Aug 22, 2017

Pryde and the Spider

Over the years Peter Parker has dated many women. Some of those women are very familiar, like Mary Jane, Spider-man’s red-headed wife. Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s greatest love. Or even Felicia Hardy, AKA The Black Cat, Spidey’s some time girlfriend. But did you know Spider-man used to date a member of the famous superhero group, the X-Men? Yes, you read that right. Peter Parker and Kitty Pryde, also known as Shadowcat, used to be a couple, albeit in the Ultimate Universe, where we have a younger Peter Parker and where the characters are different than their regular Marvel universe counterparts.

Pryde and the Spider: The Relationship That Wasn’t Meant To Be
By Migs Acabado

Way back in the early 2000s til the mid-2000s, Ultimate Spider-Man was the most popular Spider-Man book. It successfully put Spider-man back on the list of best-selling monthly titles. Writer Brian Michael Bendis put a lot of surprises and shocks in the book, like having the Green Goblin throw MJ instead of Gwen off the bridge and surviving the fall, and the Venom suit being created by Peter and Eddie Brock’s father. After the Ultimate Hobgoblin Saga, Peter and Mary Jane broke up in a very emotional story. Then in 2005, it was teased in an issue of Wizard Magazine  that Peter wouldhave a new girlfriend. What I didn’t know was that Bendis would pick a character outside Spider-man’s world.

I was so surprised when I found out that Peter’s new girlfriend was Kitty Pryde! I thought you could never do that. (After finding that out, my 16 year old self thought: “Hey, if Parker can do that, I can also date the girl from the other Catholic School.” But I should’ve warned my 16 year old self that you should not apply what you learned in comics to your real life.) In an awesome story from the Ultimate Spider-man Annual called “More than You Bargained For,” Peter is dealing with his breakup with Mary Jane and Kitty Pryde is also dealing with her breakup with Bobby Drake (Iceman). Kitty decided to call Peter Parker since she has a big crush on him. They decided to meet up, and they had a date in the mall. At the end of the story, they hook up and became a couple. In the succeeding issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, Kitty Pryde was regularly featured. Peter even helped her and the X-Men defeat Deadpool and the Reavers when they captured the team. 

MJ became jealous of their relationship when the news became public that Spidey is dating Kitty Pryde. Then after the Clone Saga, Peter realized that he still loves MJ and broke up with Kitty, ending their relationship.

I was big fan of their relationship. Even though it wasn’t perfect and problems like not being able to see each other when Peter is out of his costume or the distance between where they live often gets brought up, I still wanted them together! For me, Peter found a perfect girlfriend that he doesn’t have to worry about. She can protect herself and doesn’t whine that her boyfriend is Spider-Man. I was mad at Bendis when he decided to end their relationship, which lasted for only a year. At the end of the Clone Saga, Kitty rushed to Peter’s aid but she saw MJ and Peter together. That scene is really heartbreaking, and I thought Peter came off as a jerk. If you want to return to your ex, at least have the decency to inform your current girlfriend that you don’t want to be in a relationship anymore. 

During that time, Aunt May had already found out that Peter is Spider-Man. It would have been nice to see how she and Kitty would have interacted. Following the Clone Saga, Kitty moved to Peter’s school since she left the X-Men. It would have been nice to see them as a couple during that time — what they could have done to hide their relationship and how would they interact with MJ. I really wish Bendis had made it last for a couple of years. I know Peter and MJ will eventually be together, so he should have explored all the possibilities in the Peter/Kitty relationship while he could. But despite being cut short, it was fun when it lasted. For Kitty Pryde, Peter Parker is the one who got away.

Aug 21, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok and the History of Hela, Goddess of Death

On the surface, Thor and his cast of characters can seem a little bit silly. They all talk in this flowery Shakespearean accent, and walk around on rainbow colored roads. As a kid, I was never big on medieval trappings, so a bunch of characters sword-fighting or throwing hammers didn’t seem that appealing. I was entirely wrong. In preparation for the release of Thor: The Dark World, I decided to finally give the much-celebrated run of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Thor a try. What I found was arguably the best cast of characters in all of comics.

Thor: Ragnarok and the History of Hela, Goddess of Death
Part 1 – A Game of Cat and Mouse
Ben Smith

Batman and Spider-Man may have great supporting casts, and a deep roster of excellent villains, but the villains only sporadically appear, and the supporting casts are made up usually of civilians. Great civilians, but civilians nonetheless. The great thing about Thor’s supporting cast is they’re all great heroes in their own right, perfectly capable of supporting their own ongoing comic book series. The Warriors Three, Sif, Balder, and Loki have all had their own comic at some point in time, to name a few.

Along with great allies, Thor has a wonderful roster of frequent antagonists. My love for Karnilla the Norn Queen is already documented. Fangirls have been swooning over the exploits of Loki for years now, thanks to the movies. There’s also Ulik, Odin himself, the Enchantress, the Executioner, Malekith, and last but not least, Hela the Goddess of Death.

Hela, as played by Cate Blanchett, looks like she’s going to steal the show in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok movie, which is no easy task in a movie that teases a fight between Thor and the Hulk. Which means there’s no more perfect time to look at her comic book beginnings than now.

(All stories written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby, unless otherwise stated.)


The early Thor comics had backup tales in each issue called the Tales of Asgard. In this Tale, many years ago Thor yearns to be worthy of lifting the mighty Mjolnir. When he learns that Sif has been kidnapped, his selfless vow to rescue her finally makes him worthy enough to wield the mighty hammer, and yet he’s so determined to rescue Sif that he doesn’t even realize what has happened. (Fascinating that Sif plays an important role in one of the key moments in the history of Thor.)

Yet, through various machinations, Sif has ended up as a prisoner of Hela, the Goddess of Death. Thor offers his life in exchange for Sif, and Hela is so inspired by the noble act, she lets both of them go free. (The first appearance of Sif and Hela in the same short story is impressive. It’s not even the main feature in the comic. That’s two of my four favorite Asgardians.)


Quick tangent, in the main story Thor meets the mysterious Ego the Living Planet. As Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 killed at the box office early in the summer movie season, and Ego coincidentally was a major part of the film. Here’s a panel of Ego creating a mortal body for himself.

(SPOILER WARNING, it’s absolutely nuts that Starlord’s father in the movies is Ego the Living Planet. Just so you know, that is not his comic book origin. Normally I’d find this annoying, but Ego being the father of Starlord is just so weird and crazy, that I can’t help but love it. SPOILER OVER.)

Anyway, none of that has anything to do with Hela, I just thought it was relevant to current Marvel fan interests.

In another Tales of Asgard backup, Harokin, leader of the barbarian hordes, has been fatally defeated in battle by Thor. All of Asgard gathers around to witness the arrival of Hela, who has come to claim the fallen warrior.

All of Asgard must then turn away as Hela and her latest victim make his final voyage into the afterlife. Yet, when Harokin arrives at Valhalla, he is greeted by friends and the promise of an eternity of endless battle. A perfect end for a mighty Norse warrior.

All of the Thor characters are pretty wonderfully designed. Hela and Karnilla in particular, both have those fantastically complicated headdresses, which are simultaneously glorious and impractical. I’m sure both women are figuratively made of steel, but that still has to put a strain on the neck, mighty or not.


Thanks to the evil machinations of Loki and (my beloved) Karnilla, Thor has been bested in battle by The Wrecker. On the edge of death, Thor is visited by the specter of death herself, Hela.

Thor convinces Hela that while a spark of life remains in him, she cannot yet claim him. Hela is patient and therefore agrees to turn her back to him, essentially letting him go. She fully expects that she will be escorting him to Valhalla soon enough anyway.


Thor visits the gravely wounded Sif at the hospital, only to once again be visited by Hela. Fearing that Hela has come for Sif, Thor is relieved that she has only come to remind him that she let him live a couple of days ago. (Hela is always good for a reminder of how altruistic she was in not killing you previously.)

She also came to taunt him with a tantalizing peak at the glory that is Valhalla, where an eternity of fallen warriors engage in everlasting battle. (In a nice callback to that previous Tales of Asgard story, Harokin gleefully beckons to Thor, and is really talking up the benefits of Valhalla to him.)


(By this point in the series, John Buscema and Joe Sinnott had taken over as the art team. Buscema’s Thor may not have had the same level of barely contained action and kinetic pace, but his figurework was arguably more beautiful than Kirby’s, so he has that going for him.)

While Odin is locked in dangerous combat with the mysterious Infinity, Thor is lured away from the action by a strange faceless creature. The creature had been sent by Hela, to lure Thor to her for yet another attempt at ending his life prematurely.

Thor resists, and so Hela hits him with a powerful bolt of energy that acts as an aging spell.

As Thor rapidly ages toward his death, Hela departs, confident that she will be able to claim him very soon.


In the not too distant past, Hela had attempted to claim Odin’s spirit while he was in the throes of the Odin sleep, but his spirit proved too strong to be claimed, even by her. It split off into a powerful new entity she would subsequently name Infinity.

She allowed Balder to free the other half of Odin that had remained in his sleep pod, setting into motion the events of the past few issues.

This is a great cosmic panel by Buscema and Sinnott.

His two halves restored into one (with help from Loki and Karnilla) Odin has once again cheated death. But since Hela is dead set on taking a life, Odin stays true to form and offers up his son Thor in his place. (Odin is a dick.)


Hela mentally prepares for the task ahead of her, finally claiming the life of the Thunder God. She believes that by doing so, it will break Odin’s spirit, allowing her to forgo the painstaking task of collecting her victims slowly, one by one. (Finally, a bit of motivation for why she so eagerly pursues Thor.)

Loki has come to Hela’s domain, to inform her that Thor has attempted to avoid his fate by escaping to Midgard. (What a snitch. Anyone that has ever watched The Wire knows that snitches get stitches.)

Undeterred, Hela travels to Earth in search of Thor, disguising herself as a mortal woman. She is immediately threatened by two unsavory men attempting to rob her, so she kills them even though “it was not yet your time.” (That’s what you get for being assholes.)
Hela is delayed for a bit by a few illusions Thor placed in different locations across the planet. Annoyed, Hela decides to make Thor come to her by threatening the lives of firemen who are in the middle of fighting a fire.

When Dr. Blake gets the news over the radio that firemen are aging rapidly at the scene of an incident, he knows he must leap into action as Thor, even though Hela will surely be waiting.

Thor arrives in time to save the building and snuff out the fire. Thor prepares to fight off Hela yet again, but she threatens to kill all the mortals if he does not yield. Reluctantly, he does yield.


Balder pleads with Karnilla to open a window into the events on Midgard, so that Odin can see the danger Thor is in. Sufficiently convinced to intervene, Odin uses his power to remove the mortals from danger, giving Thor a chance to escape.

However, Hela is a master of all space and time, and Thor’s attempts to flee prove to be unsuccessful.

Hela moves in for the kill, but is interrupted by the arrival of Odin himself.

Hela is not impressed or deterred, and continues to move in for the kill on Thor. Odin intervenes, blasting Hela with his mighty scepter and killing her. Thor fears the consequences of killing death, and is quickly proven correct when the natural order of Earth is thrown into disarray. The population of insects triple, trees and plants overgrow and engulf the land, and people in pain are suffering without the sweet release of death.

Odin knows that he cannot allow a universe without death to continue, even if it means his son Thor will die, and so he returns Hela to life.

Restored to life, Hela quickly hits Thor with her trusty rapid aging gimmick. Odin uses his power to bring Sif to Midgard, so that she may be at the side of the man she loves as he dies. Instead, Sif pleads with Hela “woman to woman,” to spare Thor. (I’m not sure if this dialogue is sexist or not. Okay, it’s probably sexist. I make no excuses. Please read comics anyway.)

Sif offers to sacrifice her own life in exchange for Thor’s. Hela is so moved by the noble gesture, that she restores Thor to full vitality, and allows them all to live on that day. (Okay Hela, you already fell for this bit once, get your act together. Once a pitcher knows you can’t hit a fast ball, that’s all they’re going to throw at you.)

Before she departs, Hela makes sure to remind them to enjoy life while they have it, because they will all feel her touch eventually. (What a buzzkill.)

Hela, much like my beloved Karnilla, would make the most of her short time in the spotlight in her early comic book appearances. (Again, both women also seem highly enamored with overly complicated headgear. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.) So far, she’s been foiled every time from claiming the spirit of Thor as her own. Will she ever succeed? You should keep on reading and find out. Or maybe, MAYBE, if I’m feeling up to it, I’ll continue chronicling the adventures of Thor and Hela in a part 2. But you all have to be nice to each other.

Next time, maybe more Hela?

Aug 19, 2017

Only Silly Comics: Perception and Personal Responsibility in The Multiversity

Only Silly Comics
Perception and Personal Responsibility in The Multiversity
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

The smartest monster in the room, in Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity

I am only now getting around to understanding The Multiversity as a whole, single, cohesive work, and not as a collection of related short stories or themed larks. When it was being serialized, there was frequent hype about how each issue stood on its own, frequent responses along the lines of this issue being impenetrable, this other, too easily understood. We all missed a lot. All of us.

The Multiversity is composed of a wraparound story and a series of nested, smaller stories, most taking place on one or more alternate reality. An army of evil scientist doubles from each reality have banded together to move, reality to reality, conquering. Simultaneously, ultra-cosmic monsters, called the Gentry, haunt and stress-test the worlds, infesting the minds of individuals and corrupting whole cultures and nations. Fear of the masses. Overintellectualization convincing you that you’re secretly an idiot pretender. The fear of mortality and underachievement. The fear that the world is a madhouse. And, the only clues to save us all are in the form of comics somehow moving from the world of their creation to alternate worlds, seemingly at random.

Nothing on its surface told us it would be about colonization, except, everything. The baddies talk of gentrification. The characters experience and engage in bigotries. There are colonizing wars and the fall and rise of empires. The monsters specifically infest people’s minds and alter their behavior.

In They Make Us Like Them, Kelly Kanayama wrote elegiacally and disturbingly about the gentrification of place and of souls, of how The Multiversity brought her to tears, how a long game development upset her and proved a revelation. And, over on comics message boards and social media, she got made fun of and dismissed, a lot, mostly — and yeah I’m saying this because it matters — by white men.

That's how we, as a broad community of readers of the same piece of work, reading and digesting at the same time, in union, understood the comic. Broadly, we looked for the same comfortable touchstones, and we made the same trained and generic assumptions. And, we missed a lot.

If someone saw more than us, we shut them down. If we saw ourselves in the villains, if we saw our weaknesses in accusations, we flinched, and denied, and decried. Annotations sprung up immediately, and all the annotation attempts were incomplete, many of them were half-assed, most attempts didn’t even make it through every issue/story in the graphic novel/relay race that is The Multiversity.

The scale of the story was a bit beyond what we were trained to expect and what solicits sold us. We knew it was about multiple realities. We knew that so well, we really didn’t look for anything deeper than “it’s about alternate realities” and, “it’s about comics.”

The comic anchored itself on readers being able, eventually, to acknowledge logical fallacies. We can fear all these things, but we have to know, ultimately, that the fears only go so far before they become ridiculous and untrue. It’s okeh to fear death, but stuff dies. It just does. It’s good to worry if you’re being too pretentious, being too critical or not critical enough, but eventually, you have to take stock and trust yourself.

Largely, though, as we read these comics upon each release, and again even, when the collected edition first arrived, we did not take fair stock. We did not acknowledge the fallacies, but like the Gentry, themselves, we got stuck fast in the morass and muck of those fallacies.
None of This is Real

The biggest thing I’ve realized about The Multiversity, lately, is that the story that seems the most “realistic,” the most trapped, claustrophobic, bounded and intricate, the Watchmen riff entitled Pax Americana as well as In Which We Burn, isn’t real. I know it’s not a true story. I understood none of the characters breathed or were born for reals for real, but it’s a story about it not being real.

In In Which We Burn, The Question invoked “the hunchback” and “the soldier,” which are metaphors for the question mark and the exclamation mark, and thereby, synecdoche for the question and the answer. He does this during an investigation, so naturally, it seems like he is simply looking to turn his question into a conclusion. But, here’s the thing: The Hunchback and the Soldier is an Aleister Crowley essay about how, we know this world is false, an illusion, when we become enlightened, but even when enlightened, while we are in that illusion, we get caught up and treat it as if it is real and therefore of the strongest significance. Added to that, the answer, the exclamation to the Question’s line of questioning, his investigation is, it seems, the same as the ultimate answer in the Crowley essay: None of this is true. None of this is real.

Another story/chapter in The Multiversity, is explicitly a fictitious document. Ultra Comics is a comic that exists on our Earth, our world, that can be read by us. It’s that in our work and in the fiction of The Multiversity. While the other stories represent many alternate realities that exist within the context of the whole story, in what is termed the “local multiverse,” that comic is just an artifact. The fictional world within is less real than the other fictional worlds, because it’s just a fiction.

That comic, then, draws attention to its irreal nature, it’s superfluousness if the only important thing is whether something is in continuity with and has physical, causal affect on other stories. The characters from any other two chapters of The Multiversity can meet, shake hands, kick each other, but the characters from Ultra Comics are fake even in the context of The Multiversity.

I was prepared for that. I could take that in. But, the irreality of In Which We Burn is different. And, the only difference is that other comics verified it’s “truth,” and that In Which We Burn did not at any point tell me, explicitly, that it was a work of fiction. That the closest to physical reality it will ever come is that there are ink on paper copies and there are digital reproductions that shine across screens.
We Are All Biased

The next thing I realized is that it is not only one small bit in this story, another angle in another story, that are about race or culture, but that The Multiversity is about ethnicity. And, it is about not only the biases of others in this respect, but our biases. We judge these worlds. We judge them on sight, and only slightly revise, for the most part, when confronted with elements we had not considered, but laudatory and condemning.

In #earthme, Sister Miracle, a young black girl, tweets about her life and, on learning of real alternate realities, ponders what it would be like to meet another her. And, as readers, we condemned her. We condemned her for throwing a party. We condemned her for tweeting — often in tweets. We were encouraged to with the selfish-sounding title of the story and a world where superheroes were unnecessary and people are, instead, painters and doctors, where children are simply children, who go to school and parties, who play video games and talk to one another.

And, in a later story, Captain Marvel and the Day That Never Was!, which is tonally structured as a nostalgic, simple, genuine superhero story, a white girl, Mary Marvel, literally writes out good deeds in a “good deed ledger” and, on learning of  real alternate realities, ponders what it would be like to meet herself, we cheered her on. We were ecstatic. So good. So pure. Just what the world needs.

Now, this Mary Marvel lives on an Earth that, in the 21st Century, has only just sent astronauts to the moon. It’s a world that is, according to what we see of one American city and a few other locales, exclusively white except for a couple time-displaced racial caricatures.

“Just what the world needs.”

We got fed biases and, largely, we accepted them. Those who did not were dismissed or made fun of.
We Can Discern

In The Multiversity, many characters read comics to learn, as well as to be entertained. They read to understand. Kyle Rayner flips through a comic in #earthme to see just what’s going on in modern comics. Characters try to solve mysteries by looking at the paper and ink quality as well as narrative content. A Flash (DC jargon for someone, usually heroic, who moves at super speeds) reads the set of comics that make up the majority of The Multiversity, to deduce the baddies’ plans and how to best thwart them. Reading for information and for tone is a common occurrence throughout the overall story.

We could follow suit.

Our first read does not have to be our last. It doesn’t even have to be the map we use.

We all have biases, just as the characters in The Multiversity, but just like them, we can look past our biases, we can feel a bias, feel internal tug of what feels right or believable, and still analyze that feeling and the situation, to judge appropriately and be fair.

Feeling that characters are real is not the same as knowing they are flesh and blood or believing so. It’s okeh to find one kind of characterization more believable than another. It’s okeh to recognize one kind of racism, but not another. To identify one kind of paternalism or sexism, but miss a different paternalism, a different form of colonizing dominance.

“There’s a sliding scale to what civilization will tolerate at any given time,” says Ultra Comics (the character) in Ultra Comics (the comic and chapter of The Multiversity). He is speaking to us, the readers, who are invited to see this fiction through his senses, with his perspective, and he continues, “Civilians who murder are criminals, while soldiers who kill are heroes.”

And, on the same page, the comic itself, or the narrator who is not the protagonist tells us, “Think, man with the multi-mind — Think!”

If all readers are Ultra Comics while they read, why is he a man, and why is he a white man? Why is that our global avatar?

If Ultra Comics is the narrator and Ultra Comics, the character, is the comic, too, the pages and ideas of Ultra Comics, how can there be narration talking to him and us?

Because these are biases we accept with little question until we are made to question them. Pretty much, until we are told to. Even if you aren’t a white man, there's a part of anyone from an anglophone culture that expects to see white men as the realest and at the fore, as the majority, in anglophone entertainment. That expectation is a colonization.

Most of our anglophone entertainment, despite the sad cries of a few pathetic loudmouths, is through white male eyes, ears, and privileges. Even when it has a black face or a female voice, it’s often still dominantly a white male perspective. Because that perspective has more effectively colonized many of us, including flesh and blood white males, than any physical, societal colonization has accomplished. It’s not the voice of a real, or individual straight white generic male, but a voice that is in their heads, too, a voice some of us created and all of us have, in our way, fostered. Straight white guys have less reason to question it or see outside what it allows, in anglophone cultures, but it’s talking through all of us. It’s a colonization beyond nationalism, and more subtle than physical invasion, but no less warfare, no less about finance and control. Our brains are territorialized.
All Comics Are Ultra Comics

All comics are Ultra Comics; all stories. It’s all fake, it’s all unreal, even when we try to tell the truth of things. Perspectives are misinterpretation and riddled with assumption. Criticism has an angle. Every criticism has an approach and drive behind it. We achieve desires.

When the evil Dr Sivanas from multiple realities converge to conquer the heart of the multiverse, they do so by turning it into a pop up. They build something crassly mimicking the original architecture and shove track lighting and cubicles inside. They turn the mundanity of evil into a cartoon that seems harmless, except they’re destroying us all. And, they’re beat by condescending, self-congratulatory strongmen. That’s the moral axis of Captain Marvel and the Day That Never Was!

The Nazis, in splendour falls, aren’t only in the past or over there. They’re the world. They’re us and everybody else, because Nazi conquest became everything, and then, has to be nothing. The world has to appear to not have a unifying politic. That’s why some people get so bent out of shape when you say racism is global or talk of “the Patriarchy” or “patriarchies.” Nazi is so much nothing/everything, that the German agent, Dr Sivana, finds modern naziism not Nazi enough, and wants to overthrow Nazi Earth, to return to a purer, directed Nazi Germany.

The thing is, that’s not an alternate Earth, in the broad strokes. That’s us. All these Earths are us, the worlds, these realities. We are an overly simplistic didacticism of good vs evil. We are layers of racism and conquest slapped atop each other over generations. We are video game player and doctors, child laborers and soldiers. This is a world of naive magic and ceaseless variations of war.

And, we are also, not purely or solely any of these things. The same way, each of the fictive worlds is portrayed and embodied by a single comics story in The Multiversity, but our world is without, is outside the story, and the element we contribute is a document, and artifact we can read and they can read, but nobody can go down into because it is not, in that fashion real.

The smartest monster in the room, who doesn’t realize he only exists in comics

It is often difficult for us to reconcile the irreality of fiction and that it still all matters. That existing and mattering are not the same. That factual and felt are neither contrary nor reliant on each other.

We either continually think and accept new ideas, approach new data and interpolate it, or we resist that development and growth and remain stagnant. The stagnancy probably breeds fear, teases it to monstrous proportions, but learning and changing also puts us at potential risk. It’s hard for any of us to admit when we were bigoted or missed something. When we made an ugly assumption. When the wrong call felt, to us, to be the most reasonable.

We can be discerning if we want to be. We can be better. Can, is not is. It is not are. For that to be, we need to be vigilant, to be accepting, and to take action.

Jul 29, 2017

Marvel Needs to Rebrand Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby is the greatest superhero comics artist of all time, the one from whom every modern telling of the genre has come from. And his impact is bigger than ever, as Hollywood has finally caught up to him and the innovations he was coming up with decades ago. And yet, for someone who made his name primarily on Marvel Comics, the company has done very little to celebrate him this 2017, the year of his centennial. And I've finally concluded that...

Marvel Needs to Rebrand Jack Kirby
by Duy

I love Jack Kirby. I didn't get him until I was older. But that's what youth does to you; you like what's available then and there and dislike the older stuff. I loved George Perez and John Byrne so much, and back then they counted as "realistic" (how weird is it that they'd probably be described as "cartoony" now?), that anyone who didn't fall into that vein was "bad" to me. It was decades before I realized Jack Kirby wasn't going for "realistic." He was going for expressionistic power.  The impact lines, the unorthodox layouts, the way he would "cramp" everything into one panel... check out the splash page below and note how Thor and Hercules occupy virtually the entire space, emphasizing how huge they are.

Still, to this day, no one draws a fight like the King drew a fight. But Kirby's influence was so big that it's unbelievably easy to take him for granted, and can usually be more easily demonstrated when you look at comics pre-Kirby's prime and post.

Kirby made his name on Marvel Comics, especially on Thor and the Fantastic Four. His influence is such that the movies have finally caught up to him, with his fingerprints all over the Thor: Ragnarok trailers.

He's felt in all the Marvel movies, and he's even felt in the DC ones, with Justice League using his greatest villainous creation, Darkseid. But considering that his name was built on the Marvel brand, it's really strange to me that this year, when he would have turned 100, there's really little the House of Ideas is doing to celebrate him. And it's not even just their new products; it's the smaller things like their search engine optimization. Take a look at this first page of Amazon results when I type "Jack Kirby."

There are three Marvel books on that list: a retrospective about his contributions to Marvel, Monsters, and Machine Man. Everything else is DC or an artbook. So is this how Marvel is going to use Jack Kirby? They're only going to use him as a selling point if the character of the book isn't good enough to sell themselves?

That seems like a giant waste of an opportunity. This is the greatest superhero creator of all time. And meanwhile, the bulk of his Marvel work is kept in formats such as Omnibuses and Epic Collections, which are friendly to longtime collectors and collectors with money. They're pricey and they look good on a shelf, but they're also missing a very easy but important target: a new audience.

This ties into another thing I've been thinking a lot about lately, and that's the evergreen status of DC books compared to Marvel's. DC has a lot of backlog that's great for a new reader. They're only one or two volumes long, for the most part, and they're self-contained. Think of Watchmen, Kingdom Come, and The Dark Knight Returns. There's nothing in there that means you have to read anything else in order to enjoy it. And in-universe, think of The Death of Superman, which yes, plays heavily on Superman continuity at the time, but can be enjoyed completely on its own. DC is really, really good at finding a new audience, and it's because of their stand-alone hits.

Read More Below...

Marvel? When you look back at its entire publishing history, Marvel has had better runs. They have had better long-running series and creators who made their mark by staying on a book for a long time. Frank Miller's Daredevil. Roger Stern's Spider-Man. Roger Stern's Avengers. Kurt Busiek and George Perez's Avengers. Chris Claremont and John Byrne's X-Men. Chris Claremont and Paul Smith's X-Men. Walt Simonson's Thor. Steve Ditko's Dr. Strange. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's Spider-Man. John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala's Conan.

Jack Kirby's Thor and Fantastic Four.

This makes it more difficult to get into than a DC stand-alone book because it's so overwhelmingly large in terms of both size and monetary value. With their landmarks being more episodic, it's more important for Marvel to distinguish their entry points. And since the comics market both in comics stores and bookstores ends up being skewed towards the older readers now, there is a section in the bookstore that I think Marvel should very proactively target: the children's section.

You know what they sell in the children's section? These books:

Asterix and Tintin are arguably Europe's two biggest comics, and these are their omnibuses, each collecting 3 of their original volumes. As of this writing, the first Asterix Omnibus is #30 in "Comics & Graphic Novels -> Graphic Novels -> Historical & Biographical Fiction", #32 in "Books -> Children's books -> Literature & Fiction -> Historical Fiction -> Europe," and #351 in "Books -> Children's Books -> Comics & Graphic Novels." It is #28,190 overall in "Books."

Tintin's first "omnibus" is #5 in Books > Children's Books > Comics & Graphic Novels > Action & Adventure," #562 in "Books > Children's Books > Classics," and #1493 in "Books > Children's Books > Action & Adventure." It is #27,050 overall in "Books."

Now Thor Epic Collection: God of Thunder? (We're using Thor, by the way, because Kirby is best known at Marvel for Thor and the Fantastic Four, and Thor's the one with the successful movie franchise and the movie coming out. But we could use any Kirby work and the trend would be similar.)  It's #698 in "Books > Comics & Graphic Novels > Publishers > Marvel," #1626 in "Books > Comics & Graphic Novels > Graphic Novels > Superheroes," and #114,851 in "Books." It's not even in the top 1,000 in the genre it's actually in, while both Tintin and Asterix crack the top 100 in certain categories.

What this says to me is there's an opportunity here to tap this section of the physical and virtual bookstores and repackage Kirby's work so that its primary audience is a new, young audience, the way it was meant to be. Print them in thinner formats with larger dimensions, and you could very well expose a young aspiring artist to the power innate in Kirby's work. Imagine these pages in the paper size of an Asterix or Tintin, around 9 by 11 inches:

Celebrate the art, cut the unit costs by making it thinner, and you'll have around 20 small collections instead of three or five huge ones. You'll also have multiple entrypoints, and this section would be relatively new that it could tap that audience much more easily.

Imagine this scenario: a kid goes to see Thor: Ragnarok this November and tells his mom they want to buy a Thor comic. The mom goes to the TPB/graphic novel section of the bookstore (or Amazon), and is overwhelmed by the options. She ends up buying him either nothing or takes a chance at any of them. The chances of the thing she buys being of high quality are fairly small. However, if the children's section had a carefully curated selection of Thor comics, with specifically assigned entrypoints, then the chances of that mother buying something that would turn their kid into a longtime fan go up higher.

Aside from careful design, branding, and curation of these collections, Marvel also needs to make sure that the remastering is on point. My biggest issue with Marvel's Omnibuses, which for the most part seems to have been fixed by the Epic Collections, is that there seems to be little to no care put in the remastering. To demonstrate, here's a sequence of Odin in a bathtub as it originally appeared in Kirby's comics:

And here's that same sequence, "remastered":

Thinner lines and less considered coloring just remove the life and weight from the drawing, and we need this to be better executed for this plan to work.

Other than that, I'm only using Kirby because he's the greatest and it's his centennial, but successful implementation of this could theoretically be a proof of concept to have similar collections, such as Ditko's Spider-Man, Claremont's X-Men, and more.

Comics is a collectible market. But there's no reason it can't still be open to the masses, not with all this backlog, and all this marketing power.

Happy 100th, King Kirby.

Jul 28, 2017

Marvel Needs to Reboot

As human beings we have no choice but to grow older, move on, and say goodbye, but one of the great things about comics is that they don’t have to. There are certainly some of us that pine for the days of high school or college or that special workplace, that time or place you look back on fondly. Comics can go back and live in those special times again, and the only thing stopping them is a devotion to a fictional timeline. With that being said...

Marvel Needs to Reboot
Ben Smith

I was reading a comic recently with the Kingpin, and what I assume to be his wife Vanessa was standing behind him. It make sense to have them together, with her being a part of the Netflix Daredevil series, but it made me wonder if she was supposed to be dead, or in a coma, or estranged from Fisk, who can remember. Ultimately, it got me to a reoccurring thought I have, that it shouldn’t matter. Permanent change should really be a rare thing in comics, yet its something the publishers and fans seem to believe they want. I’ve always thought that the Spider-Man and X-Men I read as a kid, should be roughly the same as the Spider-Man and X-Men my kids would read some day.

Marvel had the perfect opportunity to reboot following the Secret Wars mini-series (the Hickman one) but they didn’t do it. They probably should have. Superhero comics, and Marvel in particular, are stuck in this place between comfort food, and an idea factory for multimedia intellectual property. There’s little doubt in my mind that most comic book consumers want comfort food, to read familiar-looking exploits. Yet, lately Marvel has seem determined to discover the next big television or movie property by a massive game of trial-and-error. This is not a veiled knock on their diversity push of late. All-New Wolverine with X-23 as Wolverine has easily been my favorite Marvel book of the last few years. Silk, Jane Thor, and Spider-Gwen are some of my favorite Marvel characters and books. I love Riri and Miles. But too much change at once leaves the landscape too different to be comfort food; it becomes something you’ve never eaten before.

I’ll attempt to explain more clearly by using a specific franchise, Spider-Man, since it’s the hero and comic series I know best. I’ve always believed that a strong supporting cast is one of the keys to a successful comic book franchise-level character. Superman has Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Krypto, Ma and Pa. I think few would argue against the claim that Spider-Man’s supporting cast was at its strongest in the Romita years. You had Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Robbie Robertson, Aunt May, Captain Stacy, and J Jonah Jameson. I’m not sure if Liz Allen, Betty Brant, and Ned Leeds were around at the same time, but include those in the mix too.

Now, after over 50 years of publishing, Harry and Liz got married, had a kid, and got divorced. (Side note, I am completely against fictional babies. There’s almost no situation where they’re an asset.) Harry died for a bit and came back, and then had another kid and left again. Flash lost his legs in combat, and is now wearing an alien super suit and fighting aliens. Gwen died after having the Green Goblin’s love children. Mary Jane and Peter were married and the marriage was erased after a demonic pact. See where I’m going? One of the greatest supporting casts in comics history, is now forever relegated to a memory because of a strict adherence to years of stories that were arguably questionable to even publish. One of the subtle underlying aspects of the marriage is that Peter and Mary Jane were basically the only ones left of the group by that point. Some might see that as inspiring or a natural progression, I found it to be depressing. Why can’t we roll back the clock? There’s no reason Marvel can’t. Instead, we’re stuck with Peter has a billionaire tech mogul overseeing his global empire. (Like my illustrious editor-in-chief told me, Peter having success as a tech genius is the end of his story. It’s fine to explore for a little while, but it’s gone on way too long at this point.)

Pick the franchise, and you’ll inevitably find a golden era of the comic that the publishers refuse to exploit for whatever reason. Teen Titans should never not be a team of Robin, Raven, Cyborg, Starfire, and Beast Boy. Bruce Banner should be trying to find a way to cure himself of the Hulk, with varying levels of control over his green alter-ego. Maybe I’m getting too old and cranky, but they’re classics for a reason. To use a really simplistic analogy, nobody wants to read teenage Charlie Brown and Linus, reminiscing about the good old days before Snoopy died and Lucy drowned in the lake. (It might be interesting for a short time period, as a curiosity, but you’d have to go back sooner than later.)

So, the question becomes should they do a hard reboot, or a bunch of soft reboots. Not every character has the baggage that Spider-Man has that needs to be fixed on a grand scale. Even then, we’re talking about restoring some supporting characters to a simpler time. I think back to when I was reading a comic with Psylocke, right around the time Secret Wars was out and there was some buzz about if Marvel was rebooting. Psylocke is a good example of Marvel’s claim that they don’t need to reboot. In their opinion, nothing was that broken. Psylocke began as Captain Britain’s sister, became a meek telepathic mutant, joined the X-Men after facing Sabretooth and surviving, and then eventually became an Asian bondage ninja. I love every word of writing that sentence. She doesn’t really need a reboot overhaul (unless you want to get rid of the probably problematic race-swapping stuff).

The problem with a linewide reboot, like New 52, is you’re absolutely going to get a few excellent launches, a whole lot of good, and then a whole lot of awful. As an example, Ultimate Spider-Man was pretty great, but Ultimate X-Men was pretty damn mediocre. Good or mediocre or awful isn’t really an enticing option when compared to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko as the original starting points for your universe and franchise. So, I really do think soft reboots is the way to go, because most of Marvel doesn’t really even need fixing and the fixes they do need are just rolling back some unnecessary history. That’s what the soft reboot was created for.

What’s clear is that Marvel needs to do something. They really have to decide if they’re going to be a story workshop for the movie studios, or a place of familiarity to comic fans that are steadily getting older and dwindling in number. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they can do both with no problem, and I’m completely wrong. I really don’t have the solution. Pundits have been predicting the death of comics for catering to an aging fan base ever since I got back into comics 17 years ago. So either that’s 17 years of more and more aging fans giving up the hobby, or 17 years of an ever-rotating mid-20s fanbase. All I know is that the quality of comics coming from Marvel right now is the worst I’ve ever seen it (I missed the ‘90s) and I want to read great Marvel comics again. All-New Wolverine excluded because it’s already great.

Jul 24, 2017

George Perez and the 1970s Romantic Revision of Inhumans

Recent Hall-of-Famer George Perez is more known, now, for Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Infinity War cycle, which will soon be a two-part Summer blockbuster for Marvel and Disney. But back in 1975, when just starting as a professional penciler, Perez quietly revolutionized how the Inhumans were portrayed.

Romancing the Inhumans
George Perez and the 1970s Romantic Revision of Inhumans
Travis Hedge Coke

Perez's elegant layouts, articulate line art, and constantly flowing visuals smoothed away the blocky, design-heavy patterns of Jack Kirby’s original portrayal. This was followed in kind by Gil Kane, and intentionally or not, ultimately has shown beautifully through in Jae Lee’s and other more recent takes.

With layouts more reminiscent of European albums than many of his superhero-drawing contemporaries, each page of Perez’s fives issues (1-4, then 8, our of a 12 issue series) looked like a complete experience. There were Steranko-esque triptychs of mobile figures walking or flying, stacks of motion that would ricochet your eyes to the right with a punch, then left as living hair flung someone away, only to settle, dead center, afterwards, with something directed straight at the reader. And, the panels would line up like glorious architecture, like fitted, purposeful mosaics.

Perez was not committing to the amazing scenes where a dozen or more characters would interact in novel yet sensible ways, but his work with individual characters, already had a sheen of brilliance. His mastery of body language led even to individual characters not falling or passing out in the same ways. Conscious and mobile, figures were individual, personality and accoutrements defined posture and gesture.

Even as almost every issue had a different inker, a different colorist, the underlying pencil-work gives a coherence and a sense of development to the changes wrought by other hands. Diane Buscema and Janice Cohen’s sense of balance and flowing contrasts seems to me to compliment Perez’s elegance and orderliness more than later colorists’ sometimes garish or monochromatic execution, but these were produced fast and without any expectation of reprint or permanence. The move from subtlety to directness almost carries a narrative arc to it, anchored by the solid tone of Perez’s art, and that of his replacements, Gil Kane, and then Keith Pollard.

Pollard and Kane are their own artists, their own selves, but on Inhumans, they seem straight in line, not so much with the Kirby version that preceded, but very much with the Perez new view. The Inhumans, as a book but moreso as a trademark, as a grouping, had become Perezed, had become Romantic, lush and living, almost languidly actioning, and any reductions, since, to a four panel, icon-heavy puncher or to more “realist” standing in a field versions (such as the otherwise great Paul Ryan did during his tenure on Fantastic Four) leave something missing, a vital aspect stolen away. You can’t take bricks out of the base of a building and hope it to stand and represent as well as it did when whole, and that’s what Perez’s art did. George Perez made the Inhumans whole, made every brick count and every brick hold its weight.

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