Oct 29, 2015

It Was Already There: Busiek, Butler, and Bloodshed

One of the first comics I ever bought with my own money was 1991's Web of Spider-Man #81. Aside from my general like of Spider-Man as a visual and as a character (he was funny), I can't really think of why I would buy this issue off the rack. If I were to hazard a guess, I must have been intrigued by the cover copy.

"He's one of Spider-Man's oldest enemies, but the web-slinger's never seen him before!"

How can he be one of Spider-Man's oldest enemies when Spidey's never seen him before? The first sequence explains how Spidey stops two brothers committing a car robbery years ago.

The villain, Bloodshed, is the older brother Wyndell on the left there. But the story actually focuses on the other dude, Ricky, who since that time Spidey caught them, has been too scared to actually live life. He's a successful guy, but he's just unsociable, and remains so until the day Wyndell catches up to him again.

The thing that strikes me about this whole thing is the focus on a civilian character we've never seen before and how his life changes in the presence of the superhumans. Also, in that sequence you see up there, you kind of get a whole summary of his life in four panels. So it shouldn't be surprising when you look at the credits:

Kurt Busiek had been in comics a good long while at this point, but he wasn't the household name he'd become just three years later when he wrote Marvels, the landmark series painted by Alex Ross that followed a civilian character we've never seen before and how his life, and the world, are changed by the presence of superhumans.

Busiek and Ross would go on to do Astro City with Brent Anderson, about a, uh, city named, uh, Astro City, in which a bunch of metahumans dwell. Like that one issue of Web and Marvels, the main focus of each issue isn't the superhumans, but the civilians who live in Astro City, and how their lives are affected by these superhuman adventures.

It's become such a Busiek trademark (although not even half his books use it) that it's just interesting to see it in play here, in a 1991 comic, one of the first comics I ever bought.

Interestingly, this comic also features art by Steven Butler, who would become the regular artist on the title during the infamous Clone Saga. His somewhat cartoony style, usually rendered with thick inks, made him one of my two favorite Spider-Man artists (Steve Skroce is the other) of that era.

He went on to Archie Comics to do a bunch of stuff, including a really long run on Sonic the Hedgehog.

Oct 28, 2015

You Are Not Nerds Fighting Against Oppressive Jock Overlords

You Are Not Nerds Fighting Against Oppressive Jock Overlords
Travis Hedge Coke

[Revenge of the Nerds is a 1984 comedy film about a group of douchey fratboys feuding against another group of douchey fratboys, and in the midst of it all, the hero rapes a girl he goes to school with, after his frat brothers sell naked pictures of her around campus without her knowledge and consent. He rapes her so good, she falls in love with him, and everyone is happy.

If you are an adult, living in 2015 and viewing your life as if it’s Nerds vs Jocks, as if you live in Revenge of the Nerds, you are a danger to society, and an embarrassment to nerds, geeks, or other movie-about-school stereotypes. Previous top embarrassment, Mean Girl Cheerleader now feels really bad for you.

Superman, in a handful of comics right now, is sporting a t-shirt and has his hands wrapped like an MMA fighter or my nieces when they want to swing ribbons around without holding onto them.

I won’t embarrass (or send you after) any specific individual, but there are a lot of “fans” out there, losing their minds, because this t-shirt wearing, muscular Superman is “sweaty,” “filthy,” “too sexual,” “a bully,” and “insecure.”

Here is a picture one online critique used to illustrate insecure men of this nature:

There have been plenty of anecdotes of how muscular men in t-shirts make them feel intimidated, how they are always dumb, or always aggressive. They just care about girls and fighting and they are very, very insecure.

They are sure, based on muscles, based on a t-shirt, based on him not wearing a three-piece suit and an outdated hat or baggy sweaters and oversized glasses he doesn’t need, that this Superman is an insecure poser bully. Because they’re living in a fantasy land where all men who hit the gym once a week or whose t-shirt sleeves don’t have enough slack that they could fit a whole other arm in there, are horrible bully stereotypes with too much money, having too much sex, who will knock them over in the hallway and cause their roleplaying miniature figurines to spill across the floor before the principal or dean stops in and blames the poor nerd.

Now, I have serious doubts that this actually happened very often to any of these worried souls, but this is - and this is important - not real, it’s a fictional comic. And, it’s fucking Superman. Superman in a t-shirt is still Superman. T-shirts that aren’t baggy or filled with rolls of fat cannot and do not make the individual inside the t-shirt a bully. It doesn’t happen. That’s not how t-shirts work or ever have worked, since their invention.

Superman is not going to drop a bucket of pig’s blood on you at prom. Superman is not going to pelt you with tampons. Superman is not going to steal your girlfriend and drive off in a Jag his dad bought him. Mainly because if your girlfriend chooses to go with Superman, she’s not your girlfriend any more and may never have been, but also because Superman’s dad, good ol’ Pa Kent, probably has never been able to afford a Jag even for himself.

This is Superman. He’s not the enemy.

So why the paranoia? Why the fear of “alpha dogs” and “white knights” and “betas” and other hackneyed 4chan phraseology? Why would anyone be afraid that Superman would be a jerk just based on the shirt he wears?

I could see if it had a swastika on it, or some monstrous phrase, but if it’s just the S-crest or a plain t-shirt? Why do his muscles suddenly scare some comics fans? How do you read enough Superman to be a Superman comics fan and still think his shirt will make him an over-aggressive dudebro who will hurt people like you?

Fear is not rational or fair. It’s also no excuse to be bigoted or paranoid.

Oct 26, 2015

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember, Part 9

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember
Part 9: Alien Baby Death Rattle
Ben Smith

I’ve been covering this for eight weeks, you should know what’s going on by now.

Secret Wars II #9
Scripter: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Al Milgrom; Inkers: Steve Leialoha; Editor: Bob Budiansky

The Beyonder floats out in space, contemplating all existence, and how he plans to erase it.
Most importantly, he will need to erase his memory of it all too.

Meanwhile, in a diner in Colorado, Volcana attempts to contact the Avengers through their hotline. A mention of the Beyonder gets her through the middlemen (are they paid, or are they volunteers?) and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four picks up the line. (I’ve always been far too interested in the financial situations of fictional characters. How are they able to afford these great New York apartments when it doesn’t seem like they ever go to work? The Marvel Universe is like an episode of Friends.)

She relays to him the information she has about the Beyonder’s recent unstable behavior, and Reed contacts every hero he can to assemble at Volcana’s location.

The Avengers, West Coast Avengers, Spider-Man, Alpha Flight, Hulk, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Silver Surfer, Cloak and Dagger, Power Man and Iron Fist all show up for the climatic confrontation.

The X-Men make a big show of arriving, and not being invited in the first place. (No wonder everyone hates mutants. They’re always showing up, accusing people of hating and fearing them.)

Volcana wants to help, but Reed doesn’t think this is a battle for an inexperienced person, and Rachel Grey has already telepathically taken all of the information they need from her mind. (I can imagine Rachel at parties, telling people she’s already gleaned all the information she needs from them and further small talk is unnecessary. Wait, that’s totally something I would do.) She is teleported right back outside her former apartment building with the Molecule Man. After the events of last issue, she tentatively re-enters their apartment, and finds it in shambles. Even Owen’s precious teddy bear fell victim to his unbridled rage.

Needing some time alone to do some thinking, the Beyonder tunnels miles below the surface of the Earth. He whips up a camera, to record his thoughts for posterity. (It’s almost certain that I had telepathic powers that I would be a villain. I already know too much about humanity as it is, without getting into their dark places.)

That’s when he says something pretty profound. Humans are content in the pursuit of their desires, but for an omnipotent being like himself, anything he desires is already within his power to achieve. (Human beings motivated by personal desires is an interesting concept. Even if your desire is to feel good through the selfless helping of others, that is still a desire being fulfilled. Or if your desire is to do nothing all day but eat Cheetos and watch Shark Week. Again, mission accomplished.)

After a quick rehash of the events of the previous issues, the Beyonder finally decides to risk mortality. (Bad decision. If I could live forever I would. Even better if I get to regularly combat other Highlanders for immortality.)

Wanting to be as thorough as possible, he wants to be born into a human body, but instead of forcing a human woman to gestate him, he recreates the process in a large machine. (It is a sobering moment, when you truly intellectualize that one day you are going to die. No matter what you accomplish in life, or trials you endure, one day you will die. And a few generations later, no one will remember you at all.)

As a test, he decides to have his machine recreate the bodies of the New Mutants, who he had eradicated from existence in a previous tie-in. (Why undo such a glorious deed?) The machine works (and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a giant machine give birth to teenaged mutant heroes) but the New Mutants remain in a zombie-like state.

The Beyonder makes a slight adjustment to the machine to keep his mind and memories intact, and then creates a large receptacle to contain his omnipotent power.

The Beyonder enters the machine, and the process begins. (I can never get enough of strange alien babies floating in robotic amniotic fluid.)

His new body grows and matures at a rapid rate, until he is expunged from the machine’s vagina as a true mortal being. The shock of the change is too much for the Beyonder, and he hurriedly runs to the giant beaker containing his omnipotence, returning to his godlike state with one touch.

Back in that suburb of Denver, the Molecule Man explains to Volcana how her betrayal had made him a stronger person, and because of it, their love is probably even stronger now (because that’s how things work).

Now, he’s ready to stand up and fight for their world. (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but the Molecule Man is the greatest villain in the history of superhero comics. Besides Dr. Doom. I realize that I immediately negated my strong statement, but the point is, the new Secret Wars has been amazing so far.)

The Beyonder tries to intellectualize his brief moments as a mortal. How each second was unique, each breath an event. It had seemed unbearable at the time, but now every moment in the sameness of his all-powerful body seems even more unbearable.

He gives it another try (and I get my second look at strange alien baby in fluid).

This time, he puts his mortal limits to the test. Trying and failing to lift a large object. Running to exhaustion.

Unfortunately for him, Mephisto arrives with an entourage of demons to ruin his party.

Mephisto contemplates how best to torture his former foe in his new mortal body (instead of just killing him while he has the chance, like he should) and decides upon vomited maggots all over him. (Every time in a television show or movie when one character stalls to gloat or speechify instead of just killing the other character, it drives me insane. Insane! Writers, please find better ways for characters to get out of danger besides the clichéd monologuing bit. The Incredibles already mocked it, it’s time to get better.)

The Beyonder is in agony over the pain, but intellectually knows that Mephisto has no true power over humans on the mortal plane, and that it is all just an illusion.

He powers past Mephisto towards his beaker of power. Even though Mephisto’s illusions make it look and feel as if he’s bursting into flames, he carries forward, skin searing off his bones, until he touches the beaker and his power returns. Mephisto flees instantly.

Topside, the heroes are joined by the Molecule Man and Volcana. They’re reluctant to accept his help, but Reed convinces them they need his power. (Wolverine vouches for him on the basis of having a sordid past of his own. I’m pretty sure I would hate Wolverine if he were real and I knew him. Or if I wasn’t real and I knew him. Regardless, never let Chris Claremont put me in leather chaps.)

Below, the Beyonder sees everything that is happening on the surface. He needs more time to make some final adjustments to his machine for one more go as a mortal, so he sends the zombie New Mutants up to delay them with glorious battle. (There’s nothing that doesn’t sound cooler by putting “zombie” in front of it. The zombie Aunt May. See, now you’re intrigued aren’t you?)

The zombie New Mutants are ridiculously effective at fighting the most powerful heroes in the Marvel universe. (Wolverine seems weirdly eager to carve up his fellow mutant Wolfsbane, which is strange, since you’d assume he’d be a mentor for the New Mutants. He also calls her a dog-faced witch, which, that doesn’t just come out of nowhere for no reason. That comes from somewhere down deep. That has meaning.)

The assembled Avengers, X-Men, and miscellaneous finally remember they far outnumber the zombie New Mutants, and are far more powerful, and defeat them. Rachel promises to try and undo the damage to their minds later, but for now, the Beyonder must die.

The Molecule Man sends them all tunneling below to the Beyonder’s hidden sanctum. He tries to convince them all that he’s no longer interested in destroying everything, but they are only interested in attacking. (That’s what happens when you threaten to destroy all there is or has ever been.)

He shrugs them all off with a wave of his hand, leaving only Molecule Man to face him alone.

“The two mightiest beings in all existence clash,” and the entire universe feels the reverberations of their titanic combat.

As the Molecule Man struggles to hold on against the Beyonder’s overwhelming power, the rest of the heroes recover and renew their attack. For a brief moment, they have a chance, but the Molecule Man cannot maintain his attack.

The Beyonder’s death stroke scars the Earth, and everything in its path, to the edge of infinity. The Beyonder returns to his pregnancy machine (more alien water baby!).

On the surface, in the crater of rubble caused by the Beyonder’s attack, the heroes regroup. The Molecule Man is badly hurt from the confrontation.

Rachel takes them all back down below, where they discover the Beyonder baby still floating in his machine.

The Molecule Man yells out that they should kill him now, while he’s vulnerable (that’s the way!). There are many in attendance that agree with him. (Usually being on the same side as Wolverine is a good sign that you’re on the wrong side, but not this time. Babies must die.)

They move in for the kill, tripping a booby-trap and setting off a massive bomb. The Invisible Woman was able to shield them in time, but she’s out of commission for the effort.

The heroes prepare to renew their attack upon the small infant, but Reed holds them all back. If they kill the baby and destroy the machine containing the Beyonder’s power, the release of his untethered power could wipe out all of existence.

The Molecule Man doesn’t care, and fires a powerful killing blast at the baby.

Before Reed can chastise him properly, the machine comes apart at the seams, and the baby screams its death rattle as everything everywhere disappears in white.

Surprisingly, the white fades away back into reality. The heroes inspect the ruins of the machine, and find the Beyonder’s dead baby body. (I cannot believe that the final battle of a massive summer crossover event hinges on the heroes killing a baby. I can’t believe that this series exists, and I can’t believe more people don’t love its absurdity.) Captain America confronts the sullen Molecule Man, and thanks them for saving them all from being erased, however he might have accomplished it. It was a tough call to make killing the Beyonder, but he made it. The Molecule Man is deeply injured internally from the battle, and may never recover.

Elsewhere, in the former realm of the Beyonder, a portal opens. The Molecule Man had sent all the exploding unchecked power of the Beyonder surging back into his former realm, creating another Big Bang.

In the explosion of energy, stars and planets form. On some of those planets, life rises and evolves. The cycle begins anew. Finally, in his death, the Beyonder’s desires are finally fulfilled.

I know that Secret Wars II as a whole had many problems. Many of the tie-ins were unnecessary or downright awful. But there’s a lot of absurd fun to be had in those, and in the main series. The original Secret Wars was little more than Shooter and Zeck banging action figures together for 12 issues (and long-time readers know how much I loved it) but I can understand why readers would be disappointed for expecting more of the same from the sequel and not getting it. Yet, if you give it a chance, there were some interesting ideas being explored in the story of an omnipotent being coming to our world to learn about humanity. Some of those ideas are being used to great effect by Jonathan Hickman in his new Secret Wars event (currently in progress). It’s the type of story that probably would have been praised if it wasn’t the centerpiece of a massive linewide effort.

There you have it. My insane idea to do yet another multi-part exploration of a comic book series is finally completed. No matter how often I do one of these, promising myself by the end never to do it again, I never learn my lesson. Now all that’s left to do is sit back, relax, and bask in the non-existent glory that comes for all my efforts.

Next time, I don’t know, probably bunnies.

Oct 22, 2015

Wishlist: Comics People Who Should Return

I was recently asked which people in comics I wish would make a comeback. My initial answer was Steve Skroce, who was my favorite Spider-Man artist of the mid-90s and who, I truly believe, would have been one of the greatest Spider-Man artists of all time if he'd had a longer run on the character and if he'd had more memorable stories to work with. He seemed to me to be the perfect mix of Steve Ditko's weirdness, Todd McFarlane's contortions, and Mike Wieringo's expressiveness.

Turns out, though, Skroce came back to comics three months ago with We Stand on Guard, written by Brian K. Vaughan. So I had to think of other people.

Before I get into the list though, here are my two ground rules:

  • These people have to be alive, so no Jack Kirbys or Carl Barkses.
  • These people have to not be doing comics altogether, and not just not-doing-comics-I-want, so no Steve Ditkos or Alan Moores. I can, however, pick people who are writing comics that I wish would draw again, or vice versa.
So anyway...

Kerry Gammill

Kerry Gammill is my favorite Superman artist of the 90s. And if he does come back to full-time work, he doesn't have to stick to Superman. I just wanna see Kerry draw.

Karen Berger

The third most important American comics editor of all time, I just want to see what kind of comics line she'd be able to give us, and which creators would jump at the chance to work with her. Would she go ahead with an all-new mature line? Would she surprise us with a new children's line a la Scholastic? Would she just diversify as much as possible? I need to know!

Mark Schultz

Schultz is still writing comics here and there, but I really miss his art. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs/Xenozoic Tales had a great, 50sish, EC-like feel to it, and I'd like to see that adapted to the modern day.

Alan Zelenetz

I've written about Zelenetz before. The dude wrote a bunch of Thor and Conan stuff, among other things, including their What If...? crossover. I still think he had a lot of potential, and would like to see what stories he could have given us if he'd stuck around.

Don Rosa

Don Rosa can't actually do a full-time book anymore because of eye problems, nor does he really want to do anything other than Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, but damn it, I want to see more Rosa comics! He's gotten offers over the years from publishers like Bongo, who does The Simpsons comics, and I'd like to see what he can give us.

Bill Watterson

And if you don't know the deal with this, here it is.
What? I wanna see the greatest cartoonist of all time back. The dude can still draw. Wouldn't you?

Oct 19, 2015

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember, Part 8

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember
Part 8: Women, Am I Right?
Ben Smith

It’s been a long and strange journey, but here we reach the penultimate issue of the landmark failure that was Secret Wars II. The Beyonder has tried everything to fit in with society, up to and including rocking a jheri curl, which worked for Ice Cube, but not so much for an omnipotent being from another dimension. He’s loved, he’s lost, he’s had sex with multiple prostitutes. What could be next in his ongoing maturation process as a sentient being? Anger, anger is what’s next.

Only two more to go and then it’s beer time. (Ha, as if anyone could be sober and do this.)

Secret Wars II #8
Scripter: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Al Milgrom; Inkers: Steve Leialoha; Editor: Bob Budiansky

The Beyonder visits with Owen Reece, the Molecule Man.

The Beyonder is angry that his repeated attempts to find purpose have continued to leave him unfulfilled. Owen decides to try a little therapy, and prompts the Beyonder to talk about his “childhood,” which is really just another excuse to recount the events of the series so far.

Interestingly enough, they discover that the event that made the Beyonder aware of the multiverse, was the accident that turned Owen Reece into the Molecule Man. (A plot point that Jonathan Hickman would use to great effect in his Avengers run, in the lead-up to the 2015 Secret Wars event series.)

They continue their examination of the events of the past, including his courtship of Dazzler, and the Beyonder gets pretty hostile about Molecule Man’s unintentional flaunting of his relationship with Volcana. (Speaking of the new Secret Wars, currently halfway over as of this writing, Marvel really is showing DC how to properly do an epic multiverse story. Crisis on Infinite Earths is awful, and everything they’ve done since then has been akin to apes throwing poo at a wall. They’re so inept. How is anyone a DC fan? I ask that sincerely. How do you do it?) (Ben is wrong of course. Crisis on Infinite Earths is the pinnacle of event storytelling, right up there with JLA/Avengers. Only a complete moron would think Crisis was awful, and then spend nine weeks talking about Secret Wars II. And only a bigger idiot would give him the space to do it. -Cranky Editor Man)

They finish rehashing past events with nothing being solved, and Beyonder seems to get riled up again when Volcana returns to the room.

Molecule Man suggests that it’s probably his immense power that is keeping him from finding fulfilment, and suggests he lets himself become mortal.

The Beyonder thinks he’s just suggesting that so he can find a way to kill him, but then calls him too big a wimp to try.

The Beyonded decides to destroy all existence instead. (The inevitable moment we’ve all been waiting for. Any outsider that would spend any significant amount of time with humanity would ultimately come to the same conclusion: we must be destroyed. I’m surprised it took him this long.)

The Molecule Man pleads with him to think it over, and the Beyonder agrees, giving them 24 hours.

The Beyonder pops over to a luxurious San Francisco hotel, uses his powers to have them kick out the penthouse suite guests, and then makes his waitress fall in love with him at dinner.

No matter what he does, the anger won’t subside, and so he causes an earthquake. (I’ve said before about how the Beyonder's maturation as a sentient being somewhat emulates a real human’s growth. Following that line of thought, this would be the age in which most human beings are old enough to understand just how terrible the world really is, driving them to anger and bitterness. Human beings are just the worst, they really are.)

He asks the waitress why life means so much to mortals, and she responds with “maybe it’s because life’s so short.” The Beyonder is annoyed by this reoccurring concept of mortal life and death, and cruelly toys with the waitress before sending her away.

Suddenly, he is attacked by the X-Men.

All attacks by the X-Men should be accompanied by the target saying, “Oh, for Pete's sake--! Get real!” Because the X-Men are bumbling idiots, you see.
The Beyonder easily subdues Magneto, Colossus, and Shadowcat. Rachel Grey uses the power of the Phoenix and makes a spectacular show of things, but is easily defeated as well.

There’s never been a sufficient reconciliation of this version of the Phoenix force has there?
The Molecule Man, watching the events unfold from Denver, begins to panic, and uses his immense power to create a hard bubble to protect them and the city. In case the Beyonder carries through on his threats to destroy everything.

The Beyonder happens to see it as he floats by, and destroys it, mocking the Molecule Man for his efforts.

The Beyonder briefly encounters the Hulk, who recently was split into a separate being from Bruce Banner. (I’m not sure what this was for. Maybe it was to further emphasize the theme of the issue, with the Hulk’s loss of a human mind and therefore his mortality. Or maybe it was just to highlight the new status quo of the Hulk books so that readers will go out and buy them. Let’s say both.)

The Beyonder pays another visit to Spider-Man, as the best representative of humanity (even though Peter Parker makes a point of saying he can’t use the bathroom this time). The Beyonder is still confused by the passion for life and fascination for death among mortals.

Spider-Man describes to him how he recently saved a man from jumping to his death, and how when he swung by to grab the man, the man actually reached out for him. He speculates that perhaps confronting your morality is when you feel the most alive.

The Beyonder extrapolates that to mean that all human existence is lent meaning by the finiteness of life.

The Beyonder, angered again, storms off after calling Spider-Man an insect but also suggesting he may have talked him out of obliterating all existence. (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told both of those things…)

The New Mutants try to attack him, but he shrugs them off easily. (The New Mutants have never been useful. They’re good for inappropriate telepathic orgasms, and that’s it.)

The Molecule Man hurriedly packs what he can, his latest plan is to escape to the Beyonder’s former realm, which remains empty.

Volcana tells him to stop, and to show some guts for once and make a stand.

The 24 hour deadline approaches, and the Beyonder has decided that maybe he should give mortality a try. He decides to apologize to the Molecule Man for his behavior, but when he returns to Owen’s home, he is immediately attacked. The Molecule Man gives him everything he’s got, but the Beyonder is unfazed.

Before the Beyonder can retaliate with all his renewed anger and fury, Volcana jumps in the way. She begs the Beyonder to spare her, to kill Owen if he wants, but to save her. She offers herself to him, and calls her former lover a worm, and says that she never loved him.
It’s like my first wedding night all over again.
The Beyonder kicks her away, calling her a grotesque cow, and she runs out the door. The Molecule Man collapses in agony. (Volcana has to hold the record for the most times a character has been referred to as a cow. Not even the Skrulls have been called cows as often, and they were actual cows in one story.)

The Beyonder mocks the traumatized Molecule Man, as he curls up on the floor in agony. The pitiful display has convinced the Beyonder not to become a mortal, but fortunately cheered him up enough not to destroy the multiverse.

Outside, Volcana drives away in tears. She figured if she made a big display of betraying Owen, that the Beyonder might not be jealous of him anymore. If he’s not jealous, maybe he won’t be so angry about his inability to find a place in the world. She drives off, planning to contact the Fantastic Four or the Avengers about what happened.

Despite a generous serving of Molecule Man in this issue, it felt very much like the lead-up to the end of the series. It was probably inevitable that the Beyonder would eventually become unhinged and threaten to destroy the universe, this is comics after all, but it didn’t make for the most compelling of reads. It does set up a lot of what’s going to come up in the finale though.

However, this continues to be one of the most unorthodox crossover comics you could possibly imagine. Most of the appearances by actual heroes of the Marvel universe in this issue were only to show how ineffective they are in this particular situation. The central characters of this chapter were a god that has decided to destroy all of existence, and a former villain that does just about anything he can to avoid the situation out of fear and cowardice. As I’m sure I’ve already said before, you have to appreciate this series for its ambition, if nothing else.

Next week, dead babies!

Oct 15, 2015

Loki: Agent of Asgard is Marvel's Answer to Sandman You Didn't Know You Wanted

Neil Gaiman's Sandman is one of the evergreen stories in the history of comic books.Debuting in the late 80s and lasting 75 issues and over six years, Sandman featured the Lord of Dreams (or, really, the embodiment of Dream) as a brooding monarch who struggled with growth and change. Dream was tall and lanky and was also a shapeshifter, and he had the ability to peek into and control your innermost thoughts.

Two decades after Sandman ended, Al Ewing and Lee Garbett did Loki: Agent of Asgard, featuring the adventures of a reborn Loki who was trying to grow past the role of the god of lies.

Constantly faced with his past and his future (literally—his future self who goes back to being the god of evil is the main villain of the series), Loki is always trying to change. Capitalizing, I'm sure, on the popularity of Tom Hiddleston, god of Tumblr, Marvel had to find a way to turn Loki into a sustainable protagonist. That was already underway with the Kid Loki stuff, followed by a stint in Young Avengers (which is excellent), but in Agent of Asgard, Loki finalizes his change away from being the god of evil by accepting that he is the god of lies, and a lie is just a story told.

So by extension, this makes him the god of stories.

Loki makes a friend named Verity Willis, who can detect any lie. This means that she has a hard time with fictional stuff, because by definition, it's all a lie.

Side note: Verity is one of the best things about long-term continuity. She's related to a very minor character in Walt Simonson's legendary run on Thor. It's not important at all to the story, but it adds an extra layer of significance. And it's cool.

Eventually, after getting to know Loki, Verity manages to start reading fiction, knowing that while, yes, they are lies, they're also full of truth, which reflects a recurring theme in Sandman.

Loki even talks about how stories are cyclical, and how stories can come alive because people believe in them, or maybe just because they're that important.

Look, I'm not saying that Loki: Agent of Asgard is an extension of Sandman or anything, or even that they're similarly written. Sandman was clearly more serious, stood mostly on its own, referenced literature heavily, and was aimed at a specific crowd. Agent of Asgard has levity, tied into current events in the Marvel Universe pretty heavily (to its detriment, I think, unfortunately), referenced pop culture, and was aimed at a different crowd. But it dealt with similar themes — that of story and change — and had two characters that were both compelling and had similar capabilities, if completely different personalities. It's spiritually similar, and it makes Loki a more intriguing character, rife for more story and possibility.

Point is, not a lot of people read Loki: Agent of Asgard, I think, and it's a shame. It was well written, fun, and well drawn. It has a true element of mythology to it — fairy tale logic, mythical weapons that reveal truth, and whatnot — and it was really just quite charming. Fortunately, since this is the true Golden Age of comics, it's all available in three trade paperback collections, and if you're a fan of Loki, whether it's from Kid Loki or from Tom Hiddleston or whatever else, or, hell, if you were a Sandman fan, I really recommend it.

Or, if you didn't want to read all that, here's one of the first few pages of this series. Enjoy.

You can get Agent of Asgard on Amazon: