I’ve been flying solo with the little dude for about a full week at this point while my folks are out of town. I haven’t had as much time to dive into awesome stuff as usual, but over the past few weeks, I have been diving into some goodness I want to talk about! Continue reading My New Favorite Things: Charley Varrick, Twin Peaks Season 1 & Archer & Armstrong
After reading and really enjoying the first volumes of both Ivar, Timewalker and Eternal Warrior from Valiant, I was reminded that the first book from the company’s current iteration that I really fell for was Fred Van Lente’s Archer & Armstrong. This book stars the third immortal Anni-Padda brother Aman — now going by Armstrong, and Obadiah Archer, the teenage religious zealot sent out into the world to kill “He Who Is Not To Be Named” otherwise known as Armstrong.
For me, there’s a lot to love about this series. First and foremost, it’s about two new friends who not only have each others’ backs, but also bounce wonderfully off of each other in the longstanding Odd Couple tradition. Archer’s an uptight religious kid with zero worldly experience and a lot of amazing abilities while Armstrong has quite literally seen and done it all, but still strives to defend the truth and beauty of humanity whenever possible (ie, whenever he’s sober). Continue reading Valiant Trade Post: Archer & Armstrong
Even though I got into comics just as the Image Revolution helped usher in the Boom and Bust of the 90s, I didn’t know about much outside of DC. That was my jam and, while I’d see other books at the shop and eventually read about them in Wizard, I stayed in my line. Occasionally, I’d get a multipack or something with a random book, like Archer & Armstrong #16, but they usually just got flipped through, then slid into a bag-and-board and tossed in my “Other” box.
Of course, that version of the company eventually collapsed and, as it happened, lead to a number of former Valiant employees getting work at Wizard where I would eventually work with them. Now, Valiant’s back, Wizard’s gone and some of my former co-workers have gone back to working for the V. Comics is a small group.
ANYWAY, that’s all a long-winded way of saying that, though I haven’t written about them here, I’ve read my fair share of these trades. I’ll be honest, books like Harbinger, Bloodshot, Shadowman and X-O proved a bit too dark for me, but I’ve still found a lot to like from the company, including two related titled, Ivar, Timewalker and Eternal Warrior!
The Amazing Spider-Man: Big Time (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott, drawn by Humberto Ramos with Neil Edwards & Stefano Caselli
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #648-651
Want to know something? I’ve never really read Spider-Man comics. I’ve loved just about every incarnation I’ve seen on TV, some of the movies and really dig the idea of the characters, but every time I asked someone to recommend a definitive Spider-Man run from the modern era, there wasn’t much of a general consensus. That all changed in the past few years when Dan Slott took over the book. He was part of the rotation when the line was slimmed down to just Amazing Spider-Man after One More Day, but eventually took the reigns himself. I actually tried getting into the run with New Ways To Die, but it didn’t stick. Still, I wanted to give it a shot and Big Time seemed like the place to go.
And boy, was it! I think I’m in love with this run and have already requested the next six or seven volumes from the library. Much like with Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run that I love so much, Slott takes what the general public knows about the character while also incorporating new elements and (I assume) offering plenty of tasty bits for longtime fans. No, I didn’t know that Aunt May was married to J. Jonah Jameson’s dad or that JJJ had been elected mayor, but those details didn’t derail me at any point from enjoying the story. Even when characters with highly complicated back stories like Hobgoblin and Mac Gargan come into play, Slott conveys the exact right amount of information without coming across as a mega info dump.
But, you don’t stay on a book for so long just because you write stories that are easy for me to read. You stay on a book because you create great stories with characters readers can’t get enough of. I’m reminded of the love I had for Peter Parker when I watched the 90s cartoon. Sure he has the problems he’s always had (or new versions), but he’s also not a total sad sack about them as he was in Spider-Man 2. In fact, as these two books move along, things start going really well for Pete as he scores a killer new job. But these are comics and we’re talking about Spider-Man, so it can’t really last, can it?
The Amazing Spider-Man: Matters of Life and Death (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott with Fred Van Lente, drawn by Stefano Caselli, Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, et al
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #652-657, 654.1
The fun times start to decline for Spider-Man and Peter in this volume as Smythe attacks J. Jonah Jameson’s family and loved ones with an army of insect-enhanced people who share his distaste for the former Daily Bugle Editor-In-Chief. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Smythe makes good on his threat and offs someone Jonah loves and, even though I’ve only read these few issues with this character, I’d grown quite fond of them and felt pretty darn bad myself.
Though nowhere near as bad as Peter who shuts down a bit before deciding that he’s not going to let anyone else die. Leading up to that, though, we get Amazing Spider-Man #655, an issue that deals with death and loss in such a raw, real way that it’s easily one of the best, most honest comic books I’ve ever read.
There’s a lot more going on in these books as well including the first appearance of Flash Thompson as Venom (which spun out into its own series), Parker’s new workmates and what they think they know about Spider-Man and not one, but TWO different costumes for our hero. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.
Most of all, I love how fully Slott embraces Peter Parker’s intelligence. Before I worked at Wizard and was exposed to a lot more comics, I never really thought about how Parker fits up there with Banner, Stark and Richards, but he does and Slott goes right in for that idea. Smart is sexy and nerds are cool. We need more of that pretty much everywhere.
I’m also a big fan of the artwork in these books. Ramos is an artist I generally associate with horror comics like Crimson, but drawing Spider-Man is in his blood! He mixes the flexibility of the character with the ability to capture facial expressions perfectly AND kill it when it comes to the villains. I also quite enjoy Caselli’s style and have since I first saw him draw Secret Warriors. And, boy, I hope Martin won all the awards for Amazing #655. The script for that was top notch, but the art came up to the same level.
I’m a big fan of the Incredible Hercules series, which I’ve read most of in trade form. I actually haven’t read the few trades that lead up to Chaos War, a kind of event that saw the return of several dead heroes in a few other minis and one-shots I also haven’t read. Anyway, the main story here follows The Chaos King as he intends to lay waste to all of reality with only the combined forces of the recently returned and super duper powerful Hercules standin in his way. Herc recruits Thor, Galactus, Silver Surfer, Sersi of the Eternals, Venus from Agents of Atlas, Daimon Hellstrom and, of course, Herc’s number one pal Amadeus Cho to help him. Why this particular hodge podge of heroes? Well, the rest of the Marvel U doesn’t believe our hero when he says the world is going to end thanks to his party boy history.
In the process of trying to save all of reality, our heroes have to face off against an army of monsters and evil gods as well as the reanimated corpses of some of their former friends and foes. Like most event comics, this one has high stakes that you never really believe in because, well, the Marvel Universe isn’t going to cease existing in a comic starring Hercules. Still, I think Pak and Van Lente did a good job of making it feel like things could get bad.
Anyway, there’s lots of fighting and planning, winning and losing in the story. I won’t go into the details because, let’s face it, when dealing with a big even like this from Marvel or DC, it’s the details that make it interesting. I do think Chaos War works better if you had been reading Incredible Hercules going into it, otherwise, I’m not sure if there’s a lot besides basic superhero stuff to grab onto. However, for Hercules fans, we really get to see our guy do his thing, do it well and save existence, so that’s pretty cool. Did anyone out there read the tie-ins? I think they’re all collected in a few trades and would be interested in checking them out if you guys think it’d be worthwhile.
Written by Mike Avon Oeming, drawn by Travel Foreman
Collects Ares #1-5
Reading Chaos War brought me back to one of my favorite Marvel minis of the past few years: Ares by Mike Avon Oeming and Travel Foreman. There was this awesome time between 2005 and 2006 when the House of Ideas dropped a bunch of rad minis like this one, Union Jack, Agents of Atlas and Doctor Strange: The Oath. I went into this five issue series knowing absolutely nothing about the Marvel version of the Greek god of war, but I came away thinking he was a pretty gigantic bad ass. Marvel used this story as a jumping off point for bringing Ares into the Avengers and doing…things with him that I didn’t think fit with the character established in this book, but what do I know? His son also eventually became an important part of Secret Warriors.
The miniseries catches up with Ares, who ditched the world of gods because his fellow immortals had a pretty low opinion of him, yet still used him when they needed him to wage war. He now has a son named Alex who has no idea who his father really is. Things fall apart after Ares refuses to help the gods who are being assaulted by Mikaboshi an evil god from the east (and later known as the Chaos King in Chaos War). In their infinite wisdom, the Greek pantheon decide to kidnap Alex as a way of motivating the wayward god of war. From there it’s an action-packed rager as Ares tears through enemies to get his son back.
Reading Ares for the second time this many years later was an interesting experience. First off, now that I’m a dad, I can relate to the fatherly aspect of the story much better than I could last time. I think it’s an easy story type to use because of its primal nature, but it works here. I also found it interesting because this is basically a mythical version of Taken or Commando. This got me thinking about how cool it would be if Marvel Studios simply adapted this comic into a movie. Just make it a straight ahead action flick with monsters and whatnot and you’d have a hit on your hands. Guaranteed.
In other words, I would actually pay money to see a movie where Ares lights himself on fire, has Hercules throw him into an oncoming army and murders everything in sight. That would be amazing. Anyway, if you like the idea of the sentence you just read, do yourself a favor and pick this trade up, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, especially if you dug Chaos War and want to dig a little deeper into that story’s history.
Hey Gang, seeing as how I’ve got a lot of time on my hands now, I’ve been tearing through some movies and trades. I haven’t done posts yet, but you can be on the lookout for more of those down the road. These trades are actually from last week and the week before. As usual, I’ll run down the pile top to bottom.
CAPTAIN AMERICA BATTLES BARON BLOOD (Marvel Illustrated Books) Written & drawn by Roger Stern and John Byrne
This little number was quite the oddity. I thought it was going to be one of those novels-based-on-comics things. I read a ton of the ones that came out in the 90s back then. I guess I should have noticed the “Illustrated” portion of the title. So, what you’ve got here is a strange book that collects (according to this site) collects Captain America 250, 253 and 254 which covers those issues where Captain America fights Baron Blood and meets the new Union Jack (as well as the newer Baron Blood) along with the issue where Cap says “no” to running for president. The interesting thing, which you can see in the below pic, is that they cut these comics into panels (black and white ones) and pieced them together on pages the size of the average Pocket Book. Weird right? The stories were good, though kind of slow and I would much rather read them in color. Roger Stern is the man, by the way, he’s definitely one of the most unsung writers in the history of comics.
DC UNIVERSE SPECIAL: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 (DC) Written by Len Wein, Gerry Conway & Jack Miller, drawn by Dick Dillin & Joe Certa
Though technically not a trade, there were two reasons I included this issue in this post. One, it collects Justice League of America #111 (“Balance of Power!”), 166-168 (“The League That Defeated Itself”) and Detective Comics #274 (“The Human Flame”). These are all stories that hold some relevance to Final Crisis and Infinite Crisis, though they’re not really hyping the IC connection. You get Human Flame and Libra’s first appearances, which make sense, and then the story in which the bad guys get inside the heroes’ heads and find out all about them, this leads to Zatana doing mind wipes and on and on. So, these are pretty integral issues that a lot of later stories hinge on. That being said, I found them to be boring and mostly skimmed through them. The second reason is that these reprints should have been reprinted again in the Final Crisis Companion, which I will get to shortly. That just makes sense, though, right? Might as well make that companion as much of a companion as possible and the first appearances of the two biggest new characters in the story should have their stories told. But, hey, it’s a rad cover, isn’t it? That Ryan Sook dude knows how to DRAW!
MOME VOL. 14 SPRING 2009 (Fantagraphics) Written and drawn by a ton of talented folks
One of the many perks of working at Wizard for a dyed in the wool superhero fan like myself was getting exposed to some of the more alternative sides of comics. Between going through the library and borrowing books from friends who are way more knowledgeable about these things than I am, I feel like I’ve just barely started to uncover the tip of the indie iceberg. So, as you might imagine, I’ve heard a lot about Mome, the indie comics anthology that Fanta puts out (those guys are amazing), but I’ve never read one until Vol. 14 and I definitely liked it. I will be completely honest, I don’t think I understood a lot of these stories, but I kind of like that. It’s like watching an experimental film, but with cool art. By far my favorite strip was called Kool-Aid Comic by Jon Vermilyea. I like the simplicity of it, the subject and the art. It all comes together in a fun little comic, of which you can peep a page or two of below. Fun stuff and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for future Momes.
SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE VOL. 7: THE MIST & THE PHANTOM OF THE FAIR (Vertigo) Written by Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Guy Davis
I’ve talked about my love of SMT before, but since then I’ve read the volumes I was missing and have come to like this series even more. For those of you not willing to click the link, SMT follows the Golden Age Sandman as he romps through pre-WWII NYC, fighting bad guys, evading the cops, being a genius, sometimes interacting with other Golden Age heroes (or soon-to-be ones) and sharing his life–both in and out of the gas mask–with his girlfriend Dian Belmont. What I love most about this book, aside from the NYC setting and my love of Golden Age DC characters, is the relationship between Dian and Wesley (Sandman’s real name). I think they’re my favorite couple in all of comics, mostly because they did away with the “keeping the secret identity from the girlfriend” thing. You also get to watch Dian evolve from a spoiled socialite to someone really trying to help the world. But, aside from all that, this volume gives us glimpses of a young, pre-Starman Ted Night and “The Phantom Of The Fair” which is the story that I remember reading about as being one helluva one back in the day from Wizard (they were right). I think you’d be okay if you jumped in here to read this much beloved story, but I highly recommend going back to the beginning. Here’s hoping that Vertigo continues their plans to collect this whole series.
FINAL CRISIS COMPANION (DC) Written by Grant Morrison, Len Wein, Peter Tomasi, Greg Rucka & Eric Trautmann, drawn by JG Jones, Tony Shasteen, Doug Mahnke, Ryan Sook & Marco Rudy
So, this is kind of a weird book. The actual Final Crisis collection is amazing. It’s got everything written by Grant Morrison in one place, while this one has the rest of the stuff that isn’t a regular series tie-in and the FC Director’s Cut which is the first issue without color or word balloons followed by the script. Then you’ve got Final Crisis Secret Files, Requiem and Resist. All these issues are cool on there own, but I do wish this volume was a big more robust. In addition to the reprints I mentioned above, I’d also like to see some of the JLoA and Teen Titan tie-ins included, just to have everything in one place. Ah well, it’ll still get a place on my bookshelf.
NIGHTWING: THE GREAT LEAP (DC) Written by Peter Tomasi, drawn by Don Kramer, Rags Morales, Doug Mahnke, Shawn Moll &
I dug Tomasi’s previous Nightwing volume, so I’m not surprised that I dug this second volume. The only problem with it is that it got awkwardly swept up in the Batman: RIP story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved Morrison’s Batman run, but the tie-ins lost me for the most part, including Nightwing. So, I hadn’t actually read most of these issues when they came out, but I did like the whole story, most of which involves Nightwing’s weird relationship with Two-Face, which is being carried over into todays Batman stories written by Winick. Interesting for sure.
TRINITY 1 (DC) Written by Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Mark Bagley, Scott McDaniel, Tom Derenick & MIke Norton
Trinity got a lot of flack, but I think it’s because it wasn’t what people were thinking it should be. 52 was an amazing look at some smaller characters, giving them new life and making them important again in the DCU, Countdown tried way too hard to be the backbone of the DCU and Trinity turned into this crazy, out-there story featuring all kinds of heroes the casual fan has never heard of. This is just the first series, collecting #1-17 and I will warn you, it’s definitely for big time DC fans and not the feint of heart.
SECRET INVASION: INCREDIBLE HERCULES (Marvel) Written by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, drawn by Rafa Sandoval
Incredible Herc was one of those books that everyone loves but I missed out on in single issues. By the time I read the first trade, the issues were already into the third or fourth arc, but this, the second (collecting 116-120) collects the Secret Invasion issues. I wasn’t a big fan of SI, especially the ending, but I really liked how Pak and Van Lente flipped the script and looked at the Skrull invasion from a different angle. This time we see it from a religious viewpoint, with Herc and some other gods from regular and Marvel mythologies trying their best to kill the god of the skrulls. It’s a cool story, one filled with plenty of sci-fi goodness, but also some fun nods to mythology of all kinds that make this a really fun and well rounded book.
COUNTDOWN ARENA Written by Keith Champagne, drawn by Scott McDaniel
I’ve loved McDaniel’s art since his Nightwing days. There’s a short arc where NW fights Scarecrow early on that is just amazing and I highly recommend it. So, when I heard the news that DC was going to be putting out a book called Arena, drawn by McDaniel that would pit various versions of heroes against each other to see who would win, I was sold. Turns out this story didn’t have a lot of bearing on the actual Countdown story (as I noted here to some extent), but it remains one of the better looks at the multiverse that’s just been sitting around. I know that there’s been word that they’re waiting for Morrison to get in there and really dig deep on the multiverse at some point, but I’m getting tired of waiting. What’s the point of having it if you’re not going to do anything with it? Also, one quick thing that bothered me about many of the Earths they revealed was that they just took Elseworld books and extrapolated that into an entire universe. There’s an entire universe out there based on the idea that Batman was a vampire. And, hey, I like that original story as much as the next guy, but that doens’t mean it should necesarily get it’s own universe. Does that mean those Elseworlds annuals they put out each have their own universe? The one where Steel was around in the Civil War, Batman was actually Two Face or Superman was straight out the jungle book? It’s just a bummer because it feels like they just copied the original multiverse and added this other ones with haste, which wouldn’t have been a huge deal if they hadn’t limited themselves to just 52. Ah well. This book is definitely only for die-hards. Or maybe just me.
THE NEW TEEN TITANS ARCHIVES VOL. 1 Written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by George Perez
This might be comic book heresy, but I couldn’t even get through this book, which collects DC COmics Presents #26 and New Teen titans 1-8. I think what ruined the book for me is the fact that every Teen Titans writer since has mined this territory so, SO much. The only aspect of this story that was surprising for me was the mystical way in which the team first came together. Beyond that? I’ve seen the Deathstroke stuff and the Trigon stuff before. Several times. Geoff Johns did it and it seems like it’s been done a thousand times since then. And that’s coming from someone who loves Geoff’s Titans. Like, a lot. It’s an amazing book. I just think it’s about time for the Titans to move beyond their 80s roots and maybe make some new villains and get some new characters into the mix. Maybe I’ll put this one back in my “to read” pile and give it another shot somewhere down the line, but I’m not sure yet. For me, it’s just too “been there done that” for me. But man, Perez sure knows how to draw and I stand by my claim that he’s one of the few artists who’s actually gotten better with age. I’ll read any new stuff that guy puts out.
Time for some merry musings about a myriad of Marvel’s most moving…comics. Wow, that’s harder than it looks. Stan Lee should write an alliterative dictionary. Anyway, I’ve been catching up on some recent Marvel stuff that I missed out on the first time around, so here goes:
GHOST RIDER: HELL BEND & HEAVEN BOUND (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Roland Boschi & Tan Eng Huat
I’ve been hearing about how awesome Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider run has been, that it kind of takes a grindhouse approach to a character whose book wasn’t exactly setting the world, ahem, aflame. Maybe it’s because it’s been hyped up so much, but I didn’t find this volume, which collects Ghost Rider #20-25, all that awesome. Sure it was cool seeing Ghost Rider get mixed up with some ghosts on a highway and crazy nurses, but for me it never went beyond being just cool. I also couldn’t help but feel like these were all Hellblazer stories bounced to another universe and used on Ghost Rider. That’s probably not a fair comparison, but I do like the general approach to the character. Hey, I wouldn’t be reading the book otherwise.
Also, I’m generally not a fan of the art, but I think it works in a book like this. It’s kind of like how I wouldn’t normally like some of the artists who do BPRD or Hellboy minis, but in the context of that kind of book the art really works well. It’s pretty much the same thing here. All this being said, I will give the next volume a read, just to see how it goes, hopefully I’ll be surprised.
THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES: AGAINST THE WORLD (Marvel)
Written by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente and drawn by Koi Pham and others
Man, this is a good book. I loved Planet Hulk as it was happening but wasn’t all that thrilled with World War Hulk (I’m not a fan of Romita Jr.’s). After all that I was kind of mad that Jeph Loeb was writing a Hulk book while Greg Pak, the guy who made Hulk awesome again got relegated to a Hercules book. I later found out that this was how Pak wanted to do things and heard good things about Herc, so I’m giving it a shot and unlike Ghost Rider, I’m 100% sold on Incredible Herc.
The book is great. Hercules is a pretty fascinating character, not just the wine swilling rogue we’ve seen in issues of Avengers past, but a really complicated dude who’s lived an amazingly long life. The writers really dig deep, but don’t pile things on too heavily and bury the fun. And there’s plenty of fun.
Herc’s chum in all this is Amadeus Cho, the seventh smartest person (first smartest kid) on Earth (I’d like to see the list in ranked order), a character I’ve grown to like in his few appearances leading up to and including WWH. Cho’s obsessed with shutting S.H.I.E.L.D. down because of how they treated Hulk, but Herc doesn’t want to destroy the good with the bad. Meanwhile, Ares is attacking Herc a lot, trying to put his arrogant, famous brother down.
My one complaint about Incredible Herc is that I’m not a big fan of Ares’ characterization. I really really liked Michael Avon Oeming’s Ares miniseries from a few years ago, but I feel like the character he set up there hasn’t really been used as much beyond “big huge bad ass” in later appearances. Here he’s a crazy, jealous dude who just wants to put Herc down. It’s kind of strange and maybe that’s how his character has been developed in books I haven’t read, but it just feels a little off to me and took me a bit out of the story.
I can’t wait to check out the next trade, which, I think, will be Secret Invasion stuff. I read one issue when it came out and really liked it, but it was part 2 or 3 and I missed the rest.