Say Hello To The Bad Guy…

When talking about comics with people that aren’t into comics a book that comes up a lot is Sandman. Sandman is, in my experience, the most recommended book to people who don’t like comics, haven’t read a comic, don’t take comic books seriously, or think comics are ____________ (insert sweeping generalization). It’s a great comic, but hey, it’s 2014. There’s a new sheriff in town.

In comic form.

There’s a new good fantasy comic you can give to any random person on the street is what I’m trying to say. Loki. Except it’s not really just one series. Nor is it really one continuous vision by a single creative team. It’s a story that has spanned three years, and about three and a half different comic books published by Marvel.

In 2011, Marvel did a convoluted crossover thing-y called Siege. Loki died. Thor brought him back. As a kid. A kid that was seemingly innocent. Kid Loki got his own series: Journey Into Mystery. Issue #622 of that series set Loki on a path to figure out why he did some bad things that led to his death and rebirth.

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I’m simplifying in the interest of not spoiling, but Loki didn’t want to be Loki anymore. He sacrificed who and what Loki was in order to craft a new Loki. BUT, as Journey Into Mystery came to a conclusion, and all of us had fallen in love with Young Loki the hero, we learned that the Loki that was acted in a manner that was as selfish as we’d expect from a trickster god.

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Loki made a backup. He was working the long con and in ensuring that a version of himself would be resurrected with a clean slate, he also made sure that the backup of Loki-Classic could replace New-Loki once all the pieces were in place. He wanted the illusion of change.

The illusion of change. It’s a key factor in comic books, and in ongoing fiction in general. Characters die. They change costumes. They swap minds. But ultimately, they revert back to what we expect them to be. There’s a reset button that’s ready to be pushed when sales dip.

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Loki can’t avoid being Loki. Marvel won’t let him. More importantly we won’t let him. We’re not comfortable with actual change, in fiction or in real life. It’s easy for us to become a part of a narrative. either one that we tell ourselves, or that we let others tell about us. And it’s easy to get trapped there.

Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie saw Backup-Loki-In-Kid-Loki’s body formulate the identity of New-New-Loki. Kid-Loki’s desire to do good was burdened by New-New-Loki’s struggle with his own nature and the guilt over the reasons for his own existence.

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Loki’s tale is now being told by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett in Loki: Agent of Asgard. Loki performs missions in exchange for erasure of his past deeds.

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It’s a simple story told in an epic manner. Trying to redefine yourself. Who you are. While the old you can rear their ugly head at any moment. We’re introduced to what appears to be the “Old Loki”:

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 8.52.18 PMBut turns out to be New-New-Loki of a distant future. A Loki that seemingly proves that all of Loki’s work is for nothing.

Loki will always be Loki.

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So many mainstream comics are marketed with the tagline “THINGS WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.” Few have dared to admit that no matter what you do, no matter how much you love this little cult hit, things will just revert to what they used to be in the end.

 

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Buy Things With Your Moneys: Digital Comic Books

This post is entirely for digital or digital curious readers. I’ve been reading comic books digitally for about a year now. I’ve read a couple of print things here and there, but I love reading panel by panel. As far as my (fast) style of reading goes, it helps me linger and study each panel more, whereas I used to tear through comic books quickly, sometimes missing important moments because I was in some sort of rush (for what, I don’t know? Life and comic books are too short). I’ve primarily been reading via Comixology on my Kindle Fire, though I have bought a few books through Amazon directly (though I don’t like their comic reader) and Dark Horse Comics. Both Comixology and Dark Horse are having some cool sales this weekend, so let’s talk about what you should buy (or maybe even gift–tis the season!).

Have we talked about Superman? (Read that in a tone of your parents approaching you with the sex talk in the most awkward way possible). So, son or daughter, what do you know about the last son of Krypton?

If the answer is nothing, or “Superman’s lame and we thought you created this blog to tell us all about more varieties of comic books than super hero,” then you should check out Comixology’s Superman sale. You can’t go wrong with Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman. My dad likes this comic. And he’s pretty much hated any other comic book I’ve put in front of him. It is also one of the most beautifully illustrated comic books I have ever read.

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It’s a comic that is both fantastical and serious, or adult, or whatever qualifier I have to use to get those of you that only read “serious” fiction to read this amazing book. It is pretty much the only Superman book you’ll ever need to read. It’s a character defining work, taking the best core concepts of the character, and telling a story of a dying Superman’s last days on Earth expertly and accessibly. Frank Quitely draws a Clark Kent that isn’t simply Superman with glasses, or just a bumbling awkward guy. His Superman as Clark is PHYSICALLY DIFFERENT.

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 7.56.46 AMClark Kent is always slightly crouched. He doesn’t fit into his suit well. He looks like a stocky farm boy and not a well toned alien super hero (And he also apparently works with Jake “The Snake” Roberts? Look at that dude in the center of the panel). Anyway, at 99 cents an issue, you’re getting a great story that will look beautiful on your tablet or your computer if you haven’t tableted up yet. People pop movies like The Dark Knight or Jaws, or Wall-E to show off their latest HD television or projector to show off how baller it is. This is what you pop up on your iPad or other tablet-y device to show how baller THAT is.

“What does it mean to be an environmentalist after the world’s already ended?” This is the question posed in The Massive by Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson.

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A series of environmental catastrophes have crippled the globe. We see this from the point of view of the crew of The Kapital, an environmentalist ship in search of it’s (titular) fleet-mate The Massive. Wood and Donaldson present things so starkly, so matter of factly that there’s no much opportunity for the reader to get lost in the “Whys” of the world’s end. No, the important hooks of the story become “How is the crew of The Kapital going to survive?” and “What happened to The Massive?” It’s a great first issue, and it’s taking all of my willpower to not buy the next issue and spend money that I shouldn’t.

 

The Massive, along with a number of other Dark Horse 2012 launches are on sale this weekend for a mere 99 cents.I’ve heard great things about Mind MGMT and Ghost as well. There’s also a number of Star Wars, Buffy, and Hellboy-related series that are worth checking out. I’m sorry I’m not more helpful in Dark Horse recommendations, but I’ve only recently gotten the app on my Kindle Fire, and I had to do so by hacking it. Having to hack an app onto my device sucks, and the reader isn’t as polished as Comixology’s, but as publishers go, Dark Horse is probably only second to Image Comics this year in terms of launching interesting new series by great creators.

Onto Marvel and back to Comixology. Marvel’s sale focuses on their “latest and greatest.” Click through here to check it out. My personal picks begin with Captain America, which was reinvigorated by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting as a spy/noir series, as well as Brubaker and Butch Guice’s spinoff series: Winter Soldier. Both series start with a character from the 40s who has been brought forward to modern times, but while Captain America was frozen in ice, The Winter Solider, aka Cap’s former sidekick Bucky, was brainwashed and running black ops missions for the Soviet Union. Both men are dealing with demons from their respective pasts while trying to do good in the modern world.

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Ed Brubaker is a writer who mostly manages to avoid crossovers, and makes Captain America’s rich history work for him rather than being a slave to continuity. The books dark color palate is a stark contrast to the “golly gee” red white and blue that most would expect of the “first Avenger.” If you’ve seen and enjoyed the Captain America film, this is a darker and meatier version of that.

The first issues of Jonthan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run are also on sale, and in these early issues he’s paired with artist Dale Eaglesham who has a pretty Kirby-esque style, especially in his characters’ faces, AND when drawing giant space god monsters (If you haven’t clicked over and bought this based on the words “giant space god monsters,” we have a problem). This is a pretty amazing Fantastic Four run, and a great story for both new and longtime readers. Hickman balances the story of a family with epic cosmic adventures. As I’ve mentioned before, they might save the world, but they’re not superheroes, and these issues are done by creators who get that.

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There’s also two great series by Matt Fraction (Shut up with the Fraction, already Paul!). Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca is a great buy for anyone who’s loved the big screen version of Tony Stark. Fraction writes broken characters well, and Tony Stark, a recovering alcoholic war profiteer trying to atone for his past is probably one of his brokenest. Yes, I just created the word “brokenest,” bro. Deal with it. Larroca’s art is gorgeous, though there’s some distracting moments where his characters are clearly modeled on actors like Josh Holloway or Bill Paxton. But again, other than that, his art is beautiful.

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I’ve also written about The Defenders before.

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This is a FUN series (though again, about some broken people) written by Fraction, with art by Terry Dodson, Michael Lark, Mitch Breitweiser, and Victor Ibanez. Probably not for beginners, but for people who might have stepped away from comics, it’s a good “Oh, comics are GOOD again? Shiiiiit, that’s all you had to say.”

These 99 cent digital sales are like (insert addictive substance that you best relate to) for me. I have dropped so much cash on comic books this year, mainly through these sales. And more often than not, I’ve wound up with books that I’ve not only enjoyed, but LOVED. If you’ve been on the fence about reading any of my recommendations, or about trying digital, NOW is your time to check it out. Now being December 22nd, and I think you have until the 23rd to get the Dark Horse books, while Marvel and DC’s sales are running until December 30th.

 

So, You Saw The Avengers Movie…

And totally thought Hawkeye was awesome, right?

If that’s not your takeaway, well. Shut up.

My mission statement for this blog has been to get some knowledge out there about some comics that are good. Part one of this has been to make y’all understand that comics and not entirely defined by superhero comics. I’ve argued that The Fantastic Four aren’t superheroes and offered some examples where they were portrayed that way. Part two of that has been to simply share comics that I have loved and give you some context for why you might like them. Today, we’re going to talk about Hawkeye, a non-super powered superhero who’s the main AND titular character of a new non-superhero series that launched today.

Hawkeye, with words by Matt Fraction, pictures by David Aja, color by Matt Hollingsworth, and lettering by Chris Eliopoulos(also a great cartoonist) is the total package. No, not THIS Total Package. But the comic book equivalent of that. Or something. It’s great. To start overusing “awesome,” it’s AWESOME.

I really shouldn’t have to do any more than post this image. With this image as the cover to ANY comic book, I guarantee you will go “Oh, head, I should read that comic book there.” It could be the cover to the employee handbook at a factory that assembles fishing rods, and you would say “Hey, this looks like a great and exciting read. I don’t know why there’s an archer on a rooftop on the cover of this employee handbook, but shit, I’m going to read this!” And you would have an efficient factory full of workers that were aware of the do’s and don’ts of the Granddad’s Long Weekend Fishing Rod Corporation.

Next bit of awesome. I told you this was a non-superhero book that features a superhero. Yes, Hawkeye, AKA Clint Barton, is a superhero, a member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, THE AVENGERS! (Now a Major Motion Picture) but as we’re told on the title page, this series is about what he does in his spare time. Which is apparently BE ALL OF THE A-TEAM (He didn’t have a montage sequence of assembling a non-lethal bad guy stopping device, but he did help the little guy (his neighbors) against bad guys (trashy Russian mobsters) trying to kick them out of their building).

So we’re intro’d to Hawkeye getting some off time with him falling off a roof and going splat on a car. Then we’re presented with Clint in traction at the hospital. He is not Wolverine or any other hero that usually hops back up in fighting shape after a stack of Aunt May’s wheatcakes. He is simply a very skilled individual with very unique skills at the peak of physical condition (ha! “simply”).

When I started this post, well, not the part where I gushed about Hawkeye, but the part where I mentioned all the folks involved in the comic? Remember that? I linked out to a crazy wrestler and called this the “Total Package?” Well, it’s a writer and artist and colorist and letterer all working together to tell a story in ways that are fairly unique to comics. The above scene conveys motion without motion. Maybe it would look cool animated, but filmed? It would feel artificial in a way that it doesn’t here. We’re in the real world part of the Marvel Universe. In it’s Outer Boroughs (for serious, Clint’s living in Bed Stuy). And while the act of a man using a card as a weapon is fairly fantastical, it feels real, it feels authentic. I also don’t really know how to talk about the color. Hollingsworth makes every scene unique, the same way that a director of photography would, but that doesn’t do it justice. That just puts things in the context of television or film and I’m sorry I can’t do better on that front.

Now, at this point, I want to make my best friend, Seth, feel bad for not purchasing this comic. Earlier today, before reading this, I told him I bought this and he should too. I did this on the strength of Fraction’s earlier collaboration with Aja on The Immortal Iron Fist, as well as for Fraction’s writing on his creator owned series, Casanova. Plus, as it has been stated before, I love Hawkeye. It probably goes: The Thing, Hawkeye, Deadpool as far as my favorite Marvel characters go. But anyway, “Making Seth Feel Bad.” Seth loves Wall-E. And Up. The dude, like myself, has a weakness for good, emotion triggering storytelling. Emotions triggered in 3…2…1:

Is the dog going to be okay? IS HE, SETH? READ THIS COMIC TO FIND OUT! (Spoilers, the dog is OK and his name is Arrow).

I loved this. I’d like to go on more. About the art and how Hollingsworth’s colors make each scene unique. Or the little touch of Clint Barton wearing touches of purple in all his civilian attire. Or about the supporting cast of Clint’s neighbors that aren’t much more than character ‘types’ right now, but that feel unique through Aja’s pencils and I know are going to be drawn out through Fraction’s dialogue.

But I won’t go on more, read this comic. Read Hawkeye. Experience it for yourself. I bought it on Comixology. You can also buy it at your local comic book store. Or wait for the trade and buy it on Amazon in like 8 months. I, in the meantime, am going to re-read it, and eagerly await the next issue so I can tell you to buy that one too.

An Argument, A Theory, and Finally A Recommendation

It’s a testament to my current lack of clear goals and low self esteem that I consider today my all-time writing achievement:

Getting retweeted by 4 people I don’t know, and becoming involved in an internet argument.

Anyway, I jumped into an argument between comic book journalists Tom Spurgeon and Heidi MacDonald. He writes for The Comics Reporter and she writes for The Beat. Google them. I don’t want them to see the trackback link to this and think I simply jumped in for the sake of boosting my ego.

No, I jumped in, because Mr. Spurgeon was calling out Ms. MacDonald about an issue he has with comic book news sites regurgitating PR from the “Big Two.” The “Big Two” are Marvel and DC Comics and are owned by Disney and Time Warner respectively. Often, comic book sites, especially Newsarama and Comic Book Resources will be primarily populated with copied and pasted news supplied by Marvel and DC. Anyway, he’s written more about it at length, and on his website, so go on, you can open up a new tab and hop over.

Now, where I jumped in, was when they were arguing about the validity of discussing The View mentioning that Marvel will be featuring a gay marriage in an upcoming issue of Astonishing X-Men. Aside from a “Batman’s gay” joke, it’s my understanding that the ladies on The View didn’t really break into any discussion on the subject. So, a show on ABC, owned by Disney, mentioned a news item about a Marvel Comic, also owned by Disney. And a portion of the comic book blogosphere patted themselves on the back for comic books getting mainstream coverage.

But comic books didn’t get mainstream coverage. Marvel did, and in a broader sense, the superhero comic book genre did, but really it was about Marvel saying “we love the gays!” Which is of course, awesome, and in addition to my family, I feel that my open minded worldview is heavily influenced by reading the X-Men growing up.

However, the thing that comic book news sites seem to love more than putting out Marvel and DC PR is pointing out when the mainstream media picks up such things. This somehow serves as a validation of the medium.

It is not, and its not what most of them want.

That’s right, Internets, I’m telling you what you want.

Boom, I just beat the internet with a superkick.

What you want is validation of superheroes. You want it to be cool, to be okay in the same way that your cousin being a sports fan is.

Well, I hate to be the one to tell this to you, but it’s already happened. The Avengers has broken a billion dollars. The Dark Knight did so as well a couple of years ago. My mom knows who Hawkeye is. There were government certified douchebags in the theater, excited to see a movie about superheroes at a midnight showing of Avengers that I went to. They will probably be at The Dark Knight Rises and help that to over a billion dollars as well. Superheroes? They’re alright with everyone.

The real hurdle is comic books are not just superheroes. Comic books are an art form and a storytelling medium just like television, film, and literature. There are horror comics, mysteries, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, crime, hard sci-fi, every day life (is that a genre?) and so on and so forth. I think Anthony Bourdain’s even working on a spy/cooking mashup. So yeah, pretty diverse.

But no one pays that fact any mind. It’s an industry that is caught up in the conventions and the comfort offered by one genre and by doing so is keeping people out. It’s not mainstream media coverage that’s going to get people into comics. It’s people who love comics telling people about comics that will get people into comics. (Did I say “People” and “Comics” enough? I DO NOT OWN A THESAURUS. BUY ME ONE).

So, to finally give some purpose to this blog now that I’ve given some further context to my mission statement:

READ THIS COMIC BOOK: Y: The Last Man: by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. Yorick Brown is the last man on earth. Further discussion of the concept and this comic, next post!

Low-risk investment: Y: The Last Man #1, FREE on Comixology. For those with iPads, Kindle Fires, other tablets, or even a laptop, you can read the first issue for free here, by signing up for a Comixology account.

Slightly higher-risk investment: Y: The Last Man Volume One: Unmanned, $9.77 on Amazon. You’re buying the first six issues collected. You can also get the first volume digitally on Amazon for $9.28 if you have a Kindle Fire.

We’ll discuss this next time. Consider yourselves bookclubbed.