Nov 23, 2015

Luke Cage vs Killgrave the Purple Man

Jessica Jones: From Marvel Max to Netflix Star, Part 2
Luke Cage vs Killgrave the Purple Man
Ben Smith


If you’re like me, then you’ve spent the weekend devouring Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix.  I’ve already covered Jessica’s debut in the comics, in the series Alias, where she overcomes a traumatic past to start a new life with Luke Cage.  The show decides to focus on the source of that trauma, the mind-controlling Kilgrave (Killgrave in the comics, Kilgrave in the show), and his obsession with Jessica.  Jessica has to balance a complicated new relationship with Luke Cage, with finding and stopping Kilgrave, all while keeping her friends safe.  (One of the great things about a show like this, I had no idea if my favorites, Trish and Malcolm, were going to make it out alive.  So many times it looked like they were about to meet their end, and every time I was prepared to lose it.)  It’s a compelling look at becoming a hero, even when she doesn’t necessarily want to be one.

In the show, Luke Cage never did get a chance to get his revenge on Kilgrave, but in the comic, he very much did.

In the pages of New Avengers (also written by Brian Michael Bendis, the co-creator of Jessica Jones) a collection of heroes on scene during a supervillain prison breakout try valiantly to contain the situation.  Luke Cage is fighting alongside Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man when he comes face to face with Jessica’s former tormentor, the Purple Man.

Unlike in the Netflix show, Luke and Killgrave did not cross paths in Alias.  Jessica and Luke didn’t decide to further their relationship until after she had already overcome and beaten Killgrave.  This is the first time that Luke Cage has crossed paths with the man that mentally raped his current girlfriend and future wife.  It’s the psycho ex-boyfriend taken to the extreme, comics style.

Killgrave nonchalantly commands Luke to kill his friends, and then kill himself, in a stunning cliffhanger to the second issue.  (I can’t imagine anything more terrible than being controlled by the one person you hate most in all the world.  The person that destroyed the life of the woman you now love.)

As the next issue opens, Killgrave is gloating in his typical asshole manner, as he thinks he has Luke Cage under his command.

However, Luke lets Killgrave in on a little secret.  His powers aren’t working right now.

And then he unleashes one of the most satisfying beatings in the history of comic books.

Thankfully, Captain America is there to keep him from going too far.  (The Purple Man definitely falls into that Joker realm of villains in comics.  You don’t want to kill him because then you have to stop using him, or resurrect him, but there’s really no reason he shouldn’t be terminated.)

One of the great things about the adaptation of comics to movies and television, is that an extremely minor character like the Purple Man can become one of the most dangerous villains in all of the Marvel cinematic universe.  He’s often been easily overcome in the comics, but when you translate his powers to a live-action setting, he is nearly unbeatable.  Not to mention the overwhelming creepiness of his abilities and how he uses them.  It’s really not easy to make the skull-faced Nazi look better in comparison, but that’s just how awful Kilgrave is.

With Daredevil and now Jessica Jones, Marvel and Netflix have proven that they are an unbeatable partnership.  As great as Daredevil was, and at the time I believe I called it one of the best true superhero adaptations ever (He called it unquestionably the best superhero TV show ever. - Cranky Editor Man), I found myself thinking several times that Jessica Jones was even better (I agree. - Cranky Editor Man).  Some of that may be due to recency, or the thrill of truly not knowing what was going to happen next.  (Like I said earlier, I never knew what characters were going to survive in Jessica Jones.  Watching Daredevil, you kinda know that Foggy and Karen are going to make it.  Urich too, but, they proved me wrong with that one.)

One thing’s for sure. They’ve guaranteed that every new series that debuts is instant appointment television for me.  I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Nov 19, 2015

Hidden Gems: Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies

For whatever reason, I'm a big fan of the Western genre (one of my favorite movies is Tombstone, and I maintain that Val Kilmer is the best actor to ever play Batman). There's a lot of shooting, lots of tough talk, and lots of drinking. What's not to love?

And it's with that that I want to talk about two miniseries that Marvel put out at the turn of the century. Blaze of Glory: The Last Ride of the Western Heroes and Apache Skies were written by John Ostrander and drawn by Leonardo Manco, and they are gorgeous. The first, Blaze of Glory, is basically an ensemble piece using Marvel's Western characters, such as the Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, the Outlaw Kid, Red Wolf, and the original Ghost Rider. It tells the tale of their last adventure, in which they try to stop a bunch of killers from demolishing the town of Wonderment.

That's about as complicated as the plot gets. The beauty is in the telling, and I love how Ostrander and Manco just throw characters in when it's the right time. They tell you just enough so you know who they are, and the life-and-death situations show just how tough they all are. It's the Old West, after all.

It's in the climax of the second issue that we get full introductions to four of the core cast, including longtime favorites (inasmuch as the Western characters are favorites) the Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid:

 Isn't that gorgeous? I love it. I'm such a mark for this kind of aesthetic, and Mariana Manco's colors set the mood just right. This kind of style, heavier on the inks, makes it the prettier series for me compared to Apache Skies. But Apache Skies is actually the better comic. Not an ensemble piece, this focuses on Rawhide Kid and Rosa, the widow of the Apache Kid. Within just half an issue, I was hooked. Here's the sequence that introduces Rosa.

That is intense, perfectly paced, and makes me immediately want to know more about Rosa. After this she meets up with Johnny Bart, the Rawhide Kid (whom she calls Johnnybart, one word), and they hunt for the killer of Apache Kid, Rosa's husband and Rawhide's friend.

Apache Skies was one of the early MAX series, which may be why it's got a bit more adult content (not by much, just one mention of the word "dick") than Blaze of Glory. Still, despite the difference in how the two comics are colored and the change in focus from an ensemble to two characters, they both read as two parts of a bigger whole as well as perfectly fine individually.

And they're beautiful. They're also out of print. You can find them in places like Amazon, but really, Leonardo Manco's art should be showcased. So hey, Marvel! Can we get these in an oversized hardcover?

The entire time Duy was reading Blaze of Glory: The Last Ride of the Western Heroes and Apache Skies, he wondered if he'd like it better if it was a DC book, featuring Jonah Hex, Scalphunter, Pow-Wow Smith, Bat Lash, Cinnamon, and company. That's a hypothetical that's never going to be answered. In the meantime, you can get your copies of the two books here.

Nov 16, 2015

Karnilla: An Irrational Love Story, Part 1

Karnilla: An Irrational Love Story
Part 1 – All Hail the Queen
Ben Smith

I have much love for the popular and more traditionally appealing characters, like Spider-Man and Captain America, but sometimes there’s just something about a lower tier character that makes them so interesting. (My opinion in short, creators are naturally given more latitude with the characters that don’t also have to sell bedsheets and pajamas.) I’ve gone on and on about my love of characters like Arcade and Iron Fist before, as well as my appreciation for the weirdly underrated original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Thor comics. There was just so much energy bursting off of every page, and so many amazing new characters in nearly every issue. My favorite Thor character would make her debut right around the time when Stan and Jack were really rolling on the title, Karnilla the Norn Queen.

Karnilla is the powerful queen of Nornheim, one of the provinces of Asgard. She is often an adversary of Asgard, but has sometimes been an ally if the situation warrants. Because of her vast magical powers, Loki frequently comes calling for her assistance, with the two of them scheming against the heroes of Asgard. Karnilla eventually developed a fixation on the heroic warrior Balder, made all the more fun by his dedicated rebuttal of her advances. (Think of her as a sort of reverse pepe Le Pew.) I don’t know how I came to love Karnilla so much, maybe it’s because she gives Balder such a hard time. The simpler answer is that she’s an evil, powerful, confident witch (and I married one of those). Plus, she has a great name. Break it down and you get carnal and vanilla. So, I guess, she subconsciously represents bland sex? Which, if Balder is involved, is probably very accurate. Regardless, I plan to rediscover why I love her so much, and maybe along the way a few of you will join me in the merry Karnilla fan club.

For the purposes of this multi-part exploration of my love for Karnilla, I will be focusing mostly on her role in each of the stories, instead of covering each and every issue in full.

Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Artie Simek

Loki, jealous that Odin granted Balder invulnerability (in the previous issue) plots to take out his father’s new favorite subject. He visits the Norn Queen, to give him any information he might be able to use to destroy Odin’s new prize pet. She is referred to simply as the Norn Queen, with no mention of the name Karnilla yet.

She tells Loki that Balder is vulnerable to mistletoe. Loki tracks down some mistletoe, and has one of his loyal trolls fashion a blow gun to go with it. (A lot of Karnilla’s appearances involve Loki, with the obvious magic connections.)

Loki sneaks up on Balder while he is sparring with another Asgardian. When Balder, get this, falls down to avoid STEPPING ON A CATERPILLAR, Loki prepares to strike.

But surprisingly, the Norn Queen herself intervenes, using her magic to cause Loki’s weapon to burst into flames. Loki didn’t consider that Odin had pledged for all living creatures to protect Balder at all times, and that includes the Norn Queen.

Loki vows revenge, and Balder stands confident and clueless, which was his style at the time. Balder is just the worst. I don’t think there could be a bigger gap between a character I love in Karnilla, and a character that I dislike in Balder, and yet, I inexplicably love the romance between them. My irrational love for Karnilla is almost as irrational as her love for Balder.

Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Artie Simek

Loki used the magical Norn Stones to defeat Thor in a trial by combat (see previous issue). Before Thor can recover the stones to use as evidence of Loki’s betrayal, Loki magically teleports them away.

Later, while Thor looks for the stones on Midgard, the Norn Queen visits Loki to reclaim her stones. Having hidden them on Midgard, he does not have them. Before she leaves, she gives him a stern warning about inciting Odin’s wrath with his endless schemes against his half-brother.

The powerful Norn Stones would be a favorite weapon of Loki throughout the years.

Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Artie Simek

Loki, having unleashed the unstoppable Destroyer upon Thor, begins to second guess his actions when it looks like the Destroyer might succeed in killing Thor. Odin will likely blame him, and then his life will be forfeit as well.

Loki contacts the Norn Queen, and begs her to use her magic to awake Odin from his slumber, so that he may intervene and save Thor, thereby saving both of them. She agrees to help, and we get a cute caption about her spell-casting from Stan. (The Norn Queen still hasn’t gotten her name, Karnilla, but a version of her trademark headdress makes its first appearance in this short cameo.)

THOR #148
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Twenty-nine issues since the last Karnilla appearance, and the creative team is almost exactly the same. Except the letterer, but they don’t matter. They’ve been replaced by computers. I know Marvel only paid about 10 people back in those days, but that’s still an impressive level of creative continuity.

Odin has stripped Thor, Balder, Sif, and Loki of their Asgardian powers, for breaking his orders not to visit Midgard.

Loki contacts the Norn Queen, hoping she can restore some of his power back to him. Before she arrives, a colorfully costumed criminal named The Wrecker is on the run from the cops, and happens to spot Loki. Wrecker figures Loki to be a fellow garishly clad criminal, and that he might be in possession of some loot.

The Wrecker easily knocks out the mortal Loki, and begins going through his things, even putting on the infamous horned helmet. At that same moment, the Norn Queen arrives, sees the figure wearing that familiar helmet, and grants the wearer awesome power. Thus, longtime Marvel supervillain the Wrecker is born. (I never was that big a fan of the Wrecking Crew, but I definitely developed an appreciation of the Wrecker from these early Thor comics. He’s fun.)

THOR #150
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

The Wrecker has nearly slain the mortal Thor, and Hela hovers over his body, waiting to finally claim his soul.

Meanwhile, Loki and Karnilla (finally she gets her name) celebrate their fortune at having accidentally orchestrated the death of their most hated foe. However, Sif and Balder have entered Nornheim, seeking to claim the crystal globe in her possession, so they can convince Odin how much peril Thor is currently in.

Balder fights valiantly but is eventually captured by trolls. Sif is also captured and brought before Karnilla.

Karnilla plays upon Sif’s emotions, pretending to relate to her on a woman-to-woman level. 

Karnilla’s headdress has continued to evolve and become more elaborate. She’s still not drawn as hot as she should be though. Not really Kirby’s strong suit.

Unfortunately, it’s all a plot by Karnilla and Loki to coerce Sif into merging with the Destroyer armor. She agrees, and Karnilla sends her straight to Midgard, hoping that she will finish off a now-recovered Thor once and for all.

This was definitely Karnilla’s most significant appearance so far. From my recollection, she’s not usually as bloodthirsty for the death of Thor as she is here, but that’s what makes comics so unique. The characters continue to evolve and become more complex.

THOR #151
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Karnilla taunts the unconscious body of Sif, as her and Loki view the titanic battle between Thor and the Destroyer down on Midgard.

They bring in their other prisoner, Balder. Karnilla offers to free Sif, if Balder will agree to serve her. This will be the first hint that Karnilla has a thing for Balder. Poor, clueless Balder. What does she see in him?

They are interrupted by Ulik and a battalion of trolls, looking to end Karnilla’s reign in Nornheim permanently.

With no other options, Karnilla promises to free Balder and Sif, if he will promise to protect her from Ulik. Balder engages Ulik in furious battle (in the King Kirby manner).

THOR #152
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Karnilla makes good on the other half of her deal, and Sif is pulled from the Destroyer and restored to her own body. They stand and watch as Balder battles the mighty Ulik.

Help him out, Sif, jeez.
With the threat of the Destroyer ended by Sif returning to her body, Thor stands triumphant, himself having already been restored to full power by Odin in the previous issue. Karnilla magically snatches Thor away, so that he may assist Balder against Ulik.

When Thor is sent hurtling away from Midgard, he even remarks that “a power which rivals mine own hath summoned me to Asgard.” It’s clear she’s supposed to be supremely powerful, and yet for some reason she was scared of Ulik.

THOR #153
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Thor has defeated Ulik by tossing him into the endless abyss of shadows, but Loki was able to somehow steal Mjolnir and escape without notice during the melee. Thor pleads with Karnilla to send him wherever his evil step-brother might be. Karnilla agrees, as it will repay the debt she now owes him, as well as send him to his almost certain doom.

The drama continues on Midgard between Loki, Thor, and Sif. Back in the Norns, Balder prepares to leave, much to the dismay of Karnilla. Balder heroically fighting Ulik to save her life has done little to quell the burning she has in her loins for him. This is definitely the most overt reference to her crush on him.

That’s enough Karnilla for this week, I don’t want you to overdose on the greatness, like a former child actor trying to chase the rush of fame through the end of a needle. So far, Karnilla has been portrayed as a frequent ally of the evil Loki, and an incredibly powerful foe in her own right. Her fixation on Balder was established very early on. It’s clear that Stan and Jack liked the character, with her evolving from a minor unnamed supporting character, to getting her own name and a more elaborate design. I still don’t feel like they’ve nailed down her look or characterization, so I look forward to exploring her development further.

Next week, vanilla sex!

Nov 12, 2015

Hey Marvel, Can We Get No One Dies in Hardcover?

So last week, I was talking about Spidey Sundays the 12-week strip Stan Lee and Marcos Martin did in 2010 that was incredibly silly and pretty, so much so that I want Marvel to rerelease it in hardcover format just because it would look really nice on my shelf.

So while I'm making requests, can I also get Amazing Spider-Man #655, "No One Dies" in hardcover?

"No One Dies" is a comic that exemplified why, until very recently, I was still buying single issues (certain constraints and Marvel's relaunches have made me switch to trade paperbacks). It truly is a work of art that stands on its own. The eighth issue of Dan Slott's "Big Time" era on Spider-Man, it was a marked departure from the tone Slott set for the preceding seven issues, which were more lighthearted. However, since this depicted the funeral of Marla Jameson, J.Jonah Jameson's wife, the mood was decidedly more somber.  The first half of the book is completely silent, which is a bold choice especially for a Marvel-style (plot first, dialogue when they get the art) writer like Slott, because it may not showcase his more tangible skills as a writer such as dialogue and narration, but it's also the correct choice because Martin's art just shows you everything you need to know.

Each scene bleeds right into each other, too. These two pages follow each other.

The second half of the issue is an elaborate dream sequence that requires you to turn the comic sideways at times, and is quite surreal, disturbing, and creepy.

And Escheresque! Did I mention Escheresque? So pretty. So beautiful.

In my mind, it's the best thing on a technical level, and perhaps even on an emotional level, that Dan Slott has ever written, and may be as close to perfect as any issue of Amazing Spider-Man ever got. The issue that follows is technically the continuation of the story, but really, this one issue stood on its own. It's the kind of comic that should be given to artists to inspire them and to get them to try new things. It's just beautiful.

So, hey, Marvel, can we get this to stand alone in hardcover? If IDW can do it for GI Joe's Silent Interlude, you can do it for this. Thanks!

 In the meantime, you can read the comic in this trade paperback, Matters of Life and Death.

Nov 11, 2015

You Are Not Owed

You Are Not Owed
Travis Hedge Coke

Twenty points about what is or is not owed to fans or pros that, if adhered to, might cut thirty percent of the BS out of all comics discussions online. Written only so that, hopefully, I won’t ever have to write them again. (But, if people are being wrong on the internet again, I will! I will!)

1. A publisher does not owe you a comic exactly the way you want it.

2. A company does not owe you toys or licensed clothing featuring the characters or costumes you demand.

3. A company does not need to dress its characters the way you want them dressed.

4. A company does not owe you allegiance.

5. A company does not owe it to you to stick to one particular continuity.

6. A publisher does not have an unspoken contract with its audience.

7. You are not more important than any other fan of a property, to the property, unless you actually work for the owners or are the owner.

8. A fan is not someone who complains online about comics they don’t buy featuring characters they have never liked.

9. When a writer or editor or whoever says, “Sexist fans…” or “The racists in the audience…” and you immediately get mad that they’re talking shit about you, you are talking shit about yourself.

10. No character deserves an ongoing comic, a miniseries, or even another appearance in any medium.

11. When Spider-Man comics repeat storylines too much and you’re annoyed that no one ages and matures out of their cycles, it is time for you to leave Spider-Man comics behind.

12. You are not owed a new issue on any timetable, even if solicited for that date at an earlier time.

13. Fans of a character do not have to support a book they don’t like just because the character appears.

14. A writer does not owe it to you to write only from your political perspective.

15. Comics professionals do not owe you any more lenience than you owe them.

16. If you are a professional artist and draw something offensive or out of character or off-target in an egregious fashion, it is not censorship, it is not pompous for people to criticize your choices.

17. An artist does not have to draw the way you like, even if they used to use that style.

18. Being a fan of a character or comics in general does not mean when you say nasty untrue things about real human beings, you can’t be called out or pilloried for it.

19. A company does not owe it to you to keep perpetuating imagery that some fans dislike just because you don’t think it’s that bad.

20. A company does not owe it to you remove elements you find unpleasant or offensive. It’s on you to leave them.

Nov 10, 2015

Let's Get Dangerous! A Retrospective on Nostalgia Comics Featuring Anthropomorphic Ducks

A Retrospective on Nostalgia Comics Featuring Anthropomorphic Ducks*

It was recently brought to my attention that these existed.

I grew up with the afternoon Disney block DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, Tale Spin, and my personal favorite, Gargoyles. Darkwing Duck was a close second, and not at all surprising due to my overarching preference for Batman: The Animated Series. Since I’m not big on reading comics as they come out, preferring to borrow trades from my library, because — for reasons I don’t follow — they have a lot of them, I was unaware of the newly (2010) licensed Boom! Studios Darkwing Duck comics.

Return of the Caped, Crusading Canard

I’m sticking to the first 2 volumes of the new (5 year old) series, which roughly translates into 8 issues and 2 complete arcs. More than enough for me to judge its quality. Despite knowing that he never sounded this way on TV, I read DW as being voiced by Daffy. It just makes more sense and it’s not my fault WB and Disney are separate companies.

Needless to say, the first volume is full of Dark Knight Returns vibes. The collection even includes the obligatory lightning shot. The book follows the show’s light tone and comedy as well as mildly delusional lead. Essentially, though, I have Drake Mallard’s day job, so I also appreciated it on that level.

One thing the series returns to doing well — at least from my nostalgia-memories — is the juxtaposition of cartoonish (actually cartoonish) violence and heart. The cubicle scenes also have a nice Incredibles vibe and honestly, I’m fine with Disney stealing from itself. However, this comic is clearly aimed at people like me, someone who watched the cartoons as a kid, but also appreciates a sly S&M joke.

This volume also sets the pace for full speed gags in every panel. It rewards those who pay close attention to, say, the newspapers or people in the background. For those in the know, it’s effectively mainlining nostalgia.

My singular complaint for this volume is the resolution. I love the idea of bringing in Gizmoduck, but the plan makes no sense. Also, having a puppetmaster when the quad troop of villains was enough just isn’t necessary. The final resolution will appeal to all Duys in the audience.

Crisis on Infinite Darkwings

Fine, now we get to the real reason I am reviewing these 2 volumes, further mashup nostalgia. In this volume, the meta stuff starts getting good fast. A keen eye in the back or foreground is also a solid reward. Look at the foreground, perhaps, during scenes that take place on the sides of buildings…

A while back, we did a roundup of Crisis and Secret Wars. I don’t think Crisis had enough crazy infinite spins on characters and it could’ve and it’s certainly something Marvel has been playing with recently (e..g., Spider-verse). One thing Darkwing Duck gets right is pairing up Negaduck and Magica as the anti-Darkwing and anti-Morgana. It works a bit better because they drop the pretense of trying to be mysterious about what they’re doing. Also, I never recalled from the show that Negaduck was an alternate universe DWD, I just thought he was a Reverse Flash type.

Another positive from this is the sheer variety of different Ducks you see. One I like is what I’m calling Cavewing Duck, whom I also wish showed up in DuckTales. Using the Darkwing version of Gordon to announce Darkwing as public enemy number 1 was a nice touch and shockingly not too on the nose. For those of you who also want Disney princesses (obviously as anthropomorphic animals), they are also present in this volume. Basically, if you wanted it, Boom! threw it in.

There is even a full page spread of all the creative types of DWs these people created and DC didn’t really bother to in its Crisis. Even a Golden Surfer. Also, a bowling ball. Clearly, fun was a key priority.

My main complaint for this volume is the dialogue and some of the plotting. Even though Crisis probably does both worse, I had higher expectations for both from Darkwing Duck. If I went back and rewatched the cartoon, that feeling would most definitely diminish. As with the prior volume, the big bad behind everything sort of comes out of left field. I remembered Tim Curry’s Bulba, but not Paddywack.

Final Musings

Let’s get this out of the way first, the comics version of Darkwing Duck is probably inaccessible to the casual reader. However, the audience is geared toward ‘90’s nostalgia and not casual reading. And the series does deliver nostalgia. I chuckled to myself throughout and lingered over the group shots, finding Darkwing Simba, Prince, and what I believe to be the Ramones. Even if the stories can’t stick their landings or introduce a sensical villain, in what way does that make them weaker that what we’ve got now?

*Not named Scrooge

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