Aug 21, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #39

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #39
Spider-Rama
by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.

The Green Goblin discovers that Peter Parker is Spider-Man!


POINTLESS TRIVIA

BEN: Villain appearance count:
  • Green Goblin: 6
  • Doctor Octopus: 5
  • Sandman: 4
  • The Vulture: 3
  • Mysterio: 3
  • The Enforcers: 3
  • Kraven the Hunter: 3
  • The Chameleon: 2
  • Electro: 2
  • The Ringmaster: 2
  • Scorpion: 2
  • Molten Man: 2

BEN: The Green Goblin discovers Spider-Man's secret identity, and is revealed to be Norman Osborn.

DUY: Okay, so a lot has been made about the fact that Norman is Peter's greatest villain because he's his best friend's father, but I think we should note the fact that by the time of the reveal, they're not actually best friends yet. I mean, they might be by default because they had a heart to heart, and Peter has no other friends, but still.

BEN: It's catchier than “the father of a guy I kinda know from school!”

WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

BEN: I suspect this might be where we have our first disagreement, but I find John Romita’s art style to be more aesthetically pleasing than Ditko’s. Ditko is a master of motion and design, and the comic wouldn’t even exist without him, but I believe Spider-Man needed the change in style to go up even another level. Romita’s background as a romance comic artist blended perfectly with his competent superhero action, making him arguably the most ideal artist possible for the character.

DUY: I actually agree with all that, and when I named the five most important Spider-Man artists when I started the Cube, I placed Romita at #1 just because he's the commercial face of the character. He's just not as exciting.

BEN: He may not be as action-packed, but the Peter Parker side of the book is way better under Romita. But there is certainly an argument that Romita immediately peaked with this 2-part story. The only other contender off the top of my head is #50.

DUY: He sets the classic bar with the cast, I just prefer angry Peter. To which, anyone who says art styles don't affect writing should look at how much the personality of both the main character and the book changes between these two.

BEN: I prefer my Peter to be a lover, not a fighter.

DUY: I should also mention that I prefer my Spider-Man to be on the lankier, weirder side. My favorite Spider-Man artists past Ditko are Steve Skroce and Todd McFarlane, who really drove up the weirdness factor, and Steven Butler, who did a pretty good Ditko riff without being a full-on cover. I know Romita is the classic, and most everyone else followed in his model, it's just not my personal preference.

BEN: I guess Romita’s model was burned into my brain, because this is Spider-Man to me.

DUY: It is the Spider-Man. In about twenty issues, we're going to get to a cover with a Spider-Man image that I will always think of as the commercial image of Spider-Man.

BEN: Another subtle difference is the bigger panels Romita uses. Ditko used those smaller panels and everything was crammed in there.

DUY: Yeah, Ditko really gave a sense of constriction.

WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

DUY: So... any chance a rich kid like Harry Osborn actually opens up to someone like Peter at a particularly vulnerable moment?

BEN: It's not so far-fetched considering how upset he might be. It's not like Flash was going to talk it out with him.

NITPICKS

BEN:  Surely someone would have noticed a superhero battle in a residential neighborhood.

DUY: May's post-op condition sure seems like another convenient way to remind us that she can never find out about Peter being Spider-Man.

BEN: The shock might kill her! And I have to say, there’s absolutely nothing Spider-Man could be swinging a web from in some of these above the city shots.


FAVORITE PANEL

DUY: Here is your "Can you imagine being a kid and reading this off the shelf" moment:



BEN: Even seeing the cover, you probably assumed it was another fakeout, but definitely had to find out. Had any villain uncovered a hero’s identity before this? That wasn’t reversed by the end of the story?

DUY: Well, technically this does get reversed next issue. But they do it in a way that they can always re-reverse it back.

BEN: He still knows, it’s just hidden under severe brain damage. It’s different than Superman having Batman dress up as him to fool Lois or whatever.

DUY: Does Green Lantern villain Star Sapphire count? Carol Ferris becomes Star Sapphire, who knows Hal is Green Lantern, but she's not in control of her own mind.

BEN: Similar.

WHO WON THE COMIC?

BEN: The Green Goblin vaulted into the spot of top Spider-Man villain after the events of this issue.

DUY: I guess you cold have argued he was already there.

BEN: He definitely took the focus with those crime stories, but I think Ock snatched the top spot back after the Master Planner Saga.

DUY: Even that's arguable, because Ock is barely in the Master Planner Saga.

BEN: But he was the Master Planner Saga.

FROM DITKO TO ROMITA

BEN: Obviously another landmark issue in the history of Spider-Man. The Green Goblin is finally revealed after 25 issues. Peter Parker is unmasked for the first time. John Romita becomes the second full-time penciler on the series.

DUY: And Romita becomes the face of the character for at least the next 25 years at this point.

BEN: As far as merchandising, I’d say that didn’t change until I started seeing Mark Bagley art on stuff during Ultimate Spider-Man.

DUY: And Ultimate was pretty clearly about the different, almost manga-like proportions too. Had to get him being a kid. An "alternative" take.

BEN: To address the theories of Ditko’s departure one last time. As far as the disagreement over the Goblin’s identity, there was clear buildup to Osborn being the reveal referenced in the comic itself.


BEN: Now, it could be Stan wanting to make the connection fit against Ditko’s plans, but it seemed like a perfect setup to Osborn as the Goblin.

DUY: That's the thing. I think after all this time reading comics, we can tell when something is a "fix." But this is actually too neatly tied together.

BEN: Too neat for Stan, no offense to him. I love Stan, but he couldn’t remember some of the characters names from issue to issue. Analyzing the theory of a feud between Martin Goodman and Ditko, Peter is immediately less angry in this story. He’s making nice with Harry Osborn and with Ned Leeds. Gwen is clearly interested in him. Even Flash seems open to giving him a chance. He’s beginning to become a part of the group, instead of the angry loner. Incidentally, his college group is the best supporting cast the character will ever have.

DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

Aug 19, 2019

Revisiting Vertigo: Neil Young's Greendale and the Relevance of Activism

Just a little over a month ago, DC Comics announced their decision to shut down Vertigo, their "alternative" imprint that was a true game-changer for the comics industry. Quite frankly, I thought of it as a mercy killing, as Vertigo had long been only a shell of what it was at its peak, hindered by, it seems, an increasingly tighter corporate structure and contracts that paled in comparison to other publishers when it came to things like ownership rights and creative freedom. Still, Vertigo remains relevant, and will always remain relevant, because it opened the door for comics to explore a wider variety of genres and tones.

One of my absolute favorite Vertigo books is Neil Young's Greendale. In 2003, legendary rock musician Neil Young released an album called Greendale, which Wikipedia describes as a "10-song rock opera." It focuses on the story of the Green family, but especially Sun Green, a young student who feels very passionate about the illegal drilling for oil in Alaska. The story is about her political awakening.



Greendale was made into a stage play and a movie. In 2006, a comic book adaptation was pitched to Joshua Dysart, and in 2010 it was released. It is one of the most beautiful comics I've ever read, and was one of the first comics I ever reviewed on this website. But even back then, I asked myself the question, "Is this relevant?"

Sun Green has preternatural powers that enables her to climb any surface, to herd any group of animals to go where she goes, and to have some semblance of power over nature. It sounds like the plot of a superhero story if you just describe it like that, but the way it's executed is more in line with magical realism than myth. What it does have in line with superhero stories, however, is that once her powers start having negative effects — including, it seems, producing an arch-nemesis that ends up causing the deaths of multiple people in her life — she starts questioning herself, doubting her purpose, and fearing for the future. And it's only when she heeds the advice of her grandmother that everything falls into place.

"Fight the way you always dreamed of fighting. Be the rain."


So Sun does decide to fight in the way she dreams — she becomes an activist, and becomes a face for the fight against major corporations and drilling for oil.

Is it relevant?

The album was released in 2003. The book came out in 2010. It's now 2019. The very specific cause that Sun Green fought for was a hot button topic in the early to mid-2000s. Writer Joshua Dysart has even said, on record, "I thought about that the whole time I wrote this book; is this an irrelevant book? Is this a book out of time? I don’t know.  I can’t answer your question.  It’s something I wrestled with; I constantly was altering the language in the book throughout the writing in the hope of making it timeless. I just don’t know."

"Hope has always been the tone of youth."

I would argue that it is still relevant, and more, it will always be relevant. The causes people fight for may change. We may be more passionate about equal rights, female rights, and LGBT causes now than we are about environmentalism, but the passion remains true, and the message of Neil Young's Greendale will always connect to a young reader struggling to find their place in the world. Be the rain. Fight the way you've always dreamed of fighting.

Vertigo may be over, but its place in comics history is etched in stone. Stories like Neil Young's Greendale may seem less relevant on the surface, but the importance of its theme is likewise etched in stone. We need to find the ideals we're passionate about, and we need to fight to make that a reality.

Plus, the art is by Cliff Chiang with colors by Dave Stewart, and it's just really pretty.



Aug 14, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #38

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #38
Spider-Rama
by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

In Steve Ditko's final issue, Spider-Man fights a guy named Joe.



POINTLESS TRIVIA

BEN: First appearance of Joe Smith.
    DUY: You'd think Joe Smith was a one-time appearance, but no. He even fights Captain America in Cap's 246th issue.



    BEN: Second (shadowed) appearance of Mary Jane Watson. Second full appearance of Norman Osborn.

    WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

    DUY: Joe becoming an actor after all that is..... pretty realistic.

    BEN: To be fair, I think he becomes a stuntman.

    WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

    BEN: Joe Smith, the only Ditko villain that keeps the Looter from being the worst of the bunch.

    DUY: In the age of Google, the character name "Joe Smith."

    BEN: Another couple pages of only sound effects. It really seemed like they were coasting as a team at this point.

    DUY: So did Ditko get fired before he finished the cover? The pose is directly from an interior panel.



    NITPICKS

    DUY: My biggest nitpick is that this is Ditko's last issue. Specifically that this is Ditko's last issue.

    BEN: I wish I could remember the source, but another theory I’ve read about Ditko’s departure was that Martin Goodman, the owner of Marvel Comics back then, wanted him gone. Goodman had become increasingly frustrated with Ditko’s behavior and how angry Peter Parker was being portrayed. Stan was stuck in between the two. Allegedly this page of Peter berating the very readership Marvel was catering to, was the last straw. Goodman wanted him off the book.


    DUY: There's something different here though — Peter can't be told he doesn't want to save the world, he does it on a daily basis. Another thing, Stan could have saved this with dialogue if it was such a problem.

    BEN: That’s what I thought as I was reading it, why didn’t Stan fix it? If that was indeed the problem.

    DUY: Could it be possible that Stan didn't think it was a problem, but Goodman did after publication?

    BEN: That could be it. There’s also the other theory that Ditko was mad about not getting any cut of the burgeoning Spider-Man merchandise market. That’s not as glamorous, but is simple enough to be true.

    DUY:  Yeah, I can imagine Ditko simply being, I do X% of the work, I bring in X% of the fans, I should make X% of the money.

    BEN: There’s the saying that all disagreements between NBA players are because of money or women, and I don’t think a woman’s affections was the conflict here. But regardless of why it happened, this is obviously Ditko’s last comic of the character he co-created. I think it was actually a good time for him to go from a purely creative standpoint. For him, and the character.

    DUY: He should have left before. And by "before," I mean "before creating Joe Smith."

    BEN: Frankly, he should have left at #33.

    DUY: Ideal, but #37 would have been fine too.

    FAVORITE PANEL

    BEN: Haha, so random:



    DUY: I'm going to miss Ditko's action sequences so much.



    WHO WON THE COMIC?

    DUY: No one wins in this issue, because it's just a huge shame that 3 of the last four Ditko issues are clunkers. And all following his peak, mind you.

    THE BEST AND WORST OF STEVE DITKO

    DUY: Since Ditko is gone from this point on and he'll never draw Spider-Man again, even in crowd shots (except for that zine he drew to show he should be credited as co-creator), let's rank his 5 best and 5 worst creations who aren't Spider-Man.

    Best: 
    1. J. Jonah Jameson
    2. Dr. Octopus
    3. Green Goblin
    4. Gwen Stacy
    5. Flash Thompson
    Worst:
    1. Joe Smith 
    2. The Looter
    3. The Molten Man
    4. The Cat
    5. Aunt May

    BEN: Going purely by Ditko’s 41 comics, and not what came after. I'm going by volume of terribleness for my worst rankings.
    Best:
    1. J Jonah Jameson
    2. Gwen Stacy
    3. Flash Thompson
    4. Liz Allen
    5. Doctor Octopus
    Worst:
    1. Aunt May
    2. Harry Osborn
    3. The Molten Man
    4. Ned Leeds
    5. Joe Smith

    DUY: You are ranking Gwen way too high here.

    BEN: She's feisty!

    DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

    BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

    DUY: Yes, thank you, Steve Ditko—

    BEN: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

    Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

    Aug 12, 2019

    Five Things to Love in Earth X

    We've got a guest column this week! JD Shofner has been a Cube friend for a while, and he particularly loves a specific comic that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, so here is...


    Five Things I Loved in Earth X
    by JD Shofner


    Twenty years ago the first series of a three volume epic called Earth X began. Published by Marvel, each series ran for fourteen issues plus four spotlight issues Cap, Four, Spidey, and Thor. The series began in 1999 and ended in 2003. It was written by Jim Krueger with art by Jean Paul Leon and Doug Braithwaite with character designs and covers by Alex Ross. The tale took place about twenty or so years in to the future (Hey! That’s right now!) and is in a lot of ways Marvel’s Kingdom Come. They share a similar time jump and the same near-dystopian landscape, there’s Alex Ross’ involvement and the use of the most iconic versions of most characters (at the base level, as every character has gone through major changes by the time they are introduced in Earth X).

    Earth X, and it’s other volumes Universe X and Paradise X (both with art by Doug Braithwaite), spans from the smallest places (Man-Thing burns the microverse!) to the largest battlefields (every dead hero and villain ever vs the entire Kree race vs the forces of Death herself!). Earth X shines in Krueger’s character studies where he attempts to add slight twists in the familiar super-origins we all know by heart. He weaves a story that has its origins all the way back to the very beginnings of the Marvel Universe. Jack Kirby’s ideas and explorations about alien influences on a young mankind and the world is fully mined in Earth X by Krueger, Leon, Ross, and Braithwaite. It’s the central plot that fingers its way in and through Earth X and the entire Marvel Universe.

    Sadly, the series sputtered critically and it wraps up rather quickly at the end. It’s not particularly beloved or on anyone’s top ten list but it has remained in a prominent place on my shelf regardless. I will stop there to keep spoilers at a manageable level. I’m hoping this might pique your interest in one of my personal favorites. So, as the title up there stated, here are my top five moments of Earth X.

    Happy 20th, Earth X! (In no particular order... and SPOILERS follow.)

    Honorable Mention: Spider-Man



    Spider-Man is not a big focus of Earth X. He isn’t on one of the different team ups we follow throughout the series (though there are a couple of Spider-persons who get a bit of spotlight). He has a stand alone that is not of great bearing in the larger narrative. His story here is more personal. We first meet him as an over weight and retired Peter Parker in Earth X. He looks more like his Uncle Ben than the Peter we know. In Universe X Peter is now back in fighting shape and working for the NYPD along side Luke Cage. In the Spider-Man one shot, Peter has become trapped in a world of his own making (a more-than-a-nod to Moore and Gibbons’ Superman story For the Man Who Has Everything) and he is visited there by his daughter Venom(!!) and they work through their relationship and Peter’s long standing guilt over the death of Gwen Stacy and his failures as a husband to MJ. The art changes as you go back and forth between our world and Peter’s creation. While inside Peter’s fantasy the art is provided by legendary spider-man artist John Romita Sr. I assume this is not a Spider-Man that many people are big fans of. I don’t know, but the emotional and creative way Krueger weaves through the minds and emotions of this particular Spider-family, and having John Romita Sr. provide that classic Spider-man style, deserves to be on my list of moments even if I had to cheat a bit to get it on there.

    #5 THE ABSORBING MAN



    I’m cheating a bit again. This is a subplot that spans almost the entire series and not just one moment. I have always loved the character of Creel ever since I first read Secret Wars as a kid. I have no idea why. And in Earth X a lot of other people love him, too. An entire cult in fact. We learn that years ago Creel, after absorbing the artificial intelligence of Ultron, had killed nearly all the Avengers. He was stopped by the Vision when he was tricked in to becoming stone and then shattered. The Vision hid the “Pieces of Creel” among some lower-tier heroes like Johnny Blaze and Sunfire. However, those pieces were reunited. But Creel decides to save the world instead of taking revenge on it. Why? To save his love Titania, of course! The fact that every one else is saved, too, is just a bonus, I guess.

    #4 THANOS HAS SOME ISSUES, AM I RIGHT?




    Mar-vell faces off with Thanos one more time and reveals Thanos’ “secret origin”. Turns out Thanos’ mother was a Skrull! She was forced to hide her true self and live a lie only her son knew. For that reason Thanos grew up hating his family, and himself, which is why he’s so edgy all the time. This is also why Thanos loves Death more than anything. When he looks at Death he sees his mother. Yikes.

    #3 ODIN IS A JERK



    The Asgardians aren’t gods! They’re aliens! But also gods. But really they’re aliens! Odin was a keeper of the old tales in his village when he was visited by some aliens whose shape and form was determined by what others believed them to be. Odin used these aliens to create Asgard, and separated it from the earth for selfish reasons. There is a moment in the Thor standalone where the book's art style changes completely for a moment when Odin tries to trick his “children” as he manipulates their alien physiology and the world around them. I remember being taken aback by it when I first read it. Loki has a very prominent role in Earth X and his cry of “Why did you make ME evil?!” is my all-time favorite Loki moment.

    #2 NAMOR KILLS THE HUMAN TORCH



    In an overpopulated future the oceans are being over fished. Namor gives the surface world an ultimatum and teaming with Dr. Doom, attacks the United Nations. During a fight against the Fantastic Four, the Submariner murders Johnny Storm which leads to an explosion that takes the lives of Sue Richards and Victor Von Doom. I make that one of my top five because it leads to-

    #1 SUSAN RICHARDS’ RESURRECTION



    In Earth X, when heroes and villains die, they go to the “realm of the dead”. The twist is that the dead think they are alive, and believe that the living are the dead ones. The dead Sue Richards is confronted by the dead Dr. Doom. He helps Sue to learn that she is in fact dead and that realization, with the help of the Soul Gem, helps her escape back to the land of the living to be reunited with her long grieving husband. If you’re a softy like me bring the tissues.

    You can get Earth X on Amazon:

    Aug 7, 2019

    Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #37

    Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

    AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #37
    Spider-Rama
    by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

    Professor Mendel Stromm is freed from prison and seeks revenge on his former employer — Norman Osborn!


    POINTLESS TRIVIA

    BEN: First appearance of Professor Mendel Stromm, and the first full appearance of Norman Osborn.

    DUY: Stromm dies in this issue, but comes back to life eventually during the Clone Saga  in the 90s during one of those proposed solutions to the story that didn't pan out.

    WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

    BEN: Gwen with the cold burn on Harry Osborn:



    DUY: At this point I think they're realizing that organized crime with the journalism stuff has kinda become a niche they can fall back on. After two dud issues, we're back to the crime beat.

    WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

    BEN: I have never been able to differentiate between Smythe and Stromm.

    DUY: This definitely does not age well, for obvious reasons.



    BEN: If you isolated Peter’s interactions with his classmates without the benefit of his thought bubbles or concern for his aunt, he’s a real dick.

    NITPICKS

    BEN:  I’m pretty sure the cops noticed Spider-Man exiting that stolen car and swinging off.

    DUY: You're telling me this new secretary has not once seen JJJ smile?



    BEN: Not even Jonah’s creepy unnerving smile?

    DUY: And well, this is a complete 180.




    BEN: But he’s scared of the Looter, right, Gwen?!?

    FAVORITE PANEL

    DUY: College can give you a new confidence. I can see that.



    BEN: Spider-Man: Noir is born.



    DUY: But I want to point out this one too. I know that some readers struggle with the idea that a character is lying, but I love how for a character like Jameson, it's just so obvious. "All I'M doing is publishing the result of an absolutely impartial, unbiased newspaper survey! La dee dah!"



    BEN: You’d have to be pretty dense not to understand Jameson’s duality.

    WHO WON THE COMIC?

    BEN: Say it with me now: Gwen Stacy.

    DUY: No way, for the first time in a while it's the new character. Norman wins this one. At the very least, you're intrigued.

    BEN: So, Norman Osborn is introduced and he’s clearly evil, which is a point toward him always planned as the Green Goblin reveal. Plus, there’s the silent ascent to the high window, and silent retreat. Points against, are him using a regular gun, and being a little too scared of Stromm. But those could be intentional misdirects. A pumpkin bomb would be too obvious, of course.

    DUY:  I doubt this was intentional, but Norman hits Peter in the back of the head and says "If that blow didn't finish him off" as if he's convinced he could have actually done the job. Either that's a sign of an egomaniac, or someone with superstrength... You know what, I'm convinced. This issue has convinced me. Norman was always going to be the Goblin. I don't know how the legend persists. It's actually obvious if you read the comics. Norman wins.

    BEN: That’s a solid point. My counter is, Gwen Stacy.

    DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

    BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

    DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

    Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

    Aug 5, 2019

    The MCU Is About to Get Nerdy

    I used to make the two-mile ride on my white Huffy BMX bike to Campus Comics several times per week.  Sometimes several times a day on the weekend if a back issue I absolutely needed to have came in, prompting me to race back home in search of loose change or comics to trade in for credit.  The first comics I ever read were Transformers, but it was Spider-Man and the X-Men that made me a comic book fanatic.

    Like most fanatics, you get hooked by the popular acts before eventually digging deeper into the more obscure gems.  At some point, when you’ve run out of money for the big names, you’ll try anything that might satisfy your craving for fictional adventure.  Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are about to experience that same progression.

    The Marvel Cinematic Universe Is About to Get Nerdy
    Ben Smith

    Fans of the ever expanding Marvel movie universe started much like many of us longtime comic book readers did, with superhero A-listers like the Avengers.  Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor may not have been household names when the movies began, but they’ve been mainstays of the comic book universe since the very beginning.  They have very much been the same gateway type of characters for many a comic book fan, as they became for movie fans.

    Alongside those Avengers, Hulk and Spider-Man are the biggest pop culture icons Marvel has had pretty much from the very beginning of the company.  They’re as mainstream as superhero characters can get.

    A character like Doctor Strange was a bit more of a stretch in the eyes of comic book fans, but not really that much more than Captain America was.  Strange was created by Steve Ditko, one of the legends of the industry, all the way back in 1963.  He may never have been front and center in the Marvel comic universe, but he’s been around ever since then. The real big swing of the first ten years of MCU movies was Guardians of the Galaxy, at least from a comic fans perspective.  The few of us that knew about them, knew they’d be perfect for a larger audience, and that was proven to be true.

    But you can only read Avengers or Spider-Man or X-Men so much before you start getting interested in even more obscure characters.  For me, that meant discovering Micronauts, Iron Fist, and Ghost Rider in the back issue boxes.



    In that same vein, the next wave of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to get pretty weird.  Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and Vision have primarily only been supporting characters in the comics and the movies.  In the comics, they’ll occasionally get their own limited series, which is the equivalent of what these streaming shows will probably be.  Loki is a villain, so to stick with my analogy, you probably weren’t getting any comics with villains as a lead character until you were fully a comic junkie.



    The Eternals is a comic that most hardcore comic book fans have likely never even read.  It involves a race of immortal humanoid beings created five million years ago by super powerful godlike beings named Celestials.  The Celestials created the perfect Eternals, and the monstrously grotesque Deviants.  Hijinks ensued.  Even though the Eternals was created by the legend Jack Kirby in 1976, they’ve had less than 50 issues of comics published since then.  They are about as obscure as mainstream superhero comics get, which is why the cast is absolutely loaded with big name talent.



    Thor is the biggest name in the announced slate of projects, but the reception to Ragnarok was polarizing online (even though the naysayers are definitively incorrect, it’s a top 5 MCU film).  It was also revealed that Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster will become Thor, which is based on a comic storyline that was arguably even more polarizing among online fans (again, the naysayers are dead wrong; those comics are fantastic).



    I don’t think anyone could argue against the first Doctor Strange as one of the middle tier MCU movies in terms of success.  But it looks like he’s going to be one of the centerpieces in this phase of movies.  It’s something we see in the comics from time to time, if a character can make the leap fully onto the A-list.



    Last but certainly not least is Shang-Chi, a character that has gone long stretches without published comic book appearances, and has been hampered by a connection to the racially offensive Fu Manchu.  Not to mention the stereotypes involved with the first Asian superhero lead character being a martial arts master.  Despite all those roadblocks, I don’t doubt that if you strip the character to his core, he could be a great vehicle for an entertaining movie.  And if it can appeal to an underserved demographic the same way that Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians did, it’s sure to be a smash success if they can execute it properly.


    The obscure comics may never have been as successful as the popular superheroes, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t as entertaining.  The next phase of the MCU may be the most challenging yet for Marvel Studios in terms of name recognition (both character and actors) idea execution, and marketing unknown or supporting heroes to the audience, but I have full confidence they can do it.  Not every movie they’ve made has been great, but they haven’t really let me down yet.

    But I’m a mark for Marvel already, the true test will be to see if the movie fans are ready to get nerdy with us.  I believe they will.

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