re talking about, here, is the light that issues from your television screen when you’re watching a superhero show. Well, be at peace. Things aren’t so bad. It’s true that the dying season’s two weekly shows derived from comic books are already into their summer hiatuses, but you can sustain yourself with reruns or maybe just sit in a twilit room and anticipate next season’s Flash. Orconsider what has happened to those shows that have bidden a fond and temporary farewell.
Of course you know I refer to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow (and, as we did last week, we are from here on doing without the periods in the Marvel acronym, which, for those who don’t know and yet give a hoot, stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate and yes, that is a mouthful and no, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but hey, buster…you’re the one giving a hoot.)
Someone savvier than me might enumerate the ways in which the comics versions of these entertainments varies from their television adaptations, but let’s focus on just one. In comics, years – nay, decades– would pass with no significant changes in the premise or the main characters of the series. That was then. Now: SHIELD killed off a main character and, within a month, changed from being a story about a secret spy outfit with a lot of swell toys to a story about a bunch of good guys on the run to, as it inches toward a new season in the fall, a story about the resurrection of the aforementioned super spy outfit. Granted, the slain character was a villain, but he was the villain, one played by a major actor.
Arrow sustained similar alterations when the hero’s mother died – arguably a more important than the demise of SHIELD’s heavy because well, she was his mom and she was central to a lot of the past season’s plots. Another central character left the scene, presumably to return to a life as an international assassin though, of course, she could always abandon that trade and return. And the main stalwart, our own Oliver Queen, the very Arrow himself, has undergone some adjustment. He has stopped killing people and has voiced regret at ever having done so – relic from an earlier age that I am, I’m glad – and he is no longer rich. No invite to the Koch brothers’s next soiree for him!
Despite these alterations, both SHIELD and Arrow continue adhering to what seems to be series fiction’s Prime Directive: it must be about family. Not always biological family, but family structure: a parental figure, siblings, often a cute younger brother or sister, all of whom, despite occasional spats, are loyal and care deeply about each other. All the cop shows, all the spy shows, all the sitcoms – all familial.
Wonder what kind of family next season’s Flash will find himself in.